POLICY BRIEFINGS


Senate Passes Mental Health, TSCA and Microbeads Legislation Before Adjourning


Before adjourning for the calendar year, the Senate passed S. 1893, the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, by unanimous consent. The bipartisan bill is aimed at assisting states and local communities to prevent suicide, help children recover from traumatic events, improve mental health awareness, and assess barriers to integrating behavioral health and primary care. Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) urged the House to pass the bill without delay. The Senate also passed an overhaul of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in order to ensure that risk assessments of chemicals in commercial products would only take into consideration the impact on health and the environment when determining whether to allow a chemical to be manufactured or sold. The House passed their chamber’s version of the bill in June. The bill would direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to complete industry-requested risk assessments of chemicals in commercial products. It would also establish a four-year mandatory deadline for industry compliance with EPA regulations, and expedite EPA regulation on 90 chemicals that are known to be dangerous. The cap on fees that industry pays to offset the EPA’s cost in conducting reviews would be increased from $18 million to $25 million. EPA’s decisions would also be required to consider the impact of chemicals on vulnerable populations. The Senate also passed H.R.1321, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The bipartisan legislation was championed by House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and will begin the phase out of plastic microbeads from personal care products on July 1, 2017. The bill was previously passed by the House and now heads to President Obama for his signature.


Drug Overdose Deaths Reached Record High in 2014


Deaths attributed to overdoses of opioid pain relievers and heroin reached record levels in 2014, increasing 14 percent over the course of just one year, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prescribed opioid pain relievers continue to be the cause of more overdose deaths than any other type of opioid type, and increased by 9 percent between 2013 and 2014. More than 6 out of 10 drug overdose deaths in 2014 involved opioids. Between 2000 and 2014, nearly half a million Americans have died from drug overdoses. The CDC also released its draft opioid guidelines last week, which were essentially unchanged from an earlier version of the document that was strongly criticized by patient advocates. The guidelines assert that there is no evidence to support a long-term benefit of treating chronic pain with opioids, while there is extensive evidence indicating potential harms of opioid use. Comments on the draft guidelines are due by January 13, and CDC has committed to releasing the final guidelines in 2016.


Bill Passed to Extend Hardship Exception for Meaningful Use


Congress passed the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act on Friday, which would help ensure flexibility in applying for the hardship exception for Meaningful Use (MU) for the 2015 electronic health record (EHR) reporting period for 2017 payment adjustments. S. 2425 includes a provision that would automatically grant every physician who applies by March 15, 2016 with a hardship exception in order to avoid penalties being assessed in 2017. The bill’s MU provision was similar to legislation championed in the House by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and was introduced by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and cosponsored by Senate Finance Committee leaders Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in addition to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). It was passed by the Senate through an expedited process and Rep. Price worked with House leadership to ensure passage by the House under unanimous consent.


Administration Extends Deadline to Enroll in Health Exchange


The Obama administration extended the deadline by two days for HealthCare.Gov shoppers who wanted their coverage to begin on January 1. The December 15 deadline was extended until December 17 for coverage beginning at the start of calendar year 2016. Officials reported that the site experienced a surge of people beginning to select their plans in the past week, and the additional 48 hours allowed these customers to complete their enrollment. Officials noted that a total of 2.8 million people had already signed up this year. The extension was announced the same week in which the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new poll showing that only seven percent of uninsured respondents know about the deadline for open enrollment. Affordability was the main reason respondents offered for not signing up for health insurance. The final deadline to sign up for coverage next year is January 31.



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