House Passes Medicare Provider, Contractor Reform Bill
The House yesterday voted 408-0 to approve a bill (HR 3391) that would ease "regulatory hurdles" for Medicare providers and reform the program's contracting system, the AP/Washington Post reports (Nakashima/Tucker, AP/Washington Post, 12/5). The bipartisan Medicare Regulatory and Contracting Reform Act of 2001 "blend[s]" provisions from a bill (HR 3046) passed earlier this year by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and another bill (HR 2768) approved by the House Ways and Means Committee. Under the bill, CMS officials could only issue Medicare regulations one time per month and could not make "substantive regulatory changes" retroactive. The legislation would allow providers 30 days to comply with new rules. In addition, the bill would offer providers incentives to improve educational outreach efforts for Medicare beneficiaries and providers and establish a single, toll-free telephone number that beneficiaries could call for help (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 12/5). The legislation would limit the use of "extrapolation" by CMS officials to determine the amount providers owe to the government in overpayments, expand the right that providers have to appeal and streamline the appeals process. The bill also would ensure that CMS and the FDA share information on new technologies, require studies on Medicare reimbursement systems and improvements to emergency room care and impose civil monetary penalties on hospitals that do not comply with blood-borne pathogen rules (CongressDaily, 12/4). Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) sponsored the bill (HR 3391 text). The bill represents "months of bipartisan negotiations" between the Bush administration and "oft-sparring" House committees, and would "dramatically reform the way CMS interacts with providers, contractors and beneficiaries," CongressDaily reports (Fulton, CongressDaily, 12/4).