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Lew: four more months until debt ceiling deadlock

May 17, 2013

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The nation will get a fourmonth reprieve from a congressional battle over the federal debt ceiling. In a May 10 interview with CNBC, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said the government has until September to reach its borrowing limit.

Congress in January suspended the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt limit through tomorrow, May 18. But higher tax revenues, lower spending and a potential inflow of money from the recovery of the taxpayer-owned mortgage finance companies has given Treasury room to use “extraordinary
measures” to avoid reaching the debt limit until at least early September, Lew said. “We can predict that we will be okay until Labor Day,” he said.

That gives Congress a few more months to come up with an agreement to stave off default, although it doesn’t mean lawmakers will come any closer to an agreement in September than they are now.

Republican lawmakers had sought to use the debt-limit issue to engage Democrats and the White House this summer in a
broader budget agreement that could place another round of Medicare and Medicaid payment reductions to providers on the table. Now, the budget debate seems certain to extend into the fall, when Congress will face another multi-pronged crisis that pairs the need for a higher debt limit and the fresh risk of default with the threat of a full-scale government shutdown, which is also looming at the start of the next federal fiscal year, Oct. 1.

With that budget debate increasingly likely to take place this fall, the AHA plans to hold an Advocacy Day briefing for hospital leaders in September.

After attending the briefing, hospital leaders will take their concerns about the potential for fresh payment cuts for hospitals services directly to their lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Stay tuned for details on the event.

The AHA’s recent annual membership meeting helped to lay the groundwork for this year’s national hospital advocacy agenda. For the highlights of the annual meeting, click on: http://tinyurl.com/a5v38x6.

At the meeting, hospital leaders delivered three key advocacy messages to Congress: reject arbitrary Medicare and Medicaid payment cuts for hospital services and support structural changes; delay cuts to Medicare and Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments, which were included in the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;” and pass the “Medicare Audit Improvement Act,” H.R. 1250, which would restructure the way Medicare’s recovery audit contractors and other Medicare auditors can review providers. (For more on DSH and Medicare audits, see the stories on page 1.)

By Pete Davis