As the Senate winds down its 2001 session next month focusing on the economy and bioterrorism, regulatory relief for providers is likely to disappear from its agenda.
After Thanksgiving, senators are expected to introduce a companion to Medicare regulatory-relief measures passed last month by two House committees, but a Senate Finance Committee Republican aide said the committee doesn't expect to vote on it until next year.
"We never really expected it to happen this year in the Senate," said the aide, who asked not to be named.
A delay until next year would be a blow to the hospital community's chief remaining legislative agenda item for the year (Nov. 12, p. 4). While hospitals have pushed for billions of dollars in increased Medicare payments to help them boost pay and retain workers and to help them prepare for potential bioterrorism threats, neither truly has caught fire-particularly since the federal budget surplus of the past two years has all but vanished.
But lawmakers, heeding President Bush's call to simplify government and pare regulations, have been more receptive to hospitals' regulatory-relief argument as a way to help hospital bottom lines by reducing their costs.
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and senior Republican Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), along with two committee members, Sens. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), are expected to introduce the leading Senate regulatory relief bill after Congress' Thanksgiving recess.
It would be the companion to separate regulatory relief bills that have emerged from the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the aide said. Sources said the Senate bill would resemble the two House committee bills, and like those bills, would aim to cost the federal government nothing.