Federal Government Opens and Debt Ceiling Deadline Avoided – Now What?

Late Wednesday night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reached a deal that would reopen the Federal Government and lift the debt ceiling, thereby avoiding the United States defaulting on its financial obligations for the first time in history. The Senate passed the legislation 81-18 followed by House passage by a vote of 285 – 144.

President Obama signed the measure into law after the bill’s passage, stating that, “We’ll begin reopening our government immediately, and we can begin to lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease from our businesses and from the American people.”

The agreement reached by Senators Reid and McConnell reopens the government and ensures that it remains open through January 15, lifts the debt ceiling through February 7, and requires a bicameral budget conference committee by December 13. While the agreement achieves the goals of reopening the government – which was in its third week of a partial shutdown – and prevents the government to default, it also sets up another round of contentious budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, which have the possibility of substantially affecting the home care industry.

Under the Senate deal, a conference will be created to negotiate a fiscal 2014 budget agreement, with directions to report a deal by December 13 to give Congress time to adopt a concurrent budget resolution setting out binding totals for broad categories of spending and revenues before the stopgap spending plan expires in mid-January.

Senator McConnell has indicated that Republicans will fight to maintain the sequestration spending cuts that are currently in effect. Unless the conferees can negotiate a broader budget package, the government is poised to again shutdown on January 15, and will once again risk default on February 7.

For the home care community, the deal means that there is no risk of Medicare or Medicaid payments being halted to providers and government agencies such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will fully reopen.

While the deal helps to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid continue to run unabated, there is potential for certain provisions that HCAF opposes – such as additional cuts to Medicare including home health and hospice payment cuts and copays  – to be back on the table during the December budget negotiations. Congress will also be struggling to find offsets for fixing the flawed Medicare physician payment formula before physician payment cuts kick in on January 1 of next year.

Stay tuned for more developments in the Congressional Budgetary Negotiation process.

Source: NAHC

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