Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 2, 2015

Posts in "Uncategorized"

January 28, 2015

Health Savings Account Balances Increase

A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a tax-exempt account used to pay for health care expenses. Ideally, the account allows an individual to monitor and better manage health care services. A separate Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) is a similar type of account but is employer-funded and reimburses an employee for medical expenses. Together, over $22 billion is invested in the two types of accounts. This week, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reported on details of the two types of plans. The EBRI notes that the overall average account balance for HSAs and HRAs was $2,077 in 2014, up from $1,356 in 2008. The report also notes that accounts with an employer contribution had a higher average balance ($2,403) than those without one ($2,046).

 

January 27, 2015

IRS Waives Some Premium Tax Credit Penalty Fees

The IRS is offering some relief to taxpayers trying to reconcile their 2014 income tax return with a surplus of advance health insurance premium tax credits. The tax agency on Monday offered relief from late payment and estimated tax fees when a taxpayer discovers that they have a balance due on their 2014 taxes, due to the premium tax credits. Of course, the taxpayer is responsible for the balance due, plus interest if not paid by April 15, but the waiver eliminates the additional penalties for failing to plan ahead for the excess tax. The waiver of the poor planning penalties only applies to the 2014 tax year.

January 20, 2015

This Week: SOTU Features Some Health Care Guests; Committee Mulls Physician Payments

President Obama this evening delivers the annual State of the Union address. The White House has not signaled that the address will feature major health care initiatives but the speech will likely highlight recent health care accomplishments and progress on the implementation of the health care overhaul law. The list of invited White House special guests includes the chief executive of CVS Health, a drug store chain that recently stopped selling cigarettes. Also on the guest list is a physician who has recently returned from assisting in the effort to combat the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

Later this week, a House committee holds a two-day hearing  to examine options on overhauling the Medicare physician payment formula, which is due for an extension or a complete overhaul prior to a March 31 deadline. A Senate committee examines employer-based health insurance and the health care overhaul law’s definition of a full-time worker. A House-passed measure (HR 30) adjusting the workweek threshold for insurance coverage is awaiting possible Senate action. Also this week, the House will vote on a measure (HR 36) banning abortions after a 20-week threshold. The vote coincides with an anti-abortion rally, which is held in Washington, DC each year on Jan. 22.

By Paul Jenks Posted at 7:58 a.m.
Uncategorized

January 14, 2015

Extension for Comments on Physician Payment Revision for the Indian Health Service

In December, the Indian Health Service (IHS) issued a proposed rule seeking to align IHS physician payments with established payment rates for the Medicare program. The objective of the rule is to free up funds for the continuously cash-strapped health service since IHS physician payment rates in various areas of the country are often higher than the Medicare rates. Today, bowing to a request for more time to comment of the request, the agency has extended the period for public comments on the proposed rule from Jan. 20 to Feb. 4.

 

Congress Prepares to Target the Medical Device Tax

Since the start of the year, the House has been quick to pass legislation that parse elements of the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, lawmakers advanced a bill (HR 33) exempting volunteer emergency services workers from employer insurance coverage requirements. Last week, the House passed a measure culling the employer mandate to aid in the hiring of veterans (HR 22) and changed the workweek threshold of a full-time employee (HR 30). Waiting in the wings, are recently prepared House and Senate bills seeking to repeal the health law’s medical device excise tax  (HR 160 and S 149).

The medical device tax was inserted into the Affordable Care Act primarily to raise money to fund other parts of the law. Repealing the health law’s imposition of a 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices has long fostered some Democratic lawmaker interest, particularly from states and districts that are home to major medical device manufactures. However, the IRS has struggled to collect the medical device tax and Congress will be challenged to recoup lost expected funding. Separately, the Congressional Research Service weighed in last year with an economic analysis of the tax noting that an excise levy is not an efficient way to raise revenue and most of the impact of the tax will fall on consumers. The report also notes the tax will likely have a minimal impact increasing overall health spending.

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

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January 9, 2015

Antibiotic Hope From Field in Maine

The widespread use of antibiotics is reportedly causing bacteria to develop resistance to current antibiotic drugs. The topic is a perennial concern for lawmakers and CQ Roll Call reported this week that an effort to speed the development of new antibiotics will likely be included in an upcoming broader medical research overhaul measure.

Meanwhile, The New York Times this week reported on a new method of producing antibiotics by extracting bacteria from the soil. A recent study reported that some of the newly discovered antibiotics have been found effective in early tests. One of the dirt-based antibiotics was found in the soil in the state of Maine.

House Targets Employer Mandate Rules

Weekly Review

Congress this week assembled for a new session and quickly jumped into measures addressing the Affordable Care Act. The House on Thursday, in its first contentious vote, passed a bill that adjusts the workweek definition of an employee subject to required employer-offered health insurance coverage. The bill seeks to adjust the definition of a full-time employee from 30 hours to 40 hours. The House has weighed in on the matter before, but this year the Republican-led Senate is expected to also consider the bill.

Meanwhile, lawmakers filled the new-bill hopper this week with their most pressing legislative objectives. Several proposals urge the repeal of the health care overhaul law, but many address specific elements such as an opt-out requirement and a renewed effort to repeal the law’s medical device excise tax.

Medical Research Group Seeks Quick Congressional Actions

FDA Panel Weighs in on a Biosimilar Cancer Drug

House Renews Effort on Low-Dose Radiation Research

 

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

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December 19, 2014

NIH Trims Campus Deer Herd

Facing an excess population of deer at its Bethesda, Maryland campus, the National Institutes of Health is turning to a birth-control program.

Over the next four years, “trained doctoral deer population control experts,” in coordination with NIH’s own veterinary staff, will anesthetize and sterilize adult females, according to an article in the December issue of the organization’s NIH Record publication. NIH said it will adhere to local, state and federal requirements regarding this effort.

“This 10-15 minute, non-lethal solution—less invasive than spaying a cat or dog—has been effectively enacted in the City of Fairfax, Virginia and other locales around the country,” the article said.

NIH said its campus could sustain a herd of 26 deer. But, the current population, with the birth of many new fawns this year, is estimated to be 30 to 40. ” With an average lifespan of 10-15 years, the deer’s health and well-being are in jeopardy, particularly due to nutritional deprivation,” the article said. The article noted that NIH does not permit hunting on campus. ‘There are no known non-human predators (except a rare bear!),’ it said. NIH told CQ RollCall that as of Dec. 16, two-dozen female deer had been spayed.

 

 

Economist: Studies Suggest Some Effectiveness of E-Cigarettes

Cigarette smoking is an addiction that is difficult to quit, despite well-known health warnings and numerous smoking cessation programs. One controversial pathway toward quitting is the electronic cigarette, which delivers the addictive nicotine without the tar and smoke. This week’s Economist magazine examines several studies that suggest e-cigarettes are effective in easing smokers away from tobacco cigarettes by focusing on maintaining the ritual of puffing without inhaling carcinogens and other poisons from burning tobacco leaves and additives.

Report: Teenagers Shifting from Tobacco to E-Cigs and Marijuana Food

 

December 15, 2014

Economist Critiques the Daft World Health Organization

Congress this weekend passed an omnibus spending bill, which includes $5.4 billion in added funds to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.  The funding flows to federal agencies managing the Ebola response effort. However, leadership on the global response to combat Ebola rests on the World Health Organization (WHO). The UN agency has faced criticism for allowing the outbreak to grow out of control. In a lead commentary this week, the Economist newspaper urges a reorganization of the WHO’s broad mission to fit limited and largely dismal resources. The magazine also comments on the WHO’s “daft organizational structure,” which mirrors other United Nations organizations.  The Economist notes:

 The WHO’s failure to lead the response to the Ebola crisis should be used as a spur to rethink what the WHO is for, and how it is financed and run. Instead of doing the job of governments, it should focus on the things they cannot manage alone, such as helping poor countries set up health systems, disseminating the best medical research and policies, and combating global epidemics. Politicians must be stopped from using regional offices as a parking-place for friends and relations of their allies. Dr Chan should be able to direct her own organisation: that means being able to hire and fire. And if the world wants an outfit capable of dealing with emergencies such as Ebola, it needs to pay for it. That means increasing dues—and not leaving it to scrabble for handouts.

 

 

 

 

 

Congress Quietly Clears Steroid and Doping Agency Bills

Two measures addressing the control of the use of anabolic steroids used by athletes quietly cleared Congress late last week. Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., gained Senate action on a bill (HR 4771) that seeks to add 25 known designer steroids to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances and allows the DEA to list any new steroids in the future.

Separately, the House on Friday — in a pro-forma session — completed action on a separate bill (S 2338) renewing funding authorization for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The independent agency was established by the U.S. Olympic Committee to monitor doping in U.S. Olympic sports. The renewal bill broadens the definition of performance-enhancing drugs monitored by agency. The Olympics provides large portion of funding for the USADA and the measure allows for $91 million in possible federal appropriations over the next 5 years.

By Paul Jenks Posted at 11:06 a.m.
Uncategorized

Senate Prepares to Approve Surgeon General Nomination; Groups Offer Medicare Suggestions

Week Ahead

The Senate, after passing the fiscal 2015 omnibus funding bill on Saturday, does not want to leave too quickly. A few items remain on the agenda over the next two days. Today, senators will vote to confirm the nomination of Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General. The position advises the Department of Health and Human Services on public health matters and manages the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service. Early procedural maneuvering towards a vote on the nomination, which is contested by many Republicans, was enabled by weekend deliberations on the omnibus spending bill.

Separately, this week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which is charged with advising Congress on payments to Medicare providers, holds a two-day public meeting on Thursday and Friday. Also, on Tuesday the bipartisan duo of former senators Bob Kerrey and Jack Danforth will release an update to a hallmark 1994 effort to devise a overhaul of federal entitlement spending. The two senators led one of several efforts to overhaul funding for Social Security and Medicare but – like other efforts – failed to garner a consensus agreement. Next year, with Republicans in control of both congressional budget panels, suggestions on changing Medicare funding will lurk on the agenda for possible addition to annual congressional budget proposals.

 

 

 

December 12, 2014

Congress Keeps Tabs on “Three-person Embryos”

A fertility technique that can produce “three-person embryos” to prevent women from passing on rare genetic diseases has drawn the attention of  lawmakers who set the budgets for federal agencies including the Food and Drug Administration.

At issue is mitochondrial manipulation, in which genetic material from one woman can be moved into the egg of another. This technique has been developed to help women who otherwise would risk passing on rare mitochondrial diseases to their children, but there’s some thought that it also may aid older women seeking to become mothers.

Full story

Is the Veterans’ Health Care System Cheaper than Private Care?

A Congressional Budget Office report released this week looks at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and examines the difficulties in comparing the cost effectiveness of federal and private health care. At first, the CBO assumed – based upon earlier studies – that VHA care costs less than equivalent care provided in the private sector. Now, the budget agency is no longer so sure.

Changes at the VHA, the complexities of cost comparisons and the paucity of new studies make a current comparison difficult. Meanwhile, the VHA is expanding the use of private health care services to compensate for highly publicized and very long treatment waiting times.

Factors favoring lower costs for veterans care include lower prices for pharmaceutical products and likely lower pay rates for doctors. Also, the private sector’s favoring of fee-for-service payments probably hikes the cost of private care. However, the report notes in conclusion: “even if VHA currently provided care at a lower cost than the private sector, expanding the VHA system might not be cheaper in the longer term than increasing the use of private-sector providers.”

And as my colleague Connor O’Brien wrote recently in CQ Weekly (subscription), some health care experts say it might be better to subsidize private heath care for veterans than to keep up the current government-run system.

 

December 9, 2014

Senate Advances Newborn Screening Bill

The Senate on Monday evening quietly amended and passed a bill renewing grants and research programs on inheritable disorders in newborns and children (HR 1281). The measure reauthorizes newborn screening programs through fiscal year 2019. The bill would extend the term of a committee that sets screening recommendations, and it would renew a grant program for screening and education and an information clearinghouse on newborn screening issues for parents and health professionals.

The Senate passed a similar measure earlier this year (S 1417) but this time passed the House bill along with an amendment offered by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, which clarifies conditions for research on blood samples from newborns. The amended bill returns to the House, which might consider it by the end of the week.

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