The Senate passes and sends to President Obama a Medicare reform bill that would also boost funding for rural school districts, extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years and provide more money for a children’s welfare home-visiting program.
The bill, HR 2, passed on a 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by an overwhelming vote of 392 to 37. The bill, drafted in the House in negotiations between Speaker John Boehner (OH) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, (CA) the Democratic leader, also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two years, through 2017. It 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, setting aside $5.6 billion, 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. New spending would total $211 billion over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office estimated.
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.
Advocates applauded the measure.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the vote a big win.
“Thanks to this funding extension, more than 8 million low-income children will retain access to affordable, high-quality health care, which means they are more likely to do better in school and grow up to be healthy, productive adults,” Pollack said.
The bill would also extend the Secure Rural Schools Act for two years at current funding levels of $300 million. The program provides aid 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.
New congressional approval was needed 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.