Feature:Opinion

A physician’s view of President Obama’s budget

Photo of Rep. Bill Cassidy
Rep. Bill Cassidy
Member of Congress (R-LA)
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      Rep. Bill Cassidy

      Rep. Bill Cassidy, a physician, serves as an assistant whip for the House Republican Conference and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

The budget President Obama released this week demonstrates the administration’s detachment from our current fiscal situation. As a physician, I’m particularly concerned about the president’s refusal to offer a plan to reform Medicare so it will be here for future generations. The budget is a tremendous opportunity to create policy, yet the president’s budget of more spending, taxing, and debt won’t prevent Medicare from going bankrupt. If that happens, people will inevitably be denied access to care. And instead of increasing freedom and choice in the Medicare market, this budget focuses on increasing federal control — a tactic that continually fails.

The importance of saving and strengthening Medicare through reforms cannot be overstated. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently announced that the Medicare Trust Fund will be exhausted by 2022. Republicans and Democrats have acknowledged that the program is at a crisis level. The bipartisan Wyden-Ryan plan, similar to a plan proposed by Democratic Senator John Breaux during the Clinton years, would strengthen and preserve Medicare for those who currently depend on it, as well as for future generations. The president ignores this plan and offers no alternative, making only small and insignificant tweaks to a system that all agree is going bankrupt fast. Even the president’s Bipartisan Debt Commission reported that federal health care entitlements are unsustainable and unless restructured will bankrupt the United States.

Incredibly, the president’s budget not only ignores entitlement reform, it makes things worse by continuing to push the health care law passed in 2009. The health care overhaul gutted $500 billion from Medicare to fund new entitlement provisions, ensuring Medicare’s bankruptcy even sooner, hurting America’s seniors today, and ensuring a diminished future for future generations.

As a physician with the responsibility of treating Medicare patients, I’m worried that the president is using this budget to increase the power of the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). This unelected panel of bureaucrats has the power to set rates paid to Medicare providers. IPAB sets a budget target and then cuts provider reimbursements until that target is achieved — in effect denying care to America’s seniors. It’s a scary thought but it’s about to be a scary reality.

These are just some of the reasons the president’s budget falls well short of being responsible. It increases our national debt without resolving any of the underlying problems associated with our entitlement system. It continues to increase the debt at an astonishing rate, even though the president had promised to halve our deficits by his fourth year in office. Even with $2 trillion in new taxes and significant military cuts, this budget still increases the deficit by almost $1 trillion — the fourth-straight year of trillion-plus deficits.

America deserves more than political tactics as we seek to address our short-term and long-term prosperity. This budget is the triumph of politics over responsibility and it’s unfortunate. When the president was first elected, he spoke to the Republican House members. He said that he’d rather be a good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. This budget suggests that the president has changed his mind.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (M.D.) represents Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District.