Legislative Update for Week Ending June 20, 2014

Legislative Update for Week Ending June 20, 2014

This week, one House Subcommittee heard from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) about its most recent report to Congress, which was titled Medicare and the Health Care Delivery System. In addition, the 2013 recovery estimate was released for the Senior Medicare Patrol, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw support grow for two key bills.

MedPAC Delivers Report, Testimony to Congress

Last Friday, MedPAC released its most recent report to Congress, and on Wednesday, Mike Miller  –  MedPAC’s Executive Director – testified before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health. At the hearing, he focused on the report’s key recommendations, which include maintaining bonus payments for primary care physicians who treat Medicare patients, and increasing financial assistance for low-income beneficiaries.

According to MedPAC, the Medicare fee schedule undervalues the important services that primary care physicians provide. This creates disparities in compensation between the primary care and specialty fields, and it deters medical students from choosing to enter primary care. To address the issue, MedPAC recommended an extension of a primary care bonus program that is set to expire in the near future. However, instead of offering bonus payments for each service that is provided, the Commission suggested that physicians be rewarded on a per beneficiary basis, which will help the Medicare program improve the coordination of care.

MedPAC also recommended increased financial assistance for low-income Medicare beneficiaries in its report. Currently, those with incomes up to 135 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), which help beneficiaries cover the cost of Part B premiums. The Commissioners recommended extending the subsidy to those with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level. This would save those who qualify approximately $1,300 a year in Part B premium costs, and the Commissioners believe it would “free up resources” for beneficiaries who are currently struggling to pay out-of-pocket costs.

It remains to be seen whether or not Congress will adopt the recommendations made by MedPAC in its most recent report. The Commission is an independent Congressional agency, but its policy recommendations are non-binding and Congress rarely takes immediate action on them. Nonetheless, TSCL will keep a close eye on the recommendations that were made this week, since they could positively affect millions of Medicare beneficiaries if enacted.

Senior Medicare Patrol Saved Millions in 2013

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the Senior Medicare Patrol – a voluntary fraud prevention effort comprised of seniors – recovered at least $9.1 million last year, which is up from $6 million in 2012.

The Senior Medicare Patrol informs and empowers beneficiaries so that they may better detect, report, and protect against Medicare fraud. Volunteers focus on identity protection, and they also teach seniors to identify potential scams and to properly read their Medicare Summary Notices. There were more than fifty active Senior Medicare Patrol projects as of last year, with at least one in each state. To learn more about the Senior Medicare Patrol or to find a program near you, click HERE.

Two Bills Gain Support

This week, one new cosponsor – Rep. David Loebsack (IA-2) – signed on to the Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures (PRIME) Act (H.R. 2305). The total is now up to sixty-two. If signed into law, the PRIME Act would take a number of steps to comprehensively prevent fraud, waste, and abuse within the two programs – a problem that TSCL believes must be addressed in order to ensure that scarce program dollars are being spent properly.

In addition, one new cosponsor – Rep. John Larson (CT-1) – signed on to the Strengthening Social Security Act (H.R. 3118), bringing the total up fifty-eight. If signed into law, the bill would reform the Social Security program in three ways: it would adjust the benefit formula, resulting in more generous monthly benefits; it would adopt the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers (CPI-E), resulting in more accurate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), and it would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax. It would extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund responsibly, without cutting benefits for seniors.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 2305 and H.R. 3118, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week.