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.


Senate Reauthorizes FDA User Fee Programs

The Senate also successfully passed the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act (FDARA) last week. H.R. 2430 extends for five years the FDA’s authority to collect $400 million in user fees from drug and medical device companies to fund the new product approval process. The bill passed by a vote of 94-1, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) being the only lawmaker to vote against the bill. As a part of a deal to secure passage of FDARA, the Senate also passed the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act (S. 204) by unanimous consent. The Right to Try Act would increase access to experimental drugs for terminally ill patients. The bill’s sponsor, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), had previously said that he would oppose FDARA if the Right to Try language was not included. The policy is strongly supported by Vice President Pence. FDA user fee programs faced a September 30 deadline for reauthorization. The House previously passed FDARA on July 12. FDARA now heads to the President to be signed into law.

Where Health Care Reform Stands

Leadership on both the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee announced that they would hold hearings on health care reform following August recess. HELP Committee hearings will begin the week of September 4, and will focus on stabilizing the insurance market. Witnesses will include state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts, and insurance companies. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) stated that he has discussed a bipartisan market stabilization bill with his panel. He also supports the continuation of cost-sharing reduction payments by the President through September, followed by a yearlong appropriation by Congress.

The President and Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) met with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) last week to discuss his proposal to give block grants to states in an amount equal to what the federal government currently spends on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In the House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are discussing a health care reform plan that would pay for cost-sharing reduction payments, alter the law’s employer mandate, and eliminate the impending tax on medical devices. Members on both sides of the aisle, along with stakeholders and experts, agree that cost-sharing reduction payments are necessary to ensure stability in the individual marketplace. The talks are led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.).

Senate leadership continues to stress that it will not bring up health care legislation again until they can guarantee 50 votes, but state that health care reform proposals continue to be scored at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

VA Choice Bill Sent to the President’s Desk

The Senate cleared legislation to fund the Veterans Choice Program last week. S. 114 will provide $2.1 billion to continue funding the program, which was projected to run out of money in mid-August. The bill passed the House of Representatives last month. The Department of Veterans Affairs also announced the creation of three programs aimed at modernizing health care for veterans. Veterans will have access to a new a new scheduling system via mobile phones, as well as additional care for the homebound. The $1 billion budget for telehealth will remain the same.

Durbin Comments on Opioid Quotas

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has asked the Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to lower the quota for the number of opioids allowed to be produced and sold in the U.S. in 2018. He hopes reducing the quota will reduce the number of people who are addicted to and overdose from prescription painkillers.

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