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By MATTHEW HAY
HHBR Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON Congress broke for its August recess last week and won’t be back until after Labor Day. When it returns, home care representatives will make their final push for a rollback of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) that made deep cuts in home care reimbursement. But despite the major progress made on Capitol Hill this year, the industry is certain to face a brutal fight in securing that relief.
A raft of home care reform bills have been introduced in the House and Senate, and the home care industry now has a number of key allies in both arms. But just before it recessed, Congress passed a $792 billion tax cut. Even though President Clinton has vowed to veto that bill, his opening bid of a $300 billion tax cut means the fight for surplus dollars is going to be hard fought.
The Clinton Administration’s Medicare proposal only offered up $7.5 billion over 10 years to restore funding stripped by the BBA. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and several of his Democratic colleagues recently introduced a motion to boost that number to $20 over 10 years. But even that motion, which failed, would have included teaching and rural hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and home health providers. "Some restoration is likely," predicted one Senate Finance Committee staffer. "But the competition for that money is going to be fierce."
Many skilled nursing facilities are in desperate financial condition, and that industry has already launched a paid media campaign urging restoration of funds stripped by the BBA. The American Hospital Association is also waging an intensive lobbying effort aimed at recouping funds lost in the BBA.
The Senate Finance Committee is expected to fashion a Medicare reform bill that includes restoration of some BBA funds this fall. A House Ways and Means aide told HHBR last week that that committee is also considering a so-called BBA-fixings bill. The five national home care associations are planning a major effort when Congress returns that will culminate in a mid-September home care rally in Washington.