If you like being angry, these are the best of times.
It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world
In today's political landscape, anger reigns supreme across the country
Take Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, for example (or please). He got worked up in the last week or so over the federal deficit. An emergency spending bill moving through the Senate aroused the solon’s ire. He used one of those dilatory Senate rules we have been hearing about so much lately to effectively filibuster the measure. Bunning demanded that the government should pay for the legislation upfront rather than resort to the traditional fiscal legerdemain.
This particular legislative package contained about $10 billion for an extension of jobless benefits, pay for highway workers, satellite TV for rural areas—as well as COBRA benefits and a patch to prevent a 21.2% Medicare payment cut to physicians under the sustainable growth-rate formula.
Bunning’s action perturbed a few people. Beyond those whose jobless benefits were imperiled, there were the 2,000 workers at the U.S. Transportation Department who were furloughed. And then there were the doctors. We’ll get back to them in a moment.
The legislative blockade ticked off much of the Senate, which isn’t enjoying the highest public-approval ratings these days. Democrats cried in outrage at Bunning’s maneuver, but they weren’t in too much of a rush to force a cloture vote since the senator’s antics created a political advantage for them. Some Republicans got hot under the collar, too, as they watched the spectacle of a GOP lawmaker hurting jobless people, transportation workers and physicians ahead of midterm elections. Senators from both sides must have wondered whether Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, had somehow beaned himself too many times during his major league career.
Maybe Bunning was just angry that some of his GOP colleagues, alarmed by his erratic behavior over the years, had pressured him into a pending retirement. He suddenly developed a hankering for fiscal responsibility when it came on the backs of workers and doctors.
In the end, after much pleading by Democrats and the urging of a few Republicans, Bunning capitulated. A vote was held, and the measure passed 78-19 after an amendment by Bunning to offset the spending failed with only 43 votes in support.
Physicians were furious in the days leading up to the final resolution. Medical groups issued statements expressing indignation over the lack of an SGR fix. This magazine received many irate messages using words such as “outrageous,” “unconscionable” and “arrogant.”
The doctors are right to be angry. Congress should have permanently fixed the flawed SGR formula years ago instead of doing what it usually does—kicking the problem down the road, letting somebody else make painful political choices in the future. Congress ought to incorporate a payment change as part of healthcare reform—if it can ever muster the courage to do something final on that issue.
And there’s something to anger a big portion of America. Since the Great Recession began, nearly 8 million jobs have been lost. And because healthcare coverage is so tied to employment in this country, even more people are either going uninsured or going on Medicaid or other government programs to get by.
It would be nice if physicians, hospitals and other providers could work up a little rage not just over their own incomes, but also over the plight of millions of uninsured Americans. Maybe they could visit Capitol Hill or write a few letters. Maybe they could demand that their lawmakers provide their patients with a rational and humane healthcare system—you know, like every other developed country.
Now there’s something to get angry about it.
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