AAFP Statement: Short-term Debt Limit Increase Needed But Won’t Bring Health Security to Elderly or Disabled Patients

Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013

Statement attributable to:
Reid Blackwelder, MD
American Academy of Family Physicians

“By passing a last-minute, short-term increase in the debt limit, Congress has granted a brief reprieve for elderly and disabled Medicare patients and the military families who depend on TRICARE for health coverage. But it is a mere postponement, not a solution.

“Millions of elderly and disabled Americans, as well as military families, depend on a stable Medicare system that ensures they have access to the doctors they need. Pushing vital decisions such as whether to lift the debt ceiling to the last minute is no way to serve constituents.

“On-again, off-again approaches to ensuring Medicare and TRICARE patients have access to health care have long-term implications. Study after study has clearly demonstrated that patients who get timely preventive care and continuous medical attention for chronic conditions have better overall health, fewer avoidable complications and hospitalizations, and lower health care costs. The annual, erratic approach to postponing double-digit Medicare cuts required by the flawed sustainable growth rate formula has already undermined the medical community’s confidence in Congress’ commitment to ensuring health security for beneficiaries. By repeatedly taking the debt ceiling to the brink, Congress further destabilizes the reliability of Medicare and threatens further disruption of the financial viability of physician practices.

“Congressional legislators contend they want to improve the quality and reduce the costs of health care. Fallout from the failure to pass a long-term increase in the debt limit works against that goal.

“The U.S. House and Senate must stop working against themselves and their own goals. They must take the appropriate steps to meet the promises made to stabilize our nation’s economy, restore the federal government to full capacity, and ensure access to physician services by ending the decade-old downward spiral of the SGR. Only by doing so can patients be assured of access to the care they need, when they need it.”

Editor's Note: To arrange an interview with Dr. Blackwelder, contact Leslie Champlin, 800-274-2237, Ext. 5224, or lchampli@aafp.org.

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Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.

Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient’s integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.

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