Putting off real Medicare fix with temporary patches a poor prescription

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Medicare is one of the few government programs nearly every American expects to benefit from, most likely when they retire.

But Medicare has been operating with “patches” on broken payment formulas since 1997. Congress can’t seem to muster the political will — on either side of the aisle — to fix the flawed system.

The action taken last week by a 64-35 vote in the Senate sends to President Obama legislation to prevent — albeit with a Band-Aid — a 24 percent cut in the reimbursement rate to doctors for medical care.

The Medicare system is short on cash for the same reason private health-care insurance rates have skyrocketed — health-care costs have risen far faster than the rate of inflation. Medicare reimbursements are by law set at the Sustainable Growth Rate, which ties the amount of money budgeted to the projected growth of the economy.

This year, it has resulted in a $21 billion gap. That amount of money — the patch — will come from cuts to health-care providers, although more than half of those cuts won’t be in place for at least a decade.

This is a trick right out of the funny papers, as newspaper comic strips have been called. Remember what Popeye the Sailor Man’s friend Wimpy used to say when he found himself short on cash to pay the restaurant tab?

“I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” And then, of course, there is always another Tuesday on the horizon.

Congress has put off a tough decision 17 times in as many years rather than work out a long-term solution.

Temporary doesn’t get it done. Fix it!

If not, the fight over Medicare funding will go on year after year leaving doctors and patients with uncertainty.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was strongly opposed to another patch. His proposed solution may or may not be the answer, but at least he has the courage to seek a solution.

“There have now been 16 of these patches — 16 — and every senator that I talk to says that that just defies common sense and it seems bizarre even by Beltway standards,” Wyden said on the Senate floor before the latest patch was applied. “Now is the ideal time for repealing SGR.”

If lawmakers don’t like Wyden’s idea, fine, come up with another plan.

Tough choices have to be made sooner rather than later. Defying common sense has been going on for far too long.

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