Zika Update

Congress adjourned for a lengthy recess without settling the question of Zika funding. Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to reconsider the agreement previously passed by the Senate, while Democrats blocked Republican attempts to reconsider the House-Senate Zika funding conference report. Republican leadership has argued that because the administration has been slow to disburse the $600 million currently available in funding to combat the Zika virus, Congress’ failure to act until after Labor Day will not negatively impact the situation. $112 million of the $589 million redirected from Ebola funding has been spent on Zika as of July 5. Federal officials responded that the process for spending federal dollars is a lengthy one – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to give states and territories $100 million to fight Zika over the next month, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) plans to exhaust the remainder of the funds in its Zika vaccine development work. In a letter to congressional leaders, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Shaun Donovan warned that the lack of Zika funding would negatively impact vaccine development efforts, noting that vaccine makers would be “reticent to proceed” in the absence of more assured funding. The first Zika-related death in the continental U.S. was reported last week. It is likely that the elderly person contracted the disease while travelling abroad.

President Obama Published in JAMA

Barack Obama has become the first sitting president to publish an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). His article argues that his 2010 landmark health care legislation the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has improved the nation’s health care system, but that more progress can still be made. He believes that the law’s provisions, including Medicaid expansion and delivery system reform, should be sustained, while lawmakers should also increase their focus on financial assistance and affordability for consumers. He also urges Congress to implement cost-controls for pharmaceuticals, and allow the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to negotiate prices for certain drugs. Most notably, he encourages lawmakers to pursue a public option to compete alongside private health care insurers in areas of the country with little competition in the marketplace. The President’s proposals are in line with those of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, though Clinton has voiced support for the ability to buy into Medicare starting at age 55 and the availability of a public option in all areas of the country.

House Appropriations Committee Advances HHS Spending Bill

Following a lengthy markup with votes on over two dozen amendments, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Labor, HHS, Education spending bill and forwarded the legislation to the full chamber. The health bill is historically among the most contentious appropriations measures debated in Congress. This is the first time in a decade that this particular spending measure has been marked up in two consecutive years, and the first time that the bill will reach the floor since 2009. It is also the 12th and final spending bill that the House Appropriations Committee needed to clear this year. The spending bill passed the committee by a vote of 31-19, with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) joining the
majority in favor of the bill. Funding is held relatively flat at $161.6 billion, though the National Institutes of Health (NIH) does receive a significant $1.25 billion increase. The committee approved a manager’s amendment from Subcommittee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) including a year-long extension of a mandate that insurers cover mammographies to women in their 40s without co-pays. The report language accompanying the bill, which was released last week, urges the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to increase the organ donation pool. Appropriators advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase their efforts to form public-private partnerships in order to
develop products for the Strategic National Stockpile. The report also includes a request that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) explain why the agency does not have the authority to waive the coinsurance payment for growth removal during colonoscopies.

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