Documents: Medicare, Medicaid In The GOP’s ‘Path to Prosperity’ Budget

Here are excerpts from the GOP “Path to Prosperity” 2012 budget proposal as presented April 5, 2011 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan:

Related: See President Obama’s Proposed 2012 HHS Budget or see the entire President’s budget section-by-section.

The Congressional Budget Office prepared a long-term analysis of the House GOP budget proposal.  In addition, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote a blog post Monday on federal health care spending.

Also, see the entire GOP budget proposal, a summary of their budget proposal or how the GOP says its proposal contrasts with Obama’s.

Repairing a Broken Medicaid System

Major proposals

• Secure the Medicaid benefit by converting the federal share of Medicaid spending into a block grant tailored to meet each state’s needs, indexed for inflation and population growth. This reform ends the misguided one-size-fits-all approach that has tied the hands of so many state governments. States will no longer be shackled by federally determined program requirements and enrollment criteria. Instead, they will have the freedom and flexibility to tailor a Medicaid program that fits the needs of their unique populations.

• Improve the health-care safety net for low-income Americans by giving states the ability to offer their Medicaid populations more options and better access to care. Medicaid recipients, like all Americans, deserve to choose their own doctors and make their own health care decisions, instead of having Washington dictate those decisions for them.

• Save $750 billion over ten years, contributing to the long-term stabilization of the federal government’s fiscal path and encouraging fiscal responsibility at the state level.

Medicaid, the program created in the 1960s to provide health-care coverage for the poor, is coming apart at the seams. The open-ended nature of the program’s financing structure has created rapidly rising costs that are nearly impossible to check. In 1966, the first year of the program’s operation, total costs were $400 million. By 2009, the total cost of administering Medicaid had soared to $378.6 billion. Absent fundamental reform, costs are expected to continue climbing and are expected to reach a total of $840 billion by 2019.

Under Medicaid, state governments and the federal government share the cost of providing medical services to low-income families. But a flawed federal-state matching formula has fueled runaway state spending – and the results in terms of state debt are plain to see. Medicaid is now the largest line-item on most states’ budgets – surpassing even education – and accounted for 22 percent of total state spending in 2010.

Meanwhile, much of the federal government’s share of the spending is wasted because the bureaucracy cannot provide adequate oversight of this open-ended program: Medicaid’s improper payment rate is over 10 percent, more than three times the amount of waste that other federal agencies generate. This translates into $33 billion worth of waste each year.

Medicaid’s current structure gives states a perverse incentive to grow the program and little incentive to save. The federal government pays an average of 57 cents of every dollar spent on Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid coverage during boom years is tempting and easy to do – state governments pay less than half the cost of such expansions. Yet to restrain Medicaid’s growth, states must rescind a dollar’s worth of coverage to save 43 cents.

Moreover, states are not given adequate flexibility when it comes to achieving those savings – one-size-fits-all federal mandates tie their hands with regard to coverage options, and many times the only way states can achieve savings is through formulaic cuts to medical providers. This is why so many doctors refuse to take Medicaid – states have reduced their reimbursements below what the market will bear.

For doctors who see Medicaid patients at below-market reimbursement rates, losses are shifted to non-Medicaid patients.21 The cost-shifting that occurs from government rationing remains a significant contributor to health inflation, which in turn puts quality, affordable health coverage out-of-reach for an increasing number of Americans.

At the same time, federal spending has followed the same exploding trajectory as states. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal spending on Medicaid will grow annually by 7 percent from nearly $260 billion in 2012 and to nearly $560 billion within the next ten years. Should this problem continue to be ignored, two outcomes are inevitable: significant cuts in benefits and massive tax increases.

All Americans will pay more because of this broken Medicaid system – and not just in higher taxes. Because Medicaid’s reimbursement rates have been ratcheted down to below-market levels, the care that Medicaid patients receive is often substandard. Recent studies have indicated that Medicaid patients are more likely to die after coronary artery bypass surgery, less likely to get standard care for blocked heart arteries, and more likely to die from treatable cancer, than those with other coverage options. By some measures, such as in-hospital death rates following major surgeries, Medicaid patients fared even worse than the uninsured.

Medicaid has fostered a two-tiered hierarchy within the health-care marketplace that stigmatizes Medicaid enrollees, and its perverse funding structure is exacerbating budget pressures at the state and federal level, while creating a mountain of waste. With administrators looking to control costs and providers refusing to participate in a system that severely under-reimburses their services, Medicaid beneficiaries are ultimately left navigating an increasingly complex system for even the most basic procedures. Absent reform, Medicaid will not be able to deliver on its promise to provide a sturdy health-care safety net for society’s most vulnerable.

The key to the welfare reform of the late 1990s was Congress’s decision to grant states the ability to design their own systems. It is now time to grant them the same flexibility with regard to Medicaid.

STOPPING THE ABUSE OF MEDICAID BY REPEALING THE HEALTH CARE LAW

One of the most problematic aspects of the health care law enacted last year is that it puts an additional 20 million Americans by 2019 into a Medicaid system that is fundamentally broken.

Medicaid is failing the 50 million Americans it already serves. A growing number of physicians and hospitals will no longer accept large numbers of Medicaid patients, as federal and state governments have reduced reimbursement rates to the point where doctors are losing money every time a Medicaid patient walks through their doors. Pushing even more people into this broken system will only put additional strain on those provider networks that are still willing to take Medicaid patients. The result will be poor-quality care and long waits for vulnerable citizens.

Medicaid is putting too much strain on federal and state budgets as it is. State budgets are strained to the breaking point by a Medicaid system that doesn’t work, and the federal government’s share of the burden is unmanageable. The new health care law would make this problem worse by increasing federal spending by $627 billion over the next decade, according to CBO. And according to Medicaid’s non-partisan chief actuary, state spending is projected to grow to over $327 billion by 2019.

The new law makes bad incentives worse, not better. Making matters worse, the federal government will temporarily pay 100 percent of the costs of new enrollees, reducing incentives for states to control Medicaid costs. This window of more generous federal funding will encourage states to add as many new people to their Medicaid rolls as they can while the federal government is picking up the tab. However, states will eventually be on the hook for additional costs.

The way forward in Medicaid is to follow the reforms included in this budget, not expand a broken program. Repealing the new law and replacing it with true, patient-centered reforms will better serve Medicaid patients while contributing to solvency of federal and state budgets.

Offering states more flexibility for their Medicaid beneficiaries will remove the stigma Medicaid recipients face, and allow them to take advantage of a range of options available. Several of the nation’s governors have made innovative proposals to fix Medicaid. This budget encourages further efforts in this direction.

Saving Medicare

Major Proposals

• Save Medicare for current and future generations while making no changes for those in and near retirement. For younger workers, when they reach eligibility, Medicare will provide a Medicare payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs. These future Medicare beneficiaries will be able to choose a plan the same way members of Congress do. Medicare will provide additional assistance for lower-income beneficiaries and those with greater health risks.

• Ensure that the cost of frivolous litigation is not passed on to consumers in the form of higher health-care premiums by capping non-economic damages in medical liability lawsuits.

• Stop the raid on the Medicare trust fund that was going to be used to pay for the new health care law. Any current-law Medicare savings must go to saving Medicare, not financing the creation of new open-ended health-care entitlements.

• Fix the Medicare physician payment formula for the next ten years so that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to health care.

With the creation of Medicare in 1965, the United States made a commitment to help fund the medical care of elderly Americans without exhausting their life savings or the assets and incomes of their working children and younger relatives. In urging the creation of Medicare, President Kennedy said that such a program was chiefly needed to protect, not the poor, but people who had worked for years and suddenly found all their savings gone because of a costly health problem.

Created with the mission of providing health coverage for America’s retirees, Medicare’s structural imbalance threatens beneficiaries’ access to quality, affordable care. A flaw in the structure of the program is driving up health care costs, which are, in turn, threatening to bankrupt the system – and ultimately the nation. Unless Congress fixes what’s broken in Medicare, without breaking what’s working, the program will end up causing exactly what it was created to avoid – millions of American seniors without adequate health security and a younger working generation saddled with enormous debts to pay for spending levels that cannot be sustained.

The Medicare program attempts to do two things to make sure that all seniors have secure, affordable health insurance that works. First, recognizing that seniors need extra protection when it comes to health coverage, it pools risk among all seniors to ensure that they enjoy secure access to care. This budget strengthens and enhances this aspect of Medicare so that seniors will have more health-care choices within the same stabilized risk pool.

Second, Medicare subsidizes coverage for seniors to ensure that coverage is affordable. Affordability is a critical goal, but the subsidy structure of Medicare is fundamentally broken and drives costs in the opposite direction. The open-ended, blank-check nature of the Medicare subsidy drives health-care inflation at an astonishing pace, threatens the solvency of this critical program, and creates inexcusable levels of waste in the system.

Politicians’ repeated efforts to patch this problem without reforming the structure of the subsidy have amounted to one failure after another. Time and again, Congress has applied band-aids to control costs by reducing the rate at which doctors and hospitals are reimbursed for treating Medicare patients. These repeated fee reductions have had two consequences: Providers have either increased the volume of services they provide for each condition, leading to waste, fraud and abuse; or they have stopped accepting Medicare patients, limiting access for seniors.

Despite these repeated fee reductions, the rising cost of Medicare has continued unabated. Today, Medicare spending is growing at a rate of 7.2 percent every year. This is more than twice as fast as this nation’s economy is growing. The unchecked growth of the Medicare program cannot be sustained – eventually, it will threaten not just the affordability of coverage for seniors, but also the security that comes with knowing that coverage can be obtained at any price. Letting government break its promises to current seniors and to future generations is unacceptable.

The reforms outlined in this budget protect and preserve Medicare for those in and near retirement, while saving and strengthening this critical program so that future generations can count on it to be there when they retire.

This budget ends the raid on the Medicare trust fund that began with passage of the new health care law last year. It ensures that any potential savings in current law go to shore up Medicare, not to pay for new entitlements. In addition to repealing the health care law’s new rationing board and its unfunded long-term care entitlement, this budget stabilizes plan choices for current seniors.

This budget also achieves savings by advancing common-sense curbs on abusive and frivolous lawsuits. Medical lawsuits and excessive verdicts increase health care costs and result in reduced access to care. When mistakes happen, patients have a right to fair representation and fair compensation. But the current tort litigation system too often serves the interests of lawyers while driving up costs.

This budget fixes the Medicare physician payment formula for the next ten years so that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to health care. It provides for a reimbursement system that fairly compensates physicians who treat Medicare beneficiaries while providing incentives to improve quality and efficiency.

Finally, this budget will save Medicare for future generations, protecting those in and near retirement from any changes while forging for younger workers a Medicare program modeled on the system of affordable, quality health coverage options now enjoyed by members of Congress.

Premium support – a better way to deliver secure benefits

Starting in 2022, new Medicare beneficiaries will be enrolled in the same kind of health care program that members of Congress enjoy. Future Medicare recipients will be able to choose from a list of guaranteed coverage options, and they will be given the ability to choose a plan that works best for them. This is not a voucher program, but rather a premium-support model.

A Medicare premium-support payment would be paid, by Medicare, to the plan chosen by the beneficiary, subsidizing its cost. The premium-support model would operate similar to the way the Medicare prescription-drug benefit program works today. The Medicare premium-support payment would be adjusted so that wealthier beneficiaries would receive a lower subsidy, the sick would receive a higher payment if their conditions worsened, and lower-income seniors would receive additional assistance to cover out-of-pocket costs.

STOPPING THE RAID ON MEDICARE BY REPEALING THE HEALTH CARE LAW

The health-care law last year was emblematic of the wrong way to fix the problems with Medicare. First, it raided the program to fund a new, unsustainable, open-ended health-care entitlement. Second, it created a government panel with the power to save money by rationing care and restricting access to treatments.

The federal government cannot spend the same dollar twice. The trillion-dollar overhaul of the U.S. health-care sector enacted by the last Congress was filled with gimmicks and double-counting to hide its true cost. The most egregious example of this was the way the overhaul’s supporters claimed that it would both shore up the Medicare trust fund and offset the cost of the expensive new health-care entitlement that the new law created.

The President himself announced that the new law “actually added at least a dozen years to the solvency of Medicare,” while also claiming that it wouldn’t add to the deficit. But at the House Budget Committee’s first hearing of the year, Medicare’s chief actuary, Rick Foster, testified that it would be impossible for the new law to do both unless the savings were double-counted.

“Both will happen as a result of the same one set of savings, under Medicare,” Foster explained. “But it takes two sets of money to make it happen… when we need the money to extend the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, we have a promissory note… and Treasury has to pay that money back. But they have to get it from somewhere. That’s the missing link.”

Rationing is an inferior solution to Medicare’s problems. There are two ways to control health care spending: Give bureaucrats more control to ration care, or give patients more power to reward providers who deliver high-quality, low-cost care (and deny business to those who fail to provide quality, affordable, care).

The new health care law empowers bureaucrats at the expense of patients and providers, setting up an unelected board of “experts” – the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB – tasked with squeezing savings out of Medicare through formulaic rationing. One-size-fits-all decisions to restrict certain treatments punish beneficiaries by hitting all providers of the same treatment with acrossthe- board cuts, with no regard to measures of quality or patient satisfaction.

This budget would eliminate IPAB and stop the raid on Medicare. Then, after ensuring that current-law savings go to shore up Medicare for those in and near retirement, this budget makes sure that the program is there for future generations by adopting a better way to control costs – through true choice and competition, ensuring that patients and doctors are at the center of health care in the United States.

This approach to strengthen the Medicare program ensures security and affordability for seniors now and into the future. First, it ensures security by setting up a tightly regulated exchange for Medicare plans. Health plans that choose to participate in the Medicare exchange must agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries, to avoid cherry-picking and ensure that Medicare’s sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage. This reform builds upon the bipartisan Rivlin-Ryan Medicare reform plan advanced in the President’s Fiscal Commission in 2010.

While there would be no disruptions in the current Medicare fee-for-service program for those currently enrolled or becoming eligible in the next ten years, all seniors would have the choice to opt into the new Medicare program once it begins in 2022. No senior would be forced to stay in the old program. This budget gives seniors the freedom to choose a plan that works best for them and guarantees health security throughout their retirement years.

These reforms also ensure affordability by fixing the currently broken subsidy system and letting market competition work as a real check on widespread waste and skyrocketing health-care costs. Putting patients in charge of how their health care dollars are spent will force providers to compete against each other on price and quality. That’s how markets work: The customer is the ultimate guarantor of value.

For too long in the Medicare system, the federal government, not the patient, has been the customer – and the government has been a clumsy, ineffective steward of value. Controlling costs without limiting access or sacrificing quality has proved to be an impossible task for government bureaucrats. In a vain attempt to get control of the waste in the system, Washington has made across-the-board payment reductions to providers without regard to quality or patient satisfaction. It hasn’t worked. Costs have continued to grow, seniors continue to lose access to quality care, and the program remains on a path to bankruptcy. Absent reform, Medicare will be unable to meet the needs of current seniors or future generations.

In health care, as in any other economic arrangement, control of money is power. When it comes to controlling health-care costs and saving the nation from bankruptcy, the question is: Who gets the power? One centralized federal government, or 50 million empowered seniors holding providers accountable in a true marketplace? Patient power will always serve the needs of the people far better than bureaucrats managing the decline of a government-run system on the verge of bankruptcy.

Reform aimed to empower individuals – with a strengthened safety net for the poor and the sick – will not only ensure the fiscal sustainability of this program, the federal budget, and the U.S. economy. It will also guarantee that Medicare can fulfill the promise of health security for America’s seniors.