Long-term care providers dodge bullets in fiscal cliff deal, but CLASS (Act) is out

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LeadingAge leaders Larry Minnix (left) and David Gehm in 2012
LeadingAge leaders Larry Minnix (left) and David Gehm in 2012

Long-term operators are cheering that Congress averted cutting Medicare payments through sequestration this week, and they're glad that another one-year postponement of physician pay cuts didn't come at their expense.

They also have reason to smile about the extension of the Medicare Part B therapy caps extension process and that Congress did not act to lower the ceiling on allowable bed taxes, or “provider assessments.” But they remained uneasy Tuesday because some of the issues could be up for renegotiation again as soon as next month, when new debt-ceiling legislation might be introduced.

"We are grateful that the House and Senate steered away from cuts to Medicare through the sequester,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. “As we've shown throughout these negotiations, the long term and post-acute sectors stand at the brink of our own cliff, already reeling from deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare throughout 2012.”

Larry Minnix, president and CEO of the nonprofit providers comprising LeadingAge, also expressed gratitude.

“We are pleased that the fiscal cliff deal stabilizes the economic lives of the vast majority of the people and families our 6,000 members serve. It prevented further cuts in benefits and payment for services,” Minnix said. “The bill has its priorities straight.”

Minnix also hailed the bill for forming a commission to examine future needs for funding long-term care services and supports, especially in light of the CLASS Act being repealed in the compromise deal. Minnix has been one of the most vocal supporters of the CLASS (Community Living Assistance Services and Supports) Act.

“Hopefully, the new commission will recommend a better way to fund this family need and the overburdened Medicaid program,” he said in a statement. “If not CLASS, which was repealed in the bill, then what? This public problem must be solved.”

The 15-member commission, which is not tied to a federal agency, will attempt to take most stakeholders' interests into consideration. Positions on the panel must be filled within a month; it will submit a proposal to Congress and the White House no longer than six months afterward. Congress is not bound to vote on any of the group's recommendations.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Directors Association on Tuesday praised the compromise deal for freezing Medicare physician payments for a year. They had been threatened with a 26.5% cut. But leaders and members are still concerned about renewed threats of a 2% cut later this year, and the prospect of the 26.5% reduction reappearing again by this time next year, said AMDA President Matt Wayne, M.D.

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