(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning and welcome. Today the Committee will consider several bills that will extend critical Medicare programs and provide a better overall experience for beneficiaries. Consideration of this legislation continues our vital work to improve Americans’ access to care and to lower health care costs.
In the past, these extender provisions have been bipartisan, and I am pleased that – apart from one extender –we are continuing in that tradition of bipartisan collaboration and support.
The bills before us today have a positive impact on constituents in all our districts – both rural and urban – and they are tied together by some common themes.
First, these bills will expand access to mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment. Mr. Schneider’s Opioid Workforce Act will provide an additional 1,000 slots to train physicians in this field. We will also consider proposals to expand Medicare telehealth benefits for mental health counseling, eliminate cost sharing for chronic care management, and prioritize mental health and substance use research in PCORI. All these measures represent great strides in improving Medicare for beneficiaries with mental health and substance use disorder needs.
Second, these bills improve Medicare for the people who matter most, the beneficiaries. Today we will advance legislation that will provide additional information and resources for beneficiaries prior to enrollment, as well as increase funding for the organizations that assist with enrollment and benefits questions. Likewise, we are addressing a glitch in enrollment related to veterans returning to work.
Third, we are making progress in addressing rural inequities. Bills before us today will support rural medical residency programs, provide flexibility for rural critical access hospitals, and extend the rural floor for Medicare physician payments.
This is an overview of some of the important bipartisan work on these critical issues that we have before us today.
More specifically, we will begin our markup today with a package of proposals that make positive changes to the Medicare Program. I am pleased to join with Ranking Member Brady to advance our legislation – H.R. 3417, Beneficiary Education, Tools, Telehealth, and Extenders Reauthorization Act of 2019, or the BETTER Act.
Medicare enrollment is an exciting transition time for many, but the process can also be overwhelming and confusing. This bill helps provide a smoother enrollment experience for incoming beneficiaries and ensures enrollees are aware of their care options.
The BETTER Act improves the information that future beneficiaries receive before turning 65. The bill also increases funding for consumer assistance programs, which help with enrollment and benefits questions for those on Medicare. Importantly, the BETTER Act expands telehealth services for mental health treatment – a critical gap in coverage that affects many.
This legislation also protects lower income Medicare beneficiaries, to ensure they can receive their drugs at the pharmacy counter without delay. Finally, it provides for a real-time drug benefit tool, so patients can learn how much a drug will cost, along with other possible lower-cost alternatives, while still at the doctor’s office.
The second bill that we will consider is HR 3429, the HEARTS and Rural Relief Act of 2019, introduced by Vice Chairwoman Sewell and Ranking Member Brady, that includes provisions to help veterans as well as Medicare beneficiaries and rural providers. First, it would help protect veterans from being penalized for certain TRICARE provisions, and it allows Ambulatory Surgical Centers to add their voice to payment policies. In addition, it exempts accessories for certain wheelchairs from the competitive bidding program. Finally, it temporarily codifies a delay in CMS’s direct supervision rule for critical access hospitals for two years until fiscal year 2021.
Next, we will consider HR 3436, a bill introduced by Congresswoman DelBene that will improve access to Medicare’s chronic care management (CCM) benefit by eliminating the co-insurance for this service. Tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries have chronic conditions, and unfortunately, too often providers have found that cost is a barrier to accessing this important Medicare benefit. This provision has broad support from organizations including AHIP, the Federation of America’s Hospitals, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and many others who understand the importance of care coordination for patients.
Next, we will turn to Mr. Schneider’s bill, H.R. 3414, the Opioid Workforce Act, which has broad support from the American Association of Medical Colleges, the Association of American Medical Colleges, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, America’s Essential Hospitals, and the Federation of American Hospitals – among many others.
This legislation increases the number of graduate medical education (GME) residency slots available to train addiction specialists to help combat the opioid crisis – adding 1,000 new slots between now and 2026.
Finally, we will take up HR 3439, introduced by Mr. Beyer, extending the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, which has provided critical research on the effectiveness of various medical treatments, improving care for patients and lowering costs. A broad coalition of organizations supports the reauthorization of PCORI, including 91 member organizations that have advocated as “Friends of PCORI.”
We have an ambitious slate of meaningful legislation before us today. I do want to note that as is customary with these types of extenders, we expect to pay for these provisions before they come to the floor and Ranking Member Brady and I will be working with our colleagues on Energy and Commerce to identify offsets.
I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their work on these important pieces of legislation. Medicare is a program that has helped millions of Americans for decades, and it works. It both provides quality health care and has a positive economic impact on communities, especially those where hospitals are a key employer. Today is an opportunity to enhance the Medicare program for future generations.
And with that I will now yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady for the purposes of an opening statement.
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