Additional Health Legislation Advances Before Recess

The Senate sent to the President for his signature the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014 (H.R. 4631, nicknamed the Autism CARES Act) which reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act. Under the legislation the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be directed to designate an official to oversee and prevent duplication among national autism spectrum disorder research, services and support activities and provide a report to Congress on young adults with autism spectrum disorder and services provided as their transition from school-based services to services available to adults. The House unanimously passed H.R. 3635, the Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act, legislation that would force HHS to subject the HealthCare.gov website and any future versions to be certified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that they are secure from cyber attack with respect to key elements (such as Social Security numbers) before the public has access to the process. The House also unanimously passed H.R. 4709, Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, legislation designed to improve collaboration among regulators and those they regulate so as to help prevent prescription drug abuse. In addition, on a 27-20 vote the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 3522, the Employee Health Care Protection Act, which would allow group health coverage in effect in 2013 to continue to be offered to employers in the future for the benefit of both previously covered and future enrollees without violating the PPACA’s minimum essential coverage provisions. The Committee also voted 31-11 to pass H.R. 4067, legislation that extends the current freeze on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that requires critical access and small rural hospital physicians to directly supervise outpatient therapy services.

PPACA Remains in Republican Crosshairs Before Recess

At a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, the CMS Principal Deputy Administrator testified that the agency initially underestimated the scope and technical difficulties involved in developing the nationwide website HealthCare.gov which he said led to the cost that has escalated to $840 million through March as reported by GAO. GAO issued a report, Ineffective Planning and Oversight Practices Underscore the Need for Improved Contract Management, which recommends that CMS take immediate steps to mitigate the escalating costs and ensure the successful performance of the website and its constituents. CMS responded that organizational changes have been made and individuals given specific roles to address the problems. However, the deputy administrator admitted that while the website performance will improve, it will not function perfectly. He also said that the site has never been successfully breached in a cyber attack. At a hearing held by the committee’s Health Subcommittee, testimony was taken on the problems created by PPACA-related group health insurance plan cancellations, a subject addressed by the above-mentioned bill approved by the committee. A witness from the American Enterprise Institute said that about 170 million individuals will see their plans “change or disappear” as a result of the provisions of the PPACA, among them 9 million persons whose plans were cancelled outright. A witness from the Heritage Foundation testified that the law’s risk corridor program may not be needed while another witness from the Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute said that a similar program operating under Medicare Part D has demonstrated that the program may actually save taxpayers money. A second committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also weighed in with a report critical of the same insurance risk payment program—ObamaCare’s Taxpayer Bailout of Health Insurers and the White House’s Involvement to Increase Bailout Size—which also included White House correspondence indicating that health insurers might have to increase premiums by 20% or more in the absence of the program. The House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committee Chairmen along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) also sent a letter to the CMS administrator asking for details on the payments made to website contractors and whether any payments were withheld due to lack of performance. In a reverse play in support of the law, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to the Republican governors of Texas, Florida and North Carolina asking them to respond with the reasons why their states did not expand Medicaid as encouraged under the PPACA.

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