At deadline, the White House press office had not responded to a Modern Healthcare request for comment about the discussions. Rumors surfaced late last week that Senate Republicans were considering a deal that called for a one-year spending bill at sequestration levels, a temporary extension for the debt ceiling, and a two-year delay of the medical device tax.
There have been repeated calls for an outright repeal of the 2.3% excise tax on sales of medical devices in the stalled budget negotiations, including a proposal from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) this week that would fund the government for six months. The tax is projected to raise nearly $30 billion over 10 years to pay for the law's coverage expansion and other provisions.
"I do think it has traction," Jodie Curtis, senior government relations director at Drinker Biddle & Reath, said of Collins's proposal. "I think it is being talked about among Senate Republicans.” She said Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have endorsed it. But it hinges, she said, on whether the White House is willing to have any part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act included in the negotiations to re-open the government and raise the nation's debt ceiling.
The White House has said repeatedly that Obama won't consider any changes to the Affordable Care Act in negotiations to re-open the government or raise the nation's debt ceiling. But the administration has signaled it is open to discussing changes in the ACA in conversations not tied to those fiscal hurdles.
Curtis highlighted that repealing the device tax wouldn't fundamentally change the structure of the law. Others note, however, that a repeal would blow a significant hole in the law's funding and likely encourage other powerful healthcare interest groups, including hospitals, insurers and drugmakers, to seek reductions or repeal of their funding contributions.
"It was a way to raise money to fund the ACA, so in that way it influences the ACA," Curtis said. "But it's not like shutting down the exchanges or overturning the individual mandate. Now if everybody gets a repeal, then you've got a real problem because that's the money coming in to pay for the ACA."