Disappointing providers, the House of Representatives has agreed to adjourn for the year by this weekend, virtually eliminating the possibility of passing Medicare physician-payment reform legislation or other provider relief measures this year.
"We're disappointed they failed to act before they left. We've been working all year with other provider groups to get relief. Now we're hoping (Congress) will regroup and do it (pass legislation) as soon as possible next year," said Tom Nickels, senior vice president of federal relations at the American Hospital Association.
Legislators this morning voted to adjourn as soon as they wrap up work on a homeland security bill that is a top priority of President Bush. That means the House's lame duck session, which started yesterday, could be over as early as tonight. The House was expected to pass a "continuing resolution" later today that would fund government programs through Jan. 11 in the absence of complete appropriations bills.
The continuing resolution contained nothing for providers. "Provider relief was dead before," one lobbyist said. "Now it's very cold dead."
Few lobbyists and Capitol Hill staffers had expected Congress to take action during its lame duck session on a sweeping $43 billion provider relief bill, introduced by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in September. The bill, however, now faces a Republican-controlled Senate.
Physicians took a 5.4% Medicare pay cut this year under what is widely considered a flawed payment formula. Unless the formula is reformed, physicians' Medicare reimbursement will decline 12% during the next three years, according to the American Medical Association. During that time, practice expenses will rise 40%, the AMA said.
"We're still exploring all the options," an AMA official said today. Until the full House approves the continuing resolution, he said, "we're continuing to work to get the (payment) update, if not in the continuing resolution, then with another vehicle." It was not clear what would constitute such a vehicle. The AHA's Nickels said today that the continuing resolution was "the only vehicle left."
Nickels and other lobbyists were hopeful, however, that the next Congress would move quickly to address provider payment issues. "Grassley is invested in and dedicated to provider relief next year, particularly for rural hospitals, and we will work to see that happen," Nickels said.