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Congress Has No Answers for Sequestration, AAMC Concerned About Impact on Patients

February 15, 2013—With only two weeks before $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts are to be implemented, there is widespread agreement on Capitol Hill that the pending sequestration is a bad idea, but there is no consensus on how to avert the spending cuts before March 1.

To highlight the impact of sequestration on the nation's health, AAMC President Darrell Kirch, M.D., Feb. 13 authored an op-ed in The Hill newspaper titled “How sequestration will hurt patients.” Dr. Kirch wrote, “At a time when teaching hospitals already face a broad range of reimbursement cuts from health care reform, so-called cuts to ‘providers’ will mean cuts to patients.” He also warned that “budget cuts that disproportionately affect patients at teaching hospitals will not only affect the vital care these institutions provide, they will slow their ability to make care better, safer, and more cost-effective.”

The AAMC also joined with 12 major patient groups in an ad campaign to address potential funding cuts that would have a devastating impact on patients and the progress of medical research at America’s medical schools and teaching hospitals.  The ads appeared in The Hill, Politico, and Roll Call Feb. 11-13.

In addition, more than 270 patient groups, research institutions, and scientific societies signed a Feb. 11 letter to Congress expressing concern about the impact of continued cuts to NIH. The letter, organized by the AAMC-led Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, stated, “If we are to address the health challenges of an aging and increasingly diverse population, and remain a vibrant force in the global economy, America needs more investment in medical research, not less,” and urged “Congress and the Administration to work together on a solution that preserves the nation's investment in medical research and the health of the American people.”

In his State of the Union address Feb 12, President Obama emphasized the negative impact of the across-the-board cuts in sequestration, and again called for “a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.” (see related story)

Responding at a press conference the day after the president’s speech, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated that House Republicans have twice passed legislation to replace sequestration and pressed the president and Senate Democrats to do the same, saying, “It’s incumbent upon the president and Senate Democrats to show us their plan to stop the sequester from going into effect.”

Boehner reinforced the message that the Senate must act first on any legislation to replace sequestration in a Feb. 14 meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).  Boehner also told reporters following the meeting that any sequestration replacement plan would have to balance the budget in 10 years.

Senate Democrats Feb. 14 unveiled an alternative proposal for $110 billion in savings equally divided between spending cuts and revenue increases to delay sequestration through the end of 2013.  The American Family Economic Protection Act would raise $55 billion in revenues over the next 10 months by eliminating oil and gas subsidies and instituting the so-called "Buffett rule" to impose a 30 percent tax rate on millionaires.  The bill also would cut approximately $55 billion in spending divided between the troop drawdown and the elimination of agricultural subsidies to large farmers. Reid said he plans to bring the bill to the floor the week of Feb. 25 when the Senate returns from a week-long recess.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, introduced a separate sequestration replacement proposal in the House, which he described as “consistent” with the Senate proposal. The Stop the Sequester Job Loss Now Act (H.R. 699) proposes $120 billion in deficit reduction and averts sequestration through end of the calendar year.

Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle are saying the real deadline for developing an alternative to sequestration is March 27, when the current continuing resolution (CR) funding the federal government expires.  This suggests that legislation needed to keep the government running after March 27 may serve as the vehicle for addressing sequestration. 

House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) reportedly is planning on introducing a bill by the end of February to fund federal agencies through the end of the fiscal year, but that legislation will not be considered until after sequestration takes effect.


Dave Moore
Senior Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-828-0559


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806