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.


Lawmakers Approach Another Government Funding Deadline

The continuing resolution (CR) under which the government is currently operating expires this Thursday, February 8. The conservative House Freedom Caucus is expected to oppose another short-term spending bill, which puts GOP leadership in a difficult position given that House Democrats may also oppose the next proposed government funding measure. The Freedom Caucus is pushing for an increase in defense appropriations, while Democrats are seeking to negotiate a bipartisan budget deal that lifts the caps for both defense and non-defense spending as well as additional funding for priorities like the opioid crisis and community health centers. Republicans are considering attaching funding for community health centers and Medicare extenders to the stopgap spending measure in an attempt to garner Democratic votes. Latest reports indicate that the House may vote on a spending bill to fund the government through March 22 as early as Tuesday. The late March date puts into question how Congress will opt to deal with the debt limit. The latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projection is that, if the debt limit is not raised, the Treasury will not be able borrow additional funds using extraordinary measures, and could run out of cash, in the first half of March 2018.

Congressional Committees Continue Work on Opioid Crisis

The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that it would hold a series of legislative hearings on combating the opioid crisis beginning the week of February 26. A specific list of bills the panel will consider has not yet been released, but it is expected to include legislation regarding new treatments and technologies (e.g., dealing with how painkillers are administered) and disposal of unused opioids. Leadership on the Committee also expanded its bipartisan investigation into alleged pill dumping in West Virginia (W. Va). Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and David McKinley (R-W.V.) have sent follow-up letters to two regional drug distributors raising questions about high-volume shipments of hydrocodone and oxycodone to Williamson, W.Va.

Meanwhile, leadership on the Senate Finance Committee is requesting input from health care stakeholders about potential policy changes to Medicare and Medicaid that could prevent opioid abuse and reduce barriers to addiction treatment. Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) specifically ask if program incentives could be used to promote pain management that minimizes the risk of opioid addiction. The lawmakers also ask for suggestions about how to improve reporting on beneficiary risk of addiction.

In related news, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it would be assigning a surge of agents over the next forty-five days to examine pharmacies and prescribers who appear to be overprescribing opioid painkillers. The DEA plans to look at data from the eighty million transaction reports it collects annually from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors to identify statistical outliers and suspicious patterns of distribution and inventories across the nation. The effort is aimed at leveraging DEA databases and improving investigations into alleged pill dumping, with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of offender arrests and convictions and reducing the number of available opioids for Americans to get addicted.

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