HHS Announces Initiative to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse

HHS has announced an initiative aimed at reducing prescription opioid and heroin related misuse, dependence and overdose. The initiative will address three priority areas: providing training and educational resources, including updated prescriber guidelines, to assist health professionals in making informed prescribing decisions; increasing the use of naloxone; and expanding the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget included $133 million in new funding to address these issues. The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing on this subject titled “Examining the Growing Problems of Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse: State and Local Perspectives,” last week.

SGR Consideration to Resume After Recess

Last week, the House passed H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, by a vote of 392-37. Four Democrats and 33 Republicans voted against the bill, with another four Democrats not voting. Republicans who voted in opposition to H.R. 2 would not support a measure that was not fully offset. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the package would increase the federal deficit by $141 billion over 11 years. The Senate did not act on H.R. 2 before adjourning for a two-week recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted to fast track the legislation through unanimous consent, a maneuver that would have required the approval of all 100 senators. Some Republicans were weary of considering a bill that was not fully paid for without the chance of debate. The chamber will instead take up the measure when it returns, according to Sen. McConnell, who said he would work with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to quickly schedule a vote on the bill. The current sustainable growth rate (SGR) patch expires on Tuesday, March 31. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can hold checks for two weeks without interrupting provider’s cash flow, through April 14. The Senate returns from recess on April 13. The Agency told providers that it would hold electronic claims for 14 calendar days and paper claims for 29 days after the date of receipt. Claims rendered on or before March 31 will not be affected. CMS also noted that it would update providers again by April 11 regarding next steps given the status of congressional action on the SGR. WhileSenate Majority Leader McConnell has predicted that the bill will pass the Senate by a large majority, there are still some issues that must be addressed. Senate Minority Leader Reid has asked that a limited number of amendments be offered when the legislation comes up for a vote, including one amendment that would extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for four years, an increase over the two years of funding included in the House-passed bill. House leaders have indicated that they will not consider another short-term fix. The Senate is also under pressure from the President, who has expressed support for the bipartisan SGR repeal agreement reached in the House. Without another SGR patch or permanent repeal of the formula, physicians face a 21 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements on April 1st.

Upcoming Congressional Meetings and Hearings

Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control: hearing on the quota system used to manage controlled substances; time and place TBD; April 14

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee: hearing titled “Examining Access and Quality of Care and Services for Women Veterans;” 10:30 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.; April 30

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