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Begich Supports Lowering Costs, Improving Access in Health Reform

Joins other freshmen in supporting consumer-friendly amendments

In the continual effort to make health care and health insurance more affordable and accessible for Alaskans and other Americans, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today joined a group of eleven freshmen Democrats introducing a package of amendments to the health care bill designed to lower costs and increase innovation.

The amendments are focused on making the health care system more efficient and affordable for consumers while working with health care providers and insurers to promote value and accountability. The amendments also support innovation, quality, transparency and cost containment.

"The full legislation now under debate in the Senate makes wonderful strides in fixing what is broken in America's current health care system," Begich said. "What the freshmen are saying today is we believe our package can help. We can go further. We can do better. Our goal is a health care system that is more efficient and more affordable."

In a speech on the Senate floor this morning, Begich said while the language of the amendment package promotes efficiency and encourages innovation within the health delivery system, it is really about helping individual Americans and businesses get a better deal on health care.

"Especially when we know that cost containment is the number one priority of small business owners in this health reform debate. Insurance premiums for small business have risen 113 percent over the past decade," Begich said. "And it was just reported small businesses in this country face another 15 percent increase in health premiums in the coming year."

Begich highlighted a significant piece of the package that addresses rural health care for hospitals in several states including Alaska. Specifically, Begich has introduced an amendment reauthorizing the Rural Community Hospital (RCH) Demonstration Project which helps Bartlett Hospital in Juneau, Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, and Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka.

The RCH Program was set up by Congress in 2003 as a five-year demonstration program to offset the costs of hospitals in rural areas by providing reimbursements for Medicare-covered inpatient hospital services. The program, which was set to expire in June, is for hospitals in rural areas with 50 or fewer acute beds and 24-hour emergency care.

The amendment extends the program for five years and recalculates the reimbursement rates to reflect current day costs.

"Part of what we're saying in this package is this: If something is working to provide better health care access and value, for goodness sakes let's keep it going," Begich said.

Begich credited Sen. Ben Nelson who has been a champion of rural hospitals and introduced a stand-alone bill to extend the program, S 1279. Both Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski are co-sponsors of that bill.

The other amendments supported by the freshmen group are designed to transform payment systems and improve quality by having the public and private sectors work together on cost containment and overall reform. They include:
  • Quality and Value in Private Insurance: Require the Secretary to consult with relevant stakeholders to develop a methodology for measuring health plan value, which would include the cost, quality of care, efficiency, actuarial value of plans.
  • Administrative Simplification: Require HHS to develop standards that will allow efficient electronic exchange and streamlining of information among patients, providers and insurers.
  • Health Care Fraud Enforcement:  Direct HHS to better utilize technology to prevent health care fraud.
  • Value-Based Purchasing: Require Medicare to implement pay-for-performance for more providers sooner, adding hospices, ambulatory surgical centers, psychiatric hospitals and others.
  • Broader Payment Innovation: Allow a broader, more flexible transition to new payment models for Accountable Care Organizations (ACO).
  • Medicare System Upgrades: Require HHS to modernize data systems so that valuable Medicare data can be shared in a reliable, complete, and timely manner.
  • Good Quality Everywhere: Promote greater access to tele-health services, strengthen the provider workforce and the availability of high-quality hospital services to bolster health care access for Americans in underserved and rural regions. 
Several consumer and business groups are supporting the freshman package including AARP, Safeway, the Consumers Union, the Small Business Majority, Merck, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.

Begich pointed to his support of other cost-containment efforts in the pending health reform legislation, including allowing the reimportation of prescription drugs and requiring the federal government to negotiate better drug prices in Medicare and Medicaid.

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