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D.C. Report: Short-Term Funding, ACA Rulings, MU Tools

March 7, 2011
by Sharon Canner
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Short-term Funding Measure Passed. Following House action, the Senate passed a two-week continuing resolution (CR) on Wednesday preventing a government shutdown. The CR with $4 billion in cuts expires March 18, providing time for House and Senate negotiators to tackle a longer agreement to cover the remaining months of the fiscal year. Health programs took a big hit in the CR, including $397 million cut from the Health Resources and Services Administration; $21 million from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Children and Families Services program; $6 million from the Administration on Aging; $3 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS’) program management; and $1 million from the Child Care Development Block Grant. The total $466 million in cuts to (Health and Human services (HHS) do not block funds for the implementation of the federal health reform law or eliminate Title X family planning funding. Health IT funds are not included in this CR.

Negotiations now focus on a compromise bill for the remaining six and a half months of the fiscal year. The longer the process over short-term funding continues, the smaller the pot of unspent moneys, thereby thwarting deficit-cutting efforts. At the same time, the FY’2012 budget represents the biggest prize for reductions. The Administration has dispatched White House Chief of Staff William Daley and Budget Director Jacob Lew to join House and Senate Democrats to hammer out a longer-term agreement.

ACA Rulings Continue. To date, five trial courts have ruled on the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the Accountable Care Act (ACA) and three have found it be constitutional. The most recent includes last week’s decision from U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Kessler ruled that the Congress was in keeping with the Commerce Clause when enacting the individual mandate. On the other side of the issue, Florida Judge Roger Vinson halted his January 31 decision on the unconstitutionality of the individual mandate as well as on the entire law. He was responding to a request to clarify his earlier decision and grant a “stay” (temporary halt to the decision). Granting a stay, he indicated, was based on the defendant’s (Obama Administration) filling an appeal within seven calendar days and seeking expedited appellate review either in the Court of Appeals or within the Supreme Court. The Administration is unlikely to appeal to the Supreme Court for a decision, delaying further action as long as possible and permitting implementation to unfold as a way to build public support for the ACA. Last November in a joint amici brief, the AHA and other hospital groups asked the court to rule in favor of the federal government.

MU Tools: Quick Reference Grids to Navigating the Meaningful Use and Standards and Certification Criteria Final Rules. Among the tools available to assist providers with the EHR Incentive Program, ONC produces an official blog— Health IT Buzz—with input from staff, providers and others involved with program. In a February 24th blog, Federal Policy Division Director Steven Posnack discussed shortcuts to navigating the MU Standards and Certification final rules. As described in this blog, “the grids capture, in one place, the meaningful use objectives, measures, and exclusions, and the correlated certification criteria and standards. They also reference the relevant preamble page ranges associated with each requirement from both of the respective rules.” For the complete text, click here.