Congress Finalizes Funding Deal in Wee Hours of February 9

With another looming deadline, the U.S. House and the Senate took action this week in an effort to avert yet another government shutdown and extend funding for several vital healthcare programs whose futures hang in the balance.

On February 6, the House passed a stop-gap measure that would fund the government through March 23. Included in the bill is two additional years of funding for the Community Health Center Fund, National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Centers program.

Then, the Senate announced its own bipartisan deal, brokered between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, that would fund the government for two years. The deal would raise defense and non-defense spending caps over two years, increase the debt ceiling until March 2019, extend the Children's Health Insurance Program funding for an additional four years on top of the six-year extension Congress approved in January, fund the Health Centers program for two more years, and provide $6 billion to fight the opioid epidemic.

While the House stalled on taking any action due to opposition from Democrats on immigration reform as well as from Republican budget hawks concerned about deficits—and the Senate faced their own challenges—the government shut down briefly at 12 a.m. on February 9. Shortly thereafter, the Senate voted on a budget deal that funds the government until March 23 and includes the provisions outlined above, much to the excitement of the healthcare community. In fact, the budget deal is being touted as "the most significant healthcare legislation written since the 21st Century Cures Act."

According to Modern Healthcare, the package includes a provision that hastens the closure of Medicare coverage gap for Part D drug costs for seniors—the so-called donut hole—as well as a measure to slow the roll-out of the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). It would also repeal the Independent Physician Advisory Board, which was tasked under the Affordable Care Act with finding more savings in Medicare and was largely unpopular among many groups, including American Academy of Family Physicians and American Medical Association. READ MORE.

The bill ultimately passed the House in the wee hours of February 9, and President Trump signed the measure into law just a few hours later.