Lawmakers Mark ADA Anniversary by Offering Medicare Medical Technology Bill
Marking the 11th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.) said yesterday at the Assistive Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C., that he plans to introduce legislation that would improve access to medical and assistive technologies for the disabled under Medicare. The bill, co-sponsored with Rep. Karen Thurman (D-Fla.), would reform Medicare's coverage, coding and payment procedures to provide beneficiaries with the latest FDA-approved medical and assistive technologies. According to Ramstad, Medicare beneficiaries can face 15-month to five-year delays before the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, formerly HCFA, approves new technologies. "It's absolutely unconscionable that people with disabilities ... have to wait up to five years for life-enhancing, life-saving technologies because of inefficient, uncoordinated bureaucratic policy," Ramstad said, adding, "That is wrong. It must be changed." He said that the legislation -- the "Medicare Innovation Responsiveness Act of 2001" -- would reduce long-term Medicare costs. A recent study conducted by Duke University found that advances in medical technology have led to a 2.6% annual decline in the number of disabled Americans ages 65 and older, a trend that has saved Medicare billions of dollars. Pamela Bailey, president of AdvaMed, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, which sponsored the exposition, urged lawmakers to "act quickly and pass this needed legislation." Ramstad said that he plans to introduce the bill "soon."
During the exposition, lawmakers praised the ADA, but agreed that they "need to do more." Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "We have come a long way, but there is a lot left to be done." He added, "As long as we have one person in America with a disability ... who is denied the right to live like anyone else ... we have an unfinished agenda." Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said that "when there's ... a need" to help the disabled, such as easing restrictions on home health benefits under Medicare, "that ought to be addressed." According to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Congress must also pass legislation "to make sure that the issues ... of quality are going to be" addressed. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "We're going to continue to press forward. We have just begun." A coalition of medical technology and advocacy groups issued a resolution yesterday, urging lawmakers to implement the "New Freedom Initiative" that President Bush proposed in February (Josh Kotzman, California Healthline, 7/27). The plan would increase federal funding for low-interest loans to help Americans with disabilities purchase technology to help them in the workplace. In addition, the initiative would establish a fund to help the disabled purchase telecommuting equipment, provide tax incentives to encourage businesses to offer the equipment and earmark federal funds for research on assistive technologies (California Healthline, 2/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.