Health providers: Debt deal puts seniors at risk

@CNNMoney August 1, 2011: 7:20 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Hospital and doctor groups warned Monday that the debt ceiling deal could damage seniors' access to health care if it triggers pay cuts to Medicare providers.

The American Hospital Association, which represents about 5,000 hospitals and other providers, said Monday that patients' access to care "could be curtailed by further cuts to Medicare funding for hospital care."

On Monday, the House approved the last-minute debt ceiling deal that would keep the United States out of default and reduce deficits by at least $2.1 trillion over a decade.

Medicare, the government-administered health insurance program for seniors, will face cuts.

While those cuts won't touch Medicare beneficiaries, they could result in lower payments to hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and other providers of Medicare services.

That explains why shares of health care facilities such as Kindred Healthcare (KND), National Healthcare (NHC) and Skilled Healthcare Group (SKH) fell sharply Monday.

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The AHA argued that as more Americans age, they also rely more on hospitals for their care.

Cuts to Medicare funding for hospitals, the group warned, could overload emergency rooms, shut down trauma units and reduce patient access to the latest [medical] treatments.

"That's why the total Medicare program -- including caregivers -- should be exempt," the group said.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, which has more than 100,000 members, also expressed concerns about how the deal's terms pertain to Medicare.

The group's president, Dr. Roland Goertz, challenged the idea that there won't be any cuts to Medicare benefits. "Payment to Medicare providers is also a Medicare benefit since it enables physicians to provide care for beneficiaries," he said.

"Medicare payments to doctors are not grandiose. If you cut them further, it could result in more doctors dropping Medicare patients," he said.

"We know the [debt] deal will have an impact on Medicare pay to physicians," he said. "We're just not sure how large that impact will be." To top of page

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