Legislative Update For Week Ending December 16, 2011

Legislative Update For Week Ending December 16, 2011

All eyes were glued on the omnibus appropriation bill talks this week as a December 16th deadline quickly approached.  A new cosponsor was added to an important CPI-E bill, and reports on community health centers and dually eligible Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were released.

Omnibus Vote Expected Friday

“This Congress needs to do its job and stop the tax hike that’s scheduled to affect 160 million Americans in 18 days,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said after the House passed the omnibus appropriations package.  This package combines funding for all nine remaining spending bills and is expected to be voted on in the Senate by Friday.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (bill) extends and modifies numerous programs set to expire at the end of the year, the most pressing of which is the extension of the Payroll Holiday Tax.  This bill would extend the employee part of the payroll tax to 4.2 percent through December 2012.

This legislation will also affect unemployment insurance through January 2013 by extending the eligibility for expanded unemployment insurance benefits for laid-off workers.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that bill would increase direct spending by 34.2 billion dollars over ten years.  Half of the funding would come from lower Medicare payments to hospitals.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act (bill) also contains the “doc fix” patch which would prevent a 27.4 percent cut in Medicare physician reimbursement rates scheduled for January 1st. The bill would also provide a one percent increase in the reimbursement rates for 2012 and 2013. Offsets will come from increased Medicare premiums from high-income earners.

The CBO estimates that the doc fix provisions will cost 38.9 billion dollars over ten years. As of publication, the bill resides in the Senate where leaders are threatening to stall progress until a compromise can be reached. Passage of the bill is necessary to keep the government funded after December 16th.

New Cosponsor Added to CPI-E Bill

Sen. Tim Johnson (SD) was added as a cosponsor to Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (OH) CPI-E Act (S. 1876) on Tuesday.  If passed, the bill  would utilize a consumer price index that better reflects the spending habits of seniors.  The cosponsor total for the bill is now nine.

Community Health Centers to Feel Impact of Funding Cuts

Despite the ability of community health centers to provide primary care for the growing number of underserved and uninsured patients, a report by the National Association of Community Health Centers says that centers will receive significantly less funding next year. The report cites that states will provide 60 million fewer dollars than in 2011.

Community centers are mandated to serve all patients who enter their clinic and are funded by federal and state governments. The centers are set to receive increased federal funding under the health care law; yet 19 of 35 participating states have opted to reduce funding next year.

Report Discusses “Dual Eligibles”

According to an Alliance for Health Reform report released on Monday, there are currently nine million beneficiaries dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The figure comes after a series of focus groups were organized by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in an effort to provide improved care and awareness for the group.

The report states that “dual eligibles” represent a population considered to be the most vulnerable among all beneficiaries, accounting for a disproportionate amount of spending in both programs. The report also states that dually eligible beneficiaries account for 40 percent of all Medicaid spending. Accordingly, CMS is seeking solutions to better coordinate and manage care for those enrolled in both programs.