February 13, 2018 05:41 pm News Staff – The Bipartisan Budget Act that was signed into law on Feb. 9 didn't just carry the federal government past a series of stopgap funding measures, it enacted support for many AAFP priorities that will help family physicians and the nearly 200 million patients they care for.
AAFP President Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan., praised specific elements of the budget that support essential primary care initiatives.
"Passage of the budget agreement ensures patients will have access to care regardless of where they live, and offers a reprieve for vital programs on which the foundation of our health care system is built," Munger said in a statement on the eve of the budget's passage into law.
The final bill addressed access to care for vulnerable populations, including children -- one of the major concerns of the AAFP and other primary care groups -- by extending funding of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through 2027.
In addition, funding for the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program was extended for two years and doubled to $126.5 million annually.
"While the AAFP has called for much longer funding -- and preferably permanent funding -- for teaching health centers, we are pleased that the program will be extended and funded," Munger said, though he pointed out that the vast majorities of family medicine residencies in THCGME programs last three years.
The budget allocates $3.8 billion for community health centers in 2018 and $4 billion in 2019, and $310 over two years for the National Health Service Corps. Legislators also approved new funding worth $6 billion to address the opioid crisis and mental health needs, $4 billion to rebuild Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities and $2 billion for NIH research.
In a boost for rural physicians, the legislation maintains Medicare's current Geographic Practice Cost Index (GPCI) for two years, preventing a cut in physician fees in areas where labor costs differ from the national average.
"The resolution's greatest impact includes increased inpatient payment for low-volume -- and often rural -- hospitals, the extension of the Medicare-Dependent Hospital program that supports rural facilities that care for a large number of elderly patients, and the extension of the GPCI that ensures rural physicians can continue to provide care to their patients," Munger said.
The legislation includes some relief of the administrative burden that physicians face, notably the elimination of a requirement for meaningful use standards to become more stringent over time.
The budget also will end a provision that allowed Medicare savings to be used for other legislative priorities.