Tucked deep within the U.S. Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326, Pub. L. 111-118), signed into law by the President on December 19, 2009 (hereinafter, the DOD Appropriations Act), are two provisions of note for the healthcare industry with important deadlines:

  • When President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) on February 17, 2009, he enacted legislation providing a 65 percent COBRA premium subsidy for up to nine months to eligible employees involuntarily terminated between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009. The DOD Appropriations Act extends both the maximum COBRA premium subsidy period from 9 to 15 months and the eligibility deadline from December 31, 2009, to February 28, 2010.
  • On November 25, 2009, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published its final rule establishing the Medicare Part B physician fee schedule for CY 2010 which reflected a 21.2 percent payment cut as mandated by the sustainable growth rate adopted by Congress in 1997. As with prior years, Congress intervened to override the proposed reduction -- this time via the DOD Appropriations Act -- which freezes Medicare payment for physicians at current levels through February 2010.

While the temporary extensions provided a modicum of breathing room for lawmakers deliberating healthcare reform, the February deadlines are fast approaching. Although Congress has promised to permanently fix the Medicare physician fee schedule this year, the outlook for early action continues to be cloudy as prospects for passing healthcare reform remain in question.