This Week in Washington: Congress passes six appropriations bills including skinny health package; House Ways and Means Committee reports bill to block CMS nursing home minimum staffing levels requirement; HHS requests information on private equity and corporate ownership in healthcare.

Congress

House

Congress Passes Six Appropriations Bills and Health Package

Last week, Congress passed the Agriculture-FDA, Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills and a health package. The FDA is set to receive $6.72 billion, of which $50 million will go towards helping the agency prioritize cosmetics oversight, alternatives to animal testing and the mitigation of product shortages. The health package addresses several issues but did not include transparency legislation or pharmacy benefit manager reforms. The bill:

  • Reduces the Medicare physician fee cut by increasing payments 1.68 percent;
  • Provides $4.27 billion for community health centers;
  • Makes permanent a state plan amendment to circumvent the IMD exclusion;
  • Requires state Medicaid plans to cover state Medicaid assisted treatments;
  • Increases funding for the Special Diabetes Program, the Special Diabetes Program for Native Americans and graduate teaching medical programs;
  • Establishes behavioral health clinic services as an optional Medicaid benefit; and
  • Requires HHS to issue guidance on how states can improve integrating behavioral health with primary care.

House Ways and Means Committee Favorably Reports Bill that Would Block CMS Nursing Home Minimum Staffing Rule

On March 5, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up and reported out of committee the Protecting America’s Seniors’ Access to Care Act. The legislation would block the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from finalizing a rule that would establish minimum staffing levels for skilled nursing facilities. The committee also reported for the full House to consider two other bills which were:

  • H.R. 5074, the Kidney PATIENT Act of 2023, which would delay the inclusion of oral-only end stage renal disease (ESRD) related drugs in the Medicare ESRD prospective payment system; and
  • H.R. 7512, the Real-Time Benefit Tool Implementation Act, which would implement real-time benefit tools under Part D of the Medicare Program.

For more information, click here.

House Budget Committee Marks Up FY 2025 Concurrent Resolution on the Budget

On March 7, the House Budget Committee marked up and reported out of committee the Fiscal Year 2025 Concurrent Resolution on the Budget. The concurrent resolution contains proposals that support site-neutral payment requirements, Medicaid work requirements and the creation of a bipartisan fiscal commission to address Medicare insolvency. It also contains proposals seeking to eliminate the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program and the Affordable Care Act tax credits. For more information, click here.

Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act of 2024 Introduced

On March 5, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) introduced H.R. 7520, the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act of 2024. In many respects, this bill codifies the executive order that President Biden issued on Feb. 28 concerning sensitive personal data. The legislation seeks to ban the sale, transfer or disclosure of Americans’ sensitive data, including health information, to foreign adversary countries or entities controlled by them.

Senate

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sends Letter Concerning Medicaid and CHIP Unwinding

On March 5, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) sent a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure concerning the unwinding of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program continuous enrollment in states. The chairman and ranking member are concerned that errors in state eligibility and enrollment systems and operations are resulting in the disenrollment of millions of lower-income individuals and their children. They are jointly recommending that CMS require states to commit to specific plans to adopt sustainable, long-term system fixes and to make public state eligibility and enrollment operations data. For more information, click here.

Senators Send Letter Concerning March-In Rights

On March 4, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) led sixteen senators in sending a letter to National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Monica Bertagnolli concerning a Biden administration proposal to use march-in rights to lower drug prices. The senators are concerned that the NIH’s use of march-in rights will dissuade drug manufacturers from partnering with the agency to develop new cures and treatments and will jeopardize patients’ access to them. In addition, the ranking member sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, requesting that the GAO investigate whether the proposal meets the definition of a rule under the Congressional Review Act. To read the letter to the NIH Director, click here. To read the letter to the GAO Comptroller General, click here.

Sen. Warren Sends Letter to GlaxoSmithKline CEO Concerning Inhaler

On March 1, Sen. Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Chief Executive Officer Emma Walmsley concerning GSK’s decision to discontinue marketing its Flovent HFA inhaler and to replace it with its own authorized generic alternative. In the letter, Sen. Warren argues that GSK’s decision to discontinue the marketing of Flovent HFA is an attempt to circumvent provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that require drug manufacturers to pay new rebates to Medicaid based on historical price increases for their drugs. The senator is requesting that GSK submit information concerning the average list and net prices of Flovent HFA and its generic alternative. For more information, click here.

Senate Budget Committee Holds Hearing on Primary Care

On March 12, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing to discuss how primary care can improve the efficiency of healthcare. Announced witnesses were:

  • Christopher Koller, President of the Milbank Memorial Fund
  • Amol Navathe, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School
  • Bob Rauner, President of the Partnership for a Healthy Nebraska and Representative of the American Academy of Family Physicians
  • Lisa M. Grabert, Visiting Research Professor at the Marquette University College of Nursing
  • Christina Taylor, Chief Medical Officer of Clover Health Value Based Care and President-elect of the Iowa Medical Society

During the hearing, committee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced a discussion draft of a bill that would encourage the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish hybrid primary care payments under the Medicare program, provide Medicare beneficiaries with cost-sharing relief for certain primary care services and create a new technical advisory committee to help CMS more accurately determine Fee Schedule rates. For more information on the hearing, click here. For more information on the discussion draft, click here.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.