Republicans blast HHS for promoting "free" services
■ Lawmakers deride what they see as an attempt to hide the true cost of preventive medicine.
By Charles Fiegl amednews staff — Posted Feb. 17, 2012
Washington -- Ten Republican senators have criticized the Obama administration for marketing Medicare preventive services as being free to patients.
The GOP lawmakers said the Dept. of Health and Human Services' use of the word "free" in promotional materials to patients is misleading because there is no such thing as a "free lunch." The senators wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius a letter Feb. 7 chiding the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for hiding the true cost of these services in 2011.
"While we generally support encouraging preventative care, we are alarmed that HHS and CMS are stating that screenings provided through Medicare, such as colorectal cancer screenings, prostate cancer screening, mammograms, Pap tests and pelvic exams, and smoking cessation counseling are free services," the letter states.
For instance, the national payment amount for a pelvic exam was $36.69 in 2011. A colonoscopy for a patient who is not at high risk for colon cancer cost $395.83. The Medicare program pays 100% of the approved costs for these and dozens of other services for which there is no patient cost-sharing.
The 2010 health system reform law requires Medicare to waive the co-pay and deductible for certain preventive services. More than 25.7 million Part B beneficiaries received at least one preventive service without having to contribute to the cost directly in 2011, according to CMS.
The services instead are paid for by taxpayers, the letter states. "In fact, more than 40 cents of each Medicare dollar comes directly from current taxpayers each year through general revenue."
In general, organized medicine and patient advocacy groups have supported removing co-pays to encourage patients to seek preventive medicine that makes them healthier or prevents serious illness. An HHS spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by this article's deadline.
The letter was signed by Sens. Tom Coburn, MD (Okla.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Charles Grassley (Iowa), John Thune (S.D.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Michael Enzi (Wyo.).