Terrorist attacks paralyze legislative compliance agenda

White House and Congress limit their scope of activities to essential tasks’

This month’s terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon have effectively paralyzed all "nonessential" government work in Congress and at the White House. For compliance officers, that reduces the threat of new anti-fraud measures becoming law this year but also damages the prospects of several promising reforms.

On one hand, Congress and the rest of government are anxious to show that the terrorist attacks have not hampered the government’s routine, but congressional staffers say the atmosphere is anything but business as usual and predict that little will be accomplished apart from budget-related items.

A spokesperson for the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee says the status of things on Capitol Hill remains very fluid. An abbreviated session last week will be followed by another abbreviated session this week. The only health care-related item tentatively scheduled is a hearing on Medicare contractor reform later today that was postponed immediately after the attacks.

A Senate Finance spokesperson echoes those sentiments, predicting that Congress will have little time or energy for anything apart from completing the budget and crafting an economic stimulus package.

The prospects for a patients’ bill of rights or prescription drug benefit have been all but obliterated and along with them any prospect that other items might be attached to those measures, says Mary Grealy, president of the Health Care Leadership Council in Washington, DC.

Ironically, congressional action has been frozen at a point when there are just as many promising legislative opportunities for health care providers as there are threatening ones. One such bill, commonly referred to as "the provider relief bill," would have set stringent parameters for the Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to abide by when sampling provider claims.

Grealy predicts that any relief providers do see will be administrative in nature. CMS Administrator Tom Scully recently told the Senate Special Committee on Aging that he is working with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson to radically overhaul the current regulatory process and slash the number of carriers that process claims. While the long-term agenda remains intact, progress on specific items that may have offered hospitals some relief, such as changes in the appeals process, has been delayed.