Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse today announced that the two-year budget approved by Congress this morning includes significant investments in Whitehouse’s longtime priorities to improve the quality of health care while lowering costs for Rhode Island patients.
“I am working every day in Washington to make first-rate health care available to every Rhode Islander at a lower cost, and this budget marks significant progress toward that goal,” said Whitehouse. “Our budget will lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare, many of whom are just making ends meet on a fixed income. It allows families who rely on their neighborhood community health center and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to breathe easier knowing high-quality health care will be there whenever they may need it. And at the same time, it will accelerate research at our universities to unlock potentially life-saving treatments and invest in critical opioid addiction recovery programs.”
The budget increases discounts that pharmaceutical companies must give seniors enrolled in the Medicare Part D drug plans to close the so-called “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage. Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the thousands of Rhode Island seniors who fell into the doughnut hole coverage gap were forced to pay the full cost of their prescriptions. The budget deal speeds up by one year the closing of the coverage gap, building on the reform Whitehouse fought to include in the Affordable Care Act. With the new budget, the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole is now set to close in 2019.
“Americans pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, and seniors are particularly hard hit,” said John A. Pernorio, President of the Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans. “The provision in the budget deal that closes the so-called donut hole a year earlier for Medicare beneficiaries will be a welcome bit of relief more than 5 million older and disabled Americans.”
The bipartisan budget deal includes a significant increase in funding for community health centers, which provide care for over 160,000 Rhode Islanders. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been reauthorized for the next ten years – four more years than was previously agreed to. Whitehouse has fought for additional funding for community health centers and CHIP as part of improving Rhode Islanders’ access to affordable health care.
“We are thrilled to hear that the Children’s Health Insurance Program was extended another 4 years, giving 10 years of stable funding to this vital child health access program,” said Dr. Patricia Flanagan, Professor and Vice Chair of Pediatrics at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. “Nationally, nine million children and their families depend on CHIP for access to high quality health care. Thank you!”
Rhode Island hospitals and universities are poised to benefit from an additional $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health to fund medical research. Whitehouse has consistently supported efforts to increase the federal investment in medical research since taking office.
The budget paves the way for $6 billion in additional funding to battle the opioid crisis in Rhode Island and around the country. It will lead to more funding for substance abuse education, expanded medication-assisted treatment, better prescription drug monitoring programs, and will help Rhode Island implement its opioid battle plan. Whitehouse is a lead author of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, sweeping bipartisan legislation designed to curb the public health crisis and save lives, which was signed into law in 2016.
The agreement also includes a permanent repeal of the annual Medicare payment cap for physical therapy, speech-language-pathology, and occupational therapy services. Whitehouse has supported legislation to repeal this arbitrary cap, which limits seniors’ access to rehabilitative care that they need, or forces them to pay out of pocket.
Whitehouse is a member of the Finance Committee, which considers legislation related to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health and human services programs.