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Medicare Rights Center Asks Congress to Prioritize People with Medicare in Upcoming Legislation

Last month, Congress passed sweeping legislation that funds the federal government for six weeks and paves the way for a longer-term spending agreement. While the bill also makes significant changes to Medicare and other health care programs, both good and bad, it excludes several important reforms the Medicare Rights Center supports. Today, we asked Congress to include these policies in essential spending legislation they are expected to consider later this month.

This anticipated bill is a top priority for Congress because it will finally set funding levels for federal programs for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), which began six months ago on October 1. Congress is expected to consider the bill later this month, as the current stopgap measure expires on March 23.

In the letter, we ask lawmakers to prioritize people with Medicare by including the following in the final FY18 spending bill:

  • The Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act (S. 1909; H.R. 2575), which includes important Part B reforms.
  • The Ensuring Medicaid Provides Opportunities for Widespread Equity, Resources and (EMPOWER) Care Act (S. 2227), which extends the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program.
  • Adequate investments in the Medicare State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and other non-defense discretionary programs serving older adults and people with disabilities.

The BENES Act’s improvements are long overdue. Currently, far too many people with Medicare make honest mistakes about how and when to enroll, due to the cumbersome and confusing Part B rules. The consequences of these missteps can be significant—often leading to a lifetime of higher premiums, substantial out-of-pocket health care costs, gaps in coverage, and barriers to accessing needed services. The bicameral, bipartisan BENES Act aims to prevent these mistakes by empowering beneficiaries to make timely, well-informed enrollment decisions, and by streamlining the outdated Medicare Part B enrollment process.

We also support the EMPOWER Care Act, bipartisan legislation extending and improving the lapsed MFP Program. Since it launched in 2007, MFP has helped over 75,000 people with Medicaid—many of whom also rely on Medicare—transition from nursing facilities back to the community. According to independent, national evaluations, MFP participants who have transitioned to community-based settings experience significant and lasting improvements in quality of life, and decrease their overall Medicare and Medicaid expenditures by roughly 23%, generating significant cost savings for the programs.

Since the upcoming legislative package will set funding levels for annually appropriated programs that serve people with Medicare and their families, our letter also urges Congress to revisit and adopt the program-specific funding recommendations we made along with coalition partners at the beginning of FY18. In particular, we ask lawmakers to prioritize the SHIP, which has been a target for cuts in recent years. We urge appropriators to reject additional cuts, and to instead—at a minimum—maintain current funding levels.

Every day, older adults and people with disabilities across the country rely on the Medicare, MFP, and SHIP programs to stay healthy, participate in the community, make informed choices, and reach their full potential. The forthcoming spending bill presents a rare and important opportunity for members of Congress to advance reforms and make investments that will not only improve these programs, but also enhance the health and economic security for people with Medicare and their families.

Read our letter here.

​As Congress crafts this important bill, your lawmakers need to hear from you! Call today and tell them to pass the BENES Act, extend MFP, and fund the SHIP program so it is prepared to meet current and future needs. Click here to urge your members of Congress to co-sponsor the BENES Act.

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