Health Legislation Considered by House Subcommittee

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee adopted the following bills, as amended, by voice vote, readying them for consideration by the full committee in July: H.R. 4771, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act ; H.R. 4250, the Sunscreen Innovation Act; H.R. 4701, the Vector-Borne Disease Research Accountability and Transparency Act; H.R. 669, the Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act; H.R. 594, the Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Community Assistance, Research and Education Amendments of 2013; and H.R. 4290, the Wakefield Act. In addition, the House of Representatives will take up under “suspension of the rules” the following health bills: H.R. 1098, the Traumatic Brain Injury Reauthorization Act; H.R. 1281, the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Reauthorization Act; H.R. 3548, the Improving Trauma Care Act of 2014; H.R. 4080, the Trauma Systems and Regionalization of Emergency Care Reauthorization Act; and H.R. 4631, the Autism CARES Act of 2014. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) gained approval to take up in the Senate legislation introduced by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), S. 2491, that (1) would deny the use of budget reconciliation to change the eligibility for or benefits provided under the Medicare program; and (2) use a “sense of the Senate” provision to oppose raising the eligibility age for Medicare and privatizing the program.

Conferees to Take Up Legislation Addressing VA Scandal

On Wednesday the House voted in favor of a motion to go to conference on H.R. 4810 and H.R. 3230, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, which is bipartisan legislation introduced by Senators Sanders (I-VT) and McCain (R-AZ) that passed the Senate on a vote of 93 to 3. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated cost of the legislation, $54 billion for the Senate bill and $44 billion for the House bill, appears to be the major hurdle for the conferees to overcome. Under both bills CBO estimates that veterans will be able to access care in the private sector in significant numbers.

Sebelius Defends Health Reform and HHS Moves Forward on the Law

Former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius publicly denounced House Republicans and other opponents of the PPACA health reform law and the President followed suit in his video presentation to a conference designed to encourage enrollment. HHS reported in a brief labeled “Premium Affordability, Competition, and Choice in the Health Insurance Marketplace, 2014” that individuals receiving federal tax subsidies paid on average only $69 per month for the silver plans they chose under the federal exchange. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also released a new web-based program, From Coverage to Care, to assist individuals in understanding their health benefits and obtaining health care (among the documents is “A Roadmap to Better Care and a Healthier You”). Despite the above, Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released a report by the HHS federal exchange contractor stating that the agency was warned about the potential problems related to the HealthCare.gov website as early a year before its operation as well as the serious code defects only a month before it went online last October 1st. Republicans took another shot at the law’s risk corridor program at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing in which Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) testified in support of a Congressional Research Service (CRS) finding that the Administration does not have the authority to pay insurers under the program without further action by the Congress to enact explicit appropriations. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that a survey of 48 insurers and cooperatives shows that about $1 billion in payments will be made under the program this year. However, the Acting Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) testified that the Administration believes the program will ultimately be budget neutral and that, if not, HHS does have the authority under the law to collect user fees from insurers. Republicans also disputed the operability of a statement in the President’s FY 2015 budget to the office to the effect that “such sums as may be collected from authorized user fees” may be credited to the risk corridor program and be available under expended. New HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell also sent a letter citing the agency’s legal authority for such payments using a similar argument. In other PPACA actions, the IRS issued final regulations with respect to the law’s provisions allowing a 90-day waiting period if the employee is “otherwise eligible” to enroll in a plan before the 90 days begin (i.e. having met the plan’s substantive eligibility conditions such as being in an eligible job classification, achieving job-related licensure requirements or satisfying a reasonable and bona fide employment-based orientation period up to one month).

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