On the eve of the holiday season, Congress ended one of the most contentious congressional sessions in recent memory on a particularly non-jolly note.
We’ll leave the editorializing and punditry regarding the payroll tax holiday to the TV talking heads and tell you what all this means for our key issues, the Children's Hospital Graduate Medical Education (CHGME) program and Medicaid.
Medicaid is not in any immediate danger on the federal level. As we mentioned in the previous post, Medicaid can – and likely will – be cut on the state level when legislatures reconvene early next year. Some states, such as Florida, are already proposing massive cuts to their Medicaid programs. As more governors put out their proposed budgets, we’ll learn where the main battles lie, and will update you on ways you can help in your state.
Congress will also adjourn without reauthorizing the CHGME program. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is holding the bill back from passage as he hopes to make certain children's psychiatric hospitals eligible for the funding. While this is a snag that will have to be addressed in 2012, the news is not all bad. The President has signed an "omnibus" bill, which will cover spending on all government programs. (The word omnibus is derived from Latin meaning “for everything;” if Congress can’t reach agreement on individual spending items, they pass an omnibus to keep spending levels for all programs at the previous year’s levels.) Thus, even though CHGME hasn’t been reauthorized, it will still be funded at this year’s level of $268.4 million (minus a tiny 1/5 of 1% budget cut being applied to health programs in the omnibus.) That might not be the case in 2012 if the program is not reauthorized.
While the U.S. House may be playing politics with the payroll tax, no one is using CHGME as a political football; it’s simply a matter of crafting legislation that is acceptable to all members of Congress. The House passed their version of the bill by a unanimous vote. In 2012, we will once again urge the Senate to pass the measure and ensure that CHGME – which trains 40 percent of all pediatricians and 43 percent of all specialists – is reauthorized for five more years. Until then, we wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.