Congress Expected to Pass Labor-HHS Bill Today
More than 10 weeks into the new fiscal year, Congress and the Clinton administration may soon complete the government's $600 billion annual budget, with House and Senate leaders expecting lawmakers to approve the controversial $108.9 billion Labor-HHS appropriations bill on Dec. 15, the New York Times reports. The White House and Republican leaders agreed yesterday to "big increases" in medical research spending, part of a $2.5 billion boost in NIH funding, a 14% increase over last year. "This is an extremely generous increase," Anthony Mazzaschi, assistant vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said (Pear, New York Times, 12/15). The legislation also would provide $1.17 billion for community health centers and include a two-year extension of the Medical Savings Account program. In addition, Republicans and Democrats compromised on sites where women and children could obtain Medicaid eligibly and agreed to a provision that would ease restrictions for seniors enrolling in Medicare programs to help them pay out-of-pocket costs (Caruso et al., CongressDaily/A.M., 12/15).
Getting out of 'Giveback' Limbo
The Labor-HHS bill also features a Medicare and Medicaid "giveback" package, which would return $32.7 billion to providers and HMOs over five years, including $1.7 billion for urban teaching hospitals, rural hospitals, hospices and rural home health agencies, and $1 billion to boost Medicaid and CHIP. In addition, the package would waive a two-year waiting period for Medicare eligibility for those suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. "We are pleased with the coverage expansions that were included and the provider payment enhancements that will ensure high quality care for Medicare beneficiaries," White House health policy adviser Chris Jennings said (AP/Los Angeles Times, 12/15). While the Clinton administration still calls the bill "too favorable" for managed care companies, the final language includes a provision that would allow the government to levy a $100,000 fine on health plans exiting Medicare mid-year (Rogers, Wall Street Journal, 12/15).