Senator Wyden Introduces Bill to Lower Out-of-Pocket Medicare Costs
September 21, 2016 03:46 PM
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, introduced on Wednesday a bill to lower out of pocket expenses for Medicare recipients and expand the number of low-income seniors who are eligible for financial assistance.
The proposed legislation, the Medicare Affordability and Enrollment Act, would set a cap on out-of-pocket expenses for traditional Medicare services, something that already exists for Medicare Advantage and most commercial insurance plans. The bill limits the total amount of out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare Part A and B, including copays and deductibles, at $5,500 for 2018. Thereafter, the limit, which would apply only to covered services, would be adjusted up or down based on the movement of the Consumer Price Index.
In addition, the bill would eliminate the two-year waiting period to enroll in Medicare for people with disabilities and reduce penalties for those who sign up late for Medicare Part B to ten percent per month for twice as long as the time the eligible person waited to enroll. Currently, there is a lifetime penalty for those who enroll late. The bill would also reduce cost-sharing for “near-poor” beneficiaries who currently do not qualify for assistance and extend cost-sharing assistance for Part D enrollees in Puerto Rico, so they would be eligible for the same benefits as other enrollees.
“Medicare has long been an ironclad guarantee to seniors of health care security and peace of mind in their later years,” Wyden said in a statement. “Today, the promise of Medicare falls short for too many who find their health costs becoming more and more unaffordable. Protecting and strengthening the Medicare guarantee is a vital task as the program prepares to enroll the next generation of older Americans, and these policies will put many seniors on a firm foundation for years to come.”
Wyden, a keynote speaker at NAHC’s annual conference in 2014, stands to be the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee if the Democrats re-take the Senate in the 2016 elections. The proposed legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Michael Bennett (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). As each co-sponsor is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, this bill is a useful guide to the sort of priorities Wyden and his party allies would pursue in the next Congress, particularly if they control the upper chamber.
“I commend Senator Wyden, who has recognized that seniors are increasingly carrying huge out-of-pocket health care costs,” said NAHC President Val Halamandaris.
According to Wyden’s office, the companion legislation in the House of Representatives will be introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-MI), ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, respectively.
NAHC will be monitoring the bill closely to ensure it respects the needs of home care patients and providers.