Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

CONGRESS WORKS TO PASS BUDGET BEFORE FRIDAY’S SHUTDOWN DEADLINE

House leaders are pushing to schedule a vote this week on a $1.3 trillion budget agreement that would give the Senate enough time to pass it before a Friday deadline when government funding expires.

Without action this week by Congress, the government would shut down for the third time this fiscal year. A series of unresolved policy disagreements – including about healthcare – has prevented lawmakers from reaching an agreement to fund the government through fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30.

House leaders say they hope to wrap up discussions today and release legislative text of the budget agreement tonight, setting up a House vote Wednesday. The Senate would follow suit, likely Friday.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

HOUSE VOTE SET FOR UPDATED ‘RIGHT-TO-TRY’ LEGISLATION

The House will vote Tuesday on updated but still controversial legislation that would give terminally ill patients wider access to prescription drugs that haven’t won approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said the “right-to-try” bill would be a modified and more narrow version of legislation introduced earlier by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

CONGRESS SCRAMBLES TO COMPLETE BUDGET IN ADVANCE OF DEADLINE

Lawmakers are working overtime – including on key healthcare issues – to wrap up work on a $1.2 trillion omnibus budget bill that would fund the government for the balance of the fiscal year.

Congress last month reached agreement on total spending, but now lawmakers face a March 23 deadline to finalize funding specifics for dozens of departments and agencies and thousands of federal programs. Lawmakers will add $6 billion to crack down on opioid abuse, and medical research at the National Institutes of Health and veterans’ healthcare programs also are expected to receive funding boosts.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

CONGRESS RECONVENES WITH FOCUS ON OPIOID LEGISLATION

Congress reconvenes today after a weeklong recess, and a House subcommittee is scheduled to begin a series of hearings focusing on bipartisan efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, while a Senate committee plans to discuss how technology can curb opioid abuse.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Wednesday will consider eight bills related to law enforcement and patient safety, including legislation that would authorize new funding for opioid education, loosen restrictions on prescriptions via telemedicine of controlled substances used to treat addiction, and crack down on synthetic opioids. Another bill would call on the Drug Enforcement Administration to develop guidelines to train pharmacists and other healthcare providers on fraudulent or forged prescriptions.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

TRUMP TO RELEASE FISCAL 2019 BUDGET THIS MORNING

The White House this morning is releasing President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget blueprint, which will include funding requests for HHS, FDA, CMS and dozens of other healthcare-related federal agencies.

The White House says the budget will call for $17 billion for opioid-related spending next year, including for HHS’ efforts to combat the epidemic by expanding access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services as well as support for mental health.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

HEALTHCARE PROVISIONS COULD BE TIED TO BUDGET DEAL TO AVERT GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

Congress is expected this week to approve a fifth stopgap budget bill to keep the government open in advance of a Thursday shutdown deadline, and key healthcare provisions could be included in the budget package.

If Congress only extends current funding into March, GOP leaders could include a renewal of the federal community health centers program to attract Democratic votes. That bill also could include a series of expired Medicare programs like the Medicare-Dependent Hospital program, the enhanced Low-Volume Adjustment program, the ambulance add-on payment program and payments for home infusion drugs.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

HEALTHCARE LIKELY TAKES BACK SEAT IN TRUMP’S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

After a tumultuous year on Capitol Hill – with repeated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and stalled attempts to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program – President Donald Trump isn’t likely to focus on healthcare policy in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

White House aides previewing the speech this weekend said its major themes will focus on economic growth, infrastructure, immigration and national security. Except for calling for more funding to combat the opioid crisis or highlighting that the ACA’s individual mandate was repealed in last month’s tax cut legislation, the president isn’t expected to address major healthcare policy.

One of Trump’s guests in the gallery is expected to put a “human face on the opioid crisis and [highlight] the heroes involved in that effort,” according to a White House official previewing the speech this weekend to stakeholders.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

SENATE SCHEDULES NOON VOTE TO END GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN

With the government shutdown entering its third day, the Senate scheduled a procedural vote at noon today that could pave the way to end the stalemate – but it’s not clear there’s enough support to break the logjam and reopen the government.

The House last week approved a four-week spending bill to keep the government open, renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program and suspend a series of Affordable Care Act provider taxes. Senate Democrats filibustered that bill, triggering the shutdown. Democrats say they want the budget bill to also address immigration policy affecting so-called Dreamers, young people brought into the country illegally by their parents years and sometimes decades ago.

A bipartisan group of senators is working to find a legislative solution, including reopening the government and approving another stopgap spending bill to keep Washington funded through Feb. 8. But after being in session all weekend, it’s not clear that senators will achieve consensus on either the immigration policy or the procedural vote at noon – potentially extending the government shutdown beyond today.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

FEDERAL HEALTHCARE AGENCIES BRACE FOR DISRUPTION AS GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN LOOMS

House Republicans will gather tonight for a GOP-only meeting to plot strategy on passing a stopgap budget bill, but a breakdown among key senators on separate immigration legislation has elevated the risk of a government shutdown at week’s end.

Washington runs out of money Friday night, and that means all but essential government services, including Health & Human Services (HHS) and its agencies, would close. In previous shutdowns, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) furloughed about half its workforce and stopped inspections, enforcement actions and monitoring operations. FDA this week is expected to release a memo outlining what would happen to advisory committees and agency user-fee activities during a shutdown.

Under the last government shutdown, in 2013, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) processed Medicare provider claims, and most agency functions were deemed “essential” and continued during the closure. But some CMS activities – like healthcare fraud and abuse investigations and certain provider certifications – did stop during that shutdown.

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Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

BILL TO AVERT GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN COULD INCLUDE HEALTHCARE PROVISIONS

With less than two weeks before another deadline to avert a government shutdown, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill say they’re cautiously optimistic about crafting a budget agreement that also would include several key healthcare provisions.

The budget outline would include setting top-line budget numbers for two fiscal years, a long-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), renewal of Medicare payment provisions and a series of changes to Affordable Care Act (ACA) provider taxes. While that framework has been discussed among Republicans and Democrats, congressional staff warn it has not been agreed to and could stall over a number of unrelated issues. For example, some Democrats say they will withhold support for a budget agreement or another stopgap spending bill to keep the government open unless their demands for immigration provisions are met. Continue Reading

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