Provisions in $1.7 trillion omnibus: What patients should know
In enacting a 4,000-plus page spending package at the end of 2022, Washington politicians failed to completely stop Medicare physician funding cuts, which could lead to serious access of care issues for America's Medicare patients.
These cuts to physician Medicare payments come at a time when physician practices are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and have left many Medicare recipients struggling to access the care they need.
Nevertheless, the $1.7 trillion bill signed by the President does include a number of important provisions that patients should know about.
A few highlights to note:
- Telehealth payment and regulatory flexibilities are extended for two years.
- The Medicare Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver is also extended for two years.
- The legislation added a permanent option for states to provide Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum.
- Funding for 200 more graduate medical education positions, with emphasis on easing shortages in psychiatry and subspecialties, was added—a small, but essential step to address physician shortages.
- Medicare Part B coverage was expanded to include compression garments to treat lymphedema.
- The bill includes the "MAT Act" to permanently repeal X-waiver requirements for the prescribing of buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder as well as the "NOPAIN Act," which directs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to provide separate payment for nonopioid treatments used to manage pain in the hospital outpatient departments and ambulatory surgery center settings. (learn more about what's at stake in ending the overdose epidemic).
- A new "Public Health Prevents Pandemics Act" to boost pandemic preparedness.
So, while it's important to acknowledge some positive reforms legislators on both sides of the political aisle worked together to bring about, the big takeaway is that Congress wound up punting on one of their biggest "to-do" items for 2022: fix the still broken Medicare physician funding formula. Congress' failure is made worse by moving away from the precedent set in 2021 of providing physicians relief from budget-neutrality cuts.
Because of this, Congress has an increased responsibility to make important reforms to the Medicare physician payment system to ensure regular updates that reflect increases in the cost of providing care, like those included in payment systems for all other Medicare providers.
This year, the AMA will continue challenging Congress to work on systemic reforms and make Medicare work better for physicians and their patients.
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