Health care policy issues continue to stream out of Congress and the Administration. The Senate held a markup of various health bills as part of its effort to produce a companion to the House of Representatives-passed 21st Century Cures legislation and CMS released long awaited Medicare Advantage rates.

As Washington speeds toward the November elections, there is a steady pace of legislative and regulatory activity that could have significant impacts companies and investors in the health care space.

On Tuesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a markup of five bills, completing its effort to advance comprehensive biomedical innovation. The bills passed out of committee with some amendments were:

  • S. 2700, FDA and NIH Workforce Authorities Modernization Act
  • S. 185, Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act
  • S. 2713, Advancing Precision Medicine Act of 2016
  • S. 2745, Advancing NIH Strategic Planning and Representation in Medical Research Act
  • S. 2742, Promoting Biomedical Research and Public Health for Patients Act

This was the third HELP Committee markup, following ones on March 9th and February 9th. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) expressed optimism that a comprehensive package of bills can be brought to the Senate floor for a vote late in the week of April 11th. Whether that can be accomplished is uncertain because the major stumbling block – increased funding for NIH – remains unresolved. Many Democratic Senators, including HELP Committee members Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) have indicated they will not support a bill without increased NIH funding.

On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced changes to Medicare Advantage (MA) payment polices for 2017. CMS will provide a .85 percent increase in MA payments, which is a decrease from the 1.32 percent increase in the proposed rule. The cuts will be phased in over two years. As expected House and Senate republicans blasted the proposal. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) remarked to Politico “The administration acted unilaterally to undermine an important, market-based health program by phasing in cuts over two years[.]” Industry reaction was mixed. For example, America’s Health Insurance Plans expressed pleasure with changes made to “risk adjustment and encounter data.” On the other side, the Better Medicare Alliance was concerned with the “negative impact on retirees who receive Medicare Advantage coverage through a former employer, union or state and local government entities.”

We will continue to monitor the progress of these and other health care issues as the surface the in the remaining days of the 114th Congress.