Congress Passes End of Year Funding Package to Keep Government Open

A number of health care provisions receive extensions

December 19, 2019

On Dec. 17, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an omnibus spending package to avert a government shutdown before federal funding runs out on Dec. 20.  The U.S. Senate followed suite Dec. 19. The deal includes a number of health care funding extenders, as well as a permanent repeal of a number of health care taxes.

Among the notable funding extensions:
A reauthorization of the Conrad-30 program which helps hospitals obtain doctors from foreign countries if they practice in an underserved area.
  • Extension of the physician geographic practice cost index (GPCI) work floor through May 22, 2020.
  • Funding for the National Quality Forum, which helps improve the credibility and measurement of federal health care quality programs, through May 22, 2020.
  • Funding for Community Health Centers through May 22, 2020.
Congress also delayed scheduled cuts to the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program through May 22, 2020. These cuts were originally scheduled to go into effect in exchange for the ACA decreasing hospitals’ uncompensated care, but have since been delayed. The current cuts are not projected to impact Wisconsin, as our state already spends less than its federal DSH cap. The funding package also permanently repeals the 2.3% excise tax on medical devices, the sales tax on health insurance premiums, and the 40% excise tax on employer-provided health insurance plans known as the “Cadillac Tax.” Like the DSH cuts, these were all taxes passed as part of the Affordable Care Act but have previously been delayed by Congress.

In addition to extending funding for a number of public health programs, the package will also require states to raise the minimum age for sale of tobacco products to 21 in order to continue receiving public health block grant funding in future years. 

Notably, the package does not include any provisions related to surprise medical billing or reducing the cost of prescription drugs. Congressional leaders have been trying for months to find agreement on both topics but were unable to reach an agreement in advance of the funding deadline. Congress is expected to resume talks on both of those issues, and the May 22 funding deadline for many of these health care programs could spur action on both areas. WHA is continuing to advocate against any surprise billing legislative package that includes a government-set benchmark payment due to the adverse consequences it would cause for hospitals and patients.

For more information, contact WHA Director of Federal & State Relations Jon Hoelter.

This story originally appeared in the December 19, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter