Barton: Medicare Drug Program Drawing Participants by the Thousands
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House
Energy and Commerce Committee, made the following statement today during the
full committee hearing on the Administration's FY '07 Health Care Priorities:
"Good afternoon. Let me begin by welcoming Secretary Michael Leavitt
today to the Energy and Commerce Committee. We look forward to hearing him
testify about the Administration's Fiscal Year 2007 Health Care Priorities.
"First, Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for your assistance in
developing the important reforms we put into place for the Medicaid program
starting this year. As a former governor yourself, you understood and
appreciated the need to improve this program. Through passage of the Deficit
Reduction Act, we will sustain Medicaid for those people who most often need
health care and to get good get their health care through good jobs in a
thriving economy instead of from a government welfare program. The reforms we
adopted recently are beginning to rescue the program from the threat of
financial collapse. I look forward to working with you to see that the governors
get the tools they need to better manage the program and deliver its benefits to
the poor of their states.
"I want to briefly highlight at least some of the changes in the law
that have not recently received the public attention that they deserve.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, 115,000 disabled children covered
by the Family Opportunity Act will receive improved health care services as a
result of the recently passed Deficit Reduction Act. The new law will provide
access to new home and community based care to 120,000 individuals; and it will
facilitate 100,000 nursing home residents to return to their communities through
the Administration's Money Follows the Person Demonstration. These are the true
results of Medicaid reform - better access to better care for those who most
need our assistance.
"There is still much to be done to improve long-term care service
delivery and financing as well as to promote Medicaid managed care. I have
received the administration's proposals regarding additional improvement to the
Medicaid program and I look forward to working with you this year on them.
"This year the secretary and the administration also are required to
administer the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Making this program
succeed is a high priority of yours, and it is a high priority of this committee
that I chair.
"Since it began, critics have tried to make patients believe that they
are not smart enough to understand the new Medicare drug benefit, that it
provides inadequate coverage, and that signing up isn't worth their time because
it cannot save them any money. The critics are simply wrong. They were wrong
when they complained about the Medicare prescription drug card. They were wrong
when they said nobody would offer any insurance plans. And they are wrong now.
"Some sense political advantage in condemning the program and others
can't bring themselves to admit that free markets actually work. Transparency
and competition will drive down prices and provide lower costs to consumers.
Even if the critics don't get it, Medicare beneficiaries certainly do. That is
why over 3.6 million Medicare beneficiaries have already signed up for the new
benefit. You told me earlier today that there are close to 24 million Americans
that have been enrolled in the program, through one means or another, and
enrollment is increasing at approximately 250,000 people per week. That sounds
like a success story to me. If you add that to the fact that the premiums which
we estimated at $37 a month is now down to an average $27 per month, that
appears to me to be a successful program.
"This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal
is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. The committee will work closely
with yourself and Dr. Mark McClellan at CMS to get problems noticed and solved.
We will have the first of what will likely be several hearings on this topic on
March 1, when Dr. McClellan will testify before the Health subcommittee. I
expect that we ask him very direct questions about where the problems are and
what CMS is doing to fix them.
"Another high priority for the committee will be the reauthorization of
the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and related programs. I want to restate
my deep commitment to reauthorizing the NIH and would ask for the secretary's
assistance in working out the technical details so that we can enact this long
overdue legislation. In addition, the authorization for the Ryan White CARE Act
has now lapsed. I believe that funding unauthorized programs is not a
responsible practice, and I anticipate that the committee will work to
reauthorize these programs this year.
"I also intend to work with you this year on ways to reform Medicare
reimbursement, and particularly focus on physician payment reform. In order to
preserve access to Medicare services for future generations, we must look at how
we are spending our Medicare dollars today and what are the incentives are for
our physician community to continue providing quality health care.
"Another top priority of the committee will be to work with you on the
proposals outlined in the Administration's budget to provide consumers with
greater access to comparative price and quality data about their health care
providers. I could go on, but my time has expired."