Senate Approves ACA Repeal

On December 3, the Senate approved a bill (H.R. 3762) that repeals major provisions of the Affordable Care Act ("ACA") by a vote of 52-47. The Senate used a budget rule known as reconciliation to pass the bill without the usual 60-vote threshold. The bill would repeal the ACA's Medicaid expansion and subsidies (after 2017) as well as the 2.3 percent medical device tax. The bill would effectively eliminate the individual and employer mandate by eliminating their penalties. The bill would also defund Planned Parenthood for one year and use the funding to help states address mental health care and substance abuse disorders. The House will now have to approve the Senate passed bill, but that is not expected to be a problem. However, the White House will veto the bill, and the Senate doesn't have the required 67 votes to overcome the veto. 

CMS Pushes Deadline for Electronic Clinical Quality Measure Data

CMS extended the deadline for eligible hospitals participating in the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting ("IQR") or Medicare Electronic Health Record ("EHR") Incentive Programs to submit electronic clinical quality measure ("eCQM") data. Hospitals have until 11:59 PM on December 31, 2015 to submit eCQM data to the QualityNet Secure Portal.

The extension only applies to the eCQM voluntary submission option for the IQR Program and the electronic reporting option for the EHR Incentive Program. The deadline change does not affect the February 29, 2016 meaningful use attestation deadline.

CMS Reports Growth in 2014 National Health Spending

On December 2, CMS announced that U.S. health care spending grew by 5.3 percent in 2014. The growth in spending is largely due to rising prescription drug costs and Medicaid coverage expansion under the ACA. However, the rate of growth in 2014 remains below the level in most years before the expansion.

According to the CMS report, retail prescription drug expenditures increased by 12.2 percent from 2013 as a result of increased spending on specialty drugs and price hikes for brand name medications. Health care spending in 2014 also grew by 11 percent for Medicaid, 5.5 percent for Medicare, 4.1 percent for hospital care, 4.4 percent for private health insurance and 4.6 percent for physician and clinical services.

OSHA Unveils New Resources for Hospitals to Prevent Workplace Violence

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") has released new tools to guide hospitals in creating more stringent measures to prevent violence in the workplace. On December 1, OSHA unveiled a new website with resources for preventing workplace violence that supplement the agency's Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence for Healthcare and Social Services Workers publication.

Industry leaders have questioned OSHA's continued issuance of guidance for workplace safety given that it lacks specific regulations and has been widely considered a law enforcement issue within the health care sector. OSHA said that its new web resources aim to provide employers in health care settings with a number of strategies and tools, including management commitment and worker participation, work site analysis and hazard identification, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training and recordkeeping and program evaluation, to improve workplace violence awareness and policies. 

Bills Introduced This Week

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced a bill (S. 2343) to require HHS to allow eligible rural hospitals to test telehealth models through the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation ("CMMI"). The Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act directs CMMI to evaluate telehealth services for effectiveness, cost and improvement in care quality without increasing delivery costs. Under the legislation, telehealth models that meet the CMMI criteria will be covered under the greater Medicare program. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) introduced a companion bill (H.R. 4155) in the House.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced legislation (S. 2342) to reduce costs for prescription drugs for low-income seniors living in Puerto Rico and the four other U.S. territories. The bill would make Medicare beneficiaries in all U.S. territories eligible to participate in the low-income subsidy program under Part D to help pay for monthly premiums and out-of-pocket drug costs.

Next Week in Congress

Congress heads home for the weekend, but the clock is still ticking down to the deadline for an omnibus spending agreement. There is just one week until federal spending authority expires on December 11. Both chambers return on Monday where it is expected that Congress may extend the deadline for a week to provide negotiators more time.