U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt, is sponsoring a bill that takes a successful health reform program from Vermont -- the Blueprint for Health -- and adapts it for Medicare, the national health program for people 65 and older.
"What I have done is taken what Vermont has led the way on and introduced it down in Washington," Welch said Tuesday. The Blueprint for Health, set up when Vermont had a Republican governor and Democratic Legislature, pioneered the concept of paying doctors for a broader approach to caring for patients, rather than reimbursing by procedure.
One of the federal bill's key features is that it would create that same kind of payment system to reward doctors for using a team approach to care for Medicare patients with chronic conditions.
"You have to change the financial incentive and create the conditions where health care providers can work as a team," Welch said.
Welch also trumpeted the fact that the bill has Republican and Democratic sponsors in both the House and Senate.
"This legislation is literally the first bipartisan and bicameral bill to improve health care since the Affordable Care Act," he said. "This legislation is the first time you have senior Republicans and Democrats coming together on a health care bill."
While it would only apply to the Medicare program, Welch noted, "It is an area of enormous opportunity."
In a briefing sheet about the bill, Welch's staff cited 2010 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that showed that 68 percent of Medicare enrollees suffered from two or more chronic conditions, and accounted for 93 percent of Medicare spending, roughly $487 billion annually.
Despite having sponsors who head the committees that would review the measure, Welch said he didn't expect immediate action on the bill.
"I see this as something that will get a lot of attention in the next Congress," he said, "but we will lay the groundwork in this Congress."