Archive for Thursday, February 21, 2008

Medicare Part D working in Kansas

February 21, 2008

For many Kansans, finding accessible and affordable health care is not easy. Just because you live in a rural area, does not mean you should sacrifice high quality health care. Our rural communities in Kansas face unique needs and challenges regarding health care and it is necessary that Congress address these issues this year.

As a member of the Senate Finance and Health Committees and as the new

Co-Chairman of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I will continue to be a champion for rural health care in Kansas. Last June, I introduced critical rural health care legislation, named in honor of the late Senator Craig Thomas (R-WY), to help shoulder the financial burden rural health care providers have when caring for small communities.

This Craig Thomas Rural Hospital and Provider Equity (R-HoPE) Act of 2007 makes changes to Medicare regulations for rural hospitals and providers recognizing the difficulty in achieving the same economics of scale as large urban facilities.

My bill provides additional assistance for small, rural hospitals that have a low-volume of patients. These hospitals often have trouble making ends meet under the Medicare payment system. It also extends two incentive programs aimed at improving the quality of care by attracting health care providers to underserved areas. Finally, my bill recognizes that all providers play a great role in the rural health delivery system by increasing payments for Rural Health Clinics, home health agencies and ambulance services.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, we recently held a hearing on the president's budget proposal for 2009. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt testified before our committee and took questions from Senators on this budget proposal. I told Secretary Leavitt that I had serious concerns with this budget proposal, which cuts $150 million in rural health programs, and proposes steep reductions in Medicare and Medicaid funding. This is unacceptable, and I will work to save this funding and programs as the needs of our rural communities continue to grow.

The high cost of prescription drugs still troubles many Kansas seniors today. At the Finance hearing, I took the opportunity to praise Secretary Leavitt and the Department of HHS for their successful work on the Medicare Part D program. Bottom line: Medicare Part D has helped seniors in Kansas afford necessary prescription drugs.

Just last week, HHS announced that the enrollment for the Part D drug plans grew by 1.5 million beneficiaries in 2008 which brings the total number enrolled in a drug plan to 25.4 million. In Kansas, close to 250,000 seniors are participating in this prescription drug benefit program.

Unlike many government programs, while enrollment is up in the Medicare Part D program, the costs of this program are down. Since the program began in 2003, the costs have fallen by nearly $244 billion. If only all government programs were this efficient.

The best news is that seniors are saving an average of $1,200 per year on their drug costs. And, independent surveys have shown that more than 85 percent of seniors are satisfied with the Part D benefit. Here in Washington, we cannot even get 85 percent of senators to agree on when we can vote. I thank HHS for all they have done to administer the Medicare Part D program.

Any Kansan who has questions on their Part D plan, or wishes to enroll, please call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov. We hear a lot of unfair criticisms over the Medicare Part D program, but in Kansas, this program is a success.

To learn more about issues before the Senate, visit my Web site at http://roberts.senate.gov . For regular updates, sign up on my home page for a monthly e-newsletter, The Roberts Report.

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