Congress Returns for Final Work Period Before the Election

The House and Senate returned on Tuesday for their final work period prior to the November elections. The most pressing issue is funding the federal government, which is set to end on September 30, 2016. That gives lawmakers few legislative days to complete a Continuing Resolution ("CR") to keep the government open and avoid a shutdown. Given that members of Congress must face votes in November, the odds of a shutdown are relatively low at this point. The question for now is whether the CR will extend fiscal year 2016 funding until December, as it did in 2014 and 2015, or extend funding through February or March of 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) indicated this week that they favor a CR that last through December 9, 2016. However, members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus have made clear they will oppose any CR that lasts shorter than six months. That means Speaker Ryan would be forced to rely on Democratic votes to get a short-term CR passed.

CMS Offers Flexibility in MACRA Quality Payment Program

On September 8, CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt announced in a blog post that his agency will allow physicians to pick the pace at which they want to transition to the new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System ("MIPS") in 2017. The post revealed four transition options that will be included in the final rule creating the new Medicare physician payment system, which should be released by November 1, 2016. These include: 1) reporting a year's worth of data and getting the full bonus permissible; 2) reporting less than a year's worth of data and getting less than the full bonus; 3) reporting "some" data and getting no bonus, but no penalty; and 4) participating in one of the alternative payment models and having no reporting requirements. Slavitt said these steps are intended to allow providers that are comfortable with data reporting to comply with the Quality Payment Program that begins on January 1, 2017, while allowing others to ease into the new system.

Ways and Means Hosts Hearing on Medicare Part A

On September 7, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to examine the evolution of quality in Medicare Part A. The committee reviewed the implementation of Part A and the quality and pay-for-performance programs that are in place for hospitals. Members also discussed the value-based purchasing program and penalties for hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions. Witnesses outlined implementation of the IMPACT Act of 2014 and subsequent reforms. They also provided recommendations for how to reduce regulatory burdens on hospital providers in the Medicare program. Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi (R-OH) said the lessons learned from the Part A hospital quality programs will be used to guide legislation for post-acute care settings in the future.

Ways and Means Committee Passes ESRD Legislation

On September 8, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Dialysis Patient Access To Integrated-care, Empowerment, Nephrologists, Treatment, and Services ("PATIENTS") Demonstration Act (H.R. 5942) to improve care for people with end-stage renal disease ("ESRD"). The bill would establish a voluntary Medicare program to increase care coordination for ESRD patients and lower health care costs.

The Dialysis PATIENTS Demonstration Act would utilize dialysis centers as the main point for ESRD patients to access integrated care services. The project would reduce the amount of trips Medicare beneficiaries must take to different providers’ offices, leading to potential time and financial savings for patients and their families.

Health-Related Bills Introduced This Week

No health-related bills were introduced this week.

Next Week in Washington

The House and Senate reconvene on Monday, September 12. The Senate will continue the debate on Zika virus funding, as well as the annual September debate on funding of government agencies ahead of the new fiscal year.