The Senate passed a spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year that retains the so-called sequester cuts that hit federal agencies March 1 and will drain 2% from Medicare reimbursement for services rendered after March 31.
The $984 billion bill approved 73-26 Wednesday afternoon would fund the government through Sept. 30 and avert a shutdown slated for March 27. In order to get that done, lawmakers sought to avoid provisions that would have drawn a Republican filibuster. One casualty was a $1 billion request from the White House for implementing health insurance exchanges and other provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at CMS, recently told reporters that CMS had sufficient funds already to ensure that the exchanges begin enrolling people in all 50 states on Oct. 1.
A healthcare lobbyist said it is too soon to tell if the loss of the requested funds will affect the launch or operation of those marketplaces.
The Senate bill included many provisions of a funding bill passed March 6 by the House of Representatives, including a cut of $10 million of the $15 million the Affordable Care Act allotted for the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The panel, which so far has no members, was created by the healthcare overhaul to rein in Medicare growth if it exceeds targets tied to growth in the overall economy.
In addition, the Senate bill required HHS to obligate all fiscal 2013 funds appropriated for community health centers by the end of the fiscal year. President Barack Obama's proposed budget for the current fiscal year had requested holding back $280 million of that money. The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, is in line for a $71 million boost under the legislation. The Senate defeated an amendment from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) that would have upped that to $211 million.
The Senate bill also included a measure providing an additional $12.8 million to fund the Food and Drug Administration's implementation of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.
The FDA language also drew praise from the nation's largest medical technology association. The bill would allow the agency to spend $40 million in fees it is collecting from device and diagnostics companies.
“Last year, Congress passed with bipartisan support legislation to codify a groundbreaking new medical device user fee agreement that included a number of reforms and performance goals intended to improve FDA's regulatory efficiency and predictability, in exchange for increased fee levels that have been paid since last October,” Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, said in a news release issued after the vote. “These improvements serve the interests of patients, industry and FDA.”
The House is expected to pass the measure this week.