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3 ideas from lawmakers for making Medicare better

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The U.S. House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee held another health policy brainstorming session Wednesday.

The latest “member day” hearing gave House members a chance to promote their favorite ideas for changing Medicare.

Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, the chairman of the subcommittee, held a similar hearing in May. For that hearing, Tiberi asked for ideas about how to improve all forms of health insurance. 

See also: 5 House member health insurance tax ideas

Because Medicare covers 55 million people and accounts for a huge share of U.S. health care spending, any legislation that affects Medicare could also affect direct or indirect effects on the commercial health insurance market as well as insurers’ Medicare plan operations.

At the latest hearing, Tiberi was quick to praise ideas from Democrats as well as from Republicans, and he said he and his Republican colleagues are eager to get back to considering bills through “regular order,” or the traditional House procedures.

In recent years, House leaders have used special procedures to get urgently needed bills through Congress in the face of bitter conflicts between Republicans and Democrats.

Tiberi noted that Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a colleague on the subcommittee, yesterday praised Republicans for helping to pass H.R. 5273, a hospital funding bill, Tuesday. That bill passed by a voice vote.

“It may have taken a little while for you to say kind words about us,” Tiberi said. “Let’s build on that.”

For a look at three of the proposals discussed at the hearing, and access to the complete hearing video, read on:

Medicare card

1. H.R. 3220: Medicare Common Access Card Act of 2015

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., presented several bills, including one that would support efforts to develop new antibiotics.

Another, H.R. 3220, would set up a Medicare smart-card pilot program.

Pilot program managers would try to develop new, hard-to-forge identification cards incorporating microchips.

Today, Roskam said, investigators have estimated that 12.7 percent of Medicare program payments are erroneous or fraudulent.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has estimated that use of smart-card technology could have prevented 22 percent of Medicare fraud causes, Roskam said.

“It’s shocking,” Roskam said. “How is this possible?”

Savings from a successful smart-card program could be much greater than the savings from many of the fraud-fighting efforts policymakers have considered, Roskam said. 


2. H.R. 4396: Medicare Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefit Act of 2016

The original Medicare legislation excludes routine dental, vision and hearing services from the scope of Medicare Part B physician services and outpatient care benefits.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said at the hearing that those Medicare exclusions are obsolete.

“Doing without dental coverage frequently leads to preventable health problems,” McDermott said.

Untreated vision problems can increase the risk of dangerous, potentially deadly falls in the elderly, and untreated hearing problems can lead to social isolation, McDermott said.

McDermott introduced H.R. 4396, a bill that would fill the coverage gaps, Tuesday.

The bill calls for Medicare to cover two routine dental cleanings and exams for a Medicare beneficiary per year. After a phase-in period, Medicare would cover 80 percent of the cost of basic dental services, such as fillings and crowns, and other dental services, up to limits set by the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services.

Medicare would also phase in coverage of 80 percent of the cost of an annual vision exam, payments for eyeglasses, and up to $200 in payments for contact lenses per 24-month period.

The hearing component would help Medicare enrollees pay for routine hearing exams and for hearing aids.


3. H.R. 2124: Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2015

Rep. Danny Davis, R-Ill., the former executive director of a nonprofit health center in Chicago, spoke on behalf of a bill that increase the amount of funding hospitals get to train medical residents.

The bill also would let the HHS secretary give hospitals that have filled their medical resident limit permission to add more residents.

See also: 

Health policy shaper: Congress can get things done

Officials defend new Medicare purchasing program

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