This Week in Washington: Congress passes remaining appropriations bills; House Energy and Commerce Committee marks up 17 healthcare bills; CMS announces coverage for some Wegovy prescriptions.

Congress

House

Congress Passes Remaining Appropriations Bills

On March 22, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion funding package that included the Defense, Financial Services, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, Legislative Branch and State-Foreign Operations appropriations bills.

The Department of Health and Human Services will receive $117 billion, a $955 million dollar increase compared to last year. $48.6 billion will go towards the National Institutes of Health to improve Alzheimer’s, cancer, mental health and diabetes research. The funds will:

  • Support the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Program;
  • Bolster Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Modernization Initiative reforms;
  • Strengthen Health Resources and Services Administration telehealth efforts;
  • Expand rural health grants; and
  • Increase efforts to counter the flow of illicit fentanyl.

Funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health and tuberculosis activities will remain flat and funding for family planning, global health and COVID-19 programs will be cut. The agreement includes a legacy ban on using federal funds to match patients to their health records with a unique ID and a requirement for HHS to report on COVID-19 countermeasure claims that have not been resolved in the vaccine injury compensation program.

Not included in the appropriations package were proposals addressing pharmacy benefit managers, healthcare transparency and community health center funding increases.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Marks Up 17 Healthcare Bills

On March 20, the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up and reported out of committee 17 healthcare bills concerning emergency medical services, Alzheimer’s caregiver and patient support, poison control centers, cancer screening programs and lifespan respite care.

The bills were:

H.R. 619, NAPA Reauthorization Act: Reauthorizes the National Alzheimer’s Project through 2035, updates the project’s purpose and expands the membership and reporting requirements of the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services.

H.R. 620, Alzheimer’s Accountability and Investment Act: Requires the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue to submit an annual budget estimate to Congress to achieve the initiatives and goals included in the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease.

H.R. 7218, Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act of 2024: Reauthorizes programs focused on improving Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementia education, early detection, diagnosis, patient and caregiver support, risk reduction and other activities at currently appropriated levels for fiscal years 2025 through 2029.

H.R. 4581, Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act of 2024: Clarifies that evidence-based activities and research focused on reducing the incidence of stillbirth are permissible uses of the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant.

H.R. 2706, Charlotte Woodward Organ Transplant Discrimination Prevention Act: Prohibits healthcare providers from denying or restricting an individual’s access to organ transplants solely on the basis of the individual’s disability, except in limited circumstances.

H.R. 4646, SIREN Reauthorization Act: Reauthorizes and modifies the Rural Emergency Medical Services Training and Equipment Assistance Program for fiscal years 2024 through 2028.

H.R. 6160, To amend the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize a lifespan respite care program: Reauthorizes the Lifespan Respite Care Program through fiscal year 2028. The Lifespan Respite Care Program empowers coordinated state systems to provide accessible, community-based respite care services for family caregivers of children and adults.

H.R. 6960, Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act of 2024: Reauthorizes the Emergency Medical Services for Children Program for fiscal years 2024 through 2029.

H.R. 7153, Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act: Reauthorizes the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act which works to prevent suicide and burnout, as well as address mental and behavioral health conditions among healthcare professionals. The legislation would direct the HHS Secretary to prioritize the allocation of resources for healthcare professional mental health and substance use disorder services.

H.R. 7251, Poison Control Centers Reauthorization Act of 2024: Reauthorizes certain poison control programs including the maintenance of the national toll-free phone number, the promotion of poison control center utilization and the maintenance of a program that awards grants to accredited poison control centers.

H.R. 7224, To amend the Public Health Service Act to reauthorize the Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond to Health and Wellness Training Program: Reauthorizes the Stop, Observe, and Respond to Health and Wellness Training Program through fiscal year 2029. The program trains healthcare and social service providers to identify potential human trafficking victims and work with law enforcement as well as address other issues related to human trafficking.

H.R. 7208, Dennis John Beningo Traumatic Brain Injury Program Reauthorization Act: Reauthorizes certain Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) programs aimed at improving TBI prevention, patient advocacy systems and access to TBI rehabilitation.

H.R. 6829, Cardiomyopathy Health Education, Awareness, and Research, and AED Training in the Schools (HEARTS) Act of 2024: Directs HHS to develop and distribute educational materials regarding cardiomyopathy, automated external defibrillators and cardiopulmonary resuscitation to school administrators, educators, health professionals and families. It would also direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to report on its national cardiomyopathy surveillance and research activities to Congress.

H.R. 7189, Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act of 2024: Reauthorizes a national congenital heart disease research, surveillance and awareness program through fiscal year 2029.

H.R. 7406, DeOndra Dixon INCLUDE Project Act of 2024: Authorizes the NIH Investigation of Co-occurring Conditions across the Lifespan to Understand Down Syndrome Project and requires the NIH to report to Congress on the program’s progress and related research.

H.R. 3916, SCREENS for Cancer Act of 2024: Reauthorizes the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program through fiscal year 2028 and modifies and updates program reporting requirements.

H.R. 5074, Kidney PATIENT Act: Delays the implementation of the inclusion of oral-only End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) drugs in the Medicare ESRD Prospective Payment System.

In addition, the committee marked up 11 bills concerning energy, infrastructure and communication technologies.

For more information, click here.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Health Holds Hearing on Pending Healthcare Legislation

On March 21, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a legislative hearing to discuss pending healthcare bills. One of the bills concerns the inclusion of psychiatric drugs in the Department of Veterans Affairs drug formulary.

The bills were:

H.R. 3584, Veterans CARE Act: Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA Secretary) to conduct and support research on the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis.

H.R. 3644, ACT for Veterans Act: Extends the authorization period for emergency treatment in non-Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities under the Veterans Community Care Program.

H.R. 3649, Veterans National Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Act: Directs the VA Secretary to establish a pilot program to furnish hyperbaric oxygen therapy to a veteran who has a traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

H.R. 4424, Vietnam Veterans Liver Fluke Cancer Study Act: Directs the VA Secretary to study and report on the prevalence of cholangiocarcinoma in veterans who served in the Vietnam theater of operations during the Vietnam era.

H.R. 5530, VA Emergency Transportation Access Act: Prohibits the VA Secretary from making changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs rate of payment or reimbursement provided for transportation of veterans and other eligible individuals on special modes of transportation.

H.R. 6324, Fiscal Year 2024 Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Authorization Act: Authorizes major medical facility projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal year 2024.

H.R. 6373, Veterans STAND Act: Directs the VA Secretary to offer annual preventative health evaluations to veterans with a spinal cord injury or disorder and increase access to assistive technologies.

H.R. 7347, To amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to report on whether the Secretary will include certain psychedelic drugs in the formulary of the Department of Veterans Affairs: Directs the VA Secretary to report on whether the Secretary will include certain psychedelic drugs in the formulary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

H.R. 3225, BUILD for Veterans Act of 2023: Improves the management and performance of the capital asset programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

H.R. 5794, Veterans Affairs Peer Review Neutrality Act of 2023: Eliminates conflicts of interest in conduct of quality management and administrative investigations by the Veterans Health Administration.

H.R. 5247, Expedited Hiring for VA Trained Psychiatrists Act of 2023: Improves the authority of the VA Secretary to hire psychiatrists.

H.R. 3303, Maternal Health for Veterans Act: Supports programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs relating to the coordination of maternity healthcare.

For more information, click here.

House Passes Bill to Extend CBO Cost Estimate Period for Preventive Healthcare Legislation

On March 19, the House passed H.R. 766, the Dr. Michael C. Burgess Preventive Health Savings Act. The legislation would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to calculate the budgetary effects for 30 years for healthcare policies related to preventive care. The CBO currently limits its cost estimates to a single 10-year period. The reason for this move is that the CBO often scores preventive health policies as costing funds, which makes passage difficult because the provisions usually need to be paid for meaning that other services must be reduced. It is believed that a longer budget window estimate would show that in the out years the policies would save federal funds. It is unclear whether the Senate will take up the legislation.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairmen Request GAO Investigation of 9-8-8 Funding

On March 20, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and two subcommittee chairmen, Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA), sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, requesting the GAO investigate funding for the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Program.

The chairmen are interested in knowing the extent to which states and grantees have used Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration COVID-19 supplemental funding for the 9-8-8 program and are looking for information on how remaining funds will be used.

For more information, click here.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health Holds Hearing on Regulation of Clinical Tests

On March 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss diagnostic test regulation and the potential impacts of a proposed Food and Drug Administration rule that would classify in-vitro diagnostic products as devices and subject them to oversight under medical device authorities. Witnesses were:

  • Susan Van Meter, President of the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA)
  • Zach Rothstein, JD, Executive Director of AdvaMedDx
  • Donald S. Karcher, MD, FCAP, President of the College of American Pathologists (CAP)
  • Jeff Allen, PhD, President and CEO of Friends of Cancer Research
  • Dara L. Aisner, MD, PhD, Medical Director at the Colorado Molecular Correlates Laboratory, Professor of Pathology at the University of Colorado and Representative of the Academic Coalition for Effective Laboratory Developed Tests

For more information, click here.

House Ways and Means Committee Holds Hearing on President’s FY2025 Budget Request for HHS

On March 20, the House Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request for the Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services testified.

For more information, click here.

House Appropriations Committee Holds Hearing on President’s FY2025 Budget Request for HHS

On March 20, the House Appropriations Committee held a hearing to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request for the Department of Health and Human Services. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services testified.

For more information, click here.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Holds Hearing on Vaccine Safety Systems

On March 21, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing to discuss federal vaccine injury reporting and compensation systems. Witnesses were:

  • Patrick Whelan, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the UCLA Division of Rheumatology
  • David Gortler, Pharm.D., Senior Research Fellow for Public Health Policy and Regulation at the Heritage Foundation
  • Renée Gentry, Director of the George Washington University Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic
  • Yvonne “Bonnie” Maldonado, M.D., Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Stanford University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics

For more information, click here.

Ninety-Six Representatives Send Letter Concerning Change Healthcare Cyberattack

On March 19, Rep. Miller-Meeks (R-IA) and 95 other representatives sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra regarding the Change Healthcare cyberattack.

In the letter, the members state that HHS should:

  • Ensure that timely payments are made to Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program providers;
  • Address the inability of patients to receive timely access to medications due to patient identity and eligibility verification disruptions; and
  • Continue its discussions with United Health Group, Change Healthcare and Optum.

For more information, click here.

Thirty-Nine Representatives Send Letter Concerning No Surprises Act Implementation

On March 20, Rep. Wenstrup (R-OH) and 38 other representatives sent a letter to Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury Secretaries Xavier Becerra, Julie Su and Janet Yellen, concerning the implementation of the No Surprises Act.

The members are urging the departments to:

  • Enable parties to include or batch all items and services associated with a single patient encounter;
  • Require payors to share additional information with providers, including on whether a claim is eligible for the federal independent dispute process (IDR);
  • Create a process for the government to assist IDR entities to reduce any backlogs in processing disputes; and
  • Require that payors subject to the IDR process register with the departments and provide information concerning the applicability of the IDR process to items or services covered by the plan.

For more information, click here.

Republican Study Committee Releases FY2025 Budget Plan

On March 20, the Republican Study Committee released its fiscal year 2025 Budget Plan. Concerning healthcare reforms, the plan aims to:

  • Repeal the $35 price cap on insulin and the $2000 Inflation Reduction Act out-of-pocket cap;
  • Eliminate Medicare’s authority to negotiate prescription drug costs;
  • Transition the Medicare program to a premium support system;
  • Convert Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program into five block grants and cut funding by $4.5 trillion over the next ten years;
  • Expand Health Savings Accounts and Association Health Plans; and
  • Allow the construction of new Physician Owned Hospitals.

For more information, click here.

Senate

Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Sends Letter Concerning Change Healthcare Cyberattack

On March 21, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sen. Tuberville (R-AL) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra concerning HHS’ response to the Change Healthcare cyberattack.

The senators are requesting information on the steps HHS has taken to respond to the attack and on how the agency has assisted providers who were unable to process or receive timely payments following the attack.

For more information, click here.

Health Care Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2024 Introduced

In response to the Change Health cyberattack issues, on March 22, Sen. Warner (D-VA) introduced the Health Care Cybersecurity Improvement Act of 2024. The legislation would modify the Medicare Hospital Accelerated Payment and Medicare Part B Advance Payment programs to allow advance and accelerated payments to be made to healthcare providers in the event of a cyberattack so long as the provider and its vendors meet minimum cybersecurity standards.

For more information, click here.

Senators Send Letter Concerning Essential Health Benefits

On March 19, Sens. Kaine (D-VA), Baldwin (D-WI), Markey (D-MA), Smith (D-MN) and Luján (D-NM) sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure concerning essential health benefits (EHB) coverage.

The senators are urging HHS to address EHB coverage gaps by initiating rulemaking to update and revise EHBs. They are urging HHS to institute a minimum standard of coverage that applies to every EHB category, establish a permanent structure for regularly reviewing and updating EHBs and expand the scope of services within the current EHB categories.

For more information, click here.

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