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In a vote of 384-38, the House on Tuesday passed a bill that eliminates the 2% cut to Medicare payments until the end of 2021. However, the bill proposes to offset the change by increasing the sequester cuts in 2030.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The cuts were triggered by a federal budget sequestration.
Hospitals, physicians and other providers protested the 2% cuts as coming at a time when they were struggling financially and clinically to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill also makes several technical changes to the rural health clinic provisions that were included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Specifically, the CAA required that the payment rate for RHCs, including provider-based RHCs certified after Dec. 31, 2019, to be capped at $100 per visit, starting from April 1, 2021.
This rate will increase over time based on the Medicare Economic Index, but will remain well below typical provider-based RHC rates. The bill would correct the Dec. 31, 2019, date to Dec. 31, 2020, and include both Medicare-enrolled RHCs located in a hospital with less than 50 beds and RHCs that have submitted an application for Medicare enrollment as of this date, according to the AHA.
THE LARGER TREND
Last year, Congress paused the 2% Medicare cuts, but they were to resume on April 1.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services instructed Medicare administrative contractors to hold all claims with dates of service on or after April 1 for a short period until potential legislation was enacted.
In March, the House passed the bill to delay the cuts, and the Senate approved it later that month, but with an amendment to delay through December 31 and ensure that the cost of the delay is paid for.
Providers have reacted positively to the news.
American Hospital Association president and CEO Rick Pollack said, "Even though our country is making great progress by vaccinating millions of people a day, it is clear that this pandemic is far from over and that there is an urgent need to keep hospitals, health systems and our heroic caregivers strong."
American Medical Association president Dr. Susan R. Bailey said, "The Senate and House, Democrats and Republicans, have overwhelmingly acknowledged that cutting Medicare payments during a pandemic is ill-conceived policy. Physician practices are already distressed, and arbitrary 2% across-the-board Medicare cuts would have been devastating."
America's Essential Hospitals SVP of policy and advocacy Beth Feldpush said, "Extending the moratorium through the end of this year provides much-needed relief for essential hospitals, which continue to face heavy financial pressure from their frontline response to COVID-19. The sequester would weaken the ability of our hospitals to care for the communities of color that have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic."
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