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Why aren’t candidates addressing warnings on Medicare crisis?

You’d never know there’s a Medicare crisis pending. Neither President Barack Obama nor presumptive GOP nominee Gov. Mitt Romney has brought up a shortfall two congressmen and two senators say could come within four years. The fact that the senators and congressmen are physicians suggests the warning should be heeded.

U.S. Senators and doctors Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and House Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) released a report on Monday, warning that Medicare may not be able to pay health care providers as early as 2016. Medicare trustees pinpointed that date as the earliest the fund could become insolvent.

Seniors should be concerned because Coburn and his colleagues pointed out the Social Security Act doesn’t provide for a possible shortfall. There’s no legal authority for the program to use general revenue for Medicare.

Coburn has repeatedly attempted to get something done on the matter, and he’s issued a number of public statements about this and other fiscal matters.

“As a physician, I have seen time and time again that access to a government program does not equal access to health care. We are already seeing providers refuse to accept Medicare patients because the reimbursement process is broken. We can expect more providers to drop coverage if Congress and the administration do not take steps to shore up the program,” said Coburn, who has authored a Medicare reform plan, the Seniors’ Choice Act, with Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “Congress and the administration’s refusal to reform Medicare are putting our patients, providers and economy at grave risk.”

Coburn said bluntly that insolvency “would end Medicare as we know it.”

The Obama administration has cut Medicare, but the $500 billion reduction was diverted to funding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as ObamaCare.

The Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund trustees led by Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner issued a report in 2011. That report demonstrated a problem that has plagued Medicare for years.

Reductions in the payment rate updates for most categories of Medicare providers have been built into future budgets, but the trustees admitted “the virtual certainty that Congress will override this reduction.”

When budgeting for Medicare, one figure is input at the front end, usually containing projected reductions for providers. Congress erases the reductions with the annual “doc fix.”

“This is a looming crisis that many in Washington are choosing either to ignore or politicize,” said Gingrey. “The longer politicians block efforts to reform Medicare, the higher the stakes for our seniors. They deserve more, and so do America’s future generations. Simply put, the time to act is now.”

Despite the warnings, most media cycles within the preceding seven days have focused on dog stories and ancestors related to both candidates.

Neither candidate has referenced Coburn and his colleagues’ plan or the looming shortfall in recent campaign speeches.

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