Senate Committee Examines Chronic Care; Council Member Testifies

The following article appeared in the American Benefits Council Benefits Byte on July 15, 2014. For information on becoming a member of the American Benefits Council, visit this page.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on July 15 to discuss the challenges faced by chronic illness sufferers and their caregivers. The hearing, Chronic Illness: Addressing Patients’ Unmet Needs, featured testimony from Cheryl DeMars, president and CEO of The Alliance, a Council employer organization. DeMars is also the new chair of the National Business Coalition on Health, also a Council member organization.

Among the challenges posed by chronic illness care are poor communication between multiple doctors and hospitals, conflicting medication programs, overreliance on paper medical records and poor support for family caregivers.

At the outset of the hearing, Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) called the management of chronic care “the biggest challenge ahead for Medicare and the future of America’s health care system.” In particular, Wyden noted that “the growing prevalence of chronic disease is also a major driver of rising health care costs that are putting a growing burden on government, business, and family budgets.”

DeMars, in her testimony, urged the federal government to provide:

  • Support for employers’ use of purchasing power to improve the health of employees.
  • Greater access to Medicare data on cost and quality of care.
  • Clear guidance with respect to regulations affecting health plans, with flexibility for plan sponsors to innovate.

She also described the Alliance’s QualityPath program to “move market share to doctors and hospitals who offer high-quality, fairly-priced health care for high-stakes procedures.”

Also testifying before the panel were Stephanie Dempsey, a sufferer of multiple chronic illnesses; Mary Margaret Lehmann, a caregiver for her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband; and Dr. William A. Bornstein, chief quality and medical officer at Emory Healthcare. Providing written testimony, but not appearing in person, was Chet Burrell, president and CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. These witnesses all discussed their unique challenges navigating the chronic care health system.

During the question-and-answer period, lawmakers talked about improving incentives for “coordinated care,” the organization of patient care between two or more caregivers to facilitate the appropriate delivery of health care services. Earlier this year, Wyden and fellow committee member Johnny Isakson (R-GA) introduced the Better Care, Lower Cost Act (S. 1932), a measure directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an integrated chronic care delivery program that promotes accountability and better care management for chronically ill patient populations and coordinates items and services under Medicare.

Wyden, Isakson and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) also specifically expressed interest in standalone legislation addressing Alzheimer’s disease. In April 2013, Stabenow introduced the Health Outcomes, Planning, and Education for Alzheimer’s Act (S. 709), a measure to improve diagnosis, care and outcomes for affected individuals.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) asked DeMars how employers are ensuring that employees with chronic conditions are able to obtain appropriate health coverage. DeMars affirmed companies’ view that business success is closely related to the well-being of the workforce, and cited value-based benefits design and the work of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) as valuable resources for helping self-insured employers align cost and quality for specific treatment programs. In response to a similar question from Wyden, DeMars noted that many Alliance companies are sponsoring biometric screening and optimal management programs.

For more information, contact Katy Spangler, senior vice president, health policy, at (202) 289-6700.