Town Hall Cheers CMS Policy Reversal, Urges Vigilance

by Amanda Conschafter, Blog Editor

Participants in Thursday’s Medicare Today tele-town hall applauded the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for rethinking a controversial proposal to limit patient access in Medicare Part D – but warned of policy battles to come.  The event featured two guest speakers, Representative Patrick Murphy (D-FL) and Judith Curfman Thompson of the South Carolina Nurses Association, who were vocal in the effort to preserve access for Medicare beneficiaries.

Co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan United Solutions Caucus, Rep. Murphy submitted a letter to CMS in March emphasizing Part D’s high beneficiary satisfaction rate and “lower-than-expected” costs.  Murphy reiterated these themes during Thursday’s town hall, citing that the substantial number of Medicare enrolled seniors in his Florida congressional district who enjoy “really good care at an affordable price.”  To help these seniors maintain their coverage, Murphy committed to “keep[ing his] eye on choice, benefits and access” and to protecting his constituents from policies that threaten access.

Thompson, executive director of the South Carolina Nurses Association, summed up her organization’s outlook by explaining that “nurses, through their code of ethics, are required to be an advocate for patients.”  A Medicare beneficiary herself, Thompson emphasized policy shifts’ effects on seniors who depend upon medications, particularly expensive ones.  “For people who don’t have unlimited income,” Thompson explained, “some medications are hideously expensive.”  Without the aid of Part D in obtaining their medicine, Thompson added, seniors could find themselves in life-or-death situations.

The changes to Part D originally proposed in February would have limited the plans insurers offer patients and the medications available under those plans.  The proposal also would have lifted protected class status for several classes of drugs, potentially limiting patients’ choices.  These measures prompted outcry from beneficiaries and policy organizations.  But, as one town hall attendee noted, CMS’ response was posited as a delay on the proposal, not a retraction.  Thus, Thompson reiterated the need to scrutinize CMS policy moving forward.

And future cost-cutting efforts by CMS and federal legislators do seem likely.  As Medicare costs soar to $492 billion, policymakers continue to search for a way to control staggering expenses while still addressing the health care needs of millions of seniors who depend upon the program.

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