Subjects: Health policy
It’s easy to see how the error happened. It was an oversight, really, and nobody cares who was to blame. All that matters is that the error gets fixed so that hospitals can administer life-saving medications to sick kids. And the fix is trivially easy: change just 47 words in a 1,880 page document.
Alas, the error may not be fixed any time soon.
Why? The fix requires members of Congress to set aside their partisan bickering long enough to authorize it. The plight of desperately ill children and the specialty hospitals caring for them is, apparently, less important to our elected officials than scoring points in internecine warfare inside the Beltway.
Here’s What Happened: In those chaotic final days before President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, several dozen Congressional staffers were struggling mightily to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the law. Versions were flying left and right, around the clock. Amid the furor, somebody unintentionally deleted verbiage in one small passage of the voluminous document that was intended to permit children’s hospitals continued access to a federal program that offered below-market prices on drugs used to treat rare, life-threatening conditions. The mistake was missed and eventually signed into law by Obama. As a result, 30 or so children’s hospitals that depended on the lifeline were cut-off from the funds.
“It was a drafting error,’’ a congressional aide familiar with the writing of the bill told the Boston Globe. “Everybody on every side of the issue thinks it should be fixed.’’
Soon after the mistake-containing law was signed, the House passed a bill, with bipartisan support, to correct it. But it still needed a thumbs-up from the Senate, which has become the US Government’s version of the La Brea Tar Pits.
According to the Globe, officials from Children’s Hospital Boston implored Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to help fix the mistake.
Kerry and other Democrats in the Senate quickly attached the fix to a larger bill whose main focus was tax legislation. Republicans nixed the bill.
Hospital officials then approached the state’s other Senator, Republican Scott Brown, who introduced a simple, stand-alone bill to fix the error. In introducing his bill, Brown said, “There is no cause for delay . . . our nation’s children deserve that we come together and protect their access to medicines that will save their lives.’’
Brown got a handful of Republicans to sign on, so naturally not a single Democrat did the same. The Senate is controlled by Democrats for now, so Brown’s fix is unlikely to pass in the lame duck session.
What Will Children’s Hospitals Do?-Well, they need to find other ways to cover at least some of the costs for those expensive drugs. Boston Children’s officials told the Globe that the drafting error will leave them short between $1.5 and $3 million per year. Across the nation’s specialty children’s hospitals, the annual shortfall approaches $100 million.
In the worst case, these hospitals might decide to curtail programs, or pass along some of the costs to patients including those who are uninsured and pay out of pocket.