Congress isn’t done with messy health care fights
The Inflation Reduction Act is law. But that doesn't mean major health care interests are done testing their lobbying clout. Many are already lining up for year-end relief from Medicare payment cuts, regulatory changes and inflation woes.
The big picture: Year-end spending bills often contain health care "extenders" that delay cuts to hospitals that treat the poorest patients or keep money flowing to community health centers. But lawmakers may be hard-pressed to justify the price tag this time, and are seeing an unusual assortment of appeals for help.
Background: 2% Medicare sequester cuts that had been paused by the pandemic took effect last month. Another 4% cut could come at year's end, if lawmakers don't delay it.
- These automatic reductions in spending come amid health labor force shortages, supply chain problems and other pressures that are making providers jockey for relief.
- It will fall to Congress to pick winners and losers among hospitals, physicians, home health care groups, nursing homes and ambulance services. And each says the consequences of not helping are dire.
- "The core question is how do they come up with the money and how do they decide to prioritize who give it to?" said Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins.
Go deeper: Hospitals are pressing hard for relief from the year-end sequester, and want Congress to extend or make permanent programs that support rural facilities and are slated to expire on Sept. 30, absent legislative action.
- The American Hospital Association has estimated its members will lose at least $3 billion by year's end.
- Hospitals in the government’s discount drug program also have to be made whole after the Supreme Court unanimously overturned a huge pay cut stemming from a 2018 rule. And the industry also is seeking to reverse a planned cuts to supplementary payments for uncompensated care.
Doctors and nursing homes are among the other players lining up for relief from sequester cuts, specific Medicare payment changes that affect their businesses or new regulations.
- The American Medical Association says Medicare cuts could threaten physician practices that have been racked by pandemic-induced retirements and burnout. "This is really about allowing patients and Medicare beneficiaries to continue care," AMA President Jack Resneck told Axios.
- National Association for Home Care and Hospice President Bill Dombi said over half of the home health agencies will run deficits if lawmakers don't act. "When you have that many providers in the red, you can foresee there will be negative consequences. They're already rejecting 20 to 30% of referrals for admissions to care, so it will be affecting patients," said Dombi.
- Ambulance services are also struggling. "Ambulance providers around the country are at a very near breaking point as we kind of walk along the ledge leading to this cliff at the end of the calendar year," Shawn Baird, president of the American Ambulance Association and chief operating officer of Metro West Ambulance in Oregon, told Axios.
The other side: Despite Congress' willingness to delay payment cuts, there's not enough money to make everyone happy. And concerns about Medicare program's solvency that emerged during the lengthy debate over the Democrats' tax, climate and health package could dampen lawmakers' enthusiasm for costly fixes that favor one provider group.
- The continuation of the COVID-19 public health emergency and its myriad temporary payment allowances could also lessen a sense of urgency around provider relief.
The bottom line: For all the dire warnings, it's unlikely Congress will do much until December, when it will likely pass a continuing resolution or an omnibus spending bill and could then move to delay the 4% cut.