Senate considers Medicare, HHS extenders: 7 things to know

The Senate Finance Committee issued a discussion draft Oct. 26 that extends funding for eight Medicare programs and six other healthcare programs, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.  

Here are seven things to know about the discussion draft.  

1. Notably absent from the draft is an extension of the delay of Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments. These payments, which offset the cost of providing uncompensated care, have been delayed for four years by Congress. Cuts to the program are scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1 and will total $2 billion in 2017 if no action is taken to delay them, according to AAMC. 

2. The discussion draft would permanently repeal annual caps on Medicare outpatient therapy. This would go into effect Jan. 1. 

3. The bill would extend ambulance fee increases for ground ambulance services and super-rural ambulance services through 2022. It also calls for data collection on cost, revenue and utilization of ambulance services. 

4. The draft outlines an extension and an update of Medicare inpatient hospital adjustments for low-volume hospitals that do not benefit from economies of scale. The bill would extend this increased funding to qualified hospitals through 2022 and expand the qualification criteria. The program currently provides a 25 percent increase in payment to hospitals with fewer than 200 Medicare discharges annually, and adjusts this increase down to 0 percent for hospitals with 1,600 Medicare discharges or more. The discussion draft would tie payment increases to total discharges rather than Medicare discharges, giving the largest pay bumps to hospitals with fewer than 500 total discharges annually, adjusting down to 0 percent for hospitals with more than 2,500 discharges annually.

5. The bill would extend increased Medicare payment rates for five years for rural hospitals in the Medicare-Dependent Hospital Program. It also calls on the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review of this program. The bill also includes extensions on increased payments for providing home health services to Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. This increase would be slowly phased out. 

6. The bill would extend funding for Medicare quality measure endorsement, input and selection. The bill allots $7.5 million for both 2018 and 2019.   

7. Among other non-Medicare extensions, the bill would extend funding for abstinence education and family-to-family health education centers through 2019. It also extends the health workforce demonstration project through 2019, which helps provide training and education for low-income individuals to secure jobs in the healthcare sector. 


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