President Obama gave an hour long State of the Union address last night, but found time for just one sentence focused on the Affordable Care Act, or health care in general. The President chose instead to focus on other domestic issues such as tax reform, job creation, education and “an America built to last”. When mentioning the ACA, the President chose to frame the issue in terms of access and fairness:
“I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men.”
Granted, the insurance industry reforms in the ACA are a positive for the O&P industry, but the creation and proliferation of Accountable Care Organizations, O&P inclusion in the “essential health benefits package” and the acceleration of fraud investigation and provider audits are all issues whose impact has yet to be fully determined for the O&P community. As a whole, I find it strange that at a time when the Affordable Care Act is to be taken up by the Supreme Court in just a few weeks that the President would choose to basically ignore the largest domestic policy “victory” in the first three years of his presidency. The President made passing mention of his willingness to make tough choices on entitlement programs in order to get a larger deal to put America back on sound financial footing, but otherwise ignored the issue altogether.
The President did endorse using revenues that were previously earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for an extension of the payroll tax cut extension, the “doc fix” and other infrastructure initiatives. The payroll tax cut is tied to the “doc fix”, which the President again chose not to mention. Funding for the 2-month extension of the doc fix expires on March 1st and Congress is looking for offsets to pay for the year long extension. In the search for these offsets, Congress could look for other health care related savings from DMEPOS or Medicare providers in the form of rate cuts or additional fees.
My takeaway from the President’s speech last night was that he obviously plans to run against the most unpopular congress in American history this fall during the Presidential election. He listed issue after issue of his policy proposals, many of which have atleast some bipartisan support, but knowing full-well that very little, if any, of his agenda has any chance of becoming law in this heated election year. He plans to tell the American public that the corrupt institution of congress is the reason for our dire economic situtation and that he is best positioned to fix the problem. Republican presidential candidates will likely make the argument that we should use the past three years as a guide to how well the President is able to change how congress works.
O&P professionals must remain vigilant in the face of continued budget cuts to health care related programs and continue to focus on providing quality care to our patients. As a profession, we need to focus on quantifying our value to the health care system overall, only then can we start to become part of the solution to the runaway cost increases of entitlement programs crippling the federal budget.
Contact OPGA for help contacting your federal and state elected officials on the importance of O&P being included in the “essential health benefits package”, information on Accountable Care Organizations and other important legislative and regulatory issues that will have an dramatic affect on the future of the O&P profession.