Medicare Changes Coming When Ron Wyden Takes Over Top Senate Finance Post

Medicare changes that would overhaul the way the national health care program cares for seniors with chronic conditions highlight a Medicare reform bill introduced this week by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden.

Wyden, who has long been an advocate for changes to the Medicare program, is about to become an advocate for Medicare reform with tremendous power. The Washington Post reports that Wyden is expected to take over the chair of the important Senate Finance Committee next month, following the retirement of current chair, Montana Democrat Max Baucus, who is expected to become U.S. ambassador to China.

Wyden’s bill changes the way Medicare pays for senior patients with multiple chronic conditions, according to USA Today. The way the program works now, Medicare pays for medical services on a piecemeal basis.

Wyden’s bill, “The Better Care, Lower Cost Act of 2014,” would change that system, so that a team of health care providers would receive a single payment for providing long-term care for patients with two or more chronic medical conditions.

“Much of the Medicare debate is: Are you going to cut people’s benefits? Or are you going to stand pat?” Wyden told The Washington Post. “This gets out of that debate.”

In 2011, Wyden was criticized by fellow Democrats for teaming with conservative Republican Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan on a bill that in fact, would have cut Medicare benefits. At the time, Wyden said that his involvement weakened Ryan’s proposed cutbacks, but he has since distanced himself from the Ryan plan.

Wyden called his new proposed legislation, “a bold, fresh approach to Medicare — the idea that chronic care should come first.”

Patients with multiple chronic conditions make up 70 percent of all Medicare recipients — and they account for a staggering 93 percent of all Medicare spending. By making coverage for those patients more efficient, Wyden’s bill could result in a significant savings in the federal budget.

“Social workers, nurses, dieticians or nurse practitioners would be able to provide home evaluations or visits as part of the team-based approach,” Wyden aide Ken Willis told the Modern Health Care web site, explaining the mechanics of Wyden’s proposed reforms. “This would allow patients’ health teams to maximize the full range of health professionals’ expertise, and lessen the impact of the current provider shortage.”

In addition to his push for Medicare reform, Wyden has been an advocate for senior citizens from the beginning of his long political career. He co-founded an Oregon branch of the elders activist group The Grey Panthers when he was in his 20s. Wyden was elected to congress in 1980 and has served in the House and then, starting in 1996, the Senate ever since.

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