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June 25, 2019

The Honorable Richard Neal, Chairman
The Honorable Kevin Brady, Ranking Member
House Ways and Means Committee
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Neal, Ranking Member Brady:

The Center for Medicare Advocacy (Center) applauds the committee for its work addressing important beneficiary-related issues in the Beneficiary Education Tools Telehealth Extender Reauthorization (BETTER) Act of 2019, legislation that will assist individuals in making Medicare decisions as well as support low-income beneficiaries.

The Center, founded in 1986, is a national, non-partisan education and advocacy organization that works to ensure fair access to Medicare and to quality healthcare. At the Center, we educate older people and people with disabilities to help secure fair access to necessary health care services. We draw upon our direct experience with thousands of individuals to educate policy makers about how their decisions affect the lives of real people. Additionally, we provide legal representation to ensure that people receive the health care benefits to which they are legally entitled, and to the quality health care they need.

We strongly support the inclusion of the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act in the BETTER Act of 2019.  Currently, far too many people make honest mistakes when trying to understand and navigate the complex Medicare Part B enrollment process. The consequences of these missteps can be significant—often leading to a lifetime of higher premiums, substantial out-of-pocket health care costs, gaps in coverage, and barriers to accessing needed services. These lapses in health care coverage and unanticipated financial burdens can swiftly erode a beneficiary’s health and economic security, leading to poorer outcomes and increased costs.

The BENES Act would fill long-standing gaps in outreach and education by directing the federal government to notify individuals approaching Medicare eligibility about basic enrollment rules. It would also update enrollment timelines to eliminate needless breaks in coverage, and inform future policymaking on enrollment period alignment. Together, these changes would help strengthen the Medicare program as well as the health and financial well-being of current and future beneficiaries.

We also strongly support the Limited Income Newly Eligible Transition Program (LI NET) being made permanent in this legislation. LI-NET is a crucial program for low-income older adults. It is the safety net for those who are eligible for the Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS), but have not yet chosen a Part D plan, or been auto-assigned to a plan. It is especially important for beneficiaries who live in states that transmit data to CMS less frequently, meaning that there is a possible lag between the time a beneficiary is found eligible for LIS, and the beneficiary receives LIS. We strongly support making the program permanent, as it is a lifeline for many low-income older adults, and is relied upon by many SHIPS who assist them.

Further, the Center strongly supports the extension of funding for outreach and assistance for low-income programs, including the State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs). Low-income seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes are often forced to make difficult trade-offs—cutting back on necessary medications and doctor visits in order to afford basic living necessities—to the detriment of their health and well-being. Federal outreach and enrollment efforts enable many of our nation’s most vulnerable, low-income Medicare beneficiaries to access assistance for prescription drug coverage and other essential health programs for which they are eligible.

For additional information, please contact David Lipschutz, Senior Policy Attorney, dlipschutz@medicareadvocacy.org, or Kata Kertesz, Policy Attorney, kkertesz@MedicareAdvocacy.org, both at 202-293-5760.

David A. Lipschutz
Associate Director/Senior Policy Attorney
Licensed in CA and CT

Kata Kertesz
Policy Attorney
Licensed in DC and MD

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