AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, issued the following statement on the passage of legislation (H.R. 133) that would fund the federal government through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2021, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) appropriations bill. The package also contains provisions that will support patients, health care providers, and communities amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; increase Medicare support for graduate medical education (GME); protect patients from surprise medical bills; avert harmful payment cuts for safety-net hospitals and other providers; and maintain support for a number of other health programs:
“The AAMC is grateful that negotiations have resulted in an omnibus legislative package that will fund the federal government through the end of FY 2021, including funding for critical public health, research, and health agencies. This measure also will avoid catastrophic lapses in the continued fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and help safeguard the health and well-being of patients and communities across the nation.
The COVID-19 relief includes new and additional critical resources for ongoing vaccine development and distribution, testing and contact tracing, COVID-19 research, and the Provider Relief Fund. As cases continue to surge, this essential support will offer a bridge for those who are on the front lines of the pandemic, and we look forward to working with lawmakers on a more comprehensive package to ensure we continue to advance national efforts toward a full recovery.
For FY 2021, we appreciate that despite strict spending limits, Congress has allotted $42.9 billion in funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This funding level will allow the agency’s budget to keep pace with biomedical inflation and ensure we do not lose ground in advancing biomedical knowledge, providing hope to millions of people dealing with life-threatening and chronic diseases and laying the scientific foundation for solutions to both existing threats and novel ones not yet identified.
The rapid development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of the value of the nation’s past and ongoing investments in foundational biomedical research. To continue building our nation’s resilience against future public health threats, we must ensure sustained growth beyond inflation for medical research and secure emergency funding for the NIH to help the country’s research enterprise recover from the COVID-19 crisis. Similarly, the past year has revealed the consequences of underinvestment in the nation’s public health infrastructure, and continuing to rebuild these core missions through strong, ongoing support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be another key national priority as we look ahead.
The AAMC also reiterates our gratitude to congressional leaders for their bipartisan collaboration to ensure patients will have more physicians in their communities. The inclusion of additional federal support for residency training included in this bill will end a nearly 25-year freeze by lifting the arbitrary cap on Medicare funding for GME and adding 1,000 new Medicare-supported GME positions at both rural and urban teaching hospitals. This provision will help ensure that more physicians are able to care for patients and improve the health of communities across the nation.
By eliminating the scheduled FY 2021 and delaying the FY 2022 and 2023 Medicaid disproportionate share hospital program cuts, Congress has seen to it that safety net hospitals across the country—many of which are teaching hospitals—will be able to continue their state-of-the-art care for all, including vulnerable patients with the most complex conditions. Allowing these cuts to go forward during the COVID public health crisis would have harmed patient access to care and devastated the health care safety net. We greatly appreciate Congress’ bipartisan efforts to eliminate these unsustainable cuts for FY 2021.
The AAMC acknowledges the bipartisan, bicameral negotiations over the past year on protecting patients from surprise medical bills. We are pleased to see that the package holds patients harmless from surprise medical bills that they could not reasonably prevent and allows insurers and providers time to come to an agreement on payment with the option to seek independent arbitration if necessary.
Additionally, we appreciate the three-month extension of the current moratorium on 2% Medicare sequester cuts, and mitigation of scheduled cuts to the Calendar Year 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule. The upsurge in cases has impacted the financial health of medical professionals and facilities, including the increased cost of labor to ensure adequate staffing, procurement of personal protective equipment, significant reductions in patient volume resulting from orders to cancel non-emergent procedures, and the high cost of caring for COVID patients. The inclusion of this provision will delay the additional damaging financial stress that would have been caused by the return of the Medicare sequester.
We are grateful that Congress has provided a 3% increase in funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Title VII workforce development programs and remain committed to increasing support for the HRSA diversity pipeline programs that were flat-funded. This investment in our health workforce can help in the fight against COVID-19 and future public health crises by preparing front line providers and testing new models of care. This legislation also extends mandatory funding for the National Health Service Corps, Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education, and Community Health Centers at current levels through FY 2023.
The AAMC extends its thanks to all members and staff of the House and Senate for their tireless work on this appropriations and pandemic relief legislation that will ensure support for important programs that benefit the health of all. We are eager to continue this critical work with the new Congress and administration next year.”