Congress Passes Farm Bill; House Ways and Means Committee Bill Introduced

Congress returned from observing the passing of President George H.W. Bush to work on the federal budget and last minute items. They passed a farm bill conference report that authorizes assistance for rural hospitals to refinance a debt obligation as an eligible loan or loan guarantee if the assistance would help preserve access to health services in a rural community and meaningfully improve the financial position of the hospital. The provision would require rural hospitals seeking refinancing to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s financial feasibility and adequacy of security requirements. Among other rural health care provisions, the Secretary of Agriculture would set aside at least 20 percent of funding for Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants to address substance use disorders in rural areas. The legislation also would increase annual funding for the program to $82 million for fiscal years 2019 through 2023. The president is expected to sign the bill.

The House Ways and Means Committee has introduced a bill that would combine provision of the following legislation:

  • H.R. 5507 repeals the 96-hour physician-certification requirement for inpatient critical access hospital services under Medicare.
  • H.R. 7253 – REMOVE Act codifies all measure removal factors for hospital and post-acute care quality measures, including the newest measure removal factor #8 that weighs the benefits of a measure against the costs of reporting the measure.
  • H.R. 7249 requires notification to providers and beneficiaries that will be impacted by prior authorization.
  • H.R. 741 permanently extends the application by CMS of an instruction against the enforcement of certain physician supervision requirements with respect to outpatient therapeutic services in critical access hospitals and small rural hospitals.

It is not likely the Senate will consider the legislation once it passes the House, but there is time left in the session. Once Congress wraps up or the year, they will return home for the holiday break prior to the new Congress taking their seats in early January.

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