What’s Going on in Congress?

VP of Public Policy Sharon Pearce breaks down the busy end-of-the-year schedule in Congress:

As the December holidays are upon us, Congress is scrambling to complete a long list of legislative  “to-dos” before heading out at the end of the month.  Of particular importance to the hospice community is the FY 2018 spending package, a bipartisan Medicare extenders package, a hotly contested tax reform bill and an extension of the CHIP program.

Just this week, Congress passed a two-week stop-gap spending measure that will keep the government open through December 22nd.  This gives Congress a few more weeks to finalize the FY 2018 budget, but lawmakers acknowledge that another extension will likely be necessary.

Bipartisan discussions are also underway for a package of Medicare “extenders” policies.  The Ways & Means Committee recently released its package of extenders (https://waysandmeans.house.gov/ways-means-committee-leaders-announce-bipartisan-medicare-extenders-package/), and the Senate is also working on its version.  For the most part, this legislative package is not controversial.  However, Congress will have to come up with “offsets” to pay for these policy extensions, and that could tee up potential cuts to provider payments.  NHPCO is working hard to ensure that hospice payments stay OFF the chopping block.

Congressional Republicans have also been working furiously to pass a major tax reform bill that could have several implications for the health care sector. In order to stay within the budget rules, the bill has a provision that would double sequestration from 2 to 4 percent if the bill substantially increases the deficit.  Proponents of the bill have argued that the bill would drive economic growth, so the trigger would not be tripped. To alleviate provider concerns, however, lawmakers have promised to take future legislative action to prevent any increases in sequestration.  The bill is currently in a joint House/Senate Conference committee.

Finally, Congress is considering extending sequestration – which is set to expire in 2025 — for an additional two years in order to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Health providers have expressed concern about continuation of the 2 percent cuts, but Congress seems poised to move forward with this change.

NHPCO will continue to track activity around this legislation and work to make the concerns of hospice organizations heard on Capitol Hill.