United States Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced legislation that will ensure rural hospitals can keep up with the cost of providing care and curb the trend of hospital closures by boosting their Medicare payments.
“Last year, the Trump Administration updated the formula that determines how much Medicare will reimburse hospitals for patient care, taking into account, among other things, the cost of labor in that geographic area – called the Medicare Area Wage Index. And because of this change, Alan Levine, who leads Ballad, announced a $10 million investment in pay increases to nurses. However, these changes are temporary and will expire in three years, and many hospitals are concerned that hospital reimbursements could revert to the lower rates,” Alexander said.
“Given COVID-19 impacts on rural hospitals, any changes that lower reimbursement would have significant impact. Tennessee has the second highest rate of hospitals closures in the country, with 13 hospitals having closed since 2010, and this is, in large part, due to lower reimbursements. This legislation will help keep up with the cost of providing care and help curb the trend of Tennessee rural hospital closures by setting an appropriate national minimum for the Medicare Area Wage Index.”
“The current payment policy has long placed some of Virginia’s most rural hospitals at a disadvantage and made it more difficult to provide quality care in communities that need it most,” Warner said. “The COVID-19 public health emergency has made it more important than ever to do everything we can to support our rural hospitals and this legislation is absolutely critical in doing that.”
The legislation the senators introduced today, along with Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) would:
Establish an appropriate national minimum (0.85) for the Medicare Area Wage Index (AWI)
Ensure rural hospitals are paid for the care they provide while preserving the existing reimbursements for urban hospitals
Ensure fairness in reimbursements for hospitals across the country, including many hospitals that are facing closure in rural areas
Fix severe and disproportionate disadvantages that unfairly penalize hundreds of communities and hospitals across the United States
The Medicare Area Wage Index, which is a formula Medicare uses to reimburse hospitals, is much lower for states like Tennessee and Virginia because the formula is based labor costs, which vary across the country. Medicare accounts for about 43% of reimbursements for hospitals nationally, according to the American Hospital Association.
On Tuesday, March 26, the Senate health committee will hold a hearing on implementation of the electronic health information provisions in the 21st Century Cures Act.
In the Cures Act, Congress took steps to help improve the exchange of electronic health information. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released two rules to define information blocking—so it is clear when one system is purposefully not sharing information with another—and to give patients more control over their records and providers more information so they can better treat their patients. This hearing will be about the proposed new rules and efforts to improve electronic health records and make health information more accessible.
Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said of the new proposed rules: “These proposed rules remove barriers and should make it easier for patients to more quickly access, use, and understand their personal medical information. It should also unleash new ways of helping doctors and other medical providers to make sense of that information in ways that lead to better health care experiences, better outcomes, and lower costs for patients. Our committee will continue careful oversight of these new rules which affect almost every American and are an important result of the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.”
The Senate health committee had six hearings in 2015 to explore ways to get our nation’s system of health information technology out of a ditch and make it useful for doctors and patients. The committee then authored the 21st Century Cures Act which directed HHS to make proposals to improve electronic health records.
Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) welcomes Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, after Senate leaders announced committee assignments for the 116th Congress:
“I welcome Senators Mitt Romney, Mike Braun and Jacky Rosen to the HELP committee and look forward to working with them on reducing healthcare costs for Americans, making the cost of college worth it for all students, and continuing to work with the Trump Administration to help grow jobs and raise family incomes. The work we do in our committee touches the lives of virtually every American—former Chairman Ted Kennedy once said that the committee had 30 percent of the legislative jurisdiction of the Senate—so we are very fortunate to have such a talented roster of senators.”
The Senate HELP committee will be composed of 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) vacated the committee after the 115th Congress.
Below is the full list of the Republican members of the HELP Committee for the 116th Congress:
Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are urging insurer Anthem to notify all 78.8 million Americans whose sensitive personal information may have been exposed in a cyber attack discovered in January.
In a letter to Anthem, the committee leaders note that more than a month and a half after a cyber attack identified on Jan. 29, 2015, “more than 50 million Americans … have yet to receive notice directly from Anthem” that their personal information, including addresses, birth dates, employer information, Social Security numbers and email addresses, may have been compromised, exposing them to resulting security threats like identity theft.”
The senators write, “…[T]he highly sensitive nature of this information makes early notification essential, and we are concerned with your slow pace of notification and outreach thus far. We are writing to formally request that you speed up the pace of notifications, and share with our committee what steps you plan to take in the next few days, to dramatically increase the pace of notification. This slow pace is of particular concern given that many of the individuals whose information has been compromised are not Anthem customers and may still be unaware that their information was contained in the attacked database.”
They continue, “We formally request that you provide a clear action plan that accelerates the current pace of notification and ensures that all affected families receive notification in the upcoming days. …This is a critical and pressing issue, and while we understand there are many complications given the size and scope of the attack, we look forward to your response by April 1, 2015 on your progress and a clear target for when you will have reached out to every affected individual.”
Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, were joined today by several of their colleagues in sending a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, calling for a one-year extension for health care providers to complete the second stage of the electronic health records (EHR) incentive program, which is increasing the adoption of health information technology by hospitals and physicians across the country.
According a release, “providers who are ready to attest to Stage 2 in 2014 should be able to do so consistent with current policy, and the senators believe the administration must continue to push for interoperability.”
By the end of 2014, more than 500,000 hospitals and physicians will be required to upgrade their existing technology to demonstrate new standards of “meaningful use” to be eligible for the corresponding incentive payments.