Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

AZAR TO TESTIFY THIS WEEK BEFORE HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar faces a marathon week of testimony, appearing before four congressional committees to discuss his department’s fiscal 2021 budget.

In addition to funding issues, Azar is likely to face questions on the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Last week 25 Senate Democrats wrote to Azar, pressing the administration to request emergency funding.

Lawmakers are likely to grill Azar on prescription drug pricing and the administration’s approach to addressing costs. Democrats also are expected to criticize the administration’s actions regarding Affordable Care Act implementation.

Azar will testify Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that funds HHS, then Wednesday in the House Appropriations Subcommittee. The secretary will go before the House Commerce Health Subcommittee on Wednesday, where he will discuss the budget and HHS’s response to the coronavirus.

Finally, Azar will testify Thursday at the House Ways and Means Committee.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

SURPRISE BILLING PROGRESS DRIVES THE WEEK

Legislation to address surprise medical bills is moving forward this week, as two House committees mark up their own plans to protect patients.

After progress stalled at the end of last year, the House Ways and Means Committee jump-started it by announcing it would move forward with its proposal. The committee plans to take up the bipartisan bill Wednesday.

Tuesday, the Education and Labor Committee will enter the fray with its own bill. Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., released the proposal last week.

The key point of contention among the different plans is the mechanism used to resolve billing disputes. The Ways and Means approach relies on independent arbitration when insurers and providers cannot negotiate a solution on their own. A bipartisan agreement by the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees uses a benchmark payment rate. The new Education and Labor proposal appears to hew more closely to the Energy and Commerce approach.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

SURPRISE BILLING FIX REGAINING TRACTION?

Legislation to address unexpected bills for out-of-network medical care appears to be making a comeback, after a committee turf battle stalled its progress at the end of last year.

House leaders want to pass a bill by May, when they intentionally created a deadline for several popular health programs that will need congressional reauthorization. Leaders hope to drive action on surprise billing and prescription drug costs in May.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richie Neal, D-Mass., plans this week to release his committee’s bipartisan legislation. Neal says the committee will vote on its bill Feb. 12. The plan relies on outside mediation to settle billing disputes; a competing plan from the House Energy and Commerce Committee uses a benchmark payment rate.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

CONCERNS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS GROW ON CAPITOL HILL

As coronavirus cases continue to emerge in the United States and worldwide, lawmakers are seeking briefings from federal health officials about the outbreak that originated in China and what steps U.S. health agencies are taking to protect Americans.

Five cases were confirmed in the United States, but there have been nearly 3,000 people infected and 81 related deaths in China. The virus is from the same family of viruses that caused previous outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Senators on Friday received a briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Officials told senators that the risk to the American public is low, and that the agency has the resources it needs to address the spread of the disease.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

NEW SENATOR JOINS HEALTH COMMITTEE

Newly sworn-in Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is the newest member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Loeffler took the oath of office last week, replacing retired Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., praised Loeffler as having the background and skills to “immediately become an effective member of the committee.”

The committee’s jurisdiction includes public health, biomedical research and development including authorization and oversight of the Food and Drug Administration, aging, and individuals with disabilities.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

SPRING DEADLINE DRIVES 2020 HEALTH POLICY AGENDA

Few policy issues consumed more political oxygen on Capitol Hill last year than prescription drug prices and surprise medical bills – but without significant legislative achievement on either.

But Congress is going to try again, setting up a spring deadline to force action on key healthcare provisions. Despite the new inflection point, lawmakers remain far apart on drug prices, though they are much closer to agreeing on legislation that would end surprise medical bills.

The budget legislation that Congress approved last month created a May 22 deadline when several popular health programs will expire. Congressional leaders intentionally set this date in the hopes that it would drive action on drug prices and surprise billing, and that legislation to extend the expiring programs will act as a vehicle for major health policy.

Yet despite lawmakers’ professed hopes to ultimately solve both issues this year, there is no evident path to do so amid sharp divisions on policy details.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

ACA TAXES ON CHOPPING BLOCK IN YEAR-END BUDGET DEAL

Congressional leaders are poised to announce an agreement today that would permanently repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) taxes on medical device manufacturers, insurers and high-cost health plans as part of a spending package that would avoid a government shutdown later this week.

If the tax provisions are repealed, it would represent an enormous victory for the healthcare industry, which has been lobbying against the taxes since the ACA was enacted nearly a decade ago.

Congressional budget forecasters estimate the medical device tax would generate more than $20 billion over 10 years, while the so-called Cadillac tax on pricey health plans was expected to generate $200 billion. The tax on insurers was similarly projected to raise tens of billions of dollars annually.

Congress was not expected to offset the loss of revenue from those taxes.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

YEAR-END LEGISLATIVE OVERDRIVE

This week is crunch time on a host of legislative priorities, and various health-related provisions hang in the balance.

Lawmakers and staff worked all weekend negotiating on legislation to fund the government beyond next Friday’s deadline, when current funding expires. As the only true must-pass legislative vehicle before the end of the year, it’s the last best hope for the policy priorities of many stakeholders, including the medical device industry, which is seeking relief from the Affordable Care Act device tax before it comes back into effect Jan. 1.

With spending negotiations now at the leadership level, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the primary obstacle for device manufacturers. Device tax repeal or suspension enjoys broad bipartisan support, including from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Many House Democrats in competitive districts represent significant clusters of industry employees, and those members are continuing to weigh in with Pelosi in opposition to the tax.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

HEALTH PROVISIONS FACE UNCERTAINTY AS CONGRESS RETURNS FOR BUSY DECEMBER

Congress returns to Washington this week after the Thanksgiving holiday with only 18 days before the government runs out of money – and that’s not even the most important issue lawmakers will face in what is shaping up as a cramped year-end calendar.

In addition to scrambling to fund the government, the Democrat-controlled House is likely to vote this month to impeach President Donald Trump.

With lawmakers pushing other key items, such as tax provisions, renewing Pentagon programs and the U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, what’s the likelihood that healthcare provisions will see congressional action?

House leaders say they will schedule a  vote in the coming weeks on legislation that addresses prescription drug prices. Among other things, it would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to negotiate prices with the government on 250 drugs; it also would apply those negotiated prices to private health plans nationwide.

It will likely be a party line vote, with few if any Republicans supporting the House bill.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

FDA NOMINATION HEARING DRIVES THE WEEK IN HEALTH POLICY

President Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, will appear Wednesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for a hearing on his nomination.

Hahn, an oncologist and chief medical executive at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is seen by lawmakers as a blank slate – he has a strong resume as a physician but scant policy experience. However, HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced he supports Hahn after meeting with the nominee Nov. 6. Meanwhile, Democrats are eager to replace current acting FDA Commissioner Brett Giroir because of concerns over his positions on social issues like abortion.

Still, Hahn is sure to face wide-ranging questions from lawmakers about the mission of the agency he hopes to lead. Senators are also likely to seek commitments from him to focus on certain policy issues.

Given Hahn’s lack of policy track record, senators will want details of his views on regulation of food, drugs and medical devices. Hahn can expect lawmakers to press him on ways the FDA can help to lower prescription drug costs while protecting medical innovation, including Trump’s efforts to allow drug importation. E-cigarettes will be a hot topic, as will cannabis regulation and efforts to stem opioid abuse.

Read more on BakerHostetler’s Ohio Clock blog >>

LexBlog