It’s a big sigh of relief for the 850 or more hospitals and laboratories which would have been affected had Congress not extended the ability of independent clinical laboratories to bill Medicare directly for the technical component (TC) of surgical pathology services provided to hospital patients past the scheduled expiration date of December 31, 2006.

ACLA (the American Clinical Laboratory Association) sent early word this weekend that both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation authorizing the extension of this “grandfather clause” for TC billing through December 31, 2007. According to ACLA President Alan Mertz, “…today, the Senate voted and passed the TC extension and the physician fix around 2:00 a.m. this morning (along with the rest of the tax package). The final vote was 79-9. The bill now heads for the President’s desk.”

Because this bill contains many important items, it is expected that President Bush will sign it. Congress has now adjourned and will conduct no more business until incoming Representatives and Senators are sworn in after the New Year and the new Congress commences business.

Although the extension, by one year, of this “grandfather clause” is a positive development, the underlying problem has yet to be resolved. In recent years, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) has been prepared to implement a change in regulatory policy linked to the 2000 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule. Only the statutory extensions passed by Congress to permit such technical component billing by independent clinical laboratories has forestalled action by CMS on this issue.

Legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate to enact a permanent extension of the TC billing grandfather provision. In this past Senate, it was Senators Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Craig Thomas (R-WY) who introduced the “Physician Pathology Services Continuity Act of 2006, S 3609.” An identical bill was introduced in the House by Representatives Kenny Hulshof (R-MO) and John Tanner (D-TN).

Dark Daily observes that, although Congress has voted more than once to extend the grandfather provision on TC billing by independent clinical laboratories, the lab industry has yet to succeed in getting Congress to pass legislation with would permanently authorize such TC billing. It might be timely for all the sub-interests in the laboratory medicine community to come together and develop a unified effort to gain passage of a permanent extension of TC billing by independent clinical laboratories.