Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rep. Scott Dianda seeks to protect landline telephone service, urges health care cost transparency

LANSING -- State Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) recently expressed his concern on two issues affecting Upper Peninsula residents, especially senior citizens. One is his opposition to the passage of Senate Bill 636, which could jeopardize landline telephone service; the other is his House Resolution 314 on health care cost transparency.

Dianda opposes Senate Bill that could jeopardize landline telephone service

State Representative Scott Dianda (D-Calumet) was disappointed by the passage of Senate Bill 636, which could put landline telephone service in jeopardy across Michigan. Seniors who use medical alert devices -- most of which currently work only through landline services -- are in danger of losing this life-saving tool.

"This bill could be devastating to the countless U.P. residents who rely on landlines to communicate," Dianda said. "I guess Republicans who voted for this bill have never tried to make a cell phone call in the U.P."

House Democrats say this does not take into account emergency situations such as a power outage, when cell phones cannot be charged and VoIP devices cannot be powered. Furthermore, reliable wireless and broadband options are not available in every part of Michigan, which would make the use of landline telephone communication a necessity -- especially in the case of an emergency.

Either way, studies have shown that landline services are much more reliable regarding 9-1-1 and emergency calls.

"This bill does not take into account the safety of rural residents who cannot rely on cell phone reception," Dianda said. "It does not make sense to replace a system that is tried, tested and successful with one that could leave people without access to communication."

It is more expensive for service providers to install, replace and maintain copper wiring for landline services than it is to move to a newer technology such as wireless or VoIP. If passed, this bill would allow companies to remove already established copper wiring connection if they petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) successfully, leaving many in both rural and urban areas with no possibility of traditional landline services. Residents could appeal this, but at the expense of a mountain of paperwork.

"With the passage of this bill, Republicans are going to force people to go up against the decisions of the federal government and the FCC," Dianda said. "This bill allows phone companies to profit at the expense of Michigan citizens."*

Dianda resolution aims for healthcare cost transparency

State Representative Dianda recently introduced House Resolution 314 (HR 314) encouraging the United States Congress to pass a law that would expand Medicare claims data availability and improve medical care.

"Most of us don’t actually know how much our health care costs because not all insurance companies send us a copy of the bill listing the charges," said Dianda. "Since we can’t compare costs we don’t know if we’re getting the best price or even the best care. Medicare is one of the biggest payers of health care costs, so if claims data are available, we would have a better view of the health care marketplace and could make educated decisions on costs and quality."

At present, this Medicare claims information is inaccessible. Federal law allows certain health care reporting entities, known as "Qualified Entities" (QEs), to prepare reports on health care performance measures using Medicare claims data. These QEs can freely disseminate their reports, but they are restricted from selling or otherwise providing the claims data to others. Legislation in Congress -- the SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act of 2014 -- would remove this restriction and allow QEs to provide or sell Medicare claims data to health care providers, health insurance companies and others to assist them in quality improvement activities.

"Having this claims data is an important first step toward increasing health care price transparency, improving quality and lowering costs," said Dianda. "My resolution encourages Congress to pass this legislation immediately."

HR 314 was referred to the House Committee on Health Policy.**

* (Updated) Click here for information on SB 0636.
** Click here to read about HR 314.

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