Legislative Update for Week Ending May 15, 2015

Legislative Update for Week Ending May 15, 2015

This week, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the challenges that Medicare patients with chronic conditions face, and The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) saw two key bills gain support.

Senate Committee Discusses Chronic Conditions

On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee met to discuss the challenges that Medicare patients with chronic conditions – including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – experience. According to Sen. Orrin Hatch (UT), the Committee’s Chairman, more than two-thirds of all Medicare beneficiaries have multiple chronic conditions, and 46 percent have six or more. In his opening statement, he said, “Left unresolved, this situation will only get worse … We have to find ways to provide high quality care at greater value and lower cost – all without adding to the deficit.”

Members of the Finance Committee heard from two expert witnesses who spoke about the effectiveness of past and present efforts to coordinate the care of these patients. Both of them stressed the importance of moving away from the fee-for-service system that offers reimbursements to doctors for each test or service they provide. This model fails to incentivize the coordination of care for three key reasons: it rewards duplicative services, doctors in different settings cannot easily collaborate with one another, and no one is accountable for the coordination of care.

Despite these challenges, both witnesses at Thursday’s hearing seemed optimistic about increasing coordination within the Medicare program. They agreed that Congress took an important first step last month when they passed legislation to repeal and replace the sustainable growth rate – the flawed formula that sets payment rates for doctors who treat Medicare beneficiaries. Moving forward, they stressed the importance of testing and evaluating new payment and health care delivery models while also enhancing the satisfaction of patients – a point that TSCL believes is critical.

Chairman Hatch committed to tackling the care coordination challenge on Thursday, and at the hearing he announced the creation of a new bipartisan working group that will be led by two of the Finance Committee’s members – Sens. Johnny Isakson (GA) and Mark Warner (VA). They will be tasked with collecting stakeholder input, forming an in-depth analysis of potential solutions, and drafting bipartisan legislation that can pass out of the committee by the end of the year.

In the coming months, TSCL will keep a very close eye on the working group’s progress, and we will post updates on our new Facebook page and here in the Legislative News section of our website.

Two Bills Gain New Cosponsors

This week, two new cosponsors – Reps. Ann Kuster (NH-2) and John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) – signed on to the Social Security Fairness Act (H.R. 973), bringing the total up to 101. If signed into law, H.R. 973 would repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO) – two federal provisions that unfairly reduce the earned Social Security benefits of millions of teachers, firefighters, peace officers, and other state or local government employees each year.

In addition, Sen. Bernard Sanders (VT) signed on to the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act (S. 122). The cosponsor total is now at five. That bill, if signed into law, would allow individuals to import prescription drugs from approved pharmacies in Canada, potentially saving seniors hundreds of dollars per year.

TSCL enthusiastically supports H.R. 973 and S. 122, and we were pleased to see support grow for both of them this week.