Morgan Griffith: Bipartisan healthcare legislation

morgan griffithHealthcare policy touches on some of the most important and personal decisions people make. From my vantage point on the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I continue to look for ways to improve healthcare in the Ninth District.

Healthcare policy revolves around quality, availability, and affordability. All three of these goals can be promoted by the use of telehealth, in which medical services are provided remotely through electronic and telecommunications technologies. I have long supported telehealth as a solution to some of the challenges faced in Southwest Virginia. In rural areas like ours, telehealth can provide access to treatments that patients would otherwise have to travel far to receive, if they receive it at all.

Recently, I joined with several of my colleagues on both side of the aisle to introduce the Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalizations Act (RUSH) Act. Our legislation would expand telehealth’s use in skilled nursing facilities. Rather than require seniors to be transferred to hospitals, it would allow for telehealth to be utilized to treat Medicare recipients in place at these facilities when appropriate.

By embracing opportunities created by telehealth, the RUSH Act would reduce risks for seniors and save money for taxpayers.

As part of a September 13 hearing on improvements to Medicare, I was able to discuss our bill with Dr. Timothy Peck, the founder and CEO of Call9. His company has achieved success bringing telehealth into nursing homes, treating seniors experiencing a health episode there rather than transferring them to hospitals.

He testified that Call9 can treat patients in place roughly 80% of the time. Those seniors can be treated at the time of their emergencies rather than go through the ordeal of completing an ambulance ride and waiting to see an emergency room physician. In addition to saving the time and cost of an ambulance ride, these seniors are spared the stress and confusion of a ride accompanied by blaring sirens. Further, they are spared bright lights and the possibility of a bed in the hallway at the emergency room.

Current law, however, prohibits Medicare from providing reimbursements for telehealth, inhibiting his company from expanding, especially to rural areas. The RUSH Act would encourage his operation and others providing similar services to go into nursing homes in rural areas or that depend heavily on Medicare. As I pointed out in the hearing, seniors in these homes deserve the same quality of care as those who live in urban or wealthy areas.

Support for telehealth has brought together Democrats and Republicans.

Some measures to lower prescription drugs prices also unite both parties. Everyone recognizes that people are paying too much to have their prescriptions filled.

The issue is a tangled one, but I believe transparency is an essential part of untangling it. That’s why I am an original cosponsor of the Know the Cost Act, which would ban the practice of “gag clauses.”

Gag clauses may be imposed by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) on pharmacists, prohibiting them from telling patients about cheaper out-of-pocket alternatives to their prescriptions covered by insurance.

This is unfair. Patients and pharmacists should have the freedom to fully consider their options when filling prescriptions.

The Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony on September 5 from a pharmacist affected by gag clauses, and Democrats and Republicans both recognized their negative impact. When the Know the Cost Act was introduced, it had ten sponsors. I was one of five Republicans and five Democrats.

It passed the committee unanimously on September 14. I believe this bipartisan cooperation will produce solutions to help bring down prescription drug costs.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.

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