Th President and United States Congress seen determined to match drama of last night’s Oscar Awards with a performance of their own, the sequester. Actually the sequester is the sequel to the 2011 budget debate where Republican lawmakers demanded budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. While an agreement was never reached, Congress decided to raise the debt ceiling and have the budget cuts automatically take place in 2013 if a budget was not agreed upon. Two years of gridlocked government later, $85 billion in cuts are set to start on March 1st if Congress does not agree on a compromise between the Republican push for fewer taxes and the Democratic demand for higher taxes on wealthy Americans. These cuts will effect nearly every part of the government, from defense to education, and is estimated to cost the United States 700,000 jobs.
While safety-net government healthcare programs, like Medicaid and the Child Health Insurance Program, have been spared from the budget cuts, many other healthcare programs are set to go on the sequester chopping block. According to the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Medical Association, if the sequestration goes through, it could have the following effects:
-424,000 fewer HIV tests conducted by the CDC
– 2% decrease in pay to Medicare providers
-2,100 fewer food inspectors to ensure food safety
-Nearly 500,000 healthcare jobs lost in the first year of cuts
These projections paint an bleak picture for the near future and raise the questions how did we end up in this situation and what do we do to fix it? Fortunately, Healthcare reform had a head start on the sequester, and the new policies outlined in the Affordable Care Act will hopefully help prevent this back-against-the-wall scenario from happening in the future. It is projected that the ACA will expand healthcare coverage to tens of millions while saving the Medicare Program, and the United States Government, $500 billion over the next ten years.
So yes, the sequester is serious and could be a major blow to the United States in many ways, including healthcare, but what Congress and the American people need to understand is that a 4% difference in the tax rate on the richest Americans being argued over will not fix this problem. What is needed is broad, paradigm-shifting legislation like the ACA to get our Government and Budget in line with needs Today’s America.