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Today, Senator Warner continued his tour through Virginia with a morning stop at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News. There, he led a roundtable on how to improve the quality of care for Medicare patients suffering from chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease or diabetes.

As Senator Warner noted at the roundtable, “Improving how we care for patients with chronic illness is absolutely critical in thinking about how we transition Medicare and our healthcare system into the 21st century.” The Senator, whose mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and was incapable of speech for almost 10 years before passing-away in 2010, is currently co-chairing a bipartisan Finance Committee effort with Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on improving chronic care.

In Newport News, Senator Warner learned more about the success of the Eastern Virginia Care Transitions (EVTC) partnership, a unique collaboration of five area agencies on aging, four health systems, 11 hospitals, Anthem, Humana, Virginia Premier, and 69 skilled nursing facilities dedicated to reducing unnecessary Medicare readmissions.  The group is two years into a five-year Medicare pilot project  - funded as part the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – to reduce hospital readmissions among vulnerable seniors and bring down health care costs. Out of more than 100 such initial pilots under the ACA, the program is ranked sixth nationwide for reducing readmissions, which, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), saves an average of $9,600 per patient in additional health care costs.

The CEO of Bay Aging, the lead agency in the EVTC partnership, reported to Senator Warner that more than half of 30-day hospital readmissions among Medicare patients result from socio-economic factors and the physical environment – such as access to meals or reliable transportation – compared to 10 percent who are readmitted for medical reasons.

In order to support patients after they leave the hospital, the partnership encourages close collaboration between medical providers and community services, to provide wrap-around services such as transportation, meals, emergency medication purchase, and connections to other programs.

The program also uses "coaches" with social work backgrounds who are specially trained to smooth transitions and teach self-reliance to patients leaving the hospital. The coaches make one hospital visit and one in-home visit, then use follow-up phone calls to teach those at risk for readmission how to look after themselves.

One EVTC patient who joined the discussion told Senator Warner that before the program, she struggled to treat her diabetes appropriately, and rarely scheduled routine follow-up visits with her doctors. She called the coaching and assistance with transportation and other logistical support “life-changing.”

Treating people with chronic illnesses accounts for 86% of our nation’s health care costs. CMS estimates that savings from the program add up to more than $20 million since its inception. Senator Warner thanked all the EVTC stakeholders for joining in the discussion and providing its perspective to the chronic care working group.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to work with you all to tackle this important challenge for our country’s healthcare system,” Senator Warner told the participants.