Congress talks healthcare following August break

Published 9:31 am Friday, September 9, 2016

Roe Quote

With Congress back in session from the annual August recess, a lot of talk is centering around healthcare issues according to U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, M.D.
At the top of the healthcare list is the Veterans Affairs hospital system which has undergone a lot of criticism and scrutiny since the discovery of “secret” wait lists that were incorrectly reflecting the wait times veterans experienced when attempting to obtain medical care.
Congress created the Commission on Care to help handle veteran wait times and other issues discovered within the VA system. That Commission testified before Congress on Wednesday, Roe said.
The Commission presented several proposals to help improve VA services, Roe said, adding there were four major points to the Commission’s report.
The first point, Roe said, would be creating a primary care model where veterans could receive their primary care treatment through the VA medical center or seek their care from a private practice physician who has been credentialed through the VA. This would allow veterans more choices in their own care, Roe said.
Changing and updating the VA’s electronic health record system is the second major point, according to Roe. The current system is outdated, Roe said, and replacing it will be a major project throughout the system that could take an extended amount of time.
The third major point is taking an inventory of physical assets and services to see what services are actually needed in an area and then making decisions to obtain the best patient care. For example, Roe said, if a facility is only seeing one or two of a specific type of procedure each month, it may be wiser to refer those cases to another facility and focus on needs that are more frequent.
Evaluating the supply chain is the fourth major point in the report, Roe said.
The goal of the Commission on Care is to update and modernize the VA system while providing the best possible care to veterans, Roe said, adding it will take years to complete the work that is needed.
“I think modernizing the VA will be the work of the next few Congresses,” Roe said.
In other healthcare news, Roe expressed his disappointment by the Senate in their failure to pass a bill to provide additional funding to combat the Zika virus.
“I am so frustrated by this,” Roe said. “The House passed exactly what the Senate asked for and then they wouldn’t approve it.”
The additional funding to combat Zika would have come from money left over that had been put in a fund to combat Ebola during the 2015 outbreak of that disease.
Some of the opposition the House bill encountered was from some members of the Senate who wanted to include additional funding for the Planned Parenthood organization.
“They are more interested in protecting Planned Parenthood’s ability to perform abortions than they are in protecting pregnant women,” Roe said, adding he could not support additional funds for Planned Parenthood following the scandal in 2015 where videos surfaced on the Internet of Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussing the sale of fetal organs and tissue collected during abortions.
Roe said he feels Democrats will attach the Planned Parenthood funding to the budget continuing resolution, which is what he called “must pass” legislation, in order to slip it through.
Recently, the Mylan pharmaceutical company has come under fire for a massive increase on the company’s EpiPen auto-injectible, which is used to treat anaphylaxis allergic reactions to a variety of things such as foods or insect stings.
“This is a drug that if you have an anaphylaxis reaction can save your life,” Roe said.
Mylan recently increased the price on a 2-pack of the auto-injection pens from $100 to $600.
“They basically just jacked the price up for no reason,” Roe said, adding company officials recently approved raises and bonuses for the company’s top earners. “It was just unadulterated greed in my opinion. The epinephrine in that pen is only about a buck.”
Roe said he and others are calling on the Food and Drug Administration to approve generic forms of the EpiPen as a means of providing a cheaper alternative to those who need the medicine.
“The FDA needs to get off its derrière and approve some generics,” Roe said, adding studies have shown that the appearance of generics on the market has served to drive down name brand prices on medications. “What they need is about three or four generic competitors.”
Roe also touched on the insurance rate hikes Tennesseans who purchase their insurance through the healthcare marketplace under the Affordable Care Act are seeing this year. BlueCross BlueShield in Tennessee asked for approval of a 62 percent rate increase, Roe said, adding other insurers also requested large rate hikes.
“It still has to be approved here in D.C.,” Roe said. “It won’t get approved. What will happen is providers will drop out until there are none.”
These increases and the number of insurance providers who have left marketplaces around the nation are evidence that the Affordable Care Act is collapsing, Roe said.
“I don’t see how it survives the way it is,” Roe said. “It will fold around the country. It’s just a matter of time.”

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