President Barack Obama essentially acknowledged the need to restart the health care reform debate by hosting a high-level White House meeting scheduled for February 25th. Key Congressional leaders from both political parties are expected to attend the Healthcare “Summit.”
Both Democrats and Republicans are at odds over virtually every major issue facing Congress and Obama, according to a press release from the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (NAAOP). And with tempers and mistrust rising between key decision-makers, the prospects for achieving significant progress remain in doubt.
What is clear is that certain deadlines loom that must be addressed, regardless of the final outcome of a more comprehensive reform bill. The physician fee schedule is expected to be cut by 21% at the end of February if Congress does not extend a freeze in reimbursement rates. In addition, the Medicare outpatient therapy caps are currently in place for the first time in years. An exceptions process to the therapy caps was in place but expired at the end of 2009. Congress will have to act on this issue as well or will incur the wrath of Medicare beneficiaries losing access to rehabilitation therapies at the very time they need them most.
The extension of the physician fee fix and the imposition of an exceptions process on the therapy caps are expensive but most everyone on Capitol Hill believes they need to be enacted. These two issues represent “must-pass” Medicare items that may, in fact, create a legislative vehicle on which other reforms may be added. It is possible at this point that another short-term extension of the physician fix will be passed to buy time for Congressional leaders to agree on a broader health care strategy.
On the other hand, Republican leaders appear to have gained tremendous momentum in opposing health care reform outright and, with an election coming in November, they have little incentive to compromise on health care reform now. Their challenge will be to not look obstructionist in the months leading up to the election. And a crucial test of this will be the White House Healthcare Summit.
Democrats are reluctant to cast aside their existing bills and start from scratch on health care reform while Republicans take the position that unless this is done, the Summit will be nothing more than political theater. Obama has stated that he will unveil on the White House Web site a new approach to health reform, but whether this new bill attracts any supporters is anyone’s guess at this point.
All of this leaves one wondering what impact it will have on orthotics and prosthetics. The answer is not at all clear at the current time, but the O&P field needs to remain vigilant about monitoring this evolving situation and intervening at the appropriate time. — NAAOP