HHS Secretary Burwell Testifies before the Senate Finance Committee
Secretary Burwell called before powerful committee to explain her Department’s component of the President’s recently-submitted budget
February 6, 2015 08:21 AM
Earlier this week, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell was called before the powerful Senate Finance Committee to explain the rationale behind her Department’s budget proposal for FY2016, which was just over $1 trillion. This was Secretary Burwell’s first appearance before the Committee since being confirmed as HHS Secretary.
In his opening remarks, Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT), the Committee’s Chairman, urged Secretary Burwell to focus on three areas: responsiveness, accountability, and independence. On the final area, independence, Chairman Hatch indicated that he was concerned that there was too much interference from HHS in managing the Department’s entitlement programs. To that end, Chairman Hatch announced that he would introduce legislation making the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) an independent agency, stating that:
“For some time now, I have been concerned about the amount of influence HHS and the administration has over the operations and policies impacting the entitlement programs run by CMS. The budget released this week indicates that spending on just Medicare and Medicaid is expected to exceed $11 trillion over the next decade. In fact, CMS accounts for 85 percent of the total HHS budget.
These are astonishing numbers. They also reinforce for me something that I have long believed: It is time to start talking about making CMS an independent agency apart from HHS…I intend to introduce legislation to move CMS out of HHS.”
Chairman Hatch then mentioned several areas of agreement between Secretary Burwell’s Departmental budget and his own priorities – particularly among initiatives for the care of foster children.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Committee’s Ranking Member, focused on the need to migrate Medicare from a fee-for-service model to one that focuses on accountable care with an emphasis on chronic care management. In his opening statement, Senator Wyden said:
“This year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and a lot has taken place since they were first created. Congress came together to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, and has reauthorized it three times. Congress has improved and expanded Medicare and Medicaid…
Thanks to five decades of progress, health care in America is no longer reserved for the healthy and the wealthy. The job, however, is not done. Our budget must reflect a twofold commitment: first, to protect the progress that’s already been made, and second, to clear the way for progress to continue in the future.
For Medicare, that means guaranteeing that the program’s benefits fully meet the needs of this era’s seniors. The demands on the program are different than they were 50 years ago. The big-ticket Medicare costs of 2015 are no longer things like kidney stones and broken ankles. They’re chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s that are tougher and more costly to treat.
The HHS budget begins to acknowledge that reality, and bigger investments in research on chronic conditions are a positive step. But treating chronic disease is Medicare’s future.
What’s needed is a roadmap to efficient and effective care that moves away from fee-for-service. Patients and providers told this committee last summer about the need to address chronic care in a different way. There is bipartisan support for that in Congress.”
Secretary Burwell, in her opening statement, mentioned her Department’s home care and hospice initiatives, saying that, “The Budget includes common-sense reforms that help to protect older Americans from identity theft, while supporting family caregivers and expanding options for home and community-based services and supports.” There was no mention of the Administration’s controversial proposals to implement further cuts to Medicare home health payments or supporting a home health copayment.
The majority of the hearing focused on certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act contained within HHS’ budget - with many senators offering their support or criticism of the law based on their political party affiliation.
While it is unlikely that the HHS budget will be approved as is by Congress, it does offer a starting point for discussions on the size and scope of the Department for the coming year. As Congress considers and debates President Obama’s 2016 budget, it is important for NAHC members to contact their elected officials urging them to oppose home health payment cuts as well as the implementation of a “sick tax” in the form of a home health copayment.
Please click here to contact your elected officials on these important topics.
To read more about the President’s 2016 budget, please see NAHC Report, February 5, 2015.