Congress Passes Stopgap Spending Bill to Avert Govt. Shutdown
Late Thursday evening, Members of Congress passed a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown before the federal funding deadline on Friday (Dec. 22nd). The new continuing resolution (CR) funds the government through January 19th and provides short-term funding extensions for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers. A number of questions regarding the long-term future of key health care issues will likely not be decided until January.
CHIP: Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired three months ago and lawmakers are feeling the pressure from states to quickly extend the program that provides health insurance to 9 million children. While advocates had hoped that any continuing resolution would include a 5-year extension for CHIP, the newly-passed CR will only fund the program through March 31st with $2.85 billion. It also gives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) more latitude to use redistribution funds to help states deal with CHIP funding shortfalls.
Community Health Centers and Medicare Extenders: Community Health Centers’ federal funding expired with CHIP earlier this year. The CR would fund community health centers through March 31st with $550 million largely by cutting the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Prevention and Public Health Fund by $750 million. Surprisingly, the bill does not include any Medicare extenders, which are provisions of Medicare that have to be renewed by Congress regularly.
Disaster Relief: The House passed a disaster relief spending package intended to be passed alongside the CR. However, the Senate did not immediately take up the measure due to objections from Democrats. The $81 billion package includes $20 million for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support behavioral health treatment, crisis counseling, and other related activities. The details of what programs would receive this additional funding are not yet clear.
Marketplace Stabilization Legislation: On Wednesday, lawmakers scrapped plans to consider a pair of bipartisan measures, known as the Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson bills, to shore up the ACA health insurance exchanges as part of the CR. Lawmakers decided not to move forward with these proposals after it became clear that House Republicans would not support the measures without adding in abortion restrictions.
Waiver of “PAYGO” Rules: Lawmakers avoided $136 billion in automatic sequester cuts that the recently-passed tax bill would have triggered under Congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules, also known as PAYGO. The sequester cuts would have impacted Medicare, Social Security and other major federal programs.
Overall, this continuing resolution postpones most major funding decisions for FY 2018 into January, when Members of Congress are expected to create a broader omnibus spending package. Some members of Congress hope the aforementioned marketplace stabilization bills will also be considered in January.