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February 14, 2016

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February 13, 2015

This Week: Auditing Health Programs

Congress this week largely focused on defense policy and the Keystone Pipeline, and the respite gave committees time to weigh in on a range of health topics.

The Government Accountability Office had a busy day Wednesday on Capitol Hill. Reports from the audit agency provided fodder for House committees to criticize the Department of Health and Human Services for lapses in the coordination and evaluation of federal mental health programs. House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health, Joe Pitts, R-Pa.,  largely accepted a separate report on the HHS implementation of a new batch of medical diagnostic codes (ICD-10). Pitts urged no further delays with the implementation of a new medical billing system, making it more likely a planned Oct. 1 deadline will stick for a switchover to the ICD-10 codes. Separately, the GAO updated its list of high-risk programs and added the veterans’ health system to the vulnerable federal program watch list.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday considered a batch of bills, including measures regulating  (HR 638) and managing (HR 471) controlled substances and renewing trauma systems programs (HR 647 and HR 648).

House appropriators this week examined funding for the Ebola response mission to West Africa and new domestic Ebola research and preparedness programs. The administration told lawmakers that emergency spending passed by Congress last year helped slow the rate of new Ebola cases. Additionally, the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee examined the divide between parental rights and public health requirements when addressing vaccines for preventable diseases.

February 11, 2015

Auditing Health Programs is a Full-Time Job

Four different congressional panels today focus on Government Accountability Office (GAO) efforts to monitor program implementation within the Department of Health and Human Services. The GAO is the main outside agency that examines HHS operations and its audit reports are frequently critical of the agency.

Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees today cast a spotlight on recent audit reports. An oversight panel reviews a report on HHS leadership on mental health programs (view GAO report released on Feb. 5) which pegged HHS inter-agency coordination of programs supporting individuals with serious mental illness as “lacking.” The health subcommittee examines a report on HHS implementation of new health care disease codes (ICD-10, view GAO report released on Feb. 6). Additionally, a Senate panel this morning and a House subcommittee this afternoon mull the GAO’s efforts to monitor high-risk programs. The Medicare and Medicaid programs are charter topics for the auditor’s annual compilation of federal programs that are prone to fraud and waste risks.

The GAO on Tuesday provided lawmakers with additional fodder for more committee hearings, with two new audits calling for better planning and coordination of programs that address prenatal prescription drug abuse and action to improve the collection of money from third-parties covering health expenses of Medicaid recipients.

February 9, 2015

This Week: Panels Examine Vaccines and Spending Bills

Congressional committees this week engage a variety of health care topics. Leading-off is a Tuesday Senate hearing on the public health challenge of the re-emergence of vaccine preventable diseases, particularly measles.

Starting on Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to conclude committee approval of a batch of health bills. The committee holds a two-day mark up session on measures regulating  (HR 638) and managing (HR 471) controlled substances and renewing trauma systems programs (HR 647 and HR 648). Also, House Appropriations Committee panels begin the early examination of the fiscal 2016 spending bills. First on the agenda this week is the Indian Health Service and oversight of funding allocated to respond to the Ebola virus outbreak, plus an initial budget review session on veterans’ health programs.

Examining HHS Efforts on Mental Health and Disease Codes

Separately, two House committees on Wednesday review new Government Accountability Office reports critiquing the Department of Health and Human Services. An oversight committee examines a report on HHS leadership on mental health programs (view GAO report released on Feb. 5) and the health subcommittee examines HHS implementation of new health care disease codes (view GAO report released on Feb. 6).

Additionally, committees mull the GAO’s efforts to monitor high-risk programs in Senate morning and House afternoon sessions on Wednesday. House Science, Space and Technology panels on Thursday mull privacy expectations for information shared on the federal health insurance exchanges.

February 6, 2015

This Week: House Seeks to Repeal and Replace

The House this week voted to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The action has been a regular occurrence since Republicans took control of the chamber in 2011. The current bill (HR 596) faces an uncertain and likely tumultuous fate in the Senate and a certain White House veto. However, the new repeal measure adds a requirement for committees to craft a replacement for the health law. Several committee chiefs quickly responded with a framework for a replacement plan. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan adjusted an earlier proposal that now includes a tax on high-value employee medical coverage, new malpractice limits and a provision that would allow consumers to purchase insurance policies in different states.

Separately, the Senate completed action on bill (HR 203) that would require annual evaluations of the Veterans Affairs Department’s mental health and suicide prevention programs. The measure is ready for expected White House approval. Also, the White House on Monday submitted its fiscal 2016 budget request to Congress. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell later spent time before a Senate committee explaining the administration’s funding proposal, along with questions about the ongoing implementation of the health care overhaul law.

Congressional Committee: Vaccines: From Flu to Measles


February 5, 2015

GOP Now Leads Senate Committees, Health Law Targeted

Republicans who now chair Senate committees are teaming up with House colleagues on proposals to change and replace the 2010 health care law. Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah is working with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan on a health law replacement plan that resembles a plan Hatch offered in 2014, with a suggested tax on high-value employee medical coverage, new malpractice limits and a provision that would allow consumers to purchase insurance policies in different states.

Meanwhile, Finance Committee Republicans criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell during a hearing Wednesday for repeatedly dodging their questions about whether the Obama administration has contingency plans in case the Supreme Court invalidates the process for distributing health care law subsidies for insurance in states using the federal exchange.

“To come here and repeatedly refuse to answer the questions is — strikes me as nothing less than contempt of our oversight responsibility. And it’s a very, very serious matter,” said Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. King v. Burwell, the case challenging the legality of federal exchange subsidies under the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), is scheduled for oral arguments March 4.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew takes his turn before the panel today.


January 30, 2015

Seeking Cures, White House Looks for Precision

President Obama today will offer additional details (view fact sheet) on a “precision medicine initiative” he briefly noted in last week’s State of the Union address. The proposal seeks a $215 million investment to develop patient-customized disease treatments. The additional funding for new precision medicines is spread between the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the agency charged with coordinating the development of advanced health information technologies.

Anticipating the White House’s suggestion on medical advances and following up on long-running congressional examinations of ways to streamline the development of new types of drugs and medical devices, groups of lawmakers this week offered several other medical research-oriented legislative measures.

A long-awaited discussion draft of House Energy and Commerce Committee “21st Century Cures” proposal was unveiled this week to broad but qualified support. Democrats greeted the measure with caution due to uncertainty over long-term funding for federal medical research programs. Democrats offered several measures, which seek to steady funding for the National Institutes of Health (HR 531 and S 289).

Separately this week, Senate committees advanced legislation that exempts veterans from the Affordable Care Act’s employer health insurance mandate calculations (HR 22) and easily approved the legislative renewal bill for senior citizen social and nutrition assistance programs (S 192).

January 26, 2015

Health Committees Get to Work

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee begins legislative action this week. The committee is set for votes on organizational rules on Wednesday along with a measure re-authorizing programs for the elderly (S 192). On Thursday, the committee examines the promise and pitfalls of employer wellness programs.

Separately on Tuesday, a House Energy and Commerce panel holds a hearing on a batch of public health bills (view Democratic committee staff memo) including measures overhauling enforcement and state monitoring of prescription drug diversion and the federal process of scheduling restricted drugs. The subcommittee will also examine bills seeking to streamline the licensing of emergency medical technicians and bills re-authorizing trauma care programs.

Also this week, both House and Senate Budget committees prepare for upcoming action on fiscal 2016 budget plans and spending bills with an economic forecast presentation offered by the Congressional Budget Office. Next week, the White House is slated to release its annual budget proposal, which officially begins the process of developing a separate congressional budget blueprint.

January 16, 2015

Veterans’ Suicide and Volunteer Exemption Bills Advance

Weekly Review

It’s only two-weeks into the new congressional session and the House has already passed a batch of health care related measures. Last week, lawmakers passed a measure (HR 30) that would raise the threshold for full-time employment requiring health-care coverage by an employer —  from the current 30 hours a week to 40 hours.  This week, the House unanimously approved a bill (HR 33) exempting volunteer emergency service workers from employer coverage requirement calculations.

Additionally, the House forwarded to the Senate — for the second time in two months — a bill (HR 203) bolstering military and veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention programs. The measure includes a requirement for an annual third-party review of mental health and suicide-prevention programs and amends the rules for reviewing discharges of military service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorders.

Following House votes on the bills, Republican lawmakers – and many senators – traveled to Pennsylvania for an annual party policy summit. Senate Democrats met with President Obama at a planning session in Baltimore.


January 12, 2015

This Week: Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Bill Vote and 2015 Planning Meetings

The House today is slated to vote on a military and veterans’ suicide-prevention bill (HR 203). The measure includes a requirement for an annual third-party review of VA and Defense Department mental health and suicide-prevention programs and amends the rules for reviewing discharges of military service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorders. The bill came close to final passage in December and the repackaged version will likely sail through House and Senate votes. Lawmakers will also vote on a bill (HR 33) exempting emergency services volunteers from employer health coverage mandate requirements.

Three key House committees that address health issues will hold organizational meetings on Tuesday morning. The Energy and Commerce Committee addresses most health care program bills, the Ways and Means Committee assembles measures that adjust financing for the Medicare and Medicaid programs and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee manages veterans’ health care system bills. The committees, along with the Budget and Appropriations committees, address almost all health care policy measures in the House.

Later this week, House and Senate Republicans leave Washington, DC to attend a planning summit. Democrats will follow suit later this month. The off-site retreats are a regular event in January and assist the party caucuses in planning upcoming legislative strategies.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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January 7, 2015

House Renews Effort on Low-Dose Radiation Research

The House today restarts an effort to increase research on the health impact of low-dose radiation. The danger of high doses of radiation are widely known, but low-doses found in the environment and used in medical procedures, such as X-rays and CT scans are less understood and assumed to hold a lower level of risk. The largely non-controversial bill (view text) set for a House vote today, calls for long-term research on the health effects of low doses of radiation. The research push is designed will assist physicians to assess the potential risk of radiation procedures.

The House passed a similar measure in a voice vote last year but the Senate did not consider the bill. Also, Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reported that jockeying for a vote on the bill was influenced by a revolt of a group of Republican lawmakers against the re-election of House Speaker John A. Boehner.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

January 5, 2015

Incoming Congress: Keep an Eye on Budget Panels and House Ways and Means Committee

The 114th Congress convenes this week and congressional Republicans will assemble majorities in both the House and Senate. A top early priority is action on extending relief from a planned Medicare physician payment cut, which is set to begin on April 1. Action on a payment adjustment could be tied to an increase in the federal debt limit, which will begin to press upon lawmakers starting on March 15.

Also, several new committee chiefs will get the first crack at determining the fate of major health care legislation and changes to the 2010 Affordable Care Act.  Rep. Tom Price. a Georgia physician and health law foe, is likely to become the next chairman of the House Budget Committee, which holds the keys to initial planning on any changes in the health care overhaul law. Wyoming Sen. Michael B. Enzi, another health law opponent, is poised to take the helm of the Senate budget panel. Separately, the House Ways and Means Committee will be led by Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul D. Ryan, who take the lead in any possible health care entitlement program changes.

Ryan, the previous chief of the House Budget Committee, has led a long-running campaign to overhaul the Medicare program. His annual budget proposals (view the 2015 budget plan) have suggested ideas on overhauling the Medicare program allowing Medicare beneficiaries to choose between competing private coverage programs with the federal government offering premium support payments. In 2011, a liberal advocacy group attacked an earlier Ryan Medicare proposal with a video featuring a Ryan look-alike actor pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.

December 19, 2014

President Signs Year-End Health Bills

A few health program bills managed to squeeze past House and Senate roadblocks during the final days of the 113th Congress. President Obama on Thursday signed measures reauthorizing newborn screening (HR 1281), sudden infant death reporting (HR 669, traumatic brain injury (HR 4276) programs and a breast health education bill (HR 5185). On Tuesday, the President signed a separate measure (S 2917) that adds research for Ebola drugs to an FDA program that expedites research on tropical drugs. However, the Senate this week was unable reach an agreement on final action on a bill enhancing veterans’ suicide prevention programs (HR 5059).

Supporters of the health measures were able to cobble together enough last-minute bipartisan support amid final deliberations on an omnibus spending bill funding the federal government through the current fiscal year. The spending package cleared the Senate in a rare Saturday evening session. Additionally, the Senate this week confirmed of the nomination of Vivek Murthy as the new Surgeon General.

Lawmakers Issue Warnings on Lost Subsidies Ahead of Supreme Court Decision

December 16, 2014

Senate Clears Brain Injury and Breast Health Measures

The Senate has extended its 2014 term for a few more days while it wraps up several unfinished matters. On Monday, amid maneuvering over a confirmation vote approving the nomination of Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General, the Senate also approved several health measures. Senators quickly completed action on a bill seeking to extend a pilot program offering assistance to veterans with traumatic brain injuries (HR 4276) and a measure reauthorizing an education campaign and research on prevention of breast cancer in young women (HR 5185). The Murthy nomination was confirmed in a 51-43 vote.

However, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is fighting against further action other remaining measures, including a bill (HR 5059) calling for a review and adjustment of veteran suicide prevention programs. Sen. Coburn objects to the cost of bill and suggests that the measure duplicates existing programs.

Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports that Coburn, a physician who is retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, is fighting a lonely battle against the veterans’ bill, plus other measures on energy efficiency and an extension of a terrorism risk insurance program.

November 21, 2014

Bill Action Update: Sudden Infant Death and Rural Hospital Supervision Bills

The Senate can pass bills very fast — if senators want to. Following committee action on Wednesday on a bill (HR 669) seeking to improve data collection on sudden infant deaths, the Senate on Thursday quietly approved the measure by voice vote. However, an added substitute amendment to the bill offered by Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin forces another House vote on the revised measure.

Separately, the Senate on Thursday also completed action on a measure (HR 4067) that allows continued easing of enforcement instructions on the supervision of outpatient therapeutic services in critical access and small rural hospitals. The measure now heads to the White House for likely presidential approval.


November 20, 2014

Pallone Chosen to Battle GOP Health Law Repeal Efforts

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is the primary House venue for most health policy matters. The leadership of the committee and its health panel vies with House Ways and Means Committee as chief shepherds of health measures and entitlement program financing changes. Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have long been led by retiring Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California and John D. Dingell of Michigan. On Wednesday, Democrats rejected an earlier party planning group decision and selected New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. over California Rep. Anna G. Eshoo.

While the Democrats will be a minority in the House next year and have less influence on legislative matters than their counterparts in the Senate, the committee leadership post is a prominent position to offer viewpoints on health topics. CQ HealthBeat’s (@CQHealthTweet) Kerry Young reported (subscription) that Pallone will play a major role in critiquing GOP efforts to repeal or weaken the Affordable Care Act, since Pallone played a key role in crafting the House version of the health law. Separately on Wednesday, Republicans on the committee also named subcommittee leaders.


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