PRESS RELEASE

Videoconferencing Puts Pause on Medicare Benefits
Capuano Raises Concerns About Change in Medicare Appeals Process


May 13, 2005

Congressman Mike Capuano (D-MA) raised concerns about the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to limit the ability of Medicare beneficiaries to appeal a denial of coverage in person. Instead, seniors seeking a hearing will be forced to rely on videoconferencing to present their case.

"The Bush Administration is planning to cut the number of hearing locations from 140 to only four. This drastic reduction will have an immediate negative impact on those seniors needing assistance. Many more people will be forced to rely on videoconferencing rather than an in-person hearing because HHS will not have enough venues to handle an appeal and the distance individuals must travel to reach an appeal site will be too great," stated Congressman Capuano.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, signed by 17 members of the New England House delegation, Congressman Capuano wrote: "Experience has shown that face-to-face hearings offer elderly and sick beneficiaries the best opportunity to present their cases to the administrative law judges who make crucial decisions about their health care. The judges charged with this responsibility have indicated that video teleconference will undermine their ability to thoroughly assess the witnesses before them. While recognizing that in some instances video teleconferences may be the only way for the appeals process to move forward, we believe that this option should be the exception, not the rule".

Congressman Capuano also raised concerns about the four sites where judges will be located to hear cases: Arlington, VA; Cleveland, OH; Irvine, CA; and Miami, FL.

"These locations are inconvenient to millions of beneficiaries. Seniors from the Northeast who meet the agency's requirement for an in-person hearing will be forced to travel to Cleveland, Ohio. It doesn't make sense that those beneficiaries who meet the requirement for an in-person hearing, due to special or extraordinary circumstances, should face such a lengthy journey simply to make their case in person," stated Congressman Capuano.

The letter was also signed by the following Members of the New England Congressional Delegation: Reps. William Delahunt (D-MA), Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT), Marty Meehan (D-MA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Larson (D-CT), John Olver (D-MA), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), Jim McGovern (D-MA), John Tierney (D-MA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Tom Allen (D-ME), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Neal (D-MA), Michael Michaud (D-ME).

"I thank my Democratic colleagues for standing up on this issue. Unfortunately, not one Republican Member of Congress from the New England region chose to join us in our effort to stop this change. It is troubling to me that Republicans cannot stand up to the Bush Administration on an issue as straightforward as making sure that seniors can appeal a denial of coverage in person," stated Congressman Capuano.

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Contact: Alison M. Mills (617) 621-6208