Review of the Last Quarter of the 116th Congress
The House and Senate worked through many ASCA priorities this session
BY STEVE SELDE | JANUARY 2021
Editor's note: This article complements the two-part “Review of the 116th Congress” article published in the November-December 2020 and January 2021 issues of ASC Focus. From September 2020 onward, ASCA’s advocacy efforts continued to be primarily focused on pandemic-related issues. Similarly, most newsworthy considerations and activity in Congress involved the pandemic.
Activity Leading Up to the Final Bill of the Year and Congress
With many members of Congress curtailing their in-person events and meetings during the pandemic and many ASCs operating under tight new safety constraints, ASCA created a virtual tour program so that members could maintain contact with their federal representatives. ASCA’s virtual tour program was in full swing by August 2020, and Kirsten Anderson, ASCAPAC Board member and administrator at Parkway Surgery Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, held the first virtual tour. She tells more about that experience and the ways ASCA staff make it easier for administrators and staff in an episode of the Advancing Surgical Care Podcast.
Traditionally, members of Congress return home during the month of August to meet with constituents and work in their state and district, and last year was no different. When Congress returned in September 2020, work began on H.R. 8337, the legislation that funded the government through December 11, 2020, and made changes to the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) revised the repayment terms and made them more accommodating to healthcare providers through the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency by decreasing the interest rate for the loans, reducing the recoupment percentage, and extending the period before the loan repayment begins and the period before the balance must be repaid.
Congress was out for most of October 2020 in the lead up to the elections on November 3, 2020. When Congress returned, ASCA’s advocacy efforts kicked into a higher gear as deliberations on another coronavirus relief package restarted.
In mid-November, ASCA joined the Advanced Medical Technology Association of Washington, DC, and Medical Device Manufacturers Association of Washington, DC, in sending a letter urging Congress to eliminate the copay penalty that Medicare beneficiaries face when they receive certain procedures in ASCs. Like other Medicare Part B services, a beneficiary’s copayment for ASC procedures is 20 percent of the procedure cost. For services provided in hospital outpatient departments (HOPD), however, a beneficiary’s copay is capped at the Part A deductible amount, which, for 2020, was $1,408. This penalizes beneficiaries when they receive high-cost procedures in an ASC, limiting their access to care.
Additionally, access issues have been heightened during the pandemic, as hospitals in communities across the country have limited the performance of nonurgent procedures. For example, the Powder River Surgery Center in Gillette, Wyoming, was tapped by its partner hospital to treat patients because the community’s number of COVID-19 patients continues to grow and consume hospital space for other non-COVID-19 patients.