HELP Questions FDA Nominee

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing last week on the nomination of Scott Gottlieb to be Commissioner of Food and Drugs. Republicans touted the nominee’s experience as a physician and an expert in the health care industry. Dr. Gottlieb is a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deputy commissioner, and is currently a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, and is an internist at Tisch Hospital. Dr. Gottlieb faced repeated questions from Democratic members on potential conflicts of interest and his financial ties to the industry he would be charged with regulating. Dr. Gottlieb has invested in and consulted for a number of pharmaceutical and device companies. He said that tackling the opioid epidemic would be his top priority if confirmed to lead the FDA. He would push for the approval
of safer opioids and other alternatives to pain management. Dr. Gottlieb was also questioned on the Administration’s position on vaccines. He responded that the question of vaccines and autism has been studied extensively, and that the nation needs to conclusively agree that there is no plausible link. Members from both sides of the aisle asked the nominee about his plans to ensure that the FDA has the workforce and expertise necessary to fulfill its mission, particularly in light of the President’s federal hiring freeze and passage of 21st Century Cures. He responded that a robust workforce would be a challenge he would tackle should he be confirmed, and that he would work with Congress to implement Cures as
lawmakers intended.

House Passes Health Bills Before Leaving for April Recess

The House of Representatives passed two pieces of health legislation last week before returning to their districts for a two-week recess. The Self-Insurance Protection Act would exclude stop-loss insurance from being regulated as traditional health insurance. Stop-loss insurance can be purchased by employers to cover excessive medical costs of self-insured health plans. H.R. 1304 passed by a vote of 400-16. The House also took up S. 544, which would extend the Veterans Choice Program through 2018. The Choice Program, which allows eligible veterans to seek medical care from private health care providers, was set to expire August 7. The bill passed by voice vote. Having been passed by the Senate earlier in the week, S. 544 will be sent to the President for his signature.

Bipartisan Chronic Care Legislation Reintroduced

Lawmakers in the Senate have reintroduced legislation to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries living with chronic illness. The Creating High Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act would overhaul how Medicare pays for patients with chronic conditions. S. 870 is sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Rand Paul Working on New Health Care Plan

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is developing a new health care plan that would leave some elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in place. His proposal would keep the 2010 health care law’s subsidies, while spending less on them. Sen. Paul believes keeping the structure of Obamacare’s subsidies will garner the support of moderate Republicans, while making them less generous would appeal to conservatives. The plan would also prevent Republicans from having to vote for the creation of a new tax credit, like the one included in the American Health Care Act. Conservatives have been wary to support what they characterize as a new entitlement program.

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