March 08, 2005

Crapo Keeps Rural Focus In Medicare Reform

Senateâ??s long-awaited changes to Medicare system include telehealth

Washington, DC â?? In an early morning vote by the United States Senate, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo voted in favor of S. 1, the Prescription Drug and Medicare Reform Act of 2003. The measure passed the Senate on a vote of 76 to 21. The House also passed similar legislation today, and the differences between the two bills will be worked out in a conference committee.Crapo, who is a strong advocate for rural health care, voted in favor of the bill because it â??brings us closer to the type of reform needed in the Medicare system.â?? In the final hours of debate over the bill, he was also successful in attaching a telehealth amendment. The amendment increases the type of facilities that are eligible to be originating sites for Medicare coverage for telemedicine services. This means that skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, county/community health clinics, and facilities operated by the Indian Health Services or a Native American tribe would be covered by Medicare for telemedicine services.â??While this bill is not perfect, it does have some key provisions that will benefit Idahoans and begins to rely on the free market,â?? Crapo said. â??In particular, the inclusion of the telehealth amendment is a huge victory for Idaho and other rural states. Not only is it key from a policy perspective, it is symbolic of progress that must continue. High quality health care services must be available to all who need them, and with the advent of telemedicine, we can use technology to further assist that delivery. â??Many of the changes adopted in this package are needed for our seniors,â?? Crapo continued. â??It has a prescription drug benefit that includes immediate relief with a drug discount card. Iâ??m also pleased that it allows seniors more health care options. For example, they can choose to stay with the current Medicare plan with the added prescription drug benefit or to move toward a private sector health care plan that may better fit their needs. The bill also contains positive reimbursement changes for rural hospitals, as well as improvement for home health services. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done with our health care system, but this measure contains some good news for Idaho.â??Crapo concluded, â??If we are going to embrace the future of health care and a better quality of life, prescription drugs and technology must be part of that. I wish we could have had a stronger bill, but the bottom line is that prescription drugs are such an important and necessary part of our health care and it is imperative that Medicare coverage reflects that reality.â??Other features of the Senate-passed plan include:·Seniors pay an approximately $35 monthly premium for prescription drug coverage. Beginning in 2006, Medicare will cover up to half of $4,500 in prescription drugs. It will pay 90% of prescription drug costs after $5,813.·Seniors receive a Drug Discount Card, beginning in 2004, which will provide a 10-25% discount on any prescriptions.·Low-income seniors pay little to nothing for prescriptions·Seniors can choose a Medicare Advantage option, which offers better benefits in the following areas: preventive care; disease management (diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimerâ??s); and protection from high out-of-pocket costs.Once the House and Senate have agreed on a conference report, the measure will be sent to the President. To assist local hospitals, doctors, and medical providers in fully understanding the measure, Crapo plans to host a series of meetings in Idaho this summer, and will have legislative staff from Washington, D.C., on hand to discuss the final legislation and its effects in Idaho. Dates have not yet been determined.# # #FOR INTERESTED MEDIA: A radio actuality is available by calling 1-800-545-1267. Press 327 at any time during or after the greeting and instructions. You can also access the actuality through the Internet at http://crapo.senate.gov or www.senate.gov/src/radio.