November 04, 2016

Finance Committee Drafts Chronic Care Legislation

Bipartisan efforts to enact legislation to improve treatment and coverage for Medicare patients with multiple chronic health conditions moved closer to fruition Oct. 26 following the public release of a draft bill by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2016 seeks to address disparate policy concepts, such as extending the Independence at Home Demonstration project for two years, permitting kidney-failure patients to enroll in Medicare Advantage, easing various telehealth restrictions and changing how beneficiaries can be assigned to accountable care organizations (ACOs).

The bill is sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), as well as Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the co-chairs of the unofficial bipartisan Senate Finance Committee Chronic Care Working Group.

Representatives from the American College of Radiology’s (ACR) government relations office recently participated in a bipartisan briefing on chronic care convened for select health care stakeholders by the Senate Finance Committee staff. The College was pleased to be among the physician, patient advocacy and other health care organizations asked to attend the briefing.

Unlike federal regulations released by government agencies, no formal comment period accompanies draft legislation released by senators or House representatives for outside review. Nevertheless, Finance Committee staff welcomed comments on the pending bill prior to its expected official introduction in November after the 2016 election.
Finance Committee staff is still working with the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on the bill’s cost and is not yet in a position to discuss monetary offsets to cover its provisions’ potential impact on the federal deficit.

ACR has closely followed the Finance Committee’s 17-month effort to write legislation that provides better, more efficient care for patients with multiple chronic conditions, especially individuals covered by Medicare. In particular, the government relations office continues to monitor provisions dedicated to loosening existing federal restrictions on telehealth services. The ACR is pleased the CHRONIC Care Act proposes targeted changes to telehealth regulations related to stroke consultations, Medicare Advantage patients and certain ACOs. At this time, the College does not expect the draft bill will negatively impact radiologists, if adopted, nor does it appear to potentially alter the existing system of state licensure.

Despite its planned introduction in November, The CHRONIC Care Act faces an uphill battle against a condensed legislative calendar, the unknown results of the 2016 election and unaddressed details about its cost. These combined factors reduce the odds of the bill’s passage before the end of the year. Its prospects may improve in 2017 when the Senate Finance Committee is expected to reintroduce the bill in January to coincide with the start of the 115th Congress.

ACR members are encouraged to closely monitor the Advocacy in Action newsletter for additional developments related to this legislative effort.