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Fiscal Standoff Could Cause Financial Pain for Health Care
Date:3/2/2013

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 28 (HealthDay News) -- "Sequestration" is Washington-speak for the approximately $85 billion in annual federal spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Those cuts were originally set to take effect on Jan. 1, but were delayed in the deal to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and budget reductions.

But those cuts are set to kick in Friday, with spending reductions coming to a wide range of areas and programs, including health care, defense, education, air travel and agriculture.

Portions of health care and related programs would be somewhat unscathed -- for instance Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for poorer Americans, would be left untouched.

But experts point to three key areas that health-care consumers should be concerned about, not just in the days ahead but as Congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama continue to wrangle over the budget for the next fiscal year starting in October:

  • Hospitals: Decreases in Medicare reimbursement for hospitals and skilled nursing facilities are set to total nearly $4.5 billion, or about $1.3 million for the average facility. Such cuts are expected to result in layoffs, especially of nurses, who represent the largest percentage of employees in hospitals.
  • Physicians: Medicare payments to doctors could drop by as much as 3 percent to 4 percent, according to some estimates, totaling about $4.1 billion. The reduction in revenue could be the last straw for frustrated physicians who may stop accepting Medicare patients -- who tend to be 65 or older -- or decide to retire a little sooner than they had planned.
  • Research: Federal agencies such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are each fac
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