Congress To Vote on Medicare Physician Payments
House leaders on Friday plan to hold a vote on a bill (HR 6408) that includes the reversal of a scheduled reduction in Medicare physician reimbursements, but "passage in the Senate is not a certainty" because of disagreements over other provisions, CongressDaily reports (Vaughan/Johnson, CongressDaily, 12/8). Medicare physician reimbursements will decrease by 5.1% in January 2007 without congressional action during the lame-duck session, which likely will end this week (California Healthline, 12/7).
The bill would maintain the current level of Medicare physician reimbursements and would provide a 1.5% increase in reimbursements to physicians who agree to report data on certain quality-of-care measures. The legislation would remove $6.5 billion from a stabilization fund established under the 2003 Medicare law to help cover the cost.
Congress established the stabilization fund to encourage health insurers to offer Medicare prescription drug plans in underserved areas. In addition, the bill would reduce the maximum allowable rate at which states can tax Medicaid providers to 5.5% from 6%, a move that would decrease federal matching funds to states, to help cover the cost (Armstrong, CQ Today, 12/7).
Among other provisions, the legislation also would provide $4 billion for the Abandoned Mine Land fund to help cover the cost of health benefits of retired coal mine workers and $1 billion to expand the use of health savings accounts (Vaughan/Johnson, CongressDaily, 12/8). The bill does not include a provision proposed by the Senate Finance Committee that would have redistributed to states unspent SCHIP funds from 2004 and 2005 (CQ HealthBeat, 12/7).
In other congressional news, lawmakers on Thursday night planned to file a continuing resolution that would fund operations for most federal agencies until Feb. 15, 2007, CongressDaily reports. The current CR will expire on Friday (Cohn, CongressDaily, 12/8).
Congress has passed only two of 11 appropriations bills for FY 2007. In most cases, a CR funds federal agencies at the lowest level among House-passed, Senate-passed or prior-year levels.
However, veterans groups "have made a vigorous lobbying effort to obtain more funding for veterans' health," and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said she plans to introduce an amendment to the CR to increase funds for health care and other services for veterans and active duty soldiers.
Veterans groups have sought an additional $3 billion in funds, but the CR "is not expected to contain the full $3 billion," CQ Today reports (Higa, CQ Today, 12/7).