Guest Opinion: The great Medicare heist

Published 5:54 pm Sunday, August 14, 2022

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By Rep. Greg Murphy, MD

Under the guise of the deceptively named “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022”, Congressional Democrats are poised to conduct the largest heist of Medicare dollars since the program’s inception. Although claiming to lower prescription drugs prices and extend affordable health care insurance to low-income families, Democrats’ myopic and partisan reconciliation package will stifle competition, significantly hamper the development of new cures, and redirect hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare to insurance companies and Green New Deal policies.

All Americans should reject this egregious proposal.

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First, the bill would grant the secretary of Health and Human Services sole authority to set drug price controls for Medicare Part B and D. While all Americans see lowering drug prices as a top priority, this is a horrendous approach. There is no statutory price floor, meaning manufacturers must comply with whatever arbitrary price the secretary sets or be subject to a tax of up to 95%. The University of Chicago estimates that this scheme will prevent up to 342 new drugs from coming to market over the next 20 years. The Democrats’ reconciliation package would penalize our health care system and set American drug manufacturers back decades as they work to combat the world’s most significant health care challenges – from Alzheimer’s and cancer to COVID-19 and other diseases.

Second, the proposal would do significant harm to patients and independent physicians, particularly in the oncology and rheumatology spaces. According to an Avalere analysis, the partisan reconciliation package would “lead to a total reduction of 39.8% in add-on payments across all providers administering top Medicare Part B drugs.” For rheumatologists and medical oncologists, these specialists will see 48.5% and 42.9% reductions, respectively, in reimbursement.

It is perverse to maintain that physician reimbursements are the main cause of why medicine in the U.S. is so costly. Physicians in recent years have often been in angst because of perpetually looming threats to cut their Medicare payments, as well as the general impact of inflation.

So now, on top of the already inadequate payments and historic inflation, independent physician practices will be forced to close their doors, leading to increasingly more costly consolidation in the health care market and forcing patients to a more expensive site of service. If the Democrats’ reconciliation package is signed into law, not only will Americans lose access to new curative medicines, but they also won’t have the doctors to administer them. Even if patients are lucky enough to find a physician, patients will have to pay more for treatments and cures. Patients and physicians alike should balk at the idea of Washington bureaucrats having the power to regulate which drugs your child, mother, or grandmother should have access to in a time of need.

Third, the new “enhanced” Obamacare subsidies authorized in this bill will cost taxpayers $248 billion over 10 years. These subsidies will inexplicably extend premium tax credits to wealthy Americans, which will line insurance companies’ pockets to artificially lower premiums.

Taxpayers are the ones who will pay for these increased Obamacare subsidies. This politically motivated shell game by Democrats will hurt taxpayers (also known as patients) while subsidizing health care for wealthy Americans. In fact, under this proposal, a couple in Pennington County, South Dakota making $500,000 per year would receive nearly $2,000 in annual subsidies. Think about that for a second. In President Joe Biden’s America, someone making half a million dollars a year will have his health care subsidized. That is absolutely absurd.

Instead of hurting patients, we should be pursuing common-sense, market-based solutions to lower the cost of prescription drugs, cap seniors’ out-of-pocket spending, and increase competition and new drug innovation. Republicans have put forward a collection of bipartisan policy ideas that would do all those things, but Democrats have once again rejected bipartisanship in pursuit of their extreme agenda. The classic smoke-and-mirrors trick Democrats are using to ram reconciliation through Congress will have long-lasting catastrophic impacts on patients, physicians, and the solvency of Medicare.

Rep. Greg Murphy, M.D. (R-NC) represents North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, is a practicing physician of more than 30 years and is vice chair of the House Republican Doctors Caucus.