U.S. House passes hospital bill

When Congress last year passed the Bipartisan Budget Act, it sought to level the playing field between different kinds of doctors’ offices.

Medicare reimbursement rates for those that are hospital-owned were cut to make them equal to others. The change infuriated hospitals who were in the middle of building outpatient offices on the premise that they would be reimbursed at a higher rate. The rationale for the higher reimbursements is because hospitals are open longer and incur additional expenses.

“The policy change became effective immediately and affected every single hospital that was mid-build,” said Columbus-area Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Twp.

The economics that had spurred them to build the outpatient facilities vanished. Many were stuck with a hole in the ground, a partially finished clinic and a worry that their business model would fail.

“We changed the rules in the middle of the game, which is unfair,” he said.

So Tiberi, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on Health, introduced a bill that would allow such mid-build construction sites to be reimbursed at the previous rate. The bill passed the House Tuesday.

Among those affected are the Nelsonville Health Center, scheduled to open in October 2016 and the Lewis Center Emergency Department, Urgent Care and Ancillary Center, which will begin opening in November 2016.

The bill also reverses a change in the Bipartisan Budget Act that altered the reimbursement criteria for cancer centers. Under Medicare, hospitals that meet certain criteria are designated dedicated cancer centers, and they fall under a specific rate. The Bipartisan Budget Act unwittingly changed that. “All we’re doing is changing the law back to the way it was,” he said.

The bill would also adjust the Medicare Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program to avoid penalizing hospitals whose patients are disproportionately likely to return to the hospital because of socio-economic factors and provide relief for hospitals that were building off-campus outpatient centers when the new policies were enacted. That measure was pushed by Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth.