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Republicans Fight for Better Health Care Access for Rural Patients

June 27, 2019

The House Ways and Means Committee debated five bills this week focused on health care.

Republicans were able to move through the Committee meaningful, commonsense health care policies focused on increasing access to care, improving choice for veterans, and extending some important provisions within the Medicare program.

Two bills cleared with strong bipartisan support.  The Beneficiary Education, Tools, Telehealth, and Extenders Reauthorization Act of 2019 – or the BETTER Act – was the first bill the Committee debated.

This bipartisan bill, led by the Committee’s top Republican Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA):

  • Makes permanent a provision that gives an extra hand to low-income patients enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug program;
  • Extends a program that helps Medicare develop quality metrics;
  • Increases the amount of educational resources available for those who rely on Medicare, including information to help Americans avoid a late enrollment penalty;
  • Expands the use of value-based measures within the Medicare program to help ensure Americans getting care in skilled nursing facilities receive high quality care;
  • Codifies and expands a rule to require Part D prescription drug plans to create a real-time benefit tool to help patients know their actual out-of-pocket costs for a prescription;
  • Fixes a problem for certain hospitals to enable the training of more doctors;
  • Extends critical protections for payments made to providers in rural regions; and
  • Expands telehealth benefits for critical mental health services.

Provisions championed by Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Tom Reed (R-NY), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Kenny Marchant (R-TX), George Holding (R-NC), Adrian Smith (R-NE), and David Schweikert (R-AZ) were included in the BETTER Act, which was agreed to by all Committee Members.

Republicans were also proud to champion the HEARTS and Rural Relief Act of 2019.

Sponsored by top Republican on the Health Subcommittee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), this legislation:

  • Allows veterans who return to work and no longer receive Disability Insurance cash benefits to maintain the TRICARE coverage they have earned without having to retain Medicare Part B coverage, a provision that builds on efforts led by former Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) in the 115th Congress;
  • Improves access to manual wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories;
  • Reduces burdens for critical access hospitals; and
  • Allows ambulatory surgical centers to take on a bigger role in deciding their payment policies.

Provisions championed by Reps. Drew Ferguson (R-GA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), and Adrian Smith (R-NE) were included in the HEARTS and Rural Relief Act, which was supported unanimously.

On the opioid crisis, Republicans offer targeted solutions for rural America amidst Democrat ‘lip service’

The Committee also debated three bills yesterday that, in their current form, could not be supported by Republicans.

Republicans offered amendments to make two of those bills more workable – working to lower taxes while ensuring that policies are being targeted to where resources are needed most.

Fighting the opioid crisis has been a bipartisan commitment, and Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) offered an amendment to H.R. 3414 that would have helped rural Americans and those who have been hit by this crisis.  

Rep. Jason Smith’s amendment would ensure that hospitals located in areas with the highest rates of mortality and opioid addictions are prioritized by federal programs fighting the opioid crisis.  It would have also provided training to residents in rural areas.

We have a national problem and rural America continues to suffer,” stressed Rep. Jason Smith. “While we agree that more can be done to address our opioid epidemic, we disagree that simply adding GME slots is the answer.  We need to target areas where the epidemic is the worst.”

Rep. Ferguson, a dentist from rural Georgia, said “it is incredibly tone deaf to ignore this issue.”

We must solve this problem now,” said Rep. Ferguson.  “It’s just lip service to say we’ll continue working on it when we can do the right thing right now.”

I’m tired of watching people die, especially in my rural areas, where the access to care is greatly limited,” added Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)

Although these amendments were rejected by House Democrats, Republicans are committed to continue fighting for patients and seniors in every corner of the country.

As Rep. Brady said, “Let’s work together to improve what is working and fix what is broken – rather than starting from scratch and doubling down on the worst parts of our current health care system. . . . Improving our nation’s health care system must be a bipartisan commitment.”

Democrats, once again, rejected Republican efforts to lower health care premiums.

Despite being agreed to multiple times last Congress, Democrats opposed an amendment offered by Rep. Holding that would have permanently repealed the health insurance tax created under the Affordable Care Act.

If the health insurance tax goes into effect, insurers will face a $16 billion fee in 2020 – and we know that taxes on health insurance plans are passed directly on to consumers.  This simply means higher health care coverage costs for our citizens,” said Rep. Holding.  “It would be irresponsible for us to let this tax go into effect.”