Daines, Tester Help Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Medically Necessary Equipment in Rural America

U.S. SENATE —Montana Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester this week helped introduce the Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment Act of 2016, legislation that would provide durable medical equipment (DME) providers and patients in certain parts of the country with relief from harmful payment policies. DME providers help connect patients with medically necessary equipment like wheelchairs, hospital beds, and oxygen. 

This bipartisan legislation would extend the current payment phase-in period of six months to 15 months, which is necessary to avert deep cuts in reimbursement for these products. Without action, these cuts could harm Medicare beneficiary access following the rollout of Medicare’s new payment policies to areas like Montana. 

“Our seniors deserve access to the healthcare they need – no matter if they live in rural areas or populated urban areas,” Daines stated. “Americans who live in rural areas – including many Montanans – suffer from a disparity in services due to their physical location and this legislation is a good step forward in providing equitable medical care.”

“Seniors in rural America face unique challenges and it is critical that they have access to the medical equipment they need,” Tester said. “This bill helps ensure Montana seniors continue to receive the health care supplies they need and eliminates some of the barriers that have caused an imbalance of care between folks in rural and urban areas.” 

On January 1, 2016, the DME competitive bidding program began its nationwide rollout to Montana, two areas without competitive bidding areas. As a result, many areas, including rural areas, saw the first round of significant cuts, jeopardizing access to DME for beneficiaries. This legislation would correct this problem in a way that does not add to the federal debt.

Extending this phase-in until October 1, 2017, will allow Congress to properly monitor the rollout of this program – in real time – to ensure rural beneficiaries still have access to these medically necessary devices.

The legislation is also sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Michael Bennet (D-CC) and Angus King (I-ME).