Budget Bill Passed by Congress Contains Several Important Health Provisions

In the early morning hours of Friday, Feb. 9, the House passed a bill that was passed by the Senate several hours earlier to keep the government funded for another two years. This action by Congress ensures fiscal “peace” through this year’s mid-term election and into 2019. Shortly after the House passed the measure, the president signed the bill, again effectively ending the threat of a government shutdown for the foreseeable future.

Much of the attention on Capitol Hill, in addition to avoiding a shutdown, was to bring funding stability to the Department of Defense and various military programs. The Pentagon has been funded in recent years by a series of “continuing resolutions” passed by Congress, which simply funds a program based on the prior authorized level. This made it difficult for military brass to plan future spending and research programs. The new budget bill, however, gives Defense the ability to better strategically develop manpower and weapons systems.

Lost in much of the hoopla of the budget agreement were the several provisions that are related to Medicare and other health care issues. Perhaps the most significant item related to Medicare was the abolishment of the Independent Medicare Advisory Board, known inside the Beltway by its acronym, IPAB. This panel, created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, was ultimately designed to look at ways to cut Medicare provider payments, but thankfully IPAB never got off the ground. Provider groups, including the American Chiropractic Association, opposed this scheme from the start, and thankfully, IPAB has now officially repealed. It took eight years to finally finish off this flawed idea, but it has now been relegated to Washington’s scrapheap.

A bit of further good news to come out of the bill was an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, that was extended last month by Congress for six years but now is authorized until 2027. It is estimated that 7 million children get care from CHIP. Community health centers also saw an increase in funding, up to $4 billion a year. Funding for these centers officially ran out last September.

Finally, there were provisions in the bill to expand telehealth services in Medicare, something that has gained support on Capitol Hill as advances in technology continue to soar. Some states currently include chiropractors as providers eligible to provide telehealth services, and based on the regulations released later this year, DCs could become eligible under this federal expansion as well. This is indeed an area we’ll be paying close attention to here at ACA.

John Falardeau is ACA senior vice president of public policy and advocacy.