In This Issue...

Congress Reaches Budget Agreement

At press time, the House of Representatives and Senate have reached an agreement on a budget deal that will avoid a government shutdown in January.  The bipartisan bill, which has already passed the House, and is poised to pass the Senate, would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over the next two years.  The new spending will be equally divided between defense and non-defense programs.   Although the deal does provide help to some federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, the agreement retains the two percent cut in Medicare reimbursement to providers, including clinical laboratories.  GAU will continue to follow and report on this budget. 

Congress Advancing SGR Fix

The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees have released draft legislation to repeal the physician sustainable growth rate (SGR).  Each year the payment mechanism recommends deep cuts in physician payments and each year Congress has to pass legislation to forestall the reduction.  Now both Chambers propose to repeal the law and replace it with a new value-based performance system.  In the past, clinical laboratory payments have been reduced to prevent physician payment cuts.  Neither the House nor the Senate has outlined how it will be for the $100 billion measure.   GAU will report on the progress of the bill and its impact on the laboratory industry.  A section by section analysis of the bill is available on the Senate Finance website.

CMS Delays EHR Meaningful Use Deadline

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extended the deadline for health care providers to comply with Stage 2 meaningful use requirements under its electronic health record (HER) initiative.   Currently hospitals, physicians, and other eligible providers receive ‘incentive’ payments from CMS if they convert to an EHR system and achieve certain quality indicators. 

In recent months, participants were concerned they could not meet the current deadline.  Providers and lawmakers lobbied CMS urging the agency to extend the Stage 2 deadline.  CMS has agreed, pushing back the Stage 2 deadline until 2016 and delaying the start of Stage 3 until 2017.

According to CMS the delay will result in a number of program benefits, such as:

  • Permitting more analysis of stakeholders Stage 2 progress and outcomes;
  • Making more data available on Stage 2 adoption and measure calculations; and
  • Allowing for more consideration of the potential Stage 3 requirements.

The agency expects to release proposed rulemaking for Stage 3 by the fall of 2014.  More details of the CMS meaningful use changes are available on the agency Blog.