The Better Care, Lower Cost Act

Senator Ron Wyden

January 15, 2014

Medicare is not doing enough to take care of chronically ill patients, and the limitations of the fee-for-service system inhibit a needed focus on these patients and their needs. This is critically important because most Medicare enrollees suffer from multiple chronic conditions and account for almost all of its costs.

Our Solution:

The Wyden-Isakson-Paulsen-Welch Better Care, Lower Cost Act removes the barriers that prevent Medicare providers from building on existing successful delivery models, and provides a framework for encouraging innovative chronic care delivery across the country. Specifically, the bill:

Provides Critical Support for Providers

To support providers and plans wanting to actively engage and care for this population, this proposal: does not include any form of the attribution rule, encourages specialized team-based care with rewards for improving patient’s outcomes, uses telemedicine and knowledge networks to increase access in rural areas, and includes vital case management services proven to increase medical compliance.

Focuses on the Unique Needs of Medicare Enrollees

To help transition Medicare from a program that simply treats sickness to one that promotes wellness, this proposal identifies the patients most in need and provides them with better care before becoming the most acutely and persistently ill. To improve standards of care for Medicare enrollees, the bill provides for changes to medical school curricula in order to better respond to the evolving needs of the chronically ill.

Ends Geographic Disparities in Integrated Care

This proposal creates incentives for higher quality, lower cost Medicare coverage nationwide that is open to Medicare beneficiaries regardless of income or place of residence. With a “Better Care Plan” (BCP) designation, a state-licensed and certified provider may practice at the top of his/her license, removing barriers to care that currently exist in parts of the country with provider shortages.

Pays for a Medicare Program Taxpayers Want and Beneficiaries Need

In response to the need to move away from fee-for-service, this proposal makes BCP providers and plans fully responsible for the cost, care and outcomes of their enrolled patients, and directs CMS to determine spending based on the experience of similar patients that are not enrolled in a BCP.


Wyden Plan May Be Vision For Future Medicare Reforms

By Mary Agnes Carey

Kaiser Health News, January 21, 2014

Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat widely expected to be the next Senate Finance Committee chairman, last week led a bipartisan group of lawmakers, health care experts and seniors’ advocates backing a plan to better coordinate care given to Medicare beneficiaries.

The proposal is part of the ongoing health policy conversation over shifting Medicare away from paying per service provided to paying for the quality of that care.

Health insurers and providers who want to specialize in chronic care would receive a set amount of money to care for patients and would be responsible for the cost, care and outcomes of their enrolled patients.

It’s unclear what happens next. Elements of the bill may be included in legislation to repeal and replace Medicare’s “sustainable growth rate,” the formula used to pay Medicare physicians.  Maybe the legislation will be attached to another bill or pass on its own. Even if it goes nowhere, it may well be the pathway to Congress finding consensus on Medicare changes in the future.

Reader response: Don McCanne

Before you come to any conclusions, read the actual bill. Google “S.1932 – Better Care, Lower Cost Act”

From the Act: “The qualified BCP (Better Care Program) shall be accountable for the quality, cost, and overall care of enrolled BCP eligible individuals and agree to be at financial risk for that enrolled population.”

Much of the rest of the legislation involves efforts to define the nature of the Better Care Program provider teams, the patient populations, their risks, and how to establish capitation rates that will reduce spending while increasing quality. Such efforts would be administratively intensive and not very effective.

Primary care already plays a very important role in providing chronic care. Our efforts would be better directed to reinforcing the primary care infrastructure. Fragmenting Medicare’s risk and shifting it to the providers might be therapeutic for the federal budget, but it places the providers in conflict with their patients over who will come out ahead – the exact opposite of what we want in our health care system.…

S.1932, the Better Care, Lower Cost Act, is important since the concept is being considered as an offset to the cancellation of the accrued deficits related to the sustainable growth rate (SGR), which is a flawed formula for adjusting Medicare payments. Congress has given itself a three month window to enact an SGR fix. This is apt to slip through as attention is directed to celebrating SGR relief while ignoring the actual SGR fix.

The bill can be accessed at It is somewhat complex, which is not a surprise since it empirically segregates chronic care patients and then sets up an administratively complex “Medicare Better Care Program” that “promotes accountability and better care management for chronically ill patient populations and coordinates items and services under parts A, B, and D, while encouraging investment in infrastructure and redesigned care processes that result in high quality and efficient service delivery for the most vulnerable and costly populations.”

Although vague, the program seems to set up a variation of an accountable care organization, with bundling of services, while transferring financial risk to the providers so that they, in essence, also serve as the insurers. The wasteful administrative complexity and the perversity of the incentives alone should cause us to question this concept. As if caring for a patient with multiple chronic disorders wasn’t enough, we need yet additional government rules and bureaucratic oversight of an artificial chronic care construct that seems to be designed primarily to shift risk from the government to the providers?

We do need an improved Medicare that would serve all of us well as a single payer program, but this certainly isn’t it.