Senate Finance Committee Hearing Calls for Greater Health Price Transparency

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) presented their concerns that consolidation in the health care industry could lead to higher prices for health care without improving outcomes. The hearing focused on the relative lack of health care pricing transparency throughout the health care system. A key witness, a Time magazine journalist, testified that the health care marketplace is dysfunctional because prices for goods and services and how they are set are not known. He said that providers should be required to publicly release their charges in order to increase competition and lower costs. Others said that price transparency could be improved by: building on efforts by CMS to release Medicare data on inpatient procedures; allowing more access to Medicare databases; and requiring health plans subject to the PPACA to be more transparent in their pricing.

Congressional Follow-up to Hearings on Post-Acute Care

The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee requested that key post-acute care providers submit suggestions by August 19 on ways to “ensure that Medicare beneficiaries receive the right post-acute care, in the right setting at the right time with the highest level of quality.” They say their concerns are that: the Medicare rules do not clearly delineate the types of patients who are appropriate for each different setting; most post-acute care providers are not required to admit all beneficiaries; and that the quality of care and patient outcomes often cannot be compared across facilities making it impossible to evaluate the comparative efficacy of services provided in different settings. They also asked for comments on MedPAC’s suggestion for the bundling of post-acute care payments.

AoA Rule on LTC Ombudsmen Responsibilities

The Administration on Aging (AoA) released a proposed rule relating to the ombudsman program under the Older Americans Act which (1) addresses responsibilities of state agencies housing long-term care ombudsman offices not to disclose the identity of any person sending a complaint to the ombudsman or the identity of any resident of a long-term care facility, (2) defines the following terms--immediate family; office of the state long-term care ombudsman; and representative of the office of the state long-term care ombudsman; and (3) defines the responsibilities of state ombudsmen; consistent approaches to resolving complaints; and conflicts of interest. Comments on the rule are due by August 19th.

Hearing on Medicare Trustees Report

The Committee on Ways and Means: Health Subcommittee held a hearing on the 2013 Medicare Hospital Insurance Trustees Report in order to gain a better understanding of Medicare’s financial condition according to Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX). He maintained that the reports make clear that program financing is insufficient, despite the projected two years of additional solvency until 2026, and that Congress should take first steps this year to ensure that Medicare beneficiaries receive the medical care they need and deserve. The ranking member, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) said he supports making some improvements to the Medicare program, but said he would oppose measures that would slash the program in order to save it. Witnesses pointed out that the projections are suspect in that they include an assumption that Medicare physician payments will be cut by 24.4% as required under current law (but which many expect to be fixed by Congress before year-end). It was pointed out that benefits would have to be cut to 87% of current law levels when the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund becomes insolvent and witnesses were generally in agreement that the sooner the projected shortfall is addressed the smaller the impact would fall on beneficiary benefits.

House Hearing on BioWatch Program

At a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on the post-911 BioWatch program intended to detect massive airborne biological attacks in cities, members were critical of the program’s management and said a proposed $5.8 billion upgrade, called “Generation 3”, may not be effective in detecting pathogens. Additional congressional oversight of the revised program is expected this fall.

Upcoming Hearings and Markups on Health-Related Legislation

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: will hold a hearing on curbing prescription drug abuse in Medicare; 3:00 p.m., 342 Dirksen Bldg.; June 24.

Senate Committee on Finance: will hold a hearing titled “Program Integrity: Oversight of Recovery Audit Contractors;” 10:00 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg; June 25.

House Appropriations Committee: will meet to consider 302 (b) allocations to the subcommittees. 10:30 a.m., 2359 Rayburn; June 26.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “A 21st Century Medicare: Bipartisan Proposals to Redesign the Program’s Outdated Benefit Structure;” 10:00 a.m., 2322 Rayburn Bldg; June 26.

Senate Finance Committee: will hold a hearing on the outlook for health care quality issues; 10:00 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.; June 26.

Senate Special Aging Committee: will hold a hearing titled “Renewing the Conversation: Respecting Patients? Wishes and Advance Care Planning;” 2:00 p.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg; June 26.

House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “Challenges Facing America’s Businesses Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;” 10:15 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg; June 26.

House Small Business Health and Technology Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “Mobile Medical App Entrepreneurs: Changing the Face of Health Care.” 10 a.m., 2360 Rayburn; June 27.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “Examining Reforms to Improve the Part B Drug Program for Seniors;” 10:00 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg; June 28.

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