WASHINGTON The National Council on Aging and the Food Marketing Institute today came out in support of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
The bill, marked up as S.3101, would delay implementation of Medicaid cuts, speed up payments to pharmacies in the Medicare Part D drug benefit program and spur the rollout of electronic prescribing. “The Baucus bill addresses a number of serious, long-standing problems faced by struggling seniors on fixed incomes,” said Howard Bedlin, NCOA vice president for Public Policy and Advocacy. “It corrects deficiencies in the premium assistance program for low-income older people, which has resulted in participation rates of only 13 percent, and removes barriers that impede access to needed mental health and preventive care.”
Cathy Polley, FMI vice president of pharmacy services agreed: “Chairman Baucus’ legislation gives Congress the opportunity to legislate a reimbursement plan that enables pharmacies to continue serving the neediest families in our nation.” Many pharmacies in low-income areas are located within supermarkets.
The NCOA responded negatively today, however, to a bill proposed by Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, known as the Preserving Access to Medicare Act. “We are surprised and disappointed that the Grassley proposal fails to include provisions in the Baucus bill that would do the most to help seniors in greatest need—those with incomes below $15,000 who are struggling with rapidly rising Medicare, food and gasoline costs,” Bedlin said. “Now is not the time to be ignoring the needs of this vulnerable population. Medicare premiums have more than doubled since 2000, while eligibility levels for premium assistance have not been adjusted for inflation in over 20 years.”
The Baucus bill, enacted in response to a plan announced last year by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that would peg the price of Medicaid reimbursements to the average manufacturer price, is scheduled for a cloture vote tomorrow. “The AMP formula presents pharmacies with the deplorable choice of no longer serving Medicaid patients or operating at a loss,” stated Polley. “We must preserve patient access to vital medicines, particularly in the urban and rural areas where low-income Americans depend on pharmacies for their health and lack alternatives.”
Thirty members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, which includes NCOA, sent a letter to Senators today urging support for the Baucus bill stating: “A vote against the Baucus Medicare bill is a vote against America’s seniors.”