Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Trump Taps HHS Secretary, CMS Administrator

Last week, Donald Trump announced the selection of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as his choice for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price, an orthopaedic surgeon, would be the first doctor to head the agency since Louis Sullivan, HHS Secretary from 1989-1993. He currently serves as Chairman of the House Budget Committee. Price is one of the top opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He is supportive of proposals to transform the Medicare program into a premium support model, under which seniors would receive a fixed amount of money from the government to purchase health insurance in the private market. He has also called for the use of block grants in state Medicaid programs. Instead of an open federal commitment, states would receive a set amount of funding for their program. Price is a proponent of making regulations related to health information technology (HIT)
less burdensome to physicians, and is also supportive of balance billing. Price said that he will continue his work to overhaul the budget process and develop a fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget resolution with instructions to repeal the ACA through reconciliation ahead of his formal nomination.

Trump also announced his selection of Seema Verma for Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Verma is a health policy consultant who worked with Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to expand Indiana’s Medicaid program. The state now provides health savings accounts (HSAs) to people who qualify for Medicaid, requires enrollees to contribute to the cost of coverage, and bars people from the program who do not make their contributions. Verma was also involved in the development of Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion waiver.

House Passes 21st Century Cures

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the medical innovation package known as 21st Century Cures by a vote of 392-26. The legislation is aimed at speeding up the approval of new therapies and making new investments in medical research. After more than a year of bipartisan negotiations over the bill’s costs and offsets, the final package contains a total of $6.3 billion in spending. This includes $4.8 billion in funding over 10 years for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While the funding is not mandatory, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) has said that appropriators are committed to authorizing the new spending. 21st Century Cures also served as the vehicle for a number of mental health reform measures, based on Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-Pa.) Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act (H.R. 2646) and elements from Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Bill Cassidy’s (R-La.) mental health legislation (S. 2680) in the Senate. The package establishes a new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as a Chief Medical Officer. Grants aimed at issues such as suicide prevention would also be authorized. The White House issued a statement of strong support for 21st Century Cures, and particularly for the inclusion of $1 billion to address the opioid abuse and addiction epidemic, $1.8 billion for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, $1.4 billion for the Precision Medicine Initiative and $1.5 billion for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The Senate has scheduled a cloture vote on the medical cures bill for Monday and a vote on final passage is expected on Tuesday. While Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have become vocal opponents of the bill in recent weeks claiming the bill would benefit the pharmaceutical industry, the bill is expected to have enough support from Democrats to pass.

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