Videos & Speeches

One-Year SGR Patch

Mr. President, first I wish to address legislation that passed the Senate earlier this evening. The sustainable growth rate is such an important issue to the people from the state of Kansas. I come from a state in which senior citizens are a very prevalent portion of our population, and access to health care is so dependent upon whether or not Medicare reimburses a physician, a hospital, a home health care agency or a nursing home in an adequate amount. I fear that in the absence of that adequate Medicare reimbursement we will see a lot fewer doctors, and hospital doors will close.

I have been an advocate of and in fact I never voted to create the sustainable growth rate, and I suppose I should explain what that is. In the broadest of terms it means there is a formula that ultimately reduces the reimbursement a physician receives under Medicare. It has become a very dramatic thing. This year I believe it is around a 24 percent reduction that will occur April 1, tomorrow, if the sustainable growth rate formula is not altered.

The reality is that Congress has altered that formula to avoid those reductions, because we know when a health care provider is not compensated in a way that covers the cost of providing the service, most likely we are going to have fewer health care providers. Hospitals will not be there, physicians will no longer be in practice, and, particularly in areas of our country that are rural where, again, a significant portion of the population is senior citizens whose medical bills are paid, in part, through Medicare.

My discouragement, my dissatisfaction, is once again the Senate has demonstrated its dysfunction by passing a very short-term fix to this long-term problem. If history is any indication, we will be back one year from now in the same predicament. We have made alterations 16 times previously. This is the 17th time in which we have done a short-term fix to a long-term problem. To me, it is one more symptom of our inability as a Senate to function in a way that benefits the American people: in this case, patients who are served by physicians who will be harmed.

In instances across Kansas, our hospitals are now employers of physicians, and so they have entered into a contract with a physician. When the reimbursement rate for the physician is reduced, it means less revenue to the hospital and a tighter squeeze to the many hospitals that barely hang on by a thread.

I express my appreciation to Senator Wyden, the chairman of the Finance Committee, for his efforts to find a long-term solution, a permanent repeal of the SGR and again express my willingness to him and to others to work with Democrats in the Senate, to work with Republicans in the Senate, to find the necessary numbers of us who will come together to support legislation that would permanently end the SGR, and that we would not be then asked a few months from now to come back once again to solve the problem.

We know the problem is there. We know we will have to find a solution. The consequences of failing are so great, but we were unwilling to take the necessary steps today to pass a permanent repeal and an elimination of the SGR formula.

Again, to Senator Wyden, he and I have had conversations since last Thursday about my willingness to have conversations with Republican Members of the Senate to find the necessary votes to pass legislation for a permanent repeal. I expressed that offer again to Senator Wyden, that we are still interested in doing that, and that the country, its health care providers and their patients, deserve better than what we were able to do today.