Congress Upvotes COVID-19 Bill
House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to pass the second relief package of the year, which includes two key HME industry provisions.
- By David Kopf
- Dec 22, 2020
At the last minute, Congress has passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes a permanent fix for rural oxygen reimbursement, and extends the pause on 2 percent sequestration cuts for three more months.
The House voted to approve 359 to 53 yesterday, followed by a late-night Senate vote of 92-6 vote. The deal came after months of back-and-forth wrangling between Republicans and Democrats, as well as both chambers. President Trump is expected to sign the package into law.
Where oxygen reimbursement is concerned, the bill includes provisions that fix a Medicare reimbursement disparity for oxygen items provided in rural areas due to the application of outdated budget neutrality provisions from the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
Recent legislative and regulatory actions helped reduce the unequal reimbursement by temporarily applying a 50/50 blended rate for oxygen (and other DMEPOS items) in rural areas. The newly passed relief package makes that fix permanent.
In addition, the relief package extends the soon-to-expire suspension of a reimbursement cut.
Among its various provisions, the CARES Act currently suspends a longstanding 2 percent sequestration cut on Medicare fee-for-service payment. The 2 percent cut has been in effect since the 2012 Sequestration Transparency Act, as part of a deal to get out from under the debt ceiling at the time.
The CARES Act put a pause on those cuts to help DMEPOS suppliers and other Medicare providers and suppliers during the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, the suspension only impacts claims with dates of service between May 1 and Dec. 31.
The new relief package extends that pause by another three months. That said, the industry and its legislative partners had been angling for extending the suspension of the sequestration cut for the length of the public health emergency.
“We’re gratified to see that Congress has finally fixed the oxygen budget neutrality issue unfairly impacting rural suppliers,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of the American Association for Homecare. “HME stakeholders have been asking Congress and CMS to address this problem since 2016, and those sustained grassroots advocacy efforts have paid off with a long-term win for our industry.”
Ryan noted that the rural oxygen stakeholders should thank Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) for pushing for the oxygen fix in the 115th and 116th Congresses
“Their persistent support, high credibility on the Hill, and creative thinking in spearheading new legislation (H.R. 8158) were all critical in finally prevailing on this issue,” he said.
Ryan said the lengthening the pause on the 2 percent sequestration cuts was welcome and came about due to “a significant amount of grassroots outreach” on the issue over the past two months.
“While I believe a longer extension is warranted, this measure of relief will support the entire healthcare continuum’s work to bring the pandemic under control,” he said.
David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.