House punts sequester relief, telehealth reform in short-term spending bill

House appropriators bypassed addressing major health priorities on telehealth and sequester relief in a short-term spending bill introduced Monday that funds the federal government through March 11.

The House Appropriations Committee released legislation Monday for the short-term continuing resolution to avert a government shutdown by Feb. 18. Health groups have been pressing for additional relief from a 2% cut to Medicare payments expected to go back into effect this summer.

But the short-term spending bill will give congressional negotiators more time to work on a larger omnibus package.

“We are close to reaching a framework government funding agreement, but we will need additional time to complete the legislation in full,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, in a statement Monday.

The legislation does extend the enhanced federal matching rate for Medicaid funding for certain territories through March 11.

However, it does not include any policies that provider groups have been lobbying for, as groups have another month to make their case to lawmakers.

Several hospital groups are hoping to get relief from a 2% cut to Medicare payments made under sequestration. The payment cuts were suspended by Congress in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic to help providers facing massive revenue shortfalls.

Congress reached a deal late last year to keep the 2% moratorium through April, when it then declines to 1% through June and then resumes the full cut after that month.

But hospital groups say that the landscape has dramatically changed since that deal was made in early December, as the omicron-fueled surge of the virus and crippling labor shortages has caused massive strain on facility finances. Groups are hoping to use the must-pass spending bill as a vehicle for policy changes.

Some groups, such as the American Hospital Association, want the 2% moratorium to be extended through the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, which was extended into April by the Biden administration and could be extended again.

Other groups have wanted key flexibilities for telehealth use to be made permanent for another year or two to give the federal government more time to study the use of telehealth. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services removed many barriers to Medicare reimbursement for telehealth, but those flexibilities go away after the public health emergency ends.