Medicare bill backed by hospital groups passes key House vote

The House Committee on Ways and Means on Tuesday advanced a bipartisan bill that would amend changes made to Medicare hospital payments under the Bipartisan Budget Act in 2015, according to the Morning Consult.

The committee advanced the bill, the Helping Hospitals Improve Patient Care Act, on a voice vote, according to the report. The budget bill enacted last year changed the rate at which Medicare reimburses physicians' offices that have been acquired by hospitals. Previously, these offices were reimbursed at the same rate as hospitals, which is higher than the rate at which independent physician offices are paid.

Last year, a change to the budget bill lowered reimbursements to hospital-operated physician offices so they are not paid at the same rates as hospitals, on the basis that hospitals incur higher expenses than offices. Supporters of the change said it would help eliminate unnecessary healthcare spending while reducing hospitals' incentive to acquire physician offices, effectively keeping consolidation in check. Hospitals, on the other hand, said the change threatens patients' access to care.

"This untested idea may endanger patient access to care, especially among patients who are sicker, the poor, minorities and seniors who often receive care in hospital outpatient departments," wrote Thomas Nickels, AHA's executive vice president of government relations and public policy, after Congress reached the budget deal, according to the report.

The most recent bill, co-sponsored by Representatives Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), would lessen the sting of last year's law.

Although the bill was approved by the Ways and Means Committee, it is not clear what will happen next. According to the report, an aide to the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R- Calif.) said he didn't know when the bill would reach the floor of the House. As of Tuesday, members of the Senate Finance Committee indicated they were aware of the bill but didn't know whether it would come up in the chamber.

"Supposedly, the Senate has no appetite to do anything on the bill anytime soon," one GOP lobbyist said.

But House members remain optimistic. "The Helping Hospitals Improve Patient Care Act will promote greater access, increase choices and improve the quality of healthcare," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in his opening statement on Tuesday, according to the report.

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