How Conservative Candidates Can Blunt Mediscare Campaigns

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Republicans running for Congress next year, whether incumbents or first-timers, will face a barrage of ads charging that they’ll cut or even kill Medicare. We’ve seen that in the two most recent special Congressional elections in NY and Nevada, and it didn’t work, but in part because the Democratic candidate in each district was a very weak candidate with little to offer voters. Republicans will need every idea possible to avoid being tarred. One idea that I hope Republicans will support is included in a bill introduced into Congress this year, numbered H.R. 1063, and titled, the Strengthening Medicare And Repaying Taxpayers Act of 2011, or “SMART Act.” This bill helps to replenish the Medicare Trust Fund, make Medicare work for seniors instead of the other way around, and reduces paperwork burdens for businesses. And believe it or not, it’s a bipartisan Medicare bill, with the broadest swath of Congressman supporting it you’ll ever see. More on that later.

Here’s why we need to enact the SMART Act: When seniors on Medicare are hurt in an accident and sue the other party, they often file conditional Medicare claims to pay for treatment. Federal law requires the injured person’s attorney to repay Medicare upon a judgment or settlement, before any funds are given to the injured senior. CMS, the federal agency that runs Medicare, is supposed to give the attorney a final figure for the total amount to repay, but CMS is slow and inaccurate. The attorney is barred by federal law from transferring the settlement to the senior, even if CMS takes forever to provide a final amount for repayment. As a result, it can take years to finally pay off even the smallest claim, and the senior doesn’t see a dime of the settlement. At a Congressional hearing this summer, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), discussed the problems at CMS: “Businesses and injured individuals routinely negotiate a settlement, but cannot close on the settlement until CMS provides a complete list of all medical costs incurred. We have heard complaints from a variety of interested parties that CMS is not providing this information in a consistent or timely manner. CMS’s delays cause lawsuits to drag on, hinders timely payments to injured individuals, and causes uncertainty and increased costs for both large and small businesses.”

Here are a couple of anecdotes provided at the hearing about the problem: 1. A woman who was in a car accident suffered chest wall contusions and reported the settlement to Medicare. Years later, that woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. CMS denied her claim for treatment on the grounds that her breast cancer is related to her prior car accident, leaving the insurance company liable for the claims. 2. CMS actually sends dunning letters to seniors years after the accident that gave rise to the initial claim, for amounts as little as $1.59, $2.00, and $4.00, and regularly fails to respond in a timely fashion to phone calls and letters requesting information and assistance from either businesses or seniors. 3. CMS imposes a mandatory $1,000 per day per claim penalty on businesses for failure to properly report a MSP claim, even for small errors or technical problems that occur through no fault of the business.

The SMART Act takes care of all that. It streamlines the process, establishes real deadlines for CMS for claims processing, and enables businesses to meet CMS reporting requirements while maintaining data security. And it’s cost-neutral, according to two economists’ studies.

That’s why the co-sponsors of the SMART Act in the House include the full spectrum of views represented in the House, such as Reps. Ron Paul and Diana DeGette; Allen West and Linda Sanchez; Peter Roskam and Tammy Baldwin. On what other bill would you find such an amazingly wide group of Congressional supporters? Rep. Roskam, one of the top House Republicans, called the bill “the only bipartisan Medicare bill in the whole world” at a dinner a couple of weeks ago. And the bill is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and scores of companies, including Safeway, Lowes, Best Buy, Marriott International and WalMart. The SMART Act is THE Medicare bill that Republicans can discuss with seniors back home without fear of blowback by Democrats. A bipartisan Senate bill is supposed to be introduced soon. I hope all Republicans hop on board and support the SMART Act, H.R. 1063.