By an overwhelming majority, the House passes a Medicare reform bill that would also boost funding for rural school districts, extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program and provide more money for a children’s welfare home-visiting program.
The bill, HR 2, passed on a 392-37 vote and would replace Medicare’s cost-containment formula for physician payments in place since 1997. The so-called ‘doc-fix’ fill is in response to warnings that physicians might stop taking Medicare patients if the formula was not amended. Along with the “doc fix,” the House bill extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and for community health centers for two years, with funds for both programs set to expire in September. CHIP currently covers 8 million middle- and low-income children, and community health centers serve 22.7 million patients, according HHS.
Childhood Home Visiting
The bill would provide an additional $800 million for the HHS Maternal, Infant, and Early-Childhood Home Visiting Program, known as MIECHV (CFDA Number: 93.505). These grants help state child welfare agencies improve home visiting programs for pregnant women and families with young children aged birth to kindergarten. Applicants must provide comprehensive services to improve outcomes for families who reside in at-risk communities. Priority goes to programs that address the needs of pregnant women who are 20 years old or younger and families that have a history of child abuse or neglect or have had interactions with child welfare services; (most recent NOFA).
The bill would also extend the Secure Rural Schools Act for two years, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars to rural counties to provide consistent support for more than 4,400 schools located near national forest areas. Funding for the law, which was established in 2000 and expired in 2006, has received multiple extensions, typically to unrelated bills.
This year, the SRS, administered through USDA’s Forest Service, is scheduled to pay about $50 million to 41 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support local schools and roads under the Twenty-Five Percent Fund Act of 1908. The $50 million is well short of the $300 million available for the entire SRS program last year. The payments were mandated at the lower level because the appropriating authority, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, expired on Sept. 30, 2014. The Obama administration has supported a five-year reauthorization of the program to transition payments to counties in the FY 2015 president’s budget. However, it has not been reauthorized.
The. Senate plans to take up the measure after Congress returns from its two-week recess the week of April 13, and Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said he expects it to pass in a similar bipartisan fashion.