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'Patient Navigator' Bill Passes in House

JUNE 13, 2005 -- The House passed legislation Monday aimed at helping low-income patients learn about and take advantage of health care resources available to them.

The bill (HR 1812), which passed by voice vote, aims to improve outreach and coordination of health care services for chronically ill, uninsured patients in low-income and rural areas.

Sponsored by Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the bill would authorize $25 million over five years for grants to "patient navigator" programs. The navigators would help patients learn about treatment options, find clinical trials, and obtain referrals. The programs also would alert patients to government aid for which they might qualify and help them apply for financial assistance.

"The complexity and fragmentation of our health care system is perhaps the most daunting barrier of all," said Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. "It exacerbates racial and ethnic disparities and reduces the efficiency of health care across the board."

The legislation, he said, would "help ease the way for those who face a serious illness, an intimidating array of treatment options, and uncertainty about the best course of action." The bill was approved by voice vote in the Energy and Commerce Committee on May 4.

A companion Senate bill (S 898), sponsored by Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison, was approved April 27 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The legislation has been promoted by patient advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, and the American Diabetes Association.

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