Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer was back in her home district this Monday to introduce a new piece of legislation centered on helping health care providers cover the costs of serving Medicare recipients.
At St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Finkenauer laid out the pieces of the “Keeping Physicians Serving Patients Act of 2019,” a bipartisan bill authored with the assistance of Republican lawmakers from Nebraska and Illinois, in addition to Democratic Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.
“I want to get it done, and I’m going to figure out ways to get it done, especially finding common ground across the aisle to do it,” Finkenauer told Starting Line. “I’m confident we can get some of these changes made.”
According to a press release issued by Finkenauer’s office, doctors in Iowa have the seventh-lowest Medicare reimbursement rate in the country, making it difficult for them to cover the cost of care for those patients.
“As a result, many Iowa health facilities have a hard time staying open and attracting the talent they need to serve patients across the state,” the statement read.
Finkenauer’s legislation restructures the geographic practice cost index (GPCI) to better reflect the cost of labor and care-related expenses. According to the congresswoman’s office, the current GPCI “underestimates the cost of labor and practice expenses in rural areas,” which often are higher than those in urban centers.
“States like Iowa have been ignored here for far too long,” Finkenauer said. “It is so important that we are bringing up these issues about how federal policies impact rural areas that, again, haven’t been discussed here in many years.”
At the press conference Monday, Finkenauer was joined by Dr. Brian Privett, president-elect of the Iowa Medical Society, and Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s. Both organizations have publicly endorsed the legislation.
“Without immediate action, Iowa will fall further behind in the competition to recruit the next generation of physicians and our seniors will face greater difficulty in accessing necessary medical care,” said Dr. Privett in a statement. “The Keep Physicians Serving Patients Act is critical to maintaining access to care in Iowa.”
In 2018, 20% of Iowans received Medicare services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Ensuring Medicare providers in rural communities like those I represent in central and west-Illinois are not unfairly impacted from lower payments based on an outdated GPCI is vital,” said GOP Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a statement. “I’m proud to join this bipartisan group to introduce this important piece of legislation, which will modernize the GPCI formula, accounting for the unique practice needs of rural providers, and ensure physicians can continue serving patients in need regardless of where they live.”
Health care policy has been a priority of House Democrats since they took control of the chamber this year, but with a Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump in the White House, their efforts have largely been ignored.
Like fellow Iowa congresswoman Cindy Axne, Finkenauer has multiple health care bills under her belt.
In May, she worked with Democrats and Republicans to put together the “Conrad State 30 and Physicians Access Act” to extend the time international physicians can stay in the U.S. on a work visa.
The bill allows international physicians who have practiced in the U.S. to receive a visa to work in a “medically underserved” part of the country for at least three years. Currently, once a physician’s visa has expired, they are required to return to their home country for at least two years before they can reapply for a new visa or green card, according to Finkenauer’s office.
Iowa ranks 46th in the nation in the number of physicians per 100,000 patients, according to a press release issued last month.
“We invest time and resources training physicians from all over the world,” Finkenauer said in a statement. “We should make sure that we’re able to retain that talent and have them serve the Iowa communities that need them.”
At a time when Democratic candidates up and down the ballot are being asked to pick a side in the health care debate — Do they support Medicare for All? A public option? — Finkenauer said she was focused on “just trying to get things done and make progress where we can.”
“The reality is we have a Republican Senate and a Republican president, and so to make forward movement here and spend my time the way that they (Iowans) sent me here to spend it, I’ve got to find that common ground and those ways we can get those things done,” Finkenauer said. “I’m committed to doing that every single day.”
by Elizabeth Meyer