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.

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 WarnerThe Year Ahead: Tech braces for new scrutiny from Washington Senate Intel leaders ask judge not to jail former aide amid leak investigation The Year Ahead: Pressure mounts on election security as 2020 approaches MORE (Va.), who introduced the bill with Republican Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenators offer measure naming Saudi crown prince 'responsible' for Khashoggi slaying Georgia’s midterm elections reveal historic voter realignment Veterans have been deprived of their earned benefits for two decades 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 BaldwinDem senator accuses Wisconsin Republicans of 'power grab' Schumer reelected as Senate Democratic Leader Number of LGBT lawmakers in Congress hits double digits MORE (D-Wis.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWould-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — What the Michael Flynn news means California primary threatens to change 2020 game for Dems MORE (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' GOP rep: If Mueller had found collusion, ‘investigation would have wrapped up very quickly’ O’Rourke is fireball, but not all Dems are sold MORE (D-Ohio), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Defense: Senate moves toward vote on bill ending support for Saudi war | House GOP blocks Yemen war votes for rest of year | Trump throws uncertainty into Pentagon budget | Key Dem to leave transgender troop ban to courts George H.W. Bush remembered at Kennedy Center Honors Democratic senator: US must maintain strategic relationship with Saudis and hold them accountable MORE (D-Md.), Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators prepare for possibility of Christmas in Washington during a shutdown Dem senator: Trump 'seems more rattled than usual' Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (D-Del.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBiden team discussed 2020 run with O'Rourke as VP: report Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension A sea change for sexual conduct on campus MORE (D-N.Y.), Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe Year Ahead: Tough tests loom for Trump trade agenda Senate heads toward floor fight on criminal justice bill Top security officials issue stark warning of Chinese espionage efforts MORE (R-Iowa), Angus KingAngus Stanley KingLobbying World Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' Maine senator calls impeachment 'last resort': 'We may get there, but we’re not there now' MORE (I-Maine), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBiden team discussed 2020 run with O'Rourke as VP: report O'Rourke doubles support in CNN poll of Dem presidential race Senate Dems urge Trump to continue nuclear arms control negotiations after treaty suspension MORE (D-Minn.), David Perdue (R-Ga.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanDrug company to offer cheaper opioid overdose treatment after hiking price 600 percent The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by T-Mobile — Congress to act soon to avoid shutdown On The Money: Trump touts China actions day after stock slide | China 'confident' on new trade deal | GM chief meets lawmakers to calm anger over cuts | Huawei CFO arrested MORE (R-Ohio), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate approves massive farm bill The Hill's Morning Report — Will Trump strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy? This week: Trump, Dems set to meet amid funding fight MORE (R-Kan.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDems aim to punt vote on ObamaCare taxes Overnight Defense: Nauert tapped for UN envoy | Trump teases changes to Joint Chiefs of Staff | Trump knocks Tillerson as 'dumb as a rock' | Scathing report details Air Force failures before Texas shooting New Hampshire's secretary of state narrowly holds seat MORE (D-N.H.), and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerAlmost half of US residents don't use broadband internet: study Afghanistan war at a stalemate, top general tells lawmakers Grassley open to legislation making it tougher for Trump to impose tariffs on national security grounds 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 McCainKevin McLaughlin tapped to serve as NRSC executive director for 2020 Kasich on death of 7-year-old in Border Patrol custody: 'Shame on Congress' Arizona governor eyes several possible Kyl replacements 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.