'Novel' reforms needed to strengthen Medicare, House panel says

Telehealth is a "novel" approach to strengthening Medicare, Thompson said
Telehealth is a "novel" approach to strengthening Medicare, Thompson said

Medicare is in need of “novel” proposals to preserve and strengthen the program, members of the House Ways and Means Health subcommittee said in a hearing on Wednesday.

The traditional Medicare program could benefit from reforms to make it more similar to Medicare Advantage, which is based on market principles, Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) said during the hearing. Such reforms would help slow Medicare's “trajectory of increased costs and little innovation” that has persisted for the program's 50 years, Tiberi said.

Medicare Advantage plans also offer more benefits and lower cost sharing, and have been shown to have lower utilization rates when compared to traditional fee-for-service plans for beneficiaries, noted Katherine Baicker, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and witness at Wednesday's hearing.

“A ‘one size fits all' Medicare program will be increasingly difficult to maintain,” Baicker said. “A thriving and competitive Medicare Advantage program can be a vital contributor to high quality beneficiary care in a sustainable healthcare system.”

Additional reforms proposed during the hearing include raising Medicare's eligibility age, and requiring higher-income beneficiaries to pay more in premiums.

In a rebuttal to Republican committee members, Rep. Michael Thompson (D-CA) said the proposals are a “rehash” of past ideas. Medicare is in need of more “novel” approaches, including making the program more compatible with telehealth, Thompson said.

“[Telehealth] is beneficial in more than just underserved or rural areas,” Thompson said. “It's a good public policy that we could use to really improve the medicare program that we say that we all support.”

A recently proposed bill that would waive Medicare's restrictions on telehealth could potentially save the program $1.8 billion, according to legislators.