Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 30th
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Congressman Sam Farr

sam_farr2Congress recently passed an extension for Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians. How long will the extension last, is there talk of extending it further, and how will it impact the Central Coast specifically?
This is a great question, and it is an issue I have been working deep in the weeds for more than a decade. To answer the immediate question, congress has passed a series of extensions for Medicare reimbursement—the current extension expires on Dec.31, 2010. But Democrats worked out a way to guarantee a longer extension, one that will last through 2011. That bill is on its way to President Obama for signature, thus assuring that doctors will not face a 23 percent cut on Jan. 1.

But the Central Coast also faces another important issue looming over Medicare reimbursement in our region.

As many of you may be aware, doctors in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito Counties receive a lower payment from Medicare than do doctors in neighboring Santa Clara County.

The reason for this anomaly is the result of a convoluted factor in the payment formula called the Geographic Practice Cost Index (GPCI). This GPCI factor is applied by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to geographic localities designated more than 45 years ago. The result is that this outdated criterion is used to determine local doctor reimbursement payments.

In turn, this disparity in cost reimbursements for doctors in our area has caused an alarming shortage of quality healthcare for people in the Central Coast—a result that is simply unacceptable.

Earlier this year, I introduced legislation to fix the GPCI that was included into the larger healthcare reform bill (The Affordable Health Care for America Act), but unfortunately the GPCI language that passed in the house was not passed by the senate. And ultimately the fix was not included in the final legislation signed by the president.

Another attempt to fix GPCI was inserted into a tax cut bill, which again passed in the house and was sent to the senate for consideration last summer. However, the specific GPCI fix for California doctors was filibustered against by two Republican senators. After a hard fought attempt to overcome their filibuster, I was ultimately unable to find the needed support to retain the GPCI fix language. As a result, the senate passed the bill without the fix, and thus left the GPCI fix in limbo.

Despite this setback, I remained as committed as ever to finding a resolution. I worked hard to attach the GPCI fix language to the Medicare reimbursement bill just passed by congress.  Unfortunately, again I ran into a buzzsaw of Republican opposition in the senate and GPCI was left on the cutting room floor.

As you can see, this has been a long battle, but I can assure you I will continue to work to get fair and accurate Medicare reimbursement for the Central Coast—an accomplishment that will come with more access to quality healthcare for our region.

How will the passage of the child nutrition act change

and improve school food?

It’s simple: we cannot grow a healthy America without good nutrition. Yet sadly, it is something we have paid little attention to addressing. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a bill that is long overdue, but I believe it is just the beginning of better wellness in America. This is a truly renewed effort to raise healthier kids with healthier minds.

Investing in a healthier America can directly help to reduce the cost of health care and increasing obesity levels that lead to preventable diseases like diabetes. For that reason, we have to be equally as concerned about what we put in the minds of our children as we are about what we put in their stomachs.

If our children are going to excel, they need to learn. And they can’t learn if they are hungry and malnourished. The child nutrition bill will increase access to free school lunches for low-income communities, as well as child nutrition programs that will see an additional 115,000 children receive healthy meals.

Just as importantly, this bill will improve the quality of meals served to our children in school cafeterias by bringing more fruits and vegetables into our schools. Additionally, once signed by the president, the bill will establish standards on food and beverages sold in schools.

This bill presents a great way forward to healthier schools, and I am excited to see the potential of this bill become a reality.

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