Hearings on Ebola Crisis

At the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the President’s funding request to help fight Ebola, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), Ranking Republican of the committee, expressed the need for close congressional scrutiny of the use of the money, but did not overtly object to the request. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), who is also seeking the committee’s chairmanship next year, expressed his concern about the inadequacy of the amount of money requested to create more than fifty regional Ebola treatment centers in West Africa. Yet to be determined is whether the funding will be designated as “emergency” funding falling outside of the discretionary budget caps established under the current FY 2015 spending agreement. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the issue, there appeared to be bipartisan agreement on the need for the funding which includes $2.1 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and for related humanitarian assistance. However, several members were skeptical of the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and hinted that restrictions on the allocation of resources to the agency might be forthcoming to force the agency to become a positive force rather than a hindrance to efforts to combat and reduce the spread of the disease.

House Passes Health Bills

Indicating bipartisan support for several health measures, the House gave unanimous consent to the passage of: S. 2141, the Sunscreen Innovation Act; and S. 2539, the Traumatic Brain Injury Reauthorization Act. Another bill that may be pushed through the House during the lame-duck session is H.R. 5059, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Republican leadership has expressed their concern that the President may also “poison the well” to enact bipartisan immigration reform should he act unilaterally on immigration.

PPACA 2015 Enrollment Begins Amid Reduced Expectations

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials have lowered expectations for the number expected to enroll for 2015 via PPACA exchanges in that they now estimate that between 9 to 9.9 million individuals will sign up, a reduction from the 13 million estimated to be enrolled by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Part of the decrease may be due to the estimate that only 83% of current enrollees are expected to reenroll for 2014. On a positive note, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that the number of plans being offered has increased and that premiums for Bronze-level plans will only increase by 3%. However, it was reported that insurers are concerned about the “back-end” problems that still exist in the HealthCare.gov system which may result in individuals being billed for their current coverage in 2015 even though they may have elected a different plan for 2015. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the agency will finalize by January 1st the Form 8962 needed to establish premium tax credits for individuals enrolled under the law’s exchanges.

IRS/CMS Clarify PPACA Tax Credit Eligibility for Pregnant Women

The IRS and CMS issued guidance clarifying that women who are enrolled in a qualified health plan (QHP) prior to becoming pregnant but then become eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) after becoming pregnant may remain enrolled in their QHP and continue to receive premium tax credits, or may enroll in Medicaid or CHIP. If after childbirth the mother does not remain eligible for Medicaid or CHIP coverage, then she will be required to enroll in a QHP to maintain coverage needed to claim PPACA premium tax credits.

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