Congressional Leaders Push for EHR Stage 3 Delay

On September 28, two Senate committee chairmen submitted a letter to HHS urging administrators to delay final rulemaking for Meaningful Use Stage 3 rules under the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Record Incentive Program.  Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and John Thune (R-SD) wrote that requirements for Stage 3 of the program should be issued no sooner than January 1, 2017, in order to give the department time to evaluate provider participation in the modified Stage 2 rule.

The letter follows a separate letter sent by 116 members of the House to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget on Monday.  The House letter, led by Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and Tom Price (R-GA), reiterated the importance of refraining from finalizing Stage 3 until the impact of Stage 2 has been measured.

Congress Passes Spending Bill to Prevent Government Shutdown

On September 30, the House and Senate completed action on a 10-week continuing resolution spending bill (H.R. 719).  The measure maintains the current government funding level from the past year for federal agencies and programs until December 11, 2015.  The stopgap measure buys time for Congress to negotiate on a full-year spending package.  

A lingering issue is disagreement over whether to adjust the spending caps put in place by budget sequestration.  Any changes to sequestration spending caps would impact the level of funding for health care agencies but would not directly address the ongoing two percent sequestration spending cut to Medicare provider payments.  

House Committees Approve Reconciliation Language

On September 30, the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees approved reconciliation language that, when combined, would repeal the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, taxes on medical devices on high-cost employer health plans, the requirement for large companies to auto-enroll their employees in health coverage and block federal funds to Planned Parenthood.  Reconciliation is a budget maneuver that requires only 51 votes to clear the Senate.  Were the measure to pass the Senate, which is highly unlikely, President Obama would certainly veto it.  

Senate Approves Legislation to Extend Medicaid Emergency Psychiatric Demonstration Program

On September 28, the U.S. Senate passed S. 599, a bill that extends for a year the Medicaid Emergency Demonstration Project.  The legislation, which was sponsored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), would allow eligible states to pay certain institutions for mental disease and emergency psychiatric care provided to Medicaid enrollees aged 21 to 64.  If the measure passes the House and is signed into law, the bill would also give HHS discretion to expand the demonstration nationwide and continue it for an additional three years.  It would also require HHS to recommend by April 2019 whether to make the demonstration project permanent. 

Health Care-Related Bills Introduced This Week

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced a bill (S. 2108) that would amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for an extension of certain long-term hospital payment rules and the moratorium on the establishment of certain hospitals and facilities.  

Next Week in Congress

The Senate and House return on October 5 and October 6, respectively.  On October 8, House Republicans will hold elections for new leaders in the wake of Speaker Boehner’s sudden announcement that he will resign from Congress on October 30.  The elections, which are closed-door and done through secret ballot, will replace Speaker Boehner and likely select a new leadership team.  The change in leadership shouldn’t substantially change the future of health care-related bills in the House.  

Current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to win the speakers gavel, which opens the door for a majority leader election.  Reps. Tom Price, M.D. (R-GA) and Steve Scalise (R-LA), who is the current majority whip (the number three position in the House), are vying for the majority leader position.