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Take a stand against sequestration cuts

February 20th, 2013

by Kent Bottles

Anyone who cares about hospitals and health and well-being of Americans should contact their congressmen and senators of both parties, and demand they solve the problem of sequestration cuts before they go into affect March 1. It is disturbing that many of our leaders in Washington, D.C., appear to think such cuts are inevitable and unavoidable.

It also is worth remembering that Congress created this mess, and Congress can get us out of it.

In August 2011, Congress approved the Budget Control Act that directed the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction to come up with $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. The Joint Committee, composed of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, failed to reach agreement on targeted cuts and so the sequestration cuts were triggered automatically.

Remember the automatic cuts were thought to be so severe that nobody in their right mind would let them go into effect.

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Merely listing the healthcare cuts that will kick in March 1 unless Congress acts indicates how devastating the result will be:

  • Medicare cuts totaling $11 billion
  • Hospital Medicare reimbursements dropping $5.8 billion
  • Prescription drug benefits for seniors cut by $591 million
  • Food and Drug Administration budget reductions of 8 percent ($318 million)
  • National Institutes of Health research cuts of $2.5 billion
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget cuts totaling $490 million
  • Indian Health Services reductions of $365 million
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration cut by $275 million
  • Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT cuts of $1 million
  • Grants to help states form insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act reduced by $66 million
  • The Prevention and Public Health Fund of the Affordable Care Act reduced by $76 million
  • Roughly 766,000 in lost healthcare jobs, the American Hospital Association estimates

I am writing this blog post on Valentine's Day, while the two sides are not showing each other or the nation much love and understanding.

Senate Democrats proposed a 50/50 combination of cuts and new revenues from closing loopholes for the wealthy and corporations to avoid the March 1 deadline of automatic cuts listed above.

House Republicans are insisting on eliminating the federal budget deficit over 10 years without any new revenues, and they are predicting the sequester will go into affect March 1.

The White House budget office has stated: "No amount of planning can mitigate the effect of these cuts. Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument. It is not the responsible way for our nation to achieve deficit reduction."

Democratic and Republican healthcare leaders must demand Congress do its job and avoid the March 1 sequestration. It is congressional malpractice to allow us to lose healthcare jobs at a time when the economy is finally recovering from the recession.

It is wrong to eliminate funding for hospitals that are trying to cope with an increasingly challenging economic environment. It is foolhardy to cut funding for biomedical research, and it makes no sense to make it harder to implement the Affordable Care Act with its complicated overhaul of the American healthcare delivery system.

Enough is enough. Congress must act responsibly and come to a compromise to avoid the sequester slated to occur in less than two weeks.

Kent Bottles, M.D, is a Senior Fellow at the Thomas Jefferson University School of Population Health.

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