Physicians Group: Debt Deal Threatens Health of Seniors and Disabled

The New York Metro chapter of Physicians for a National

Health Program (PNHP), an 18,000-member national

organization, denounces the federal debt ceiling deal

signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday.

“Politicians who say Medicare and Social Security are

spared cuts are not being honest,” said Dr. Oliver

Fein, Chair of PNHP-NY Metro. “Plans to cut these vital

programs are simply being delayed until later in the

year. Balancing the books by cutting programs that help

the sick and the elderly is unconscionable.”

The Budget Control Act includes a 2% across-the-board

cut to Medicare, which will be triggered automatically

unless Congress accepts a budget reduction plan by a

12-member “Supercommittee” before December 23. Even if

the panel’s proposal is approved, cuts to Medicare and

Social Security are virtually certain in that plan.

“Instead of closing corporate tax loopholes and raising

taxes on the wealthy, the lawmakers are blaming people

who need health care. If they were truly interested in

lowering health care costs, they would deal with the

elephant in the room: an unaffordable health care

system bloated by the private insurance industry’s $400

billion a year of profits and administrative wastes.

What would actually cut health care costs for everyone?

Improving and expanding an efficient public program,

like Medicare, to everybody,” said Dr. Fein.

Since Medicare has a 3% overhead, compared with 17-28%

for private health insurance, advocates for a

universal, affordable health care system have long

pushed for a public insurance system based on an

improved version of Medicare for everyone.

Dr. Fein added, “An effective social program like

Medicare is not the cause of our economic problem; it

is the solution. Medicare is a government-funded

program that is much more efficiently run than its

private counterpart. It prioritizes people’s needs

instead of private profits. This approach is the basis

for a healthy society, both physically and fiscally.”

Nothing is off the table for the upcoming

“Supercommittee” that will propose a plan for the

second round of cuts. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social

Security have traditionally been the prime targets of

any such proposal. Deep cuts to Medicare could include

shifting major costs to beneficiaries, 50% of whom earn

less than $22,000 a year.

“People on Medicare see it as a lifeboat. My patients

know that if they’re on Medicare, they’re safe. But now

this is being threatened,” said Dr. Alec Pruchnicki, a

geriatrician and Board member of PNHP-NY Metro.  “What

should be done instead is fix Medicare Part D and give

the government the power to negotiate drug prices with

the pharmaceutical companies, the way the VA already

does. That would save tens of billions of dollars.”

“It’s not only about what is in this bill, since so

much is still up in the air, but the larger political

environment that allowed the conversations surrounding

this bill to be possible,” said Dr. Elizabeth

Rosenthal, a dermatologist and PNHP-NY Metro Board

member. “Doctors have to advocate for their patients,

and we can’t remain silent when the foundation of our

social safety net is being dismantled. This is a life

and death issue.”

PNHP-NY Metro is part of a large and growing national

movement dedicated to protecting and expanding the

country’s social safety net. Stakes have been raised

substantially by the debt ceiling deal, and

professional and grassroots organizations working

together are intensifying their organizing before the

urgent deadline of December 23, before which Congress

must vote on the second round of cuts.


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