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Tom Perriello: Permanent Medicare reimbursement fix

Last week, Congress took an important step to make sure that our senior citizens can continue to see their doctors for care by protecting the reimbursement rates for doctors who participate in the Medicare system. The House passed bipartisan legislation that blocks the 25 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors that could have gone into effect on December 31, which will ensure seniors and military families will be able to continue to see their doctors. This legislation is fully paid for and now goes to the President for his signature.

While this legislation will ensure doctors and seniors have stability in the Medicare program for the next year, I believe we need a permanent fix to Medicare reimbursement rates instead of continually revisiting this question and introducing uncertainty for both doctors and seniors. Last year, I voted for legislation that established a permanent fix in the way Medicare pays physicians so that it will not be linked to the Sustainable Growth Rate. Permanent reform of physician payments in Medicare will help guarantee that Medicare beneficiaries continue to enjoy the excellent access to care that they do today.

This week, the House also voted to provide all seniors the equivalent of a cost-of-living adjustment for this year in response to the failure of the Social Security system to approve one. Passage required a two-thirds majority in this case, and unfortunately, congressional Republicans defeated the bill. I cosponsored and voted for this bill to provide one-time emergency payments of $250 to Social Security recipients, who will not receive a cost-of-living adjustment for the second year in a row. This payment would provide immediate support to seniors, veterans, railroad retirees and people with disabilities who receive Social Security to make ends meet during this tough time, and I’m disappointed that partisanship trumped protecting our seniors.

The Social Security cost-of-living formula is tied to the consumer price index, and due to the recession, inflation rates have remained low. However, real costs for seniors—like prescription drugs and utilities—have continued to rise dramatically, making the current formula unrealistic and ineffective. I have supported ways to change the COLA formulate to better reflect the reality of rising costs that seniors are facing.

Additionally last week, I voted against a continuing resolution to fund federal programs through the next year. I opposed the bill because I believe it was irresponsible of Congress not to pass a real budget this year, and the bill included new regulations on food that would be overly burdensome to our small famers. When family farms are struggling during these tough times, we do not need to be imposing new regulation on them.

Tom Perriello represents the Fifth District in the United States House of Representatives.