U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today applauded Senate passage of S.2499, the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act. The legislation, that passed the Senate by unanimous consent, extends a variety of expiring federal health care benefits affecting Medicare physicians and seniors, Tennessee hospitals, and low income children.
“This bill ensures that doctors will continue to provide the full range of services to seniors who use Medicare,” said Alexander. “It also ensures the continuation of Tennessee’s successful CoverKids program and maintains payments to Tennessee hospitals that provide services to our neediest citizens. Congress should now focus on the goal of providing every American with access to affordable health insurance by adjusting the tax code so that every American can afford to buy health coverage.”
“This bill protects seniors’ access to health care by ensuring that physicians do not face drastic Medicare payment cuts, secures fair payments to Tennessee hospitals for uncompensated care, and maintains health insurance benefits for millions of needy children,” Corker said. “While passage of these temporary extensions and fixes was necessary, it highlights that our health care system is in desperate need of reform. In the New Year, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a way for all Americans to have access to affordable, private health care coverage.”
The legislation includes the following key provisions:
Medicare Physicians Reimbursement: The bill provides a 0.5 percent increase in the reimbursement for doctors treating Medicare patients, preventing a scheduled 10 percent cut for six months. Since 2003, Congress has acted to prevent scheduled Medicare reimbursement cuts to doctors in order to protect seniors’ access to health care providers.
Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) Payments for Tennessee Hospitals: This legislation extends Tennessee’s disproportionate share hospital payments (DSH) for six months, or until June 30, 2008. DSH payments help compensate hospitals – like UT Medical Center, Erlanger Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The Med) – that treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients. Tennessee and Hawaii are the only two states that do not have permanent DSH allotments. These DSH payments will be retroactive to October 1, 2007. In total, the bill allocates approximately $63 million to help Tennessee hospitals cover uncompensated care.
SCHIP Extension: The bill extends the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) through March 31, 2009 and also grants $800 million to ensure states can maintain their current enrollment. Begun ten years ago, SCHIP offers coverage for children in low-income families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but can’t afford private insurance. In April, Tennessee began providing health care to the state’s low-income, uninsured children through the CoverKids program. This program is available for free to children under the age of 19 who are living with families with incomes under 250 percent of the federal poverty level. To date, there are over 16,000 children enrolled in the program statewide.