Leaders in the United States Senate yesterday unveiled a bipartisan plan to end the two-week long shutdown of th Federal government and raise the nations’ borrowing authority to avoid a default. The Continuing Appropriations Act extends current sequester level funding for the Federal government through January 15th and extends the debt limit through February 7th.
The 2% across-the-board cut to Medicare providers was a result of the original sequester agreement struck in 2011 and remains in effect under this deal. No additional reimbursement cuts were levied as part of this legislation. Federal government workers were ordered back to work on Thursday, with national parks and the national mall in Washington DC also opening. While payments to Medicare providers continued to flow during the partial government shutdown, payments could have been drastically delayed had the United States government defaulted on our debt by not raising the nations borrowing authority by October 17th.
The Senate voted to approve the proposal first, providing a comfortable bipartisan majority of 81-18. All Senate Democrats voted in favor of the must pass, last-ditch legislation to avoid a credit default that would have had severe consequences for the US and world economy. The House of Representatives, after seeing their own last-ditch piece of legislation die yesterday due to a lack of support from warring factions within the House GOP caucus, also voted to approve the funding and increase the nations borrowing authority by a vote of 285-144. The House vote was also bipartisan with all House Democrats supporting the legislation along with 87 House Republicans. President Obama signed the legislation into law just a few hours from default.
In addition to simply extending the funding and borrowing authority for the Federal government, the bill also setup bicameral budget negotiations. Members from both the House and Senate will be appointed by leadership to discuss entitlement reform, revisions to the tax code and what, if anything, to do with the sequestration cuts that are scheduled to be implemented at the end of the year. The budget negotiations must be concluded by December 15th. “Entitlement reform” obviously refers to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the three largest programs run by the Federal government.
The orthotic and prosthetic profession must follow these negotiations closely to ensure changes to entitlement programs do not negatively impact Medicare providers. These new budget negotiations could also be an opportunity to insert language requiring CMS to only reimburse licensed or otherwise qualified providers for O&P and also language which provides additional oversight of CMS audit contractors that are wreaking havoc on independent O&P practices across the country.
An important point in the deal was to ensure that the budget negotiations are run through the reconciliation process, which would mean the Senate would only need a simple majority (51 votes) to pass any sort of long-term proposal to reign in our nations long-term budget issues. This 51 vote threshold (rather than the 60 votes that would be required if a Senator chooses to object) will make a deal in the Senate easier to pass and could potentially put added pressure on an already battle weary Congress.
Many fear that this short-term funding bill will only delay the inevitable next budget battle when funding expires on January 15th. Only time will tell, but we must remain vigilant. OPGA Government Relations will continue to follow the budget negotiations and provide updates as new details are released.