Fiscal Year 2020 Appropriations Become Law
During the final legislative week of December 2019, Congress passed and the President signed into law, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 HHS Appropriations bill. Congress appropriated the State Offices of Rural Health (SORH) Grant Program $12,500,000 for Fiscal Year 2020. The amount is an increase of $2.5 million for the SORH line over FY 19. The $12,500,000 for SORH was authorized to be appropriated through the State Offices of Rural Health Reauthorization Act of 2018 which was signed into law.
Also included in the spending bill was $53,609,000 for Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program and $19,942,000 for the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program (SHIP) for FY 2020. Congress funded both programs at the same amount in FY 2019. Also included in the Health Resources and Services Administration rural health account was $110,000,000 in funding for the Rural Communities Opioids Response Program.
At a broader level, the spending deal extended a number of health programs through May 22, 2020. This May deadline is intended to create pressure for a Memorial day deal for health care items such as prescription drug pricing and surprise billing and potentially rural health care, with surprise billing being the most likely to pass.
Rural Health Bill Introduced
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) introduced legislation to re-open the Critical Access Hospital necessary provider program. The Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act (S. 3103/H.R. 5481) would allow the HHS Secretary to waive the current requirement that CAHs be located at least 35 miles from another hospital as long as they meet specific criteria, including: (1) being located in a rural area: (2) demonstrating two consecutive years of financial loses; and (3) serving a patient population with a high percentage of Medicare recipients, a population with a high percentage of individuals below 150% of the federal poverty level, or being located in a federally-designated health professional shortage are.
The legislation could potentially be included in the Senate Finance Committee’s expected rural health package that may be introduced later this year.
House Committee Meets on Rural Health Measures
On January 8, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing to discuss the advancement of a number of health care-related bills. Among the legislative measures considered by the committee were:
- H.R. 2271: The Sudden Unexpected Death Act (SUID) sponsored by Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) authorizes grants to HRSA and CDC for SUID research and educational programs.
- H.R. 4801: The Healthy Start Reauthorization Act would reauthorize the Healthy Start program which is administered by HHS and HRSA and aimed at reducing infant mortality.
- H.R. 2477: Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification Act
- H.R. 5534: Comprehensive Immunosuppressive Drug Coverage for Kidney Transplant Act sponsored by Ron Kind (D-WI). The bill would permanently remove the 36-month limit for Medicare coverage of immunosuppressive drugs post-kidney transplant.
- H.R. 3955: Protecting Patients Transportation to Care Act would amend the current statute to require state Medicaid programs to cover non-emergency medical transportation.
The bills could be considered by the full House in the coming weeks and months.