Virus Plan May Lift Medicare Spending Limits to Aid Providers

Laura Davison, Alexander Ruoff and Shira Stein
·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- The massive fiscal stimulus plan Senate Republicans are rushing to finish Thursday would lift spending restrictions on Medicare payments this year, a lifeline to health-care providers who say they’re losing $1 million a day, according to a draft of the legislation’s health provisions obtained by Bloomberg News.

Those cuts in payments to hospitals and doctors, known as sequestration, slashed more than $15 billion from Medicare payments, just in fiscal year 2020.

Ending sequestration was among the top requests made by hospital groups, who argue the coronavirus outbreak is draining resources.

The legislation proposes that Medicare give hospitals an added payment for caring for coronavirus patients that amounts to a 15% bonus.

The legislation would also give drug companies an incentive to create new therapies and vaccines by ensuring that they have a market for their products.

The measure would require that any new medical products quickly receive a code so that physicians can bill Medicare and Medicaid for the use of those technologies. It also would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to promptly decide if the therapies will be covered nationally by Medicare. Typically, private insurers will cover medical products if Medicare does.

The proposal would allow increasing tele-health services for Medicare patients at certain health centers and rural clinics during the emergency. This bill would let patients with high-deductible heath plans use tele-health services without paying their deductible.

It would waive a requirement for face-to-face visits between dialysis patients and doctors, and it would allow other types of clinicians like nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to provide some Medicare home-care services.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is working on another portion of the bill aimed at helping hospitals and public health organizations and, lobbyists say, could contain measures aimed at combating “surprise” medical bills. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the full proposal, which will also include economic stimulus for businesses and households, could come as soon as Thursday evening.

(Updates with more bill details starting in the fifth paragraph.)

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