Zika Update

Congress has left town for a one week recess without reaching an agreement on funding levels and a legislative path forward for moving an emergency funding bill to combat the Zika virus. Democrats and the Administration are pushing for funds in the amount of $1.9 billion, and legislation has been introduced in both chambers to fully fund that request (H.R. 5044/S. 2843). But Senate appropriators are trying to negotiate a compromise closer to $1.1 billion. This amount is thought to be somewhat less likely to attract resistance from fiscal conservatives in the House. Some House Republicans are demanding that emergency spending for Zika be offset by matching cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. Although House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said that the $589 million the White House has transferred from the administration’s Ebola response to Zika should be sufficient for fiscal year (FY) 2016, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) has said that work has already begun on a House Zika funding bill. While Democrats have thus far not disrupted the regular appropriations process by attaching emergency funds, this remains a possibility moving forward. Officials from the administration, including HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Dr. Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have said that without supplemental funding, some aspects of the government’s response to Zika, such as the development of diagnostic tests and an experimental Zika vaccine, could be delayed.

Congressional Letters to CMS Regarding Part B Rx Payment Model

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have sent a letter to Acting Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Andy Slavitt calling into question the unprecedented scope of the agency’s proposed Part B drug payment model. The lawmakers write that they sincerely hope that the proposed rule is withdrawn. Senate Finance Democrats have sent their own letter to Mr. Slavitt, expressing concerns about the proposed model. But unlike their Republican colleagues, the signers of the letter are not asking CMS to do away with the proposal entirely. “Any proposed changes to the Part B program must be carefully considered to prevent any disruptions in care for Medicare beneficiaries, particularly those with serious and complex conditions,” the letter states. The lawmakers ask CMS to resolve the following issues before moving forward with the model: beneficiaries’ access to Part B medications and quality of care; potential impact of the proposed model on site of service; and the proposed model’s interaction with existing delivery and payment reform models. A similar letter is being circulated by Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) in the House. Republicans in the House, lead by Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), and Charles Boustany (R-La.) are circulating a letter calling on CMS to withdraw the proposed rule. The deadline for co-signing the letter is today and at the writing of this article, the letter already has been co-signed by well over half of the House, including several democrats. Meanwhile, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) introduced a bill (H.R. 5122) that would halt the implementation of the Part B model altogether. The administration continues to defend the program and signals that it will move forward.

AHRQ Gets New Director

Dr. Andrew Bindman has been named as the new director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Bindman is a primary care physician and health policy researcher at the University of California at San Francisco. He has served as a senior advisor in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) where he used data analytics to accelerate health care transformation in Medicaid.

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