Yoho tours dialysis clinic amid concerns about funding cuts
Published: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 4:16 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, toured a Gainesville medical clinic Friday to share and hear concerns about the potential impact of federal funding cuts.
A national coalition of kidney dialysis clinics is in the midst of lobbying Congress over a rule the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed.
The rule, needed to implement the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, would cut Medicare reimbursements to providers by about 9.5 percent starting in 2014.
The rationale behind the funding reduction was that government has overpaid for years — about $529 million for Medicare in 2011 — on anti-anemia drugs used to treat kidney dialysis patients, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Yoho, who had not been sworn into office yet when the legislation passed, toured on Friday the Gainesville clinic of Fresenius Medical Care, an international corporation with about 1,900 locations in the United States.
"With the reduction, we would be providing services at a reimbursement rate that is less than our costs," said Peter Tharpe, a regional director for Fresenius.
Tharpe said some of the 11 clinics he oversees, particularly those in rural areas, could potentially close as a result.
But U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., defended the inspector general's report when it was released, showing the overpayment on anti-anemia drugs.
"It is critical that the Medicare program pay dialysis providers adequately to ensure quality care and access," McDermott said in May. "Still, Medicare must be a smart shopper and not overpay for services, particularly as we find better ways to cut waste."
Thomas Ricks, a technician at the Gainesville clinic, said Friday that looming funding cuts concern him about having his hours reduced or possibly losing his job.
Allen Shepherd, 51, has been on dialysis treatments for eight months after kidney failure brought on by diabetes. He is not old enough to qualify for Medicare but said he is concerned cuts to that program could affect the resources to treat all patients.
"If it wasn't for this treatment, I would not be able to make it," Shepherd said.
Theresa Herman, 93, has been on dialysis since October with Medicare funding her treatments.
"It will affect so many people," she said.
The public comment period for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' proposed rule runs through Aug. 30.
Yoho said the situation raised concerns about the viability of businesses, the access to patient care and the possible loss of jobs. He also said he feels Medicare will face more significant financial obstacles under the Affordable Care Act, which intends to cut Medicare payments to insurers and providers by about $716 billion over 10 years.
Yoho is among the House Republicans who are pushing to defund that legislation, often dubbed Obamacare.
He drew national attention in early August when, speaking at a joint tea party meeting in Gainesville, he described the tanning bed tax in the legislation as racist against white people.
Asked about the comments, Yoho said he was attempting to make a comic point to show the ridiculousness of the 21 tax increases in the legislation. He said that while some took offense, he continues to believe that the tax met the textbook definition of racism or discrimination.
Speaking at that tea party meeting, Yoho, in response to a question from the crowd, offered some contradictory comments on a possible bill that Texas Republican House member Steve Stockman might file calling for an investigation of President Barack Obama's birth certificate. Yoho indicated a willingness to sign on as a co-sponsor but then asked the crowd, "Is that really where we should be spending our time?"
The crowd response was primarily an overwhelming chorus of "no."
On Friday, Yoho said he had no interest in co-sponsoring such legislation and that it would not be something Congress should spend its time on.