Legislative Update for Week Ending July 1, 2016

Legislative Update for Week Ending July 1, 2016

This week, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss the proposed Medicare Part B drug demonstration program with Dr. Patrick Conway, the Acting Principle Deputy Administrator and Chief Medical Officer of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Senate Finance Committee Discusses Drug Demonstration

On Tuesday, Senators on the influential Finance Committee held a hearing titled “Examining the Proposed Medicare Part B Drug Demonstration.” Dr. Patrick Conway testified before the full committee on the status of the controversial demonstration program, which was proposed by CMS earlier this year and has not yet been implemented. The program will test new payment strategies for hospitals and physicians who administer prescription drugs to Medicare beneficiaries receiving outpatient care. It is a new attempt by the Obama Administration to move away from a medical system that rewards volume of care and towards one that values high-quality care.

In his opening statement, Dr. Conway said, “This proposal is part of the Administration’s broader strategy to encourage better care, smarter spending, and healthier people by paying for what works, unlocking health care data, and finding new ways to coordinate and integrate care to improve quality.”

Dr. Conway assured lawmakers on the Finance Committee that CMS is carefully reviewing comments from the public about the proposed program, and that the Administration is committed to working closely with stakeholders to improve the proposal. He said, “Our goal is to be responsive to the public comments and input from Congress while preserving the integrity and effectiveness of the model.”

Nonetheless, several Senators at Tuesday’s hearing urged CMS to consider withdrawing the proposed payment changes. Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (UT) expressed concerns about the rule’s potential unintended consequences. He said: “I believe this experiment is ill-conceived and likely to harm beneficiaries. It is an overreach on the part of CMS that, in my opinion, goes beyond the agency’s statutory authority, extends nationwide, and requires all Medicare Part B providers to participate.”

However, others at Tuesday’s hearing focused on the skyrocketing prescription drug costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. In his opening statement, Ranking Member Ron Wyden (OR) said, “The fact is, seniors are getting pounded by drug costs. And in my view, there is an enormous amount of work that has to be done to guarantee that seniors have affordable access to the medications they need.”

The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) agrees that lawmakers must pass legislation soon to address the growing costs of prescription drugs for older Americans. Comprehensive legislation like the Prescription Drug Affordability Act (S. 2023, H.R. 3513) would go a long way in making life-saving medications more affordable for Medicare beneficiaries, and we will continue to advocate for it in the months ahead. In the meantime, we are hopeful that officials at CMS will move forward slowly and thoughtfully with the Part B demonstration program to avoid harsh impacts on beneficiaries. For updates on the progress of the demonstration program, follow TSCL on Twitter or visit the Legislative News section of our website.