House Republicans Release Medicare Reform Proposal

House Republicans Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Renee Ellmers (R-NC) released a white paper to promote Medicare reforms that would among other things: reform the Medicare physician payment system; combine the Medicare Part A and B deductibles and increase premiums for higher-income beneficiaries; create a catastrophic coverage spending cap; adopt medical liability reform; and prevent waste, fraud and abuse.

Mental Health Bill Passes Senate HELP Committee

The Senate HELP Committee voice voted to pass S. 689, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act of 2013, which is intended to promote awareness and early identification of mental health problems, especially among youths and young adults. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said he plans to offer an amendment to the bill when it reaches the Senate floor to cover behavioral health facilities under the “meaningful use” health IT standards.

CMS Nominee to Get Vote

After an uneventful, but successful, hearing last week on the nomination of Marilyn Tavenner to become the Administrator of CMS, Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said he hopes to have the Senate Finance Committee vote on the nomination this week.

CMS Grants for PPACA Navigators

Following the release of proposed rules for PPACA navigators, CMS announced that the agency will provide $54 million in one-year grants for individuals and entities who will help consumers understand and facilitate the choice of coverage options to be offered under the online health insurance exchanges opening for enrollment on October 1st. At a Senate appropriations hearing on the budget, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) objected to the Administrations reallocation of spending under the PPACA’s Prevention and Health Fund (which Senator Harkin authored) to pay for the navigator program.

National Physician Payment Transparency Program Website

CMS announced that the new National Physician Payment Transparency Program website will begin posting data in September to make publicly available the information collected on payments made to physicians by drug and device manufacturers (who must register on the website in 2014).

ACO Working Group Activities

The FTC and Department of Justice have published a summary of the activities of the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Working Group that includes Q&As from providers looking for assistance in setting up ACOs.

Medicare DME Providers Chosen

CMS announced that 799 durable medical equipment (DME) providers have been selected, from among 2,641 bidding suppliers, to participate in the 91 city expansion of the Medicare competitive bidding program during Round Two. CMS estimated that for eight product categories the average payment will be 45% less than under the Medicare fee schedule, thus saving Medicare Part B about $25.7 billion between 2013 and 2022.

MACPAC Expresses Concerns About Medicaid Physician Payment Increases

At a meeting last week, members of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) raised concerns about the PPACA’s two-year mandate to increase primary care physician reimbursement rates under Medicaid to the rates generally available under Medicare in 2013-14. Several members called the initiative a failure in its attempt to draw more PCPs into the Medicaid system (particularly in light of the vast expansion of Medicaid under the PPACA). However, another member suggested that MACPAC recommend that Congress make the program permanent.

Upcoming Health-Related Hearings/Markups

House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “A Continuing Investigation into the Fungal Meningitis Outbreak and Whether It Could Have Been Prevented;” 10:00 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg; April 16.

Senate Finance Committee: will hold a hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget; 10:00 a.m., 215 Dirksen Bldg.; April 17.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee: will hold a hearing titled “A Financial Review of the Department of Health and Human Services and its Fiscal Year 2014 Budget;” 10:00 a.m., 2123 Rayburn Bldg; April 18.

Senate Appropriations, Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on proposed fiscal 2014 appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration, 10:30 a.m., 124 Dirksen Bldg; April 18

House Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health will hold a Round Table Discussion regarding Patient-Centered Procurement, 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg; April 18

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