Earlier this year, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The bipartisan 18-member committee, co-chaired by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senate Whip Alan Simpson, is tasked with making recommendations for reducing the federal deficit by 2015 and improving the nation's long-term fiscal outlook.

The committee, composed of individuals appointed by Congress and the president, held its first meeting in April. Since that time, it has heard testimony from policy experts, government officials, economists and concerned citizens as it sorts out ways to eliminate waste in the federal budget and trim the deficit. Its highly anticipated report and recommendations are expected by Dec. 1 of this year.
The budgets of all federal agencies will be examined and, along with big-ticket programs like Social Security, Medicare is sure to come in for close scrutiny. The commission's suggestions are worth watching because, while not binding, they will carry weight with the administration and possibly Congress come budget time. It is unlikely that their suggestions will be adopted wholesale, but they could find their way in pieces into the budget and future regulations.

It's critical that Medicare payments to hospitals not be reduced further. Hospitals already are paid only 91 cents on the dollar for the costs of treating Medicare patients. On top of that, hospitals face billions in payment reductions as part of our shared responsibility for financing health care reform. The final fiscal year 2011 inpatient payment rule reduces hospitals' Medicare payments even further to account for what the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services claim were changes in hospital documentation and coding and not changes in actual patient severity.

Hospitals cannot continue to be asked to do more with less. As the new Congress gets down to work in January, make sure your elected officials know how much your organization does for your community, and how those services would be affected if further reductions are made to hospitals' Medicare payments. It's critical that lawmakers hear from you about the real impact cuts would have on your community.

Stephen Smart, D.D.S. (scsmart@suddenlink.net), is COG chair and chair of Medical Center of South Arkansas in El Dorado, Ark.