After more than four months of waiting and another brief shutdown of the federal government, a bipartisan spending package that includes funding for Community Health Centers was finally advanced by the House and Senate and signed into law by the President early this morning.
Following an attempt by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky to hold up the vote which caused the government to briefly close after midnight, the Senate finally passed the measure, 71 to 28, shortly before 2 a.m. The House followed suit around 5:30 a.m., voting 240 to 186 for the bill. The final package includes a two-year extension of the Community Health Center Fund with $600 million in additional funding. The program will be funded at $3.8 billion in FY18 (a $200 million increase) and $4 billion in FY19 (a $400 million increase). The National Health Service Corps is funded at the current level of $310 million in FY18 and FY19, while funding for the Teaching Health Centers GME program was more than doubled to $126.5 million for FY18 and FY19.
The funding package also includes supplemental disaster appropriations, tax extensions and a wide array of other health care program renewals, extensions, offsets and fixes. The plan permanently repeals limits on Medicare therapy caps, extends the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) for five years, delays Medicaid DSH cuts for two years, and provides an additional $6 billion to combat the opioid crisis. It allows for upcoming action on the fiscal 2018 spending bills, extending government funding until March 23, while also raising the budget caps for defense and nondefense programs for the next two years (FY18 and FY19). In the $90 billion for disaster assistance for states damaged by wildfires and hurricanes last year, the plan includes $60 million for health centers impacted by Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria.
A further extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was also included, bringing the programís total authorization to 10 years (through 2027). Although less than originally proposed, the bill also draws on the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a source of funding created under the Affordable Care Act.
The spending agreement will keep the government funded for another six weeks, giving lawmakers enough time to put together a long-term spending bill that would last through the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.