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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Markup of Health Care Legislation and Budget Views & Estimates

March 6, 2024 — Health    — Markup   

“The Ways and Means Committee is taking action today to protect patients’ access to health care where they live and work.”

As prepared for delivery.

“The Ways and Means Committee is taking action today to protect patients’ access to health care where they live and work. 

“We will be considering legislation introduced by Representative Fischbach that blocks the Administration’s harmful nursing home staffing mandate. We have heard from nursing homes in every corner of the country that this rule is bad for seniors. 

“More than 1,000 groups, including non-profit and faith-based nursing homes, as well as state and national nursing home associations, have joined together to ask Congress to block this overreaching regulation, saying it would ‘severely impact the health care continuum and access for patients to critical care.’

“This rule won’t result in better care for seniors – quite the opposite. If this rule takes effect, nursing homes around the country will be forced to downsize or close their doors for good. In just the last four years, over 400 nursing homes have shut down. How can we not expect more to follow, when the Administration is about to place a giant $40 billion unfunded mandate on nursing homes and seniors?

“Small nursing homes, especially those in rural and underserved areas where labor is hard to come by, will be hit hard by this proposed rule. Rural communities that are already facing chronic workforce shortages will be forced to raise their costs to compete with local hospitals, home health agencies, and urban centers for qualified nurses.

“Without access to more staff, nursing homes, particularly those in rural areas, will have no choice but to reduce the number of residents they admit or shut down all together. In total, 280,000 seniors could lose a spot in their local nursing home.

“Not only does this rule gut nursing homes across the country, but it’s also setting them up to fail. One hundred and ninety thousand nursing home employees have left the industry since the pandemic. If this rule were implemented today, 94 percent of nursing homes would not be compliant.

“Nursing homes aren’t suffering from a lack of mandates. They’re facing a lack of nurses and certified nurse assistants. This rule would only make things worse for our seniors and the workers who support them. 

“We will next consider bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Miller, Carter, Sewell, and Kuster to protect access to key treatments for Americans with end-stage renal disease. Under current law, 2024 will be the final year that Medicare Part D will cover oral-only drugs, used to treat patients with this disease. If Congress fails to act, kidney patients using Part D won’t be able to use their insurance at a local pharmacy and will likely pay more for these drugs from kidney care providers. This bill preserves patient choice by guaranteeing these oral-only drugs remain available to Medicare beneficiaries and finds ways Medicare can better serve these patients. 

“This legislation especially helps rural Americans, who typically live further away from dialysis centers. By passing this legislation, we are both lowering costs and giving dialysis patients more control over their care.

“Our last bill, introduced by Chairman Arrington, helps seniors pay the lowest possible price for prescription drugs. In 2020, Congress required Medicare Part D plans to incorporate a new tool that allows providers to price shop for different medicines in real time before writing a prescription for their patient. 

“Patients have yet to see any benefits because CMS has not made efforts to make this tool a reality. The legislation before us today sets a firm deadline for CMS to finally roll out parameters for this important cost-saving tool and prevent any more unnecessary delays. It’s a simple, common-sense win for seniors and their doctors.

“Americans work their entire lives to ensure they will be able to receive the care they need in their old age or when they fall ill. I urge my colleagues to support these bills to protect Americans’ access to their health care benefits and options in the communities where they live.

“Lastly, we will consider the Committee’s views and estimates for the fiscal year 2025 budget for our friends at the Budget Committee. These views and estimates show that this Committee will continue fighting for America’s working families and small businesses and will hold the Biden Administration accountable.”