Back in Action: What Are the Health Care Priorities as Congress Returns from Recess?

Congress returned on Monday from August recess with a full agenda on health care. Lawmakers are poised to address several health care-related issues, including surprise medical billing, prescription drug costs and FY 2020 appropriations for the final legislative push before the end of the year. However, larger health care-focused legislative packages related to prescription drug pricing, surprise billing and price transparency are currently being tackled in committees and will not see floor action until later in the year.

For appropriations, the budget deal reached just before the August recess will increase government spending by $320 billion over the next two years while also raising the debt limit for the same amount of time. While the deal brokered by congressional leaders and the White House would avoid a government shutdown when FY 2019 ends later this month, those funds must still be allocated through the appropriations process. To date, the House has passed 10 of its 12 appropriations bills, but the Senate has yet to pass any. Currently, there are policy disputes on issues such as gun control and immigration that have stalled negotiations in the Senate. Thus, Congress is expected to pass a short-term continuing resolution (“CR”) next week to keep the government funded at current levels through November 22 in order to allow for more time to pass the outstanding appropriations measures or roll them into one or more omnibus bills.

Congress is also expected to pass legislation to reauthorize several health programs that expire at the end of this month. Programs that will run out of funding this month include community health centers, diabetes care and prevention services, a health outcomes research institute and a demonstration for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics, an eight-state Medicaid program to improve mental health care access. Should Congress fail to reauthorize any of these programs before they expire on September 30, lawmakers are expected to include them in any year-end government funding legislation and make any lost funding retroactive.

House Committee and Administration Look to Tackle Maternal Mortality Crisis

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing this week to address maternal health. Maternal mortality has the attention of lawmakers because reports show the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 60 percent of such deaths are preventable. Measures such as the MOMMA Act (H.R. 1897) and the Healthy MOMMIES Act (H.R. 2602) were highlighted which expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant and postpartum women to last for a full year past their pregnancy, rather than the 60 days under current law. Other legislation under discussion includes the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act (H.R. 2902) to establish grants to train health care providers on how to avoid unconscious bias when giving care and the Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act (H.R. 1551) to require HHS to develop maternity care quality measures.

Also this week, HHS announced a pledge of nearly $9 million to three states to improve maternal care. HHS is providing funds to Missouri, New Mexico and Texas to improve maternity and obstetric care in rural areas by looking to develop new ways to increase patient access and continuity of care. The goal of the program is to test whether more formal case management and a broader network of providers can improve outcomes. Networks of providers include hospitals, state Medicaid programs, home visiting services and Healthy Start, which provides prenatal and postpartum services.

Health-Related Bills Introduced This Week

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced S. 2446, the Medicare Audiologist Access and Services Act of 2019.

Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN) introduced H.R. 4283 to require federal agencies with jurisdiction over broadband deployment to enter into an interagency agreement related to certain types of funding for broadband deployment.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 2443, the Investment in Tomorrow’s Pediatric Health Care Workforce Act.

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) introduced H.R. 4244 to provide for a pathway for chemically synthesized insulin to be approved under an abbreviated new drug application submitted under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Next Week in Washington

Again, Congress will have only two full weeks to finish appropriations and fund expiring health programs when lawmakers return next week. Thus, Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded at current levels through November 22. Next Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on protecting unaccompanied children relating to immigration. Also on Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce will hold a hearing entitled, “Profits Over Consumers: Exposing How Pharmaceutical Companies Game the System.” HHS will hold a two-day event next week on physician-focused payment models to deliberate and vote on proposals submitted by individuals and stakeholder entities.