Inflation threatens healthcare access as Medicare gap widens: GOP rep

Inflation threatens healthcare access as Medicare gap widens: GOP rep

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Inflation is threatening healthcare access across the country as gap widens between the cost of medical services and the coverage rates paid out by Medicare, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ill.) warned last month.

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle joined The Hill’s “Medicare Drug Price Negotiation: How to Ensure Access and Equity” event, sponsored by Alliance for Aging Research, to discuss the effects of the first 10 drugs chosen for Medicare price negotiation under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Bucshon, vice chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, expanded during the event on an op-ed he wrote with other lawmakers in The Hill in October.

It said the Medicare payment system “fails to adequately reimburse” physicians for the “critical, life-saving services they provide,” specifically criticizing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for failing to make inflationary updates in their payments to physicians.

Speaking to The Hill’s Bob Cusack at the event, Bucshon said the problem stems from the government’s inability to “expand the size of the payment pie” to Medicare recipients. He added that inpatient and outpatient care receive annual inflationary updates, but provider “reimbursement is flat.”

The Illinois representative said the failure to increase payments to physicians meant they were “losing a lot of money” — but that his main concern is access for patients.

“My concern is access and I represent rural America,” Bucshon said. “You’re seeing it more and more difficult to maintain medical practices in rural America. And that’s a problem.”

“And underserved urban America,” Bucshon added. “Both have had very similar problems for slightly different reasons, but the concern about access and quality is there if we don’t fix this.”

Bucshon said over the last 20 years, providers are losing 20 percent just based on the failure to adjust payments for inflation. The lawmaker noted he introduced a bipartisan bill last April that aims to adjust the fee schedule annually based on the Medicare Economic Index.  

Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), also a member of the House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, also touched on access to medical care at the event — but highlighted language barriers as a priority issue.

“Access to care is the biggest concern we hear about. And it’s the biggest thing we see is that everybody doesn’t have equal access,” said Barragán, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

She said she plans to talk “very frequently” with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about the challenges facing people who have limited access to care.

“So having somebody at the table, I think, who understands some of those barriers and challenges, whether it’s things like even language barriers, not understanding something because it’s not in their language,” Barragán said.

The California Representative added that she has had constituents come to her who are confused by Medicare because of “all the different parts.” Barragán said she represents a working-class district where it is a concern for people to realistically be able to “get where they had to go” to receive care.

“And so I think there’s just a lot of continued outreach we have to do to educate folks, but also making sure that when you’re having things like clinical trials, right, that they are in the communities where people have access to them,” she said.

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