Leave Sequester Extension Out Of Infrastructure Package

Inside Health Policy

July 16, 2021 11:01 am

Hospitals, doctors, hospices, home health agencies and others are asking Senate leadership in both parties not to extend Medicare sequestration to pay for some of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, but one lobbyist says there are a number of unanswered questions about how Medicare sequester cuts could factor into both the infrastructure bill and the Senate budget resolution deal announced earlier this week.

The American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, American Health Care Association, National Association for Home Care & Hospice, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and Association for Clinical Oncology asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a July 15 letter not to use Medicare cuts — through an extension of sequestration — to pay for the bipartisan infrastructure package.

Hospital groups had previously urged lawmakers to avoid using Medicare cuts to pay for non-Medicare projects last month when a document surfaced listing a sequester extension as an offset. But lawmakers continue to discuss how to pay for the infrastructure deal and reportedly are looking at changing some offsets, spurring health care providers to step up their lobbying to keep a sequester extension out of the package. Time is of the essence as Schumer has indicated he wants to move the infrastructure package as soon as this month.

AHA separately on Friday (July 16) also urged lawmakers not to take back COVID-19 provider relief funds to offset unrelated spending, and asked Congress to push HHS to release the rest of that funding.

On the sequester, the provider groups say they don’t believe Medicare funds should be used to pay for non-health care programs.

“Americans rely on hospitals and health systems, physicians, skilled nursing facilities, hospice and home care to care for them and maintain their health. We understand that addressing core infrastructure needs can allow us to continue to serve our communities and our patients,” the letter from the various provider groups about the sequester says.

“However, we are opposed to the use of an extension of mandatory Medicare sequestration as a pay-for in any infrastructure package. Additionally, we do not believe that Medicare funds should be used to pay for non-health care programs.”

The groups also say that extending sequestration adds a “destabilizing element to health care access” as experience has shown that Medicare pay bumps already don’t account for cost increases.

Lobbyists say that without infrastructure bill text, it’s not clear exactly how changes to sequestration cuts could play out in the infrastructure package, but the groups say the cuts should be taken off the list of possible pay-fors.

Schumer’s office did not respond to questions about the groups’ letter, or to questions on whether additional sequestration cuts coming down the pike due to the cost of the American Rescue Plan might be averted through either the infrastructure or budget resolution deals.

One lobbyist also said stakeholders will be watching to see how lawmakers handle the cost of the new packages, if they aren’t completely paid for, or whether any additional costs that could lead to more sequestration cuts might be kept from the so-called PAY-GO scorecard.

The lobbyist said those questions have all been asked, but nothing is clear at the moment.

Schumer has said the budget resolution deal could be fully paid for and such an option is “on the table.”

“One of the things that was presented in our caucus is that we could fully pay for the bill, that is one of the options on the table, that is doable,” Schumer said at a recent press conference.

The Medicare sequester is currently on hold until 2022.