Zika Update

The House began their Fourth of July recess earlier than planned. In the early hours of last Thursday, the House adjourned after approval of a House-Senate spending bill conference report that includes $1.1 billion in funding to combat the Zika virus. The largely party line vote of 239-171 occurred in the middle of the sit-in protest by House Democrats demanding action on gun control legislation. The bill only includes $400 million in new spending for the Zika virus. The remainder of the funds would be paid for by repurposing money from the U.S. Ebola program and other administrative health priorities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would receive $476 million for mosquito control, disease surveillance, laboratory activities, and public education. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $230 million for vaccine research and development. $165 million would go toward to the State Department and USAID for overseas outbreak response. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) would receive $86 million for emergency response and rapid diagnostic test research. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) set up a procedural vote for the bill to be considered by the Senate early this week, but it is unclear whether it will have the 60 votes needed to proceed. Democrats have criticized how the compromise is paid for, as well as the inclusion of more controversial language, like that which would prevent any new Zika funding from going to family planning centers. While members of Congress have aimed to have an agreement on Zika funding by July 1, this deadline will pass by given that the House-Senate funding package has also received a veto threat from the White House.

Medicare Trustees Release Annual Report

The 2016 Medicare Trustees Report was released last week. The report examines two components of the Medicare program: the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (Medicare Part A), and the Supplementary Medicare Insurance Trust Fund (Medicare Part B and Part D). According to the 2016 report, Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund will have enough revenue to cover expenses through 2028, two years earlier than estimated last year. The trustees predict that Medicare spending could rise to the point of triggering the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as early as next year. The report also acknowledges that implementation of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) “raises important long-range concerns that will almost certainly need to be addressed by future legislation.” MACRA includes annual physician payment increases of $500 million along with five percent annual bonuses for some providers that will expire in 2025. Under this current law, Medicare physician payment rates will drop below what they would have been under the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula by 2048. The trustees are also concerned about how MACRA’s new system will function in years with high inflation.

House to Vote on Mental Health in July

According to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, when the chamber returns from recess in July. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) three years ago, was unanimously advanced by the Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month. The Senate continues to look for a path forward on similar mental health legislation from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.).

Senators Push for Elimination of Blood Donation Restrictions

In light of the attack in Orlando, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) have spearheaded a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf criticizing the agency’s restriction on blood donations from gay men. The senators characterize the policy as discriminatory, and urge the FDA to move to “policies that secure our nation’s blood supply in a scientifically sound manner based on individual risk.” The letter was signed by 22 other senators, including republican Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). A similar letter was circulated in the House and was signed by 118 members, including five Republicans. Groups such as the American Red Cross and the American Medical Association (AMA) have stated that the ban is medically unwarranted.

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