In December, Congress agreed to delay the cut for the sixth time in a year and lawmakers and President Barack Obama have endorsed an overhaul of the formula for Medicare doctor reimbursement. My colleague Andis Robeznieks quoted Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas in late December, on plans to come up with a permanent fix. “I know its going to be expensive, I know it's going to be difficult,” he said. “But it will be possible.”
But any fix will come as Congress and the president grapple with the nation's deficits. In his annual State of the Union address, Obama singled out healthcare spending as the “single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.”
The CBO did not offer much comfort for households struggling without paychecks or health insurance thanks to a weak job market. The recession's prolonged toll on employment and access to healthcare contributed to the nation's second straight year of record slow health spending in 2009, federal officials said earlier this month. Hospitals and health systems have reported weaker demand for medical care and sluggish revenue during the downturn.
Employment increased marginally—0.06%—in the 18 months since the recession ended, compared with an average of 4.4% during the same period after prior recessions, the CBO said.
And gains will come slowly in the years ahead of a mandated expansion of Medicaid and the launch of subsidized insurance exchanges in 2014. The nation will end 2011 with an unemployment rate of 9.2%, the CBO said. In 2012 and 2013, projections show unemployment of 8.2% and 7.4%.