At the end of the last session of Congress, members of both parties finally came together to enact the Strengthening Medicare And Repaying Taxpayers Act, or “SMART Act,” and enacted it into law after a three-year effort. This bill helps to replenish the Medicare Trust Fund, make Medicare work for seniors instead of the other way around, and reduces paperwork burdens for businesses. Led by Rep. Tim Murphy, M.D., a Republican from Pennsylvania, a group of Members of Congress dedicated to resolving inefficiencies in one special part of the Medicare program pushed the bill through Congress as part of H.R. 1845, the “Medicare IVIG Access and Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers Act of 2012,” which also authorizes Medicare payments for intravenous immune globin (IVIG) for the treatment of immune deficiency diseases.
Here’s the issue dealt with in the SMART Act: Under federal law, Medicare pays the medical bills while a recipient is injured and sues the other party, acting as the “secondary payer” for the bills pending the outcome of any legal action. Federal law requires the injured person’s attorney to repay Medicare upon a judgment or settlement, before any funds are given to the injured senior. But the federal agency running Medicare hinders the repayment process, so it can take years to finally pay off even the smallest claim, and the senior doesn’t see a dime of the settlement until that payoff. Moreover, the feds impose ridiculous reporting burdens and penalties on businesses under the same secondary payer law. The SMART Act streamlines the process, establishes real deadlines for the federal agency, and enables businesses to meet CMS reporting requirements while maintaining data security.
The leading sponsor in the House was Rep. Murphy, a career psychologist serving his district for over ten years. I first met and worked with him while he was on the House Financial Services Committee, where I was the senior Republican oversight counsel from 2001 through 2003. Rep. Murphy has always reached out to work with Members on both sides of the aisle, while maintaining core conservative beliefs about limiting the size and scope of the federal government. He was the perfect Congressman to lead the most bipartisan Medicare bill in Congress, with 140 House co-sponsors from Reps. Ron Paul and Allen West on the right to Reps. Diana DeGette and Tammy Baldwin on the left. And the effort was supported by the U.S. Chamber and trial lawyers, and by companies as large as Lowes, WalMart, BestBuy, Marriott International, and Disney, as well as by some of the largest insurance companies in America
A year ago, Rep. Murphy discussed the bill on a nationally syndicated radio show. “Now it’s interesting: defense lawyers, plaintiffs’ lawyers,, retailers, stores, restaurants, everybody wants to fix this problem, except Medicare. And so there are hundreds of millions of dollars that sit out there that take forever for the bureaucracy to try and claim, and some of the sad news about this is that sometimes what Medicare does, they will sue some elderly person or ask for the money to come back from the elderly person, and say that if you don’t pay us back, we’re going to take it out of your Social Security… So we’re trying to correct this…”
And correct it he did. Congrats and thanks to Rep. Murphy, and thanks to other Members of Congress who championed this bill: Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), the lead House Democrat on the bill; and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the lead Senators for the Senate version.