Take Back Day Collects 475 Tons of Medication

This year’s national Prescription Take Back Day resulted in the collection of nearly 475 tons of unwanted medications across 6,000 collection sites, the largest collection in the event’s nine-year history. The event, which was started to encourage people not to simply throw away or flush unused prescriptions, is now a part of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) response to the opioid epidemic.

House VA Advances Choice Reform Bill

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced the VA Mission Act (H.R. 5674) by a 20-2 vote last week. The legislation would overhaul veteran access to private sector care outside the VA health system. It includes $5.2 billion to fund the Veterans Choice Program until the new reforms can be implemented. The Choice Program is scheduled to run out of money by May 31. The bill would also entitle veterans to see a private doctor twice a year without a copay. Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) were the only two panel members to vote against the measure. They have expressed opposition to the movement of the Choice funding account from mandatory to discretionary spending.

The Committee also approved a measure that would increase VA research on medical marijuana. The bill, which was advanced unanimously, clarifies the agency’s ability to research medical marijuana as a possible treatment for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The VA is not currently permitted to prescribe medical marijuana and would be required to submit regular reports on the research to Congress.

In related news, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) has emerged as yet another candidate under consideration by President Trump for the nomination of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Rep. Mast served in the U.S. Army for more than 12 years, earning medals including The Bronze Star Medal, The Army Commendation Medal for Valor, The Purple Heart Medal, and The Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He was the first member of Congress to open a district office in a VA facility. He lost both his legs after being wounded in Afghanistan in 2010.

Bipartisan ACA Fix Efforts Abandoned

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has stopped work on bipartisan efforts to fix the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual market. According to a letter to his supporters, the HELP Committee Chairman will now turn his focus to actions the Trump Administration can take to improve Obamacare. Sen. Alexander had spent months negotiating with Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on a package to bring down premiums in the individual health insurance market through the funding of cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, increasing flexibility for section 1332 state innovation waivers, and providing grants for the creation of reinsurance programs. The bipartisan talks stalled due to a dispute regarding abortion restrictions in funding for health insurers. “Now efforts to help Americans paying skyrocketing premiums will turn to the Trump Administration and the states,” Alexander writes, “And our committee’s efforts will turn to other pressing health care issues including opioids, overall health care costs, electronic health care records, prescription drugs prices and 340B.”

Upcoming Congressional Meetings and Markups

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing “Examining Oversight Reports on the 340B Drug Pricing Program;” 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; May 15

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Member Day Testimony and Proposals on the Department of Veterans Affairs; 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.; May 16

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Department of Homeland Security hearing to examine the role of the Department of Homeland Security in stopping the flow of opioids, methamphetamines, and other dangerous drugs; 2:30 p.m., 192 Dirksen Bldg.; May 16

House Appropriations FY 2019 Energy and Water and Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill; 10:00 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.; May 16

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2019 for the National Institutes of Health; 10:00 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg.; May 17

House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee joint hearing “VA Research: Focusing on Funding, Findings, and Partnerships;” 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.; May 17

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform “A Sustainable Solution to the Evolving Opioid Crisis: Revitalizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy;” 10:30 a.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.; May 17

House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations “Global Health Supply Chain Management: Lessons Learned and Ways Forward;” 1:00 p.m., 2172 Rayburn Bldg.; May 17

Energy and Commerce Committee markup of legislation to combat the opioid crisis; time and place TBD; May 17

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing “The Health Care Workforce: Addressing Shortages and Improving Care;” 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; May 22

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