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House, Senate spar over a delay to ACA; shutdown looms

September 30, 2013
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Party lines played out in the Senate this afternoon, as a proposed amendment to bolster government funding by delaying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was voted down 54-46. The amendment, passed by the House during a rare weekend session, was based on a GOP-led proposal to delay the implementation of the ACA by one year and repeal the medical device tax as a way to avoid government shutdown.

The Republican-led House had voted late Saturday to approve the idea, 231-192, primarily along party lines. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had vowed to kill the bill if it reached the Senate floor.

Prior to the House vote, the White House issued a veto threat, reiterating that President Obama would not sign any bill that would delay the ACA. “The only way we can do that is for everybody to sit down in good faith and without threatening to harm,” Obama said in a briefing today. “There can be no meaningful negotiations under a cloud of default.”

As rumors swirl about a potential government shutdown on Oct. 1, seniors should be aware that Social Security checks and Medicare payments are not involved in the current government shutdown risks, since these programs are not funded by the annual congressional appropriations at issue this week, noted the watchdog site The Hill.

Although a government shutdown could result in furlough of many agency workers, it won’t stop the healthcare insurance marketplaces, scheduled to roll out Oct. 1. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) “would continue large portions of ACA activities, including coordination between Medicaid and the Marketplace, as well as insurance rate reviews, and assessment of a portion of insurance premiums that are used on medical services,” noted a CMS memo outlining its contingency plans during a shutdown. “In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations.”

However, several key programs would be placed on hold if a government shutdown took place, the CMS memo stated:

  • CMS will be unable to fund fraud strike forces and would cut back on the number of surveys and recertifications due to reduced workforces.
  • The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will stop work on the Standards and Interoperability Framework and on policy development.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will not be able to fund its annual influenza program, including its national infection surveillance functions.