Congress Approves New Funding That Will Affect Cancer Care in 2016

Leah Ralph
Director of Health Policy, ACCC

Congress closed out 2015 with a bang, passing a number of large, end-of-year spending bills to keep the government funded through 2016, as well as several provisions that will impact cancer care. Before the end of 2015, President Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (HR 2029) and the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (S 2425) into law.

HR 2029 boosted the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s funding by 6.6% to $32.1 billion, the largest increase that the NIH has seen in 12 years. A separate package of Medicare provisions, S 2425, passed just before Congress adjourned for the year. This legislation created a blanket hardship exemption for meaningful use penalties in 2015, making it easier for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to review and process hardship exemption requests.

To apply for an exemption, physicians must apply by March 15, 2016, and hospitals by April 1, 2016.

In addition, the Medicare bill froze payment rates to freestanding radiation therapy centers at 2016 levels for calendar years 2017 and 2018. Congress also considered an exemption for off-campus outpatient facilities that were “under construction” as of November 2, 2015, when an earlier law passed (the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015), which reduced Medicare payments to newly built or acquired hospital outpatient departments. Although this provision ultimately did not pass, Congress is expected to take this issue up again in the spring.

As attention shifts toward elections in 2016, with divergent views on the future course of the nation’s healthcare policies, we are sure to see even more movement on policies that will impact the provision of quality cancer care. Make your New Year’s resolution today to join us for the Association of Community Cancer Centers’ Capitol Hill Day on March 2, 2016. Learn more and register at www.accc-cancer.org/meetings/AM2016-HillDay.asp.

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