Federal lawmakers continued to tread water regarding the funding for HHS last week, despite some apparent progress.
The House last week passed a funding bill that would give HHS $68.2 billion in discretionary spending, with boosts to rural health programs, nurse education initiatives and community health centers. But even though it passed easily on a 276-140 vote, the House failed to reach a fail-safe number by about a dozen votes that would be needed to override an expected presidential veto.
All told, the bill, which funds programs in HHS as well as the Labor and Education departments, provides $153.7 billion in discretionary spending, roughly $12.8 billion more than President Bushs fiscal 2008 request. That gap represents the largest dollar difference between all 12 government spending bills, prompting Bush to chide the Democratic-led Congress in a July 19 speech in Nashville. If (members of Congress) overspend or if they try to raise your taxes, Im going to veto their bills, Bush said.
At the outset, the bill would give programs under HHS some $5 billion more than the presidents budget, including $200 million more to community health centers, a Bush administration favorite. Under the bill, health centers would get $2.19 billion. Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would see increased funding, to $6.4 billion from $6.2 billion in fiscal 2007, and the National Institutes of Health would get $29.65 billion compared with $28.9 billion from 2007.
Additionally, the bill includes a provision that would delay implementation of the Medicare Severity DRG payment system and prevent billions of dollars in Medicare payment cuts to hospitals. Introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, the provision delays for 12 months the CMS move to the more detailed MS-DRGs while it stymies a 2.4% offset meant to compensate for upcoding that the government expects hospitals to engage in as the new system is implemented.
The American Hospital Association and other hospital groups said the provision, which is included in the proposed inpatient prospective payment system rule, would cost hospitals some $24 billion in payments.
Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that the presidents presumed veto is based on fuzzy math. Kogan said that once adjusted for inflation and population increases, the bill would increase funding over 2007 levels for HHS and the other departments, but overall it provides less funding than what was passed from 2002 through 2006.
For the president to say that he has to veto it because its fiscally irresponsible is disingenuous, he said.