Cunningham Report 3.3.2016

Missouri Health Care Improvements Will Help Rural Community Access

Access to affordable health care is a serious issue for many residents of the 33rd District. Often the need for efficient, cost-effective care seems like a daunting stressor for many families who struggle to make ends meet. Health care costs have steadily risen over the last few years and now take up one-third of our state’s budget. That is far too much. As a result, the Legislature has made reducing health care costs one of the top priorities for the Second Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly.

Costs are reduced when best practice care is provided in a timely and coordinated fashion. The General Assembly has made great strides in finding ways to reduce costs and find better access to health care, especially in rural areas of the state, like the 33rd District. Access to quality health care hits rural areas the hardest as there is simply not as much funding or health infrastructure in these agricultural communities.

Last week, the Senate advanced a bill that aims to solve two major expensive problems in health care: too many unnecessary emergency room visits and too many patient no-shows at doctors’ offices. Senate Bill 608, sponsored by Sen. Sater, R-Cassville, will authorize MO HealthNet health care providers to charge a minimal fee for missed appointments and will create an $8 emergency room co-pay system. This policy will encourage patients to visit their primary care doctors before going to the emergency room where they can be treated more comprehensively, at a lower cost to the state. Studies show this could save more than $18 million a year in Medicaid costs alone if every state had a similar statute.

One of the most pervasive issues when dealing with inequitable health care is patient financial awareness. As many of my constituents have experienced, it can be especially frustrating to not know the true cost of health care until after a procedure or a clinic visit is complete. How many people have sought and received treatment for a medical issue only to be surprised by the massive bill that comes in the mail afterward? An amendment added to SB 608 seeks to help combat this very issue.

The amendment will add more transparency when it comes to cost of medical treatment and as a result make health care providers compete for business. One way to cut down on costs is to make sure hospitals and clinics face more competition when it comes to procedures. With the added amendment, health care providers will be required to provide patients with an estimated cost of treatment within a reasonable amount of time. This allows patients to make informed, accurate decisions about their most appropriate financial options when shopping for health services.

There are a few more pieces of legislation that have been moving through the legislative process this week that I would like to touch on.

Senate Bill 607 was another measure passed this week, which will help reduce fraud and abuse in Missouri’s welfare system. The bill, also sponsored by Sen. Sater, requires the Department of Social Services to contract with a third party to verify eligibility for public assistance programs. The responsibility to find out who is no longer eligible for services would be in the hands of a private vendor that has access to better data and is more efficient and better trained to deal with that information.

Also advancing this week is Senate Bill 875, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. The bill helps remove barriers to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensures patient safety. This measure allows pharmacists to substitute any FDA approved “interchangeable” biologic products without prior consent just like they do now for generic drugs. Ultimately this bill will increase access to cheaper prescriptions for patients and will save the state money – up to $12 million in General Revenue spending by 2019.

Other bills advanced by the Senate will improve patient care. Senate Bill 635, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, establishes the MO Palliative Care and Quality of Life Interdisciplinary Council and the Palliative Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program.

To improve availability of health care in all corners of our state, the Senate gave approval to Senate Bill 621, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington. This measure allows for doctors to practice remotely via a computer or telephone connection, otherwise known as telehealth. This will also give patients access to specialists and advanced technologies without leaving their hometowns.

The Legislature has also made great strides to expand access to healthcare through programs such as the Show-Me ECHO program. The program is a cost-effective, knowledge-sharing network that helps lead to better health outcomes for patients. It expands access to best-practice specialty care to patients close to home, especially in rural communities. As legislators we must be good stewards of taxpayers’ money. Finding ways to lower state health care costs and find appropriate care is one way to do so. All of these health care legislative updates signal a brighter future for our state’s health system, especially for the more rural districts like the 33rd.

For more on these bills and other legislative activity, visit www.senate.mo.gov.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.