September 17, 2009

Responding to a Constituent Request, Whitehouse Introduces Legislation to Make it Easier for Families to Handle Medicare Billing Issues

Washington, D.C. – After hearing from a Newport, Rhode Island resident about his difficulties dealing with Medicare billing issues following the passing of a loved one, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today introduced legislation to eliminate this frustrating hurdle.

The Expanding Access to Medicare Records Act fills gaps in the law that restrict access of the families of Medicare beneficiaries to medical records. Currently, the law permits family members to access a deceased relative’s Medicare records if they submit evidence that he or she is the decedent’s legal representative (for example, a court order appointing the relative as executor of the decedent’s estate). However, following these steps does not give a relative or representative online access to those records through MyMedicare.gov. Rather, the relative can only access the records through CMS’s 1-800 helpline, a much less efficient or user-friendly interface. The bill gives legal representatives access to the decedent’s online Medicare records and applies the same access provisions to any online Medicaid medical record systems.

“For family members struggling with the loss of a loved one, spending hours on the phone to settle billing issues is an unfair and unneeded burden,” said Whitehouse. “This legislation will simplify the final billing process and allow loved ones to spend more time on what’s important: grieving their loss and honoring the deceased.”

Whitehouse first drafted the legislation after hearing from Newport resident Al Gauthier. “Last year my mom was in and out of hospitals and nursing homes for three months before she passed away,” Gauthier wrote to Whitehouse. “I opened an online Medicare account at the outset of her illness to track her medical bills to help my parents resolve them. Shortly after my mom’s passing the Medicare online account was closed without warning. I was unable to track the Medicare bills posted after her passing and some bills were passed to debt collectors.”

“I’m glad Mr. Gauthier reached out to me on this issue, and I will work hard to ensure that this commonsense legislation passes quickly,” Whitehouse continued.

This bill:

• Gives legally authorized third parties (including family members) online access to a deceased beneficiary’s Medicare and Medicaid records; and
• Establishes a process for the Secretary to determine within 30 days that a person is legally authorized to act on behalf of the decedent.

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