When our loved ones are sick, hurt, or suffering, our instincts kick in. We want them to receive the best care and to have the best chance of living a normal life. Thanks to medical innovations made here in Minnesota, millions of people living with debilitating or chronic conditions can live with a better quality of life. However, under current Medicare rules, some of those innovations are not available to many U.S. seniors. A new rule change proposed by the federal government would make new, life-saving medical breakthroughs available to those who need them, but it couldn’t happen if Washington doesn’t act quickly.
The new policy is called the Medicare Coverage of Innovation Technology (MCIT), and it already has bipartisan support in Congress. The MCIT applies to breakthrough technologies designated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which by definition treat life-threatening or irreversibly disabling conditions for which no treatments exist or for which existing treatments are missing. If approved and passed by the Biden administration, the MCIT program will enable Medicare to immediately treat these breakthrough technologies so that seniors can access them quickly.
The rule is currently frozen and can even be withdrawn, making its approval an urgent matter for the new board and for our seniors. The Minnesota Department of Health found it that more than 80 percent of all seniors in Minnesota have at least one diagnosed chronic condition. Far too many seniors, both in Minnesota and across the country, are living with conditions for which there are currently no treatment options.
Without the MCIT policy, breakthrough technologies would only be readily available to seniors with private or supplemental health insurance policies. Those who are either covered by Medicare alone or are in 156,000 “double eligibilityMinnesota also qualifying for some level of coverage under Medicaid is already experiencing reduced access to advanced medical treatments. If MCIT isn’t approved, those treatments will remain out of reach for those Medicare and Medicaid seniors.
MCIT still emphasizes safety and efficacy. It’s not a loophole for new innovations to bypass the research and approval process. MCIT allows a temporary approval that will only take place if a treatment or diagnostic test has been approved by the FDA. This review process is considered a global gold standard for the safety and efficacy of medical devices, but under current policies it still does not guarantee immediate access to breakthrough treatments and tests. The approved technology must then go through another approval process before it becomes Medicare. That process can take several years. For seniors with serious medical conditions, this is a luxury they cannot afford.
A simple change
The new rule is simple – as it should be. Once the FDA approves a breakthrough technology, Medicare can quickly cover it, while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) collect real-world data and evidence to assess the impact of these life-changing technologies on Medicare patients.
Medicare beneficiaries deserve access to breakthrough healthcare technologies as soon as possible. With the proposed rule change, CMS recognizes that patients and doctors must be able to decide the best way to treat serious conditions. We owe it to our most vulnerable family members to continue this policy with final approval. In addition, new Medicare regulations should not be limited to breakthrough healthcare technologies. Seniors across the country earn Medicare coverage for essential medical devices such as hearing aids, insulin equipment, and more.
There’s a reason MCIT has received support from both sides of the aisle in Congress, and here in Minnesota. It is good governance, good policy and common sense. Minnesota is the backbone of the American medical device industry. Our innovations save lives. We should put them in the hands of the people who need them by advancing, strengthening and finalizing the MCIT as soon as possible.
Senator Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, is the chairman of the Senate of Minnesota’s Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee. Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, is the senior minority member of the Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee of the Minnesota Senate.
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