Health Budget Battle Redux

Updated at 8:50 a.m. Feb. 14.

If it’s the middle of February, and it’s time for the yearly Washington ritual: A president proposes Medicare and Medicaid cuts, and then nursing homes and hospitals complain that those cuts will destroy the quality of care.  Today was no different: President Barack Obama released his fiscal 2013 budget plan.

Photo by Karl Eisenhower/KHN

Since many of the about $360 billion in payment changes over 10 years were the same as those the president recommended to the congressional super committee last fall, this budget (like those of many other presidents) is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

That didn’t stop provider groups from slamming it, hard.

“This budget proposal would jeopardize the ability of teaching and children’s hospitals to train the next generation of physicians, harm care for the people in rural communities by reducing funding for critical access hospitals and reduce assistance that helps defray some of these costs to low-income seniors,” according to a statement from American Hospital Association president and chief executive officer Rich Umbdenstock. It would also hurt the industry’s ability to create jobs, he maintained.

Ditto for the Federation of American Hospitals, which is “extremely concerned” that Obama’s budget “proposes arbitrary cuts to already inadequate Medicare and Medicaid hospital funding.” In a statement, Chip Kahn, the group’s president and chief executive officer, called the funding cuts “shortsighted” and “counterproductive.”

Enough already, adds the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care. Skilled nursing facilities are already absorbing $127 billion in Medicare payment reductions over the next decade and the additional cuts in Obama’s budget are just too much, Alan G. Rosenbloom, the group’s president, said in a statement.  Over the last year, he said, 32 states have cut or frozen Medicaid funding for nursing homes.  They point out that more than 70 percent of nursing home patient care is paid for by government programs.

Of course, health care providers never like payment cuts, and some said Monday that they understood that Obama has to take steps to reduce the federal deficit. But they may be especially nervous this year because of what awaits them in January unless Congress steps in: the automatic 2 percent Medicare payment cut for providers, triggered by the super committee’s lack of action.