Federally qualified health centers would move toward a prospective payment system for the Medicare-covered services they provide and HHS would form a task force to help alleviate overcrowding in the nation's emergency rooms under measures attached to a major health reform bill being shaped in the Senate Finance Committee.
Early on, Congress required health centers to be paid at a rate that guaranteed that they would not lose money serving Medicare patients. In 1992, federal regulations capped how much Medicare can pay health centers for certain services. Nearly 75% of health centers have taken a financial hit because of the cap, with average losses of about $85,000 and total losses exceeding $51 million, according to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who offered the amendment.
Starting in 2012 a permanent payment system would be created based on the existing one for health centers in Medicaid and a federally backed children’s health program. The provision also would cover preventive and primary-care services.
Meantime, the committee also agreed to an amendment by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that requires HHS to establish a group of industry experts that would develop a framework to unclog hospitals' often crowded emergency departments.