It was a close call. But according to the experts, there was little doubt the outcome would bring good news. After all, science was on their side.
On a collision course
Will the 'supercommittee' steer clear of dangerous cuts to the safety net?
No, it wasn't a prognosis for some patient in the operating room or emergency department. In this case, the beneficiary was planet Earth.
If you missed the news early last week, we—meaning the 7 billion-and-counting members of our global health plan—dodged a collision with an asteroid. The giant space rock, known formally as 2005 YU55 and estimated to be the size of an aircraft carrier, passed just inside the orbit of the moon and was the largest asteroid to approach so close to Earth in nearly four decades.
While that event never posed any danger based on the trajectory pinpointed by astronomers, we're not out of the woods yet. Something else just as ominous, if for different reasons, is approaching, with a little more than a week before it will be upon us: It's the first deadline for Congress' Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, best known as the “supercommittee.”
The members' job, of course, is to agree on how to achieve at least $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years to federal spending. Here, scientists are helpless to predict the path of this monstrosity.
As we've been reporting for weeks now, it's clear that healthcare spending is in the panel's cross hairs. Some cuts are obviously in order given the magnitude of the projections for Medicare and Medicaid outlays in the decades ahead. But the outlook has grown more pessimistic concerning the hit that providers face as a result of proposed cuts to federal healthcare programs.
According to some plans floated recently, reductions to Medicare could total up to an additional $500 billion, and Medicaid might face reductions of $185 billion. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that Medicaid in particular needs to get a closer look, given projections that the program could cost the government trillions over the next decade (Oct. 31).
A key question when it comes to Medicaid funding is just how much can be slashed while still affording the program the ability to fulfill its mission: providing the most basic of protections, especially healthcare services, to the nation's most vulnerable population.
Boehner is on record reassuring the country that we need not worry about this. In an interview on ABC News' “This Week” program Nov. 6, he seemed quite emphatic. “No one here in this Congress, Democrat or Republican, wants to do anything about putting holes in the safety net for Americans,” he said. “There are Americans who are poor, and it's the responsibility of the rest of us to ensure that they have food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads.”
He made no specific mention of medicine for their ills or access to a doctor when it's critically needed. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt there.
However, if some members of Congress had their way, the nation's “safety net” would more closely resemble the net found hanging from a basketball hoop. Not much protection there. Given our fragile economy, where it's still hard to find even part-time employment, basic human compassion mandates the supercommittee use extreme caution in paring funding for human services.
Every slice of the federal budget pie should be “on the table,” as they say. We're well aware of the large portions of waste and fraud in federal healthcare programs. But the same can be said of other sectors, notably the Defense Department and other interests just as entrenched as the healthcare lobbies.
This time, a collision seems inevitable.
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