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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about a motion we will be voting on after the nomination that is currently before the Senate, and that is the motion to proceed to a very important bill for seniors on Medicare coverage, for the disabled, for those who are in our military and their families. It relates to the way we reimburse physicians under Medicare and under TRICARE. It is called the Medicare Physician Fairness Act.
This is an effort to eliminate what has become a very flawed formula for determining the payments for physicians under Medicare.
We, in fact, know it is flawed because in the last 7 years, the last seven times that proposals have come forward from this formula to cut physician pay under Medicare and TRICARE, this Congress has chosen to reject that recommendation, that cut.
We want to make sure seniors can have access to their doctors, that Medicare is a quality system that allows the kind of reimbursements so we can continue to have the quality of providers, physicians, and others we have today.
This bill, S. 1776, would allow us to do away with what has become a very flawed process. Every year we postpone the cuts that have been proposed because we know they are flawed. We know this time of year, if we do not take action, there would be a 21-percent cut in Medicare for physicians who serve our seniors and people with disabilities. Because Medicare and TRICARE are tied together, that cut would also affect our military men and women and their families and retirees from the military. So, of course, we do not want that to happen. We are not going to allow that to happen. But rather than every year--every year, every year--deciding at the last minute we are going to stop these devastating cuts, putting physicians in the situation where they are not sure how to plan, worrying our seniors, worrying those in our military and retired military personnel, now is the time to change the formula to stop it.
By doing that, by passing this legislation, we then set the stage for health care reform where, in fact, under health care reform, we have a different set of incentives. We focus on strengthening Medicare in a way that improves quality access for seniors. We focus on incentivizing prevention. We focus on incentivizing primary care doctors with a different system that will provide bonuses and payments for our primary care doctors.
So we have a new system. We have a new vision for strengthening Medicare, strengthening our health care system. But right at the moment, we also have this failed system in place that we are kind of stuck with unless we can say: We are done. We are going to start again. We are going to start from a different budget baseline, and then move forward on health care reform.
That is exactly what I have been wanting to do with this legislation. That is why I am so appreciative of the fact that our majority leader, Senator Reid, understands and is committed to making this change. His commitment to Medicare, his commitment to our seniors, our military personnel, and to our physicians is the reason we are here today. So I am so grateful to him for all of his commitment and all of his work. But this needs to be changed right now.
As I indicated, we have a system that supports our Medicare system, covers seniors, the disabled. We also tie it to our military health care system, members of the U.S. military, surviving spouses, families, military retirees, and their families. All of them are extremely supportive. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say this is a top priority, if not the top priority, of the AARP and those who advocate for seniors right now to give seniors the peace of mind to know they are going to be able to have access to their doctors and that their doctors are going to have the resources they need to be able to treat them.
This bill would make sure that happened by rejecting what has been a failed system. We can go right on down the list. We not only have strong support from the American Medical Association and other physician groups but those who represent our military. Military officers and their families and retirees are extremely supportive.
I am very proud of the work that over 20,000 physicians in Michigan do every day providing to more than 1.4 million seniors and people with disabilities in Michigan the quality care they need and deserve.
We have over 90,000 TRICARE beneficiaries, men and women in our military, retirees who are receiving high-quality medical services in conjunction with the Medicare system. We are very proud of that, and we want to make sure we are maintaining that as well.
Let me go through again what we are trying to make sure we can fix. One, this legislation would repeal the current broken system. It would stop a 21-percent cut to our physicians under Medicare and TRICARE, which would be devastating. It would stop what is a Band-aid approach every year. We know we are going to fix it. We fix it every year individually for that year, always at the last minute.
It is time to change that process. I believe this is honest budgeting because we know we are not going to allow these cuts to take place. So we should do away with this process that even proposes these cuts every year and lay the foundation for real physician payment reform, which is in the legislation.
Let me share with you a letter from a medical clinic in southwest Michigan where physicians wrote to me.
Every year we have to wait to the last minute to see if the rates will get cut or fixed. This makes it impossible to budget and project for the next year. Especially for practices like ours, with nearly 50 percent of our patients are Medicare patients. With the uncertainty and the increases that we do get not keeping up with the cost of living, we have to err on the side of caution, which leads us to job cuts. Though we need the staff to provide the best patient care between Medicare and Medicaid we can't afford to keep them and stay in business. If the uncertainty continues we will be forced to re-evaluate our patient population as well, leaving the Medicare patients with no choices for the care that they need.
This is really the bottom line. We want to make sure physicians are fully participating in caring for our senior citizens, for people with disabilities in this country. We want to make sure Medicare is strong. We want to make sure we are protecting it going forward. In order to do that, we have to start from the premise that we will not be allowing these cuts or the possibility of these cuts to go forward year after year after year.
The vote we are going to have in front of us is a vote to proceed to the bill. I know there are those with amendments they would like to offer. I would hope that we would see a strong bipartisan vote to simply go to this bill. I think the seniors of this country deserve that.
I think all of those who care about health care for our senior citizens and the disabled, our families, our military personnel deserve that; to have the opportunity to go to this bill, to be able to work on it together, and to be able to pass this bill and permanently solve this problem.
I am very grateful for the fact that the President of the United States not only supports this effort, his administration's budget, the budget he gave us at the beginning of this year, his very first budget, he put forward a budget that did not include going forward with the cuts in this flawed formula.
His budget baseline started from a premise that we would not be making these cuts going forward. I believe that is where we should be. We should be making sure we stop the Band-aid approach. Stop this effort that has gone on year after year and create an honest budgeting process so that we can make sure our seniors have confidence in the future; that they are going to be able to see their doctor under Medicare, and that physicians have the confidence of knowing they are supported by a strengthened Medicare system.
So I am very hopeful we will see a strong bipartisan vote to allow us to move to this very important measure to strengthen and protect Medicare of the future.
I yield the floor.
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