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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. KERRY (for himself, Mr. ALEXANDER, and Ms. STABENOW):

S 2990. A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to improve access of Medicare beneficiaries to intravenous immune globulines; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, we have the opportunity this year to help a group of Medicare beneficiaries who are currently subject to costly, bureaucratic red tape which is delaying essential, life-saving treatments to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Addressing this problem will increase the quality of life for many patients and ease financial burdens for their medical providers.

Between 6,000 and 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries have primary immunodeficiency diseases, PIDD, and require intravenous immunoglobulin, IVIG treatment to maintain a healthy immune system.

Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases are disorders in which part of the body's immune system is missing or does not function properly. These disorders are caused by intrinsic or genetic defects in the immune system. Untreated primary immune deficiencies result in frequent life-threatening infections and debilitating illnesses. Even illnesses such as the common cold or the flu, while unpleasant for most of us, can be deadly for someone with PIDD.

Because of advances in our medical understanding and treatment of primary immune deficiency diseases, individuals who in the past would not have survived childhood are now able to live nearly normal lives. While there is still no cure for PIDD, there are effective treatments available. Nearly 70 percent of primary immune deficient patients use intravenous immunoglobulin to maintain their health.

Immunoglobulin is a naturally occurring collection of highly specialized proteins, known as antibodies, which strengthen the body's immune response. It is derived from human plasma donations and is administered through an IV to the patient every three to four weeks.

Currently, Medicare beneficiaries needing IVIG treatments are experiencing access problems--an unintended result of the way Medicare has determined the payment for IVIG. The current IVIG access and care issue began in January 2005 as a result of the Medicare Modernization Act under Part B, which changed the way physicians and hospital outpatient departments were paid under Medicare. The law reduced IVIG reimbursement rates such that most physicians in outpatient settings could no longer afford to treat Medicare patients requiring IVIG. In addition, access to home based infusion
therapy is limited since Medicare currently pays only for the cost of IVIG, and not nursing services and supplies required for infusion.

As a result, patients are experiencing delays in receiving this life saving treatment and are being shifted to more expensive care settings such as inpatient hospitals. In addition to incurring extra expenses, hospital-based care results in patients being in close proximity to countless microorganisms, an unsafe prospect for those who have suppressed immune systems.

In April 2007, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, OIG,reported that Medicare reimbursement for IVIG was inadequate to cover the cost many providers must pay for the product. In fact, the OIG found that 44 percent of hospitals and 41 percent of physicians were unable to purchase IVIG at the Medicare reimbursements rate during the 3rd quarter of 2006. The previous quarter had been even worse--77.2 percent of hospitals and 96.5 percent of physicians were unable to purchase IVIG at the Medicare reimbursement rate.

We have a rare opportunity to fix this very real problem with a compassionate and common sense solution. We can improve the quality of life for PIDD patients and cut inpatient expenses by improving reimbursement procedures for IVIG treatments for physicians and outpatient facilities and allowing for home treatments and coverage for related services.

Today, I am introducing--along with Senators ALEXANDER and STABENOW--the bipartisan Medicare IVIG Access Act, a bill that will grant the Secretary of Health & Human Services temporary authority to update the payment for IVIG, if necessary based on new or existing data, and to provide coverage for related items and services currently excluded from the existing Medicare home infusion therapy benefit. This bill is endorsed by several national organizations from the patient and physician communities, including the Immune Deficiency Foundation, IDF, GBS/CIDP Foundation International, the Jeffrey Modell Foundation JMF, the Platelet Disorder Support Association, PDSA, the National Patient Advocate Foundation, NPAF, and the Clinical Immunology Society, CIS.

The patients, physicians, caretakers, researchers, and plasma donors have all done their part--now it's time for us to do ours.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 2990


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