Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today issued a statement following the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) repeal and replace bill, the SGR and Medicare Beneficiary Access Improvement Act:
“I’m pleased to have amendments in the Chairman’s mark and approved by the committee that are important to improving the underlying bill for rural health care providers and beneficiaries, but I remain concerned about how rural providers will fare under this new reimbursement model and about the lack of identified offsets for this bill. Health care spending already amounts to over 25 percent of our federal budget, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the next step in this process is finding a way to pay for this legislation.”
The SGR and Medicare Beneficiary Access Improvement Act passed by voice vote out of the Senate Finance Committee. Thune offered a number of amendments during today’s Senate Finance Committee’s markup, including two that were included in the Chairman’s mark:
1) An amendment to protect access to rural therapy services: Thune’s amendment would clarify that general supervision of outpatient therapeutic services by a physician or non-physician practitioner at critical access hospitals is sufficient for payment of therapeutic hospital outpatient services. This amendment is a modified version of the Protecting Access to Rural Therapy Services (PARTS) Act that Thune introduced in June of 2013.
2) An amendment to prevent barriers to telehealth technology through the Alternative Payment Models (APMs): Thune’s amendment would ensure that the current restrictions in the Medicare program that prohibit greater utilization of telehealth are lifted for physicians who agree to participate in a Medicare reimbursement plan that places greater emphasis on care quality and coordination. This amendment would ensure that providers who move into an APM are free to use telehealth technology to enhance patient outcomes and improve quality.
The committee voted to approve two of Thune’s amendments during today’s markup:
3) An amendment to reduce hospital re-admissions through telehealth technology and keep seniors in their homes longer: Thune’s amendment would create a pilot program to provide budget-neutral incentives for home health agencies and other entities across the country to use telehealth technology to better monitor Medicare beneficiaries, improve health outcomes, and reduce Medicare expenditures. This amendment is based on Thune’s Fostering Independence Through Technology (FITT) Act that he introduced in March of 2013.4) An amendment to provide additional technical assistance to small rural practices in the Value-Based Performance (VBP) program: Thune’s amendment would specify that $10 million of the $25 million available each year from 2014 to 2018 to provide technical assistance to help providers transition into the new payment models be available solely for assistance to small practices located in rural areas.