Prepare for 2012′s fall Lame Duck session now!

For all of us in the health care industry, the months of November and December of this year are going to be real nail-biters, hand-wringers, head-bangers… the cliché’s may be overly dramatic, but this fall is going to be doozey. The fate of legislation that will have deep impact on care providers and those we serve will rest in the often dysfunctional hands of a “lame duck” Congress.

That was the message Key Rehab’s Sr. Vice President Mike Gorman and I heard recently from Cynthia Morton, Executive Vice President of NASL (the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care), when she spoke to exhibitors at the Nebraska Health Care Association Spring Conference in Kearney, NE.

The term “lame duck” was first used at the turn of the century to describe the period and opportunity for defeated or retiring lawmakers to “preen their plumage” in November and December before their departure. Mike Gorman pointed out that ideally a lawmaker should always represent the will of their constituents, even if at odds with their own conscience (or the interests of lobbys, PACS, polls, or party). So, why is this lame duck session so scary?

The Congressmen of the 2012 lame duck session can’t just sit back and rest on their laurels. Congress still has to address many big issues including what to do about the so-called “Doc Fix”. If Congress doesn’t act, physicians will have to endure a huge cut in their Medicare reimbursement, a cut of somewhere around 30%. If such a cut goes into place many physicians will opt out of the Medicare program and no longer provide services to senior citizens.

In addition, the lame ducks will decide on repealing the Bush Tax Cuts (lowering marginal rates, cutting capital gains and dividend rates, easing exemptions, and child tax credit relief), expiring payroll tax cuts, and again decide the fate of the Therapy Caps and the exception process.

If that’s not enough, decisions on 13 annual spending bills, social security cuts, the estate tax, transportation, highway, and armed services expenditures will all be crammed into just 25 days – the likely number of working days after the November election until year-end.

As one lobbyist said, “this lame duck session is approaching like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. It is vitally important for all of us to take the time and make the effort now to tell policy makers the stories of our patients. Tell your Congressmen about what we do and why it’s important that Medicare continue to be adequately funded for the benefit of our senior citizens. Let Congress know about the successes of our work and the positive impact we make on the quality of life of our patients. Also, let Congress know about the devastating impact that arbitrary cuts in health care spending will have on patient care. A lame duck Congress is typically considered a bad thing because it refers to people who no longer have a “horse in the race” (i.e. their own horse – as in running for re-election). However, this lame duck session still has to tackle some tough issues and for once these politicians do not have to worry about pleasing lobbyists and big money backers. For once they may be able to simply choose to do what’s right.

Contact US lawmakers through NASL, Leading Age, AHCA, APTA, AOTA, ASHA or your state congressmen and senators. As, Cynthia Morton of NASL put it, “If we aren’t at the table, we’re on the menu”.