Appropriators Approach April 28 Deadline

Lawmakers are negotiating how to handle hot-button subjects, such as funding for the President’s border wall and the defunding of Planned Parenthood, in advance of the expiration of the current continuing resolution (CR). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he wishes to avoid another CR, and would rather pass an omnibus appropriations package to complete fiscal year (FY) 2017 spending. Appropriators are currently debating whether or not to fund the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) cost-sharing subsidies, which assist those with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty level in purchasing insurance on the exchanges. Lawmakers could increase total funding for health programs, or authorize the subsidies as mandatory spending. Many conservatives are pushing for the defunding of Planned Parenthood to be included in the spending measure, but such a move could be enough to earn a filibuster in the Senate. The bill will require 60 votes to pass the upper chamber, where Democrats and a number of moderate Republicans are opposed to the Planned Parenthood provision. The White House has not committed to defunding Planned Parenthood in the upcoming spending bill, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has expressed opposition to the inclusion of Planned Parenthood defunding in the spending bill. He instead believes that reconciliation should be used to defund the organization. Congress must pass a spending bill by April 28 in order to avoid a government shutdown. Lawmakers are scheduled to recess from April 10th through April 24th.

Opioid Epidemic Back in the Spotlight

President Trump has issued an executive order establishing the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. The Commission will conduct a review of federal policies to combat the opioid epidemic and assist those suffering from addiction. The Commission will be led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), and is a part of the new White House Office of American Innovation. The Office was created to consider innovative ideas of strategic consultants from private industry. The President and Gov. Christie held a listening session last week, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, to hear from drug policy experts and advocates. Also in attendance were Don Wright, acting assistant secretary for health; Charles Rosenberg, acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Richard Baum, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; Mariano Rivera, a former New York Yankee and a philanthropist; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; Bertha Madras, a Harvard Medical School professor and former drug policy official; Pam Garozzo, a drug awareness advocate; AJ Solomon, co-founder of the Victory Bay Recovery Center; and Vanessa Vitolo, a recovering addict. In the Senate, the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has launched an investigation into the business practices of the manufacturers of the nation’s top five prescription opioid products. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has asked manufacturers for information related to the marketing of opioid painkiller medications. She is investigating whether the manufacturers have contributed to the current epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction.

Lawmakers Comment on Medicare Advantage

A group of Senate Republicans have written to Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Seema Verma making suggestions for improvements to the Medicare Advantage program. The lawmakers urge Verma to consider some additional policy modifications that would promote beneficiary access to the program. Proposals include measures relating to the fee-for-service normalization factor, plan performance rating methods and employer group waiver plans. The letter was signed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (Utah), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Finance Committee Senators Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kans.), John Cornyn (Tex.), John Thune (S.D.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.). The final rate notice has yet to be released.

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