Senators Use Chronic Care Bill to Mend Fences

The CHRONIC Care Act could pass with bipartisan support

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (Photo: Hatch) Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah (Photo: Hatch)

The Senate Finance Committee is using an effort to help Americans with health problems to mend fences between Democrats and Republicans.

The committee is trying to use an open, genuinely bipartisan process to draft S. 870, the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act of 2017 bill, or CHRONIC Care Act bill.

(Related: 5 Senate Finance Chronic-Care Proposal Basics)

Drafters hope to come up with a package of inexpensive tweaks that will make Medicare friendlier to enrollees who are living with chronic health problems.

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the CHRONIC Care Act bill project Tuesday, and it has scheduled another project session for Thursday.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the committee chairman, has developed a version of the bill that includes one provision that could let Medicare Advantage plans tiptoe into offering home care benefits.

The tweak would let a Medicare Advantage plan offer new types of supplemental benefits aimed at improving the health or function of chronically ill enrollees. The supplemental benefits would not necessarily have to be health benefits.

Some other provisions in the Hatch draft would affect Medicare accountable care organizations.

An accountable care organization is a group of providers that agrees to work together to coordinate care for a patient and share some of the financial risk involved with providing and coordinating the patient's care.

One Hatch ACO tweak would, for example, make it easier for ACOs to get paid to offer telehealth services. Another Hatch ACO tweak would let an ACO pay a patient up to $20 to get recommended primary care services.

Sen. Ron Wyden, R-Ore., the highest ranking Democrat on the committee, has put out a statement praising the process used to draft the bill.

"Contrast this with the partisan handling of the debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act," Wyden said in the statement. "In this distance, the doors were open, not closed."

Senate Finance Committee leaders would like to get the final version of the CHRONIC Care Act bill signed into law by going through "regular order," meaning that the bill would have to attract bipartisan support in the Senate.

In recent years, congressional leaders have gotten around the need to come up with bipartisan support for bills by passing legislation through the budget reconciliation process.

In the current Congress, for example, Republican leaders can use budget reconciliation to pass legislation with no Democratic votes in either the House or the Senate, if most Republicans in the House and all but two Republicans in the Senate vote for the legislation.

For members of Congress, working to return to considering legislation through regular order is a strategy for increasing the ability of Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass legislation.

--- Read 5 Ways a Republican Congress Could Change Health Policy on ThinkAdvisor.

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