WASHINGTON -- The Senate late yesterday was close to voting on legislation that would delay for three months the Jan. 1, 1992, effective date of new Medicaid financing rules.

States have urged Congress to approve a delay because the rules are currently scheduled to become effective in the middle of many states' fiscal years and could wreak havoc with their finances. The Senate had planned to vote yesterday afternoon but became stalled on other business and was expected to take up the Medicaid bill possibly last night or today.

The delay being considered by the Senate is at odds with a House bill, which would postpone the regulations for nine months, to Oct. 1, 1992. Congressional leaders have said some kind of delay is needed to give the states and federal regulators time to negoitate changes that would solve states' concerns about the regulations.

First proposed on Sept. 12, the rules would require the federal government, beginning Jan. 1, to stop counting donations that states receive from hospitals toward contributions those states make to the Medicaid program that are eligible for federal matching dollars. The rules would also strictly limit the types of state tax revenues that would be eligible for matching funds.

Along with simple delaying the rules, senators were expected to be given the option of approving legislation that would codify an agreement worked out between the National Governors' Association and the Health Care Financing Administration. The agreement answered some states' concerns about the rules and would have allowed them to go into effect as of Oct. 1, 1992, without any further delays.

But Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said the agreement had been reached so hastily that there were too many unanswered questions about it. He said it was preferable to instead pass a simple postponement of the rules, with the idea of returning next year to fashion a more permanent solution.

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