Health Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) this week highlighted the extensive work that the Energy and Commerce Committee has done this year to protect our seniors. Pitts writes, “These are just some, not all, of the things we’ve done to help seniors just this year. We will continue this work and always keep in mind the best interests of our seniors.”
How We’re Helping Seniors
By Rep. Joe Pitts
In Thursday’s Lancaster Newspaper, I discussed my vote for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit to seniors on Medicare. Tens of millions of seniors who once received no help in paying for their prescription drugs today benefit from arguably the most effective government program in the United States. Nine out of ten of those seniors are happy with their plans, and it’s almost half as cheap as expected.
But that is just one facet of one program. There are many other things I’ve been doing to help seniors, and I would be remiss if I didn’t let people know about those, as well.
On Wednesday, I chaired a hearing of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, on Part D’s Medication Therapy Management program. This program was created when Part D became law, with the goal of ensuring that the drugs provided via Part D are used appropriately. Medications can save or improve lives, but taken incorrectly or in excess, they can make patients worse. With thousands of prescription drugs on the market, frequently no one prescriber, caregiver or manufacturer knows the total picture for each patient. That’s why we need to make sure that this program is working as effectively as possible.
We heard from experts from both sides of the aisle on ways we can improve this program, and this testimony will help us to ensure that seniors get the help they need.
This Spring, President Obama signed into law landmark bipartisan reforms that made Medicare more dependable for seniors, and saved taxpayers $3 trillion. Before our bill became law, doctors were uncertain what Medicare would pay them, and as a result, millions seniors didn’t know if they’d still have a doctor in a year. Our bipartisan legislation gave seniors peace of mind that Medicare won’t suddenly short-change their doctors, and that their doctors won’t suddenly stop seeing them. Not only that, but saving $3 trillion puts Medicare on firmer ground financially.
In June, we passed a bill that would repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an unelected panel created by the President’s health law whose task would be to cut Medicare. This is not just bad policy, it’s unfair to seniors. The President already cut Medicare by $700 billion; hiring unelected bureaucrats to cut it even further is an insult to our seniors, and to Congress. The President has signed into law ten other Congressional changes to his health law, and repealing this unelected board should be number eleven.
We have also passed three bills to improve Medicare Advantage, which was created by the same law that created the Part D program. Both are overwhelmingly popular with seniors.
We passed the Medicare Advantage Coverage Transparency Act on June 17, to require that the administration report to Congress on Medicare enrollment. If we’re going to make smart choices about the future of Medicare Advantage, then we need to ensure that we have access to the right information—and to all of it.
The same day, we passed the Strengthening Medicare Advantage Through Innovation and Transparency for Seniors Act. This bill would create a pilot program to test value-based insurance methods under Medicare Advantage, which could potentially generate billions in savings. This pilot program would test the effectiveness of this idea, and possibly signal ways of improving Medicare Advantage and saving money.
The Seniors Health Care Plan Protection Act would curb the administration’s authority to terminate Medicare Advantage contracts under the STARS system. Under this rating system, the Secretary can unilaterally terminate a contract, disrupting benefits, which especially hurts low-income seniors. Seniors on Medicare Advantage need stability and predictability—not the threat of suddenly losing the coverage they like.
In addition to legislation, we’ve also conducted extensive oversight. We’ve held hearings on fraud and waste in Medicare Part D. Right now, with nearly 1 out of every 6 seniors living in poverty, Medicare fraud is rampant. This is an outrage and a scandal. Total government improper payments hit $124.7 billion last year—and that is just the amount we know of. Medicare was particularly vulnerable, spending $45.7 billion, and Medicare Advantage spending $12.2 billion that should never have spent. We need to make sure that Part D resources go where they belong—to seniors, not to fraudsters—and our Committee has been working to do just that.
These are just some, not all, of the things we’ve done to help seniors just this year. We will continue this work, and always keep in mind the best interests of our seniors.
Read Pitts’ column online HERE.