Providers slam House for not delaying nearly 10% Medicare payment cuts in must-pass spending deal

Major provider groups were livid that a continuing resolution to fund the federal government also doesn’t stave off nearly 10% in cuts to Medicare payments set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

The Federation of American Hospitals and American Medical Association were upset that legislative language to fund the government through Feb. 18 does not delay cuts from several sources including the Sequester and PAYGO law. Other providers have been lobbying Congress fervently on the cuts.

“These cuts are unsustainable during normal times, and they are reckless during a public health emergency,” said Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association in a statement Thursday. “The result of congressional inaction is that Medicare patients are certain to experience reduced access to care.”

The Federation of American Hospitals also warned that facilities are facing a “critical and growing workforce crisis” that the cuts would exacerbate, said President and CEO Chip Kahn.

The Surgical Care Coalition, a collection of 13 surgical professional organizations, slammed Congress for not taking action. 

"Instead of supporting health care providers, Congress chose to slash Medicare payments and harm the ability of providers to care for our nation’s most vulnerable," said American College of Surgeons Executive Director David Hoyt, M.D.

Providers are facing a 4% cut to Medicare payments under the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) spending law, which triggers cuts to government programs if spending reaches a certain threshold. The American Rescue Plan Act triggered that threshold earlier this year.

In addition, pay bumps given to providers to help deal with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are going away.

Physicians are facing a 3.75% cut their Medicare payments on Jan. 1. Congress last year also placed a moratorium on a 2% cut to Medicare payments created under sequestration but that moratorium will now expire after Dec. 31.

RELATED: Physician groups warn nearly 10% in Medicare cuts could stall shift to value-based care, force staff cuts

Extenders such as these are usually considered as part of an end-of-the-year spending package, but the initial language released by the House Appropriations Committee doesn’t include any delays. Congress is also considering the Build Back Better Act that includes expansions to several healthcare programs but does not touch the cuts.

AMA was concerned that “there are few viable legislative vehicles available for the remainder of this year, and none of them address this looming threat facing physicians and their patients.”

Providers say that the relief extended is still needed because they are still facing the financial effects of the pandemic, including a massive labor shortage.

“Congress needs to stop these Medicare cuts from going into effect because they would be hitting at the worst possible time,” Mary Naylor, senior associate director of federal relations for the American Hospital Association, told Fierce Healthcare in an interview before the release of the language. “Obviously the pandemic is still ongoing and there are a lot of financial pressures on hospitals.”

The AHA estimates that the cuts will result in more than $14 billion in reductions to hospitals.

Naylor said that there are other avenues Congress can take to stop the cuts besides the continuing resolution, but AHA would support it going into the spending deal.

The House could vote on the continuing resolution Thursday and then it will head to the Senate, which must consider the legislation before Friday at midnight to avoid a government shutdown. The language to the bill could change before its final passage, underscoring the fervent lobbying from the provider groups.