Members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week to begin the lame-duck session, and negotiations on the impending “fiscal cliff” officially began between leaders in Washington. In addition, a report released by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) shed light on billions of dollars in inaccurate Medicare payments – a serious problem for the program.
Talks Grow Serious on “Fiscal Cliff”
As Congress reconvened this week, formal negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff began between lawmakers. President Obama reiterated his position at a news conference on Wednesday, demanding higher taxes on the wealthy while also making clear that he is prepared to make some changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He announced his support for a deal that would include $2.50 in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue. “I want a big deal. I want a comprehensive deal,” he said. “There are some tough things that have to be done, but there is a way of doing this … that does not hurt our seniors.”
Lawmakers were quick to challenge his remarks. Many conservative Members of Congress said they would oppose raising revenue as a part of a deal unless it comes from economic growth. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) said, “Additional revenue should be tied to the only thing that will save the country in the long run, and that is reforming entitlements.”
Many liberal Members of Congress, on the other hand, have announced their objections to altering entitlement programs. In a letter to President Obama, two key Senators wrote, “We urge you to reject changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to states, alter the structure of these critical programs, or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit reduction efforts.”
Negotiations are still in the early phases and it remains unclear whether lawmakers will reach a deal by the end of this year. Many leaders on Capitol Hill, including President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-8), have made it clear that they are willing to compromise. The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) sincerely hopes that lawmakers will responsibly avert the fiscal cliff without enacting harmful benefit cuts for seniors. We will continue to post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.
New Report Finds $1.5 Billion in Medicare Overpayments
On Tuesday, an HHS OIG report announced that nearly one-fourth of the claims that were filed by skilled nursing facilities in 2009 were inaccurate – an amount that equals more than $1.5 billion in erroneous payments and represents almost 6 percent of the total Medicare budget for skilled nursing facilities.
The authors of the report wrote that most overpayments were due to facilities like nursing homes claiming more in reimbursements than they were entitled to, while other claims should not have been reimbursed by Medicare at all. Officials from the Centers from Medicare and Medicaid Services have reduced payments to skilled nursing facilities significantly in recent years, but the authors of the report suggested that even more must be done to bring greater efficiency to Medicare.
TSCL is hopeful that government officials will increase fraud prevention efforts in order to root out significant overpayments to skilled nursing facilities. We strongly believe that the failure to manage fraud, waste, and abuse results in higher premiums and taxes for seniors, and increased pressure must be applied in order to ensure that every program dollar is appropriately spent.