Billions at stake, providers push Congress to hold off funding cutbacks

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Provider advocates around the country Wednesday pressed lawmakers for help with planned funding cutbacks. Most urgent on their priority list is extending the therapy caps exceptions process, as well as softening a planned reduction in allowable "bed tax" ceilings.

The Medicare Part B therapy caps exceptions process, which benefits a huge number of nursing home residents, is set to expire at the end of the month. The process allows certain beneficiaries to receive therapy beyond the $1,740 cap for speech and physical therapy, as well as the $1,740 limit for occupational therapy.

Legislation created in the Senate would extend the exceptions process by a year. It also would reduce the scheduled halving of the allowable bed tax rate, a reduction that is set to go into effect at any time. Under the unnamed bill, today's 6% limit would drop to 5.5% through 2011, when it would climb back to 6% again. The current administration plan wants to cut the ceiling rate to 3%, a move that would cost the nursing home profession more than $1 billion in reimbursement, advocates say.

With the House set to adjourn at any time and the Senate hustling to finish "lame duck" session work, however, both side of the political aisle say prospects are grim for most legislative proposals. Provider advocates, however, have expressed confidence that a therapy cap exceptions process with be re-instituted when Congress reconvenes and be made valid retroactive to Jan. 1.