Tag Archives: health care reform

Marilyn Tavenner Confirmation Watch June 19th Update: Who cares if anyone runs Medicare?

June 19, 2012 update on Marilyn Tavenner’s confirmation (don’t hold your breath) hearings:

“So what did Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) say when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked him to hold a confirmation hearing for Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of CMS?

“’It’s going to be difficult to proceed with the Republican opposition,’ said Baucus, chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, when I asked him about the conversation.'”

http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20120618/BLOGS04/306189981/max-baucus-fire-non-starter:

You call the enthusiastic endorsement of Tavenner by Rep.Eric Cantor, House Republican Majority Leader,  “Republican opposition.” Give me a break Senator Baucus.

Senator Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who helped write the original Medicare legislation that President Johnson signed into law.

Here is what I told Katrina vanden Heuvel , the editor and publisher of the Nation Magazine [who appeared this Sunday as a refreshingly articulate advocate for abandoning the current foolish policy of austerity above all else on This Week with George Stephanopoulos ] when she asked me to give my younger daughter a gift subscription as a college graduation present:

Katrina:

“I am shocked by The Nation’s failure to report on the deterioration of the current Medicare system which as a recipient and a left-of-center Democrat, I can report on what is actually going on (despite the Nation’s unexamined rhetoric). Indeed, I have suggested that I write about it for you to no avail. Hence, no subscription for my daughter Amelia: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/blueroof-reality/countdown-to-amelias-graduation/

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In response to the report from the Wall Street Journal below:
11:52 pm May 21, 2012
Joel Solkoff wrote :

The failure of Max Baucus and the 12 Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee, many of whom are liberals whose rhetoric on saving Medicare is voluminous, to hold hearings on Marilyn Tavenner to be head of Medicare and Medicaid is a disgrace. As a paraplegic who has experienced the deterioration of Medicare as it currently exists under President Obama, the fact that his Administration has not had a confirmed Administrator reveals the sharp disparity between a President who lauds Medicare while cutting its budget by half a trillion dollars as part of the cynical price paid to ensure passage of Obamacare. Eric Cantor’s support of Tavenner would have forced Senate Republicans to think twice about voting against her. As one who enthusiastically supported the President four years ago, my unenthusiastic vote for his re-election is indicative of the lukewarm support that could cost him the election. The Nation, The Progressive, and other presumed defenders of Medicare have failed to be critical of the President’s penny-wise, pound foolish administration of a program which he is currently destroying while speaking eloquently about preserving its future. A genuine confirmation hearing for an Administrator whose budget is larger than the Pentagon’s is long overdue. Failure to hold hearings undermines the Democratic pretense that Medicare is worth saving and makes me ashamed to admit that I am a Democrat. What happened to the party of Adlai Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt? The best way for Obama to prove his credibility is to push for the support of his nominee and to indicate his commitment to what used to be Democratic values.

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/05/21/no-confirmation-hearing-planned-for-marilyn-tavenner/

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Every day I:

1. Log onto the Senate Finance Committee website. http://finance.senate.gov/

2. Click http://finance.senate.gov/nominations/

3. Then, scroll down to here:

12/01/11

Marilyn B. Tavenner, of Virginia, to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, vice Donald M. Berwick, resigned

5.  Watch paint dry as I go to this site http://www.thomas.gov/cgi-bin/thomas which reads:

Presidential Nominations
112th Congress (2011 – 2012)
PN1165-112

 

Nomination: PN1165-112
Date Received: December 01, 2011 (112th Congress)
Nominee: Marilyn B. Tavenner, of Virginia, to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, vice Donald M. Berwick, resigned.
Referred to: Senate Finance

Legislative Actions
Floor Action: December 01, 2011 – Received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Finance.

Organization: Department of Health and Human Services

Control Number: 112PN0116500

__________________________________________________________

Now for some background information. In December, I published the following article in HME News, the publication for the home medical equipment industry which may help you understand the circumstances behind the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to head the half trillion-dollar agency which significantly affects the life and health of all Medicare and Medicaid recipients.

Who is in charge of Medicare?

The wide-ranging debate over Medicare, a major factor in the presidential election next year, primarily focuses on whether future generations will benefit in the same way that the current 46 million recipients like me benefit. Politicians, critics and would-be-recipients express the illusion that the health care I receive from Medicare represents the ideal. I believe that the only way to save Medicare is to dramatically improve the way it is run today so that it remains a program worth saving.
The primary audience for this commentary is the men and women who provide DME other equipment necessary to sustain and maintain the quality of life. Recently, 87-year-old Lilian Hutchinson, who gets around on an unstable walker, fell and broke her elbow in an independent living facility for 90 elderly and disabled residents where I live in State College, Pa. I believe that if Lillian had access to a scooter or a power chair in her apartment, she would not have fallen. The tales of needless suffering you could tell resulting from a Medicare bureaucracy that increasingly limits access to mobility equipment and medical oxygen seem beside the point.
Durable medical equipment represents only a small fraction of the Medicare budget. The whole system for providing medical care for the elderly, disabled and poor is not working efficiently in large part because of the absence of leadership at CMS, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. My intention here is to answer the question: Who runs Medicare? In theory, Dr. Donald Berwick, a distinguished Harvard physician with an outstanding reputation as an advocate for efficient health care, runs CMS.
Last year, President Obama named Dr. Berwick to be administrator of CMS, a position one senator described as the nation’s health czar since the job also includes putting in place much of the legislation passed last year, which, by one estimate, will extend health care to 32 million Americans who do not have coverage.
Sadly, the president had failed to appoint an administrator early on in his administration, when Senate confirmation would not have been a problem and when an adviser with the expertise and gravitas Dr. Berwick has in the medical community would have proven useful. The major flaw in the president’s landmark legislation was how he intended to pay for it. He decided against raising taxes, which might have doomed passage.
Instead, half the estimated trillion dollars required to extend healthcare coverage was targeted to come from savings to the Medicare budget as a result of achieving cost savings, reducing fraud and abuse, and increasing efficiency. Anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution to save money can tell you it is imprudent to spend it before the money is actually saved.
By the time Dr. Berwick arrived at Medicare, he was in the impossible situation of being required to save $500 billion, a requirement for which he had not been consulted and in a situation where the president had given him neither the time nor the authority to implement.
The political comedian Mark Russell observed, in a similar context, that exercising leadership without the necessary authority is equivalent to sending a eunuch to an orgy. Fearful of Republican reaction to Dr. Berwick’s appointment and unsure of the allegiance of Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, the president refused to fight for Berwick’s confirmation or to find a replacement who would achieve bipartisan support.
Using the recess appointment mechanism, which allows a president to appoint an official on a temporary basis while Congress is not in session, Berwick currently serves as acting administrator and will be replaced next year by his deputy Marilyn Tavenner. Tavenner, while respected for her organizational skill, her background as a nurse and a hospital and state health care administer, does not have the stature required to lead what is in effect a cabinet level position.
Although CMS has a larger annual budget than the Pentagon, as I write this, there has not been a confirmed head of Medicare since 2006. For the purposes of comparison, if the Defense Department did not have a confirmed secretary for five years, there would be a national outcry.
–Joel Solkoff was a political appointee in the Carter Administration, serving as special assistant to the Under Secretary of Labor. He believes a bipartisan solution to the problems of Medicare is achievable.

On February 3, I sent the following letter to Senator Max Baucus (D Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has oversight over Medicare and has the power to conduct confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominee to run Meadicare:

The Honorable Max Baucus

Chairman

Committee on Finance

United States Senate

219 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Baucus

I am writing to request an invitation to testify at the confirmation hearing of Marilyn Tavenner to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

I am a paraplegic who is a Medicare recipient. While I am generally supportive of Acting Administrator Tavenner’s appointment, especially since it has been so long that CMS has had a confirmed Administrator; I have considerable concerns about durable medical equipment. As a user of mobility devices and as one who has researched other equipment in the durable category, especially medical oxygen, I think it important that my concerns be discussed.

Specifically, I am concerned about the cumbersome procedures involved in obtaining medical equipment. The current competitive bidding program, the absence of assurances that award winners will provide batteries, other necessary equipment, and maintenance are among the issues on which I would like assurance—both from Acting Administrator Tavenner and from the Senate Finance Committee with its oversight responsibilities.

I realize that no hearings have been scheduled as of this writing. However, given the importance of Medicare and Medicaid I would appreciate my voice being heard, especially on the subject of indigent disabled individuals who have suffered most from current and proposed CMS practices.

I write frequently on disability issues for Voices of Central Pennsylvania, HME News, the monthly publication of the home medical care industry, and for a variety of other publications. I am the author of three books including Learning to Live Again My Triumph over Cancer. My disability writing can be accessed easily by keyboarding my name into Google.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Joel Solkoff

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Of course I cannot testify unless there are hearings.

For a number of reasons, it seems likely that Marilyn Tavenner is not a controversial nominee and the committee and the Senate would vote to confirm her.

It is hard to run something when you do not have the necessary authority.

Politicians are using this election season to talk about the important of Medicare and Medicaid. If they really believe what they say they would hold confirmation hearings.

There has not been a confirmed had of Medicare since the Bush Administration. 

 

 

Suggested stories:

 

Exclusive Written Interview of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI)

Exclusive Written Interview of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) by Joel Solkoff, Voices of Central Pennsylvania
1. Why do you oppose the Obama Administration’s efforts to create competitive bidding for medical suppliers of durable medical equipment, such as medical oxygen, power chairs, scooters, wheelchairs, and other mobility devices?

The competitive bidding program was enacted as part of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) in an effort to improve quality of service and eliminate excess costs in Medicare. While I support these overall goals, flaws within the bidding process sparked early concerns within the program.


Competitive bidding was implemented in July 2008. However, Congress delayed the program two weeks after it began, recognizing the new system was not generating the savings and competition the law had intended. Further, the program was acknowledged to be a potential threat to access and quality of services, vulnerable to corruption, and resulting in fewer suppliers capable of meeting the unique needs of patients.


During the moratorium, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pursued other avenues that achieve higher quality care and succeeded in cutting costs, yielding savings of 16.5 percent. These alternatives underscore my belief that the original program is ineffective and unnecessary to keep as written law. For this reason, I cosponsored H.R. 3790, which would repeal the Competitive Bidding Program.

2. What are your objections to the attempt to repeal the first month purchase option for users of mobility devices?

Currently the Medicare program allows beneficiaries a choice as to whether they want to purchase the power wheelchair that is right for their size, disability, functional level and home situation, or if they want to rent it. Over 95 percent of beneficiaries choose the first month purchase option because their disability often involves a chronic, long-term condition and they require use of a power wheelchair to remain active and independent in their homes and communities.


The Affordable Care Act repeals the first month purchase option and requires a mandatory 13-month rental, regardless of the acuity of the condition or long-term need of the patient. Unfortunately, many power wheelchair providers do not have the capital or lines of credit in the current economy to bear the burden of paying the up-front costs to procure the appropriate wheelchairs from the manufacturers. Without a one-year delay, this policy could create significant access and quality-of-care issues as providers of this equipment struggle to make the significant changes to their business model to adapt to a new payment model, which has the costs front-loaded with reimbursements from Medicare spread over 13 months. They may also simply go out of business.


A one-year delay of this provision will allow providers of power wheelchairs more time to implement this significant policy change.

3. Why do you think President Obama waited so long to appoint an administrator of Medicare and Medicaid? (I would think a Medicare Administrator could have given the President valuable information and advice during the health care reform process.)

While I cannot speak for the President, I believe that vetting and selecting high-caliber individuals to lead departments and agencies can be a long and challenging process, particularly those that require Senate confirmation. As health reform was considered in Congress, counsel was sought from numerous stakeholders at all levels and throughout all steps of the process. Now that the law has been enacted, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is one of many Administration officials tasked with its implementation, which is equally, if not more important to the success of health reform.

4. What affect will Donald Berwick’s recess appointment, with its limited duration, have on the future of Medicare and Medicaid, especially given the strong Republican and Tea-party desire to cut Medicare even more.

Donald Berwick is a highly respected leader in the field of health policy. His knowledge and experience make him uniquely qualified to head CMS, particularly as we begin to institute payment and delivery reforms to maximize quality and efficiency in Medicare and Medicaid. While a Senate confirmation would have been preferable, some senators intended to make Donald Berwick’s confirmation process a referendum on health reform, placing ideology over his qualifications as a potential administrator. Republicans have long stated their intentions to “repeal and replace” the health reform law. We cannot dismiss the probability that they will use every means at their disposal to accomplish this, including the use of controversial amendments, defunding the program through the appropriations process, and blocking future nominees for positions in the Administration.


5. What are your views on the half trillion dollar cuts in Medicare as a way of helping to pay for the health care reform bill?

Health care costs in the United States are rising at an alarming rate. Yet despite the fact that we spend more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country, we produce disappointing outcomes by a number of important health measures. Furthermore, the U.S. remains the only developed nation that does not guarantee health coverage as a right to its citizens.


Health reform will expand coverage to 32 million Americans, promote a strong health care workforce, reduce the deficit by $143 billion over 10 years and protect Medicare for our seniors by extending the trust fund by a decade. These reforms are funded in part through Medicare savings, not benefit cuts.


Reducing health care costs and expanding insurance coverage does not mean we have to raid Medicare. On the contrary, we can and must use the money already in the system more efficiently to ensure a sustainable health care model.

6. As a Democrat who worked for President Obama’s election (and as a paraplegic), I have been disappointed by the President’s insensitivity to issues relating to disability, especially as they relate to the on-going difficulties in obtaining needed assistive technology. What are your views on the subject?

On July 26, 2010, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This was an opportunity to both celebrate our accomplishments, and reflect on the continuing challenges.


Individuals with disabilities remain one of our nation’s greatest untapped resources, and they continue to face challenges in accessing employment, transportation, housing and even health care. This will only continue as we see increasing numbers of veterans returning with Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders and other disabling conditions.


It is more important than ever that we educate businesses and connect them with proper resources to create more employment opportunities in our communities. We must collaborate with local and state governments to ensure that transportation is available and accessible to everyone so they can get to their job, or the doctor, or the grocery store. We need to provide more resources for our teachers so that every child can receive a proper education, which is the stepping stone to a better future.


We must also continue the development of assistive technologies and make sure that computers, PDAs and phones are fully accessible for the vision and hearing impaired. To that end, on the 20th anniversary of the ADA, the House of Representatives passed the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which would require that certain technologies be compatible with devices used by individuals with disabilities, and attempts to increase access to technology through various funding and regulatory requirements. This was signed into law by President Obama on October 8th.

7. Here in State College, PA, I am a constituent of Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican with whom you have been working on issues affecting local suppliers of medical equipment. Would you describe what your working relationship with Rep. Thompson is like?

Disabilities don’t discriminate on the basis of party affiliation. I have a long record of working in a bipartisan fashion to enact policies that increase the quality of life for all individuals with disabilities. My relationship with Representative Thompson is no exception.

8. What are your views on the future of productive working relationships with Republicans on health care-, Medicare-, and disability-related issues over the next two years?

While the climate in Washington has been particularly partisan during the elections, it is my greatest hope that we will not let the issues that divide us keep us from the work we were elected to do. Nothing would be more detrimental to our economic, fiscal and social progress than the continuation of partisan rhetoric and the lack of courage to make the tough choices that will ultimately lead us into a more prosperous future.

9. Do you think a Republican-dominated Congress will be effective in preventing full implementation of the health care reform bill?

Passage of the health reform bill wasn’t the end; it was the beginning of a new chapter for health care in America. This law will be judged by the court of public opinion, just as it will be challenged in the courts and in Congress. Some changes will have to be made, and the policy will evolve as our society does. At the end of the day, I believe the reforms will prove popular and successful.

10. Donald Stockman, budget director for the late President Reagan, says the country is out of money, must cut back on everything, and said on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour that scooter manufacturers should cut back on production. Is the country out of money? Can we afford to provide our disabled population with the assistive technology we need to be productive? Can our economy afford not to develop the talent of people with disabilities?

Americans are innovative and resilient. Although we will have to make tough budgetary decisions to put our country on a fiscally sustainable path, we still have the resources to invest in key areas that will plant the seeds of economic and social growth. We can make transportation and technology even more accessible and available. We can provide more resources to teachers and students to achieve a better education. We can focus on income and asset development so families have the means to become productive members of their communities. If we act with courage and commitment, then we will provide the means for every individual to realize their true potential.


Thank you.

Joel Solkoff, November 19, 2010, Voices of Central Pennsylvania

[Please note: As a columnist, I have the liberty of injecting personal notes in my writing, such as the fact that I am a Democrat.]

Kvetzing in Centre County, December 2009 Version

Preparing for the next column–a columnist kvetches 1.
Submitted by jsolkoff on Sat, 2009-12-26

Dear Reader

I write a column for Voices which appears in the Community and Lifestyles section. The column “From Where I Sit” is about the disabled and elderly. [Please note that according to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (frequently referred to by academics reverently as “the APA style manual”) terms such as “the disabled and elderly” and “the blind” are incorrect; if you want to be published in an academic journal that uses the APA manual, your article will be rejected because, for example, “the blind” assumes that the individual defines himself as blind as opposed to using the politically required phrase “individual who is blind” or better yet “individual who happens to be blind” so that one does not identify individuals by their disability; this is a distinction that does violence to the English language, a language for which I have a lot of loyalty; but a discussion of the language of the disability community must await another time and requires some care).]

For the current issue of Voices (now available at Webster’s and the Corner Room and so on), I describe a telephone interview with John Wayne (conducted before he died) in which he describes his cancer experience. [Expressions such as “cancer experience” should be forbidden by law.]. He counseled people to follow his example. Two weeks after surgery, he was back on the set making a movie and telling people not be weak and feel sorry for themselves.

My original plan was to segue to the next [February] column on tools people who cannot see, walk, or hear require in order to work; dividing the column into three sequential columns and making the next one assistive technology for the blind.

A genius in Boston named Raymond Kurzweil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Kurzweil
introduced in June 2005 the “Kurzweil National Federation of the Blind Reader”, which Wikipedia describes as “a pocket-sized device consisting of a digital camera and computer unit. Like the Kurzweil Reading Machine of almost 30 years before, the K-NFB reader is designed to aid blind people by reading text aloud.”

The K-NFB reader gives a blind person at the grocery store the ability to pick up a box of cereal, click the scanner, the device reads the ingredients out loud [available in 13 languages, a concept I find outrageous; imagine hearing words “modified corn starch” in Portuguese; I would find it hard to leave the grocery store, justifying my behavior as saving money on Berlitz—and the Romanian word for avocado is…].

I am eager to describe in detail the voice simulation and generation technology that made it possible for my friend Suzanne Erb, chair of the Philadelphia Mayor’s task force on disabilities, to help me communicate helpful information to the Centre County Obama campaign headquarters, housed in the former Verizon offices across the street from Schlow Library, a headquarters where I convinced the staff to cause new concrete to be poured for the disability entrance so I could take my power chair from my apartment to headquarters.

Erb, who is blind, is also an expert on voting, especially voting machines, contributing regularly to a complicated, detail-filled blog on the subject. Suzanne explained to me the machines the Centre County Board of elections uses and the problems associated with the expensive disability machines (not designed by people with disabilities). [People with disabilities who must use equipment must use equipment without having input in its design.]

President Obama—the candidate for whom I voted in the primary and general election and worked to elect)–is in the process of taking away from those of us with disabilities access to the kind of assistive technology that we used to help get him elected.

Yesterday, I received an email from the President (the same email sent to all Obama supporters on his extensive e-mail list) expressing pleasure at the passage of the health care reform bill by the Senate. Now the House and Senate bills need to be reconciled. I mention this with a sense of urgency because my column must meet a deadline of January 15.

My column is limited to 800 words [fewer words than in this blog posting] which limits me to the expression of only one idea and its exposition. So the question nags: Which new to you idea do I want to write about for the FEBRUARY issue? As a columnist I am obliged to see in the future. Yes, I know that the New Year’s resolutions you have not yet made you WILL break before February.

A predictor of Congressional events told me that reconciliation will take about 3 weeks. But if it takes 6 weeks, then maybe it is time for me to address the effect on Medicare cuts—which the Administration has inserted as an essential element to health care reform—on the ability of low income people with disabilities to obtain power chairs so, for example, I can go from my bed to the kitchen and make my own breakfast or to Webster’s to have Seth make me breakfast. Or, as the cuts continue, I fear being forced by my disability to go to an assisted living place instead, where the cost to Medicare would be $60,000 a year when the cost of my rent is less than $20,000 a year. If I am forced to go to assistive living it will rob me of my ability to take care of myself and it would bum me out considerably.

I will keep you up to date I my quest for the right 800 words for the right time.

Joel