The Obama administration quietly informed the courts on Thursday that the Medicare payment system, which pays out 100 million monthly claims, could freeze up if the president’s signature health care law is overturned by the Supreme Court. In documents filed with the high court, the administration’s lawyers have warned of “extraordinary disruption” if Medicare is forced to undo a multitude of transactions based on payment changes required by ObamaCare. The new health care rule made significant cuts to providers, as it also increased benefit payments for prescriptions and preventive care. The administration argues that, even if the individual mandate is struck down, the rest of the law should be preserved so that the changes to Medicare and the expansion of Medicaid coverage can remain in place.
In lower court filings last year, Justice Department attorneys argued that a reversal of the Medicare payment changes “would impose staggering administrative burdens” on the government and “could cause major delays and errors” in claims payment. These warnings, however, appeared to pit Obama administration HHS officials against their counterparts in the George W. Bush administration.
Don Berwick, President Obama’s first Medicare chief, said, “Medicare cannot turn on a dime. I would not be surprised if there are delays and problems with payment flow.” He stated that much of the law’s new philosophy of quality care has already been incorporated into its payment policies.
But, Thomas Barker, a former HHS general counsel in the George W. Bush administration, dismissed the Obama administration’s claims. “There is an independent legal basis to pay providers if the Supreme Court strikes down the entire law,” he said.
Similarly, Tom Scully, Medicare chief in the Bush administration, denied major issues with Medicare if the law is overturned, though he admitted the change could be a “nightmare” for department bureaucrats. “It is highly unlikely in the short term that any health plan or provider would suffer,” said Mr. Scully. “They’re probably likely to get paid more going forward. If you look at the way the law was [financed], it was a combination of higher taxes and lower [Medicare] payments. That’s what you would be rolling back.”
In addition, Mr. Scully dismissed the idea that private Medicare plans would be in jeopardy if the high court overturns the entire law.
The Obama administration’s recent missives to the courts have led some to wonder if the administration has plans to purposefully thwart the Medicare payment system if the law is indeed overturned.
Sher Zieve, at Canada Free Press, warned “if SCOTUS rules in favor of the US Constitution, Obama & Co will begin its campaign to either destroy Medicare or make those on it suffer greatly.”