Congress Passes Extension of Mental Health Demonstration Program

Congress has passed a short-term extension of funding for the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program through September 13, 2019. The clinics, which are located across eight states particularly impacted by the opioid crisis, receive matched federal funding through the Medicaid program to treat mental health and substance abuse. The Empowering Beneficiaries, Ensuring Access, and Strengthening Accountability Act of 2019 (H.R. 3253) would provide an extra $60 million in funding and was passed by he Senate on July 25. The House agreed to the Senate’s amendment by unanimous consent last week. Bipartisan leadership of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce issued a statement following passage of the bill urging policymakers to support a longer extension of the CCBHC demonstration program in order to provide time to fully evaluate the program and its impact in responding to the opioid epidemic.

WH Announces Plans for Drug Importation

The Trump Administration has announced plans for a forthcoming policy that would allow for the importation of medicines from other countries in an attempt to reduce to cost of prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will issue a regulation to allow states and pharmacies to submit drug importation pilot programs for approval. Officials did not outline a timeline for when the regulation would go into effect. Republican lawmakers praised the President’s efforts to lower drug prices while stressing the need to continue to ensure the safety and efficacy of pharmaceutical products.

Drug Pricing, Health Care Costs Talks Begin in Senate

Bipartisan leadership of the Senate Finance and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committees met last week to begin discussions on the integration of their panels’ drug pricing and health care costs packages before the measures are brought to the Senate floor for a vote. The lawmakers are also working with relevant committee leadership in the House of Representatives on similar work taking place across the Capitol. They hope to get legislation passed this fall after Congress returns from the five-week August recess. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that Democrats will demand votes on allowing the Medicare program to negotiate drug prices ahead of any floor vote on health care legislation this year.

Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is also working with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to include a provision to require manufacturers to disclose the price of drugs in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. The legislation is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, and the administration’s attempt to implement a similar policy was blocked in court.

Democrats to Force Vote on Waiver Regulation

Senate Democrats have introduced a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would roll back the implementation of the administration’s 1332 waiver rule, which would allow states to offer subsidies for of short-term, limited duration plans and expand the availability of health insurance that is not required to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) consumer protections. Democrats plan to force a majority-threshold vote on the resolution after August recess to put Republicans on the record regarding their support for protections for pre-existing conditions.

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