Wyden, Markey urge quicker launch of home care demo

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) are pushing the White House this week for quicker implementation of a home-care demo targeting the nation's frailest seniors. 

The three-year program, included as part of the Democrats' new health reform law, encourages doctors to make house calls to seniors whose multiple chronic conditions make it difficult to travel to hospitals and doctors offices. Supporters of the program maintain it will lead to better care for those seniors, while also saving Medicare money by reducing the number of expensive emergency room visits. 

Under the new law, Medicare is required to launch the program by the start of 2012. Wyden and Markey, though, think that's too long to wait. 

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the two Democrats — who sponsored the home care provision — are urging the administration to install the program "sooner rather than later." 

Not only does the law provide CMS with funding this year, the lawmakers argue, but similar programs (including one operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs) have been up and running for decades, leaving many organizations well-experienced to participate in the new Medicare demo. And then there are the health considerations.

"Implementation of the [home care] program as soon as possible would appear to us to be clearly in the best interest of the frail, chronically-ill Medicare beneficiaries eligible to participate in the … program," the Democrats wrote to Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator at CMS. 

The lawmakers have requested that CMS launch the program within six months.