Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 20, 2014

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September 15, 2014

Corn Industry Leader Gets Candid on High Fructose Corn Syrup

One of the frequently cited causes of rising levels of obesity is the widespread use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an ingredient in many soft drinks. The direct connection between corn syrup and obesity has long been questioned by the corn industry but in an interview last week, the outgoing chief of the National Corn Growers Association, Rick Tolman, acknowledged that HFCS is probably a contributing factor although not the only cause. CQ Roll Call’s Philip Brasher reported on Tolman’s comments on HFCS:

There certainly is an obesity issue in America and in the world, there’s no question about that. Is HFCS a contributor – absolutely. Is it more of a contributor than sugar or anything else? Personally, I don’t believe so and I think most of the science shows that.



Auditor Finds a Sixteen-Year Delay in Rural Clinic Rules

Major congressional health care legislation is often chock-full of various requirements for reports and program changes. Federal agencies are often hard pressed not only to keep track of congressional mandates but also to take timely action on them. Sometimes, federal agencies never get around to implementing new regulations based upon the congressional instructions.

The Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General last week reviewed  inaction by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on changes mandated by Congress in 1996 that changed the terms of a certification requirement for rural health clinics. The health clinics, located in areas where there is a shortage of health care providers, receive enhanced Medicare and Medicaid payments. Congress rolled-back the previously unlimited certification of providers and called for the termination of providers that no longer are located in rural areas. The HHS auditor found several hundred clinics that do not meet the rural location requirement. However, the Medicare management agency, which has twice issued proposed rules on the matter, has yet to issue final regulations on rural clinic location requirements.




September 12, 2014

Senators Press for a Vote on Sunscreen Ingredient Measure

Overhauling the cumbersome Food and Drug Administration process for approving new sunscreen ingredients is high on the agenda of the bipartisan Senate duo of Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia. In July, the House passed legislation that seeks to streamline the FDA sunscreen ingredient approval process and Reed and Isakson are urging action on the Senate counterpart measure. Lawmakers claim that slow FDA approval process is holding back the introduction of ingredients that have been approved in Europe.

The Senate version of the sunscreen bill is slated for committee consideration next week. CQ’s Melanie Zanona reported on a rally event on Thursday urging final action on either the House or Senate bills prior to the next recess break before the November elections.



By Paul Jenks Posted at 2:08 p.m.

September 9, 2014

Lawmakers Press for Action to Repeal Blood Donation Limits on Gay Men

A group of lawmakers who are growing impatient with how long the Obama administration is taking to decide whether to lift the ban on gay men donating blood sent a letter on Monday to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell asking her what the agency is doing about this. But unless HHS changes the timetable it described in 2011, when it first announced that it was rethinking the Food and Drug Administration’s current lifetime ban on men who have sex with men being allowed to donate blood, the agency is on track to make a decision on the policy in the first quarter of 2015.

The group, led by Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, wrote to Burwell seeking an update on repealing the HHS policies limiting blood organ and tissue donations. The current FDA policy states: “Men who have had sex with other men, at any time since 1977 (the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States) are currently deferred as blood donors. This is because MSM are, as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion.” Baldwin notes that the policy is no longer scientifically justified with current blood screening technology.

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September 4, 2014

Health Spending Lull Projected to End

On Wednesday, federal actuaries released projections that health care spending will rise 5.6 percent this year to $3.06 trillion. CQ HealthBeat’s Kerry Young reported that the new estimate is the first time in six years that the health care spending growth rate has topped 4 percent.  One of the primary objectives of the 2010 health care overhaul law was to slow the growth of medical costs. Since 2010, the growth rate has slowed and the 2013 rate is estimated at 3.6 percent. CMS researchers cited three factors behind the projected increase starting in 2014: More people are expected to gain access to health coverage under the law; the economy will strengthen; and the U.S. population, particularly baby boomers, will age and thus need more medical services.

The report also notes that, while health spending is set to grow faster than it has in recent years, it still may rise more slowly than it did in the years before the health law took effect. The average growth rate for national health expenses was 7.2 percent in the period of 1990 to 2008, but could be 6 percent in the period of 2015 to 2023.

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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August 20, 2014

IRS Struggles to Collect the Medical Device Excise Tax

Funding for the 2010 Affordable Care Act hinges, in part, on a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical device sales. The tax applies to cardiac defibrillators, imaging equipment and a variety of other equipment sold to hospitals, doctors and other providers. Congressional efforts to eliminate the tax enjoy significant bipartisan support in Congress from Republicans and Democrats, particularly from states that are home to a concentration of medical device manufacturers.

Internal Revenue Service collection of the tax began in 2013. A Treasury Department’s Inspector General report released on Tuesday indicates that taxpayer reporting on the IRS excise tax form does not account for all applicable medical device sales. Also, the tax agency is struggling to reconcile data provided by taxpayers and cannot accurately identify all of the medical device makers that are required to file the form and pay the tax. Through the first half of 2013, Treasury auditors estimate that the tax levy should have collected $1.2 billion in excise taxes, but the IRS has received $913 million.

August 1, 2014

Ebola Concerns Escalate, Drug Development Continues

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A nurse hangs an Ebola information sign on the wall of a public health center on July 31 in Monrovia, Liberia. (AFP stringer/Getty Images)

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has intensified the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which reportedly is worsening. CDC Director Thomas Frieden said in a press briefing on Thursday that the agency is sending dozens more workers to the region, as well as issuing an advisory against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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July 18, 2014

Energy Xtra, CQ Roll Call’s Latest Policy Blog

Another blog joins CQ Roll Call’s Policy Pulse roster: Energy Xtra, written by Randy Leonard, a longtime reporter on energy and environment issues. The blog will touch upon numerous topics of interest to Healthopolis readers, including scientific research, air quality and environmental policy.

Full story

July 9, 2014

Welcome to Healthopolis

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Welcome to Healthopolis, CQ Roll Call’s new forum for health news in Congress, the federal agencies and beyond.

Assembled by veteran health policy watcher Paul Jenks, the blog draws on the great reporting of John Reichard and the rest of the CQ HealthBeat staff on topics such as the health care overhaul. It also will go farther afield to cover developments in food safety, consumer health, technology and other areas.

This is your site as much as it is ours, and we encourage you to keep in touch by sharing your comments and feedback.

Healthopolis is CQ Roll Call’s fourth Policy Pulse blog, joining Technocrat, for the tech and telecom community; Five by Five, which covers the defense industry and national security; and The Container, on all things transportation.

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