On September 19, 2011, President Obama presented his deficit reduction plan – including $320 billion in proposed federal health spending cuts – to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 to craft a legislative package to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. If legislation is not adopted to achieve deficit reduction targets by January 2012, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) would be triggered, effective January 2013.

The health care industry has a significant stake in the outcome of the Joint Select Committee’s work, since Medicare spending in particular is expected to figure prominently in the Committee’s package. Under President Obama’s plan (which the Joint Select Committee is not obligated to follow), Medicare spending would be cut by about $248 billion over 10 years, with more than half of the savings coming from new Medicare drug rebates. Medicaid and other health funding also would be reduced by about $72 billion. If sequestration ultimately is triggered, on the other hand, Medicare provider payments also would be subject to reduction; but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that the level of Medicare cuts under sequestration would be approximately $123 billion between 2013 and 2021.

This Alert provides an overview of the Budget Control Act, including the two possible mechanisms for lowering the federal deficit: (1) enactment of the Joint Select Committee’s proposal; and (2) sequestration. In addition, this Alert discusses recent developments, including President Obama’s deficit reduction plan, and provides a timeline for action under the Budget Control Act.