AHA President Endorses Hall Render Stark Initiative During Congressional Hearing

On Tuesday, January 21 and Wednesday, January 22, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a two-day hearing on the Sustainable Growth Rate (“SGR”) and other health-related initiatives.  During the hearing, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) questioned AHA President Richard Umbdenstock, who was one of the testifying witnesses, about the Hall Render Stark Initiative.  Umbdenstock reaffirmed the AHA’s endorsement of the legislation that would limit the penalty a hospital can suffer for committing a technical violation of the Stark Law and create an expedited process for resolution by CMS.

The Stark Administrative Simplification Act was introduced last year by Reps. Boustany (R-LA) and Kind (D-WI) and will be reintroduced in the early part of this year.  According to industry analysis, the bill (H.R. 3776 in the last Congress) could generate as much as $1 billion in new revenue over a 10-year period.   Rep. Brooks suggested this potential offset could be an attractive option in helping pay for an SGR replacement, which was at focus during the two-day hearing.

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation (H.R. 4015) to repeal the SGR became bogged down as a result of agreeing to offsets.  In 2014, Republicans proposed delaying the ACA’s individual mandate as the offset while Democrats argued that war funds should be used.  The Republican proposal failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.  The SGR, which determines Medicare physician payments, expires on March 31 and without a permanent fix or extension physician payments, would be reduced by 21 percent.

State of the Union Quiet on the Health Care Front

On Tuesday, January 20, President Obama delivered the annual State of the Union Address before Congress. The President only touched lightly on health care, repeating his threat to veto bills that “put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance.”  He announced a “precision medicine” initiative that will use digital and genomic data to develop targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases.  The President also called for more medical research and investment into Alzheimer’s and the BRAIN Initiative.

CMS Launches Dialysis Star Rating Website

On Thursday, January 22, CMS announced their addition of star rating to the Dialysis Facility Compare website.  The rating system gives a one- to five-star rating based on information about the quality of care and services that a dialysis facility provides.  CMS plans to update the star rating on an annual basis beginning October 2015.

Bills Introduced This Week

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill to provide a technical change to the Medicare long-term care hospital moratorium exception.  According to Cornyn’s office, an error in current law prevents long-term health care facilities from increasing the number of beds for long-term patients.  The legislation (S. 202) would correct the error and ensure facilities can expand to the meet the need for long-term health care in their regions.  A companion bill (H.R. 441) was also introduced in the House.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) introduced legislation (H.R. 512) to amend Title XVIII of the Social Security Act to encourage the development and use of DISARM antimicrobial drugs.

Next Week in Congress

The House and Senate return on Monday for another legislative week.  The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee announced it will hold a hearing Tuesday, January 27, on public health legislation.  On Thursday, January 29, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on employer wellness programs.