House Ways and Means Committee Moves Health Care-Related Bills

On September 17, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up group bills, including health care-related legislation that would expand the religious liberty exemption to the individual mandate. The second bill would allow individuals to use health savings accounts ("HSAs") and similar vehicles to use those monies to purchase over-the-counter drugs, a practice that is currently prohibited by the ACA. While these bills should reach the floor of the House for a vote, their future in the Senate and beyond is uncertain.

The markup is the first in what is believed to be a series of hearings to move health care-related legislation in the House this fall. The committee is also expected to examine the federally subsidized system for training doctors once they graduate from medical school. Lawmakers want to include in a legislative package proposals that would use lump sum payments to cover the indirect costs associated with training medical residents.

Last month, a group of 25 GOP lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office to recommend changes to the system in order to maximize taxpayer dollars and ensure a sufficient physician workforce. The request comes on the heels of lawmakers soliciting input on how to improve graduate medical education last winter

At issue is the cost of the programs that provide doctors with advanced training. According to a 2014 Institute of Medicine report that recommended changing the system, the programs cost more than $15 billion in 2012, with an estimated $9.7 billion stemming from Medicare and $3.9 billion from Medicaid.

Sen. Alexander Calls for Delay of Meaningful Use Stage 2 Final Rule

At a hearing on September 16, Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) joined a chorus of other voices calling on CMS to delay the final rule for Stage 3 of the meaningful use program until 2017. However, he did call on the agency to release the proposed modifications to Stage 2 so that they can be adopted immediately. Alexander said his committee is working on legislation that would make changes to the meaningful use program but gave no indication as to when that legislation would be introduced. The Senator's call for delay of the Stage 3 final rule was warmly received by hospital and physician groups who have been lobbying the administration to delay its release as well.

Senators Introduce Bill to Repeal Cadillac Tax

Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced legislation aimed at rolling back the ACA's 40 percent excise tax on high-cost employer health plans starting in 2018. More than half of the House has signed onto companion legislation authored by Reps. Diane Black (R-TN) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has indicated that his committee will mark up a "Cadillac tax" repeal bill sometime this fall. However, there is still no agreement on how to pay for the cost of repealing the tax, which the CBO estimates will cost $87 billion.

Bills Introduced This Week

House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady introduced a bill (H.R. 3520) that would amend the Public Health Service Act to direct HHS to create an interagency committee to coordinate all efforts within the department concerning pulmonary hypertension.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced a bill (S. 2030) that is intended to help advance the development of targeted drugs for patients with serious or life-threatening injuries. The bill does not change the FDA's current approval standards.

Next Week in Washington

The Senate will vote on a 20-week abortion ban bill on September 22. The vote will be a procedural motion that will need 60 votes and is expected to be unsuccessful. The Pope visits Washington next week. On September 23, he will meet with the President; on September 24, he will make his first ever address to a joint session of Congress.

Current budget authority expires on September 30, leaving the House only three more legislative days to pass a funding measure to keep the government open. In recent days, House Republicans have considered a host of options that would fund the government and eliminate Planned Parenthood's mandatory funding streams.