Legislative Update for Week Ending July 31, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 31, 2015

This week, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee met to discuss the healthcare challenges that rural patients, doctors, and hospitals face. In addition, The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain support.

Health Subcommittee Tackles Rural Challenges

On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee heard from four expert witnesses on the challenges they face as rural healthcare providers. According to witness Shannon Sorensen – the CEO of Brown County Hospital in Nebraska – rural hospitals face unique obstacles due to their small sizes, limited workforces, remote locations, physician shortages, and burdensome regulations. Congress must prioritize these issues, Sorensen said, because nearly one in six Americans lives in a rural area and relies on a small community hospital for their care.

At the hearing, all four of the expert witnesses urged the subcommittee members to do away with the so-called “96-hour rule.” According to Chairman Kevin Brady (TX-8), due to the rule, doctors at rural hospitals must certify that a patient will be “discharged or transferred to a hospital within 96 hours of being admitted.” When treatments don’t go exactly as planned, rural hospitals risk their reimbursements unless the patients are transferred to far-off hospitals within four days. Chairman Brady said, “That arbitrary cut-off doesn’t always match the medical reality for patients seeking treatment at facilities near their homes.”

While many seemed to agree that the rule should be repealed, Ranking Member Jim McDermott (WA-7) said he would prefer to tackle the root of the problem that rural hospitals face – uncompensated medical care from uninsured individuals. He advocated for a full expansion of Medicaid in all fifty states, saying “80 percent of recent hospital closures are in states that chose not to expand Medicaid.” Rep. McDermott also pushed investments in the medical workforce. He proposed a program that would grant scholarships to physicians who agree to practice in rural areas for the first five years of their careers.

Those at Tuesday’s hearing proposed a number of innovative solutions that would alleviate the challenges rural medical providers face. Chairman Brady said the Health Subcommittee will continue to work towards a bipartisan solution in the months ahead with the hopes of passing a reform package by the end of the year. TSCL will monitor the group’s progress closely, and we will post updates here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Two Bills Gain Support

This week, three new cosponsors signed on to the Social Security 2100 Act (H.R. 1391), bringing the total up to sixty-seven. The new cosponsors are: Reps. Steve Cohen (TN-9), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), and Maxine Waters (CA-43).

If signed into law, H.R. 1391 would increase Social Security benefits by 2 percent, cut taxes for over 11 million seniors, increase the minimum benefit to 125 percent of the poverty line, and make COLAs more fair and accurate. It would also take measures to increase the solvency of the trust fund beyond the next seventy-five years, through the year 2100.

In addition, two new cosponsors – Reps. Thomas Massie (KY-4) and Austin Scott (GA-8) – signed on to the No Social Security for Illegal Immigrants Act (H.R. 1716), bringing the total up to twenty-nine. The bill, if signed into law, would prohibit unauthorized workers from receiving Social Security benefits based on work done while in the country illegally, using stolen, fake, or fraudulent Social Security numbers.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 1391 and H.R. 1716, and we were pleased to see both of them gain new cosponsors this week.