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Bipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill

Bipartisan lawmakers can rebuild trust by passing infusion therapy bill
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When U.S. lawmakers return home in mid-December for the holidays, they will face constituents asking, “What have you achieved in Washington?” Republicans controlling both the Senate and House of Representatives will be especially grilled on healthcare, after failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

However, there is one thing lawmakers can do before the holidays that will improve the lives of some of the sickest patients in America — pass a law helping people in line for heart transplants to endure their wait at home rather than in a hospital.

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Over the holidays, it will be important for lawmakers to be able to point to ways that they have helped real people solve their everyday problems, because voters don’t trust government. In 1958, about three-quarters of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing almost always or most of the time, but since 2007 that number has not surpassed 30 percent, according to the Pew Research Center’s National Election Study.

 

U.S. senators can start rebuilding that trust by passing the Medicare Home Infusion Therapy Access Act of 2017, to restore home infusion therapy payments for patients on Medicare. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation to address this issue. Now, the U.S. Senate must approve its version.

Democrat Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRegulators push for 'coordinated' approach to bitcoin trading House funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms Overnight Tech: Mulvaney reportedly froze Equifax hack probe | Dems want new restrictions on Comcast-NBC | NJ gov signs net neutrality order | Senate confirms patent chief MORE (Va.), who introduced the bill with Republican Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonHouse funding bill includes bipartisan Medicare reforms Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Collins becomes centrist power player MORE (Ga.), calls the law a “commonsense fix” for an unintended consequence of another law passed last year.  

Last December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act (CURES,) winning bipartisan support for its laudable goals of promoting medical research and curing cancer.

The law unfortunately also cut reimbursement by more than 95 percent for many infusion drugs, cutting monthly Medicare payments from about $11,000 per infusion patient to $500. In its place, it created a new benefit to reimburse home-infusion providers, but that provision does not take effect until 2021. That funding gap is hurting patients, but Warner-Isakson would bring the new benefit forward to the start of 2019.

This is not a budgetary issue: The Congressional Budget Office says home infusion is the most cost-effective way to treat patients. Private insurance, Medicaid, Tricare (for veterans) and Medicare Advantage, all still pay for home infusion, but it is not covered by traditional Medicare after the passage of CURES.

Warner-Isakson is truly bipartisan — a rarity in Washington these days. It is co-sponsored by Sens. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinGreen group backs Sens. Baldwin, Nelson for reelection Dems press Trump for 'Buy American' proposals in infrastructure plan Protesters wearing blue fill hearing to protest Grassley ignoring 'blue slip rule' MORE (D-Wis.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetGOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races Dem shutdown strategy: Force McConnell to deal DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest MORE (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTrump accuses Dems of 'treasonous' behavior Former Ohio football star faces conservative rival in GOP primary fight Dems press Trump for 'Buy American' proposals in infrastructure plan MORE (D-Ohio), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinMenendez to regain spot as top Foreign Relations Dem US could reinstate security assistance if Pakistan takes 'decisive' steps Cardin files to run for third term MORE (D-Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Hatch bill would dramatically increase H-1B visas Live coverage: Shutdown begins MORE (D-Del.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBritish health secretary fires back at Trump over universal health care claims Trump on Dems’ ‘universal' health-care push: ‘No thanks’ Gillibrand calls for DOJ to investigate US Olympic Committee over abuse scandal MORE (D-N.Y.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law MORE (R-Iowa), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingSen. King: Releasing memo would be ’reckless,’ ‘could expose sources’ The Hill's 12:30 Report Azar sworn in as HHS chief MORE (I-Maine), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Dem senator presses FTC to ramp up Equifax hack probe MORE (D-Minn.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP leader: Congress may settle for pared-down immigration deal Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Key senator floats new compromise for immigration talks MORE (R-Ohio), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Robertson recovering from stroke GOP senator relieved Trump didn't mention NAFTA Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Kan.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenators call for probe into US Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics after abuse scandal Trump officials take heat for declining Russia sanctions Schumer to Trump administration: Who met with Putin's spy chief? MORE (D-N.H.), and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerMcConnell urging Mississippi gov to appoint himself if Cochran resigns: report Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Trump, GOP make peace after tax win — but will it last? MORE (R-Miss.).

History teaches us that when our leaders work on bipartisan issues that we can all agree on, trust in government rises. For example, trust rose sharply after Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1982 began collaborating with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, doing deals to increase tax revenues and reform Social Security.

Arizona Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE (R-Ariz.)said in July that as a result of Washington’s hyper-partisanship, “We’re getting nothing done.” The senator urged Republicans and Democrats, “Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle.” Voting for Warner-Isakson is one small way that lawmakers can display bipartisanship and get something meaningful done together.

While this legislation is small in the general scheme of things, it’s a big deal to the patients that it impacts. About 4,000 patients in the United States are waiting for a heart transplant at any time, a wait that can last up to one year or more. They would typically receive their drugs via home infusion therapy, but now many Medicare patients have to endure their wait from a hospital, which costs significantly more and leaves them with a diminished quality of life.

Making matters worse, some of these patients are considered too sick and prone to infection to endure a long wait in a hospital, so they are undergoing invasive surgery to implant a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD — implantation of a mechanical pump inside the patient’s chest to help their weakened heart to pump blood. That expensive surgery could be avoided for many patients if they could receive home infusion while waiting for their transplant.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says it can implement the home infusion benefit in 2019, but only if the Senate acts. No one wants to force hundreds of vulnerable patients to live in hospital beds rather than enjoying life in their own homes with their loved ones. And yet, there is a risk that amid all the rancor and distractions in Washington that this sensible law could fall through the cracks. Senators who want to share some good news with constituents over the holidays won’t let that happen.

R. Carter Pate is chairman of the board of Bioscrip and the former U.S. Managing Partner of Health Care at PwC.