Senator Wyden Speaks on the Importance of Tackling Chronic Illness, Updating the Medicare Guarantee
June 21, 2016 12:06 PM
On Wednesday, June 15, the Brookings Institution hosted Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) along with a panel of experts for an event titled, “Chronic care: Getting its complexity and cost under control.” Sen. Wyden provided remarks on the importance of addressing chronic illness and “updating the Medicare guarantee.”
Sen. Wyden stated that the current debate about American health care is “way, way, way out of whack,” and he cited the “striking lack of attention” to chronic illness as “particularly bizarre” given the fact that chronic illness “now dominates” American health care. “After trading the same blows over the Affordable Care Act for now six years it seems to me it is time for the health care debate to sort of grow up and turn to an issue of enormous consequence for older people across the country,” Sen. Wyden said. “And to me, the next major undertaking in American health care is updating the guarantee of Medicare for an era when chronic illness, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke are now what dominates the program and dominates American health care. Older people afflicted by these persistent illnesses now account for an astounding ninety-three percent of all Medicare spending.”
With 10,000 people each day becoming eligible for Medicare, Sen. Wyden said, the “guarantee” in which Medicare has been grounded since 1965 “is coming up short.” He noted the need for a greater emphasis on home- and community-based care. “Leaving seniors on their own when it comes to coordinating care after preventative visits and uprooting the elderly as a rule by sending them to hospitals when getting treatment at home can be as effective, more comfortable and less expensive, just defies common sense,” he said.
Sen. Wyden cited the success of the Independence at Home program as evidence of “how little sense it makes to pull older people out of their homes by rule when they need treatment” rather than providing high quality and affordable home- and community-based services. “The early results from this pilot show that it is bringing costs down by $3,000 per older person,” he said.
“It is giving people better care where they want to be most, at home, for less money—the trifecta of sound health policy, just being ignored.”
With the elections just months away, Sen. Wyden encouraged all the candidates to clarify their positions on strengthening Medicare and addressing chronic illness. “Americans—not just seniors, but all Americans—have a right to know what the Presidential nominees and all candidates for the Congress are going to do to update Medicare in light of the facts that are now being ignored, and if that continues America is going to pay a real price for it,” he said. “Americans have a right to know that the Medicare guarantee is going to mean as much in the year and decades ahead as it did a half century ago when Lyndon Johnson put pen to paper and signed Medicare into law. It is putting-head-in-the-sand politics into practice to pretend that chronic illness is something that political candidates can simply ignore.”
Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Wyden, along with Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Mark Warner (D-VA), have worked to develop legislation with regards to improving chronic care. The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) in January submitted comments on the Chronic Care policy options document that the Senate Finance Committee released in December 2015 (see previous NAHC Report coverage hereand here).