Bipartisan Efforts on ACA Fix Put on Hold

Efforts to reach a bipartisan deal in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee to fix the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and stabilize the individual health insurance market came to a halt last week. While Democrats pledged significant concessions to satisfy Republican requests for state flexibility, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced that he did not have the necessary consensus to bring legislation to the Senate floor. He had planned to release the bipartisan plan at the end of last week. His goal was to provide funding for cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments alongside new flexibility for state insurance markets. The negotiations between Sen. Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray (R-Wash.) announced last week that they had not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats.

Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had been outspoken in his opposition to the efforts of the Senate HELP Committee – which he viewed as a bailout of the insurance industry, and an infringement on the health care jurisdiction of his own committee. The efforts also faced opposition from Republicans in the House of Representatives and the White House. The White House did, however, announce plans to continue paying CSR payments through the month of September, though no final decisions have been made about future payments. Insurers sign contracts indicating whether or not they will participate in ACA exchanges later this week.

CHIP Funding Bill Introduced with September 30 Deadline

Leadership of the Senate Finance Committee officially introduced the Keeping Kids’ Insurance Dependable and Secure (KIDS) Act (S. 1827), legislation to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through fiscal year (FY) 2022. The legislation maintains the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) maintenance of effort requirement through 2019, after which the requirement would only apply to children in families whose incomes do not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The House of Representatives has yet to introduce companion legislation, and the Senate Finance Committee has not yet scheduled a markup of the bill. Current funding for the program expires on September 30.

Opioid Recommendations Pushed to November 1

The White House Opioid Commission, chaired by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R), has requested an additional four weeks to complete its report. In the interest of “sound recommendations” the extra time will allow the Commission to complete the research and policy developments that are still in progress. The report was originally due on October 1. The final version is now expected to be released on November 1. The Commission has also announced a new partnership between pharmaceutical manufacturers and the federal government. The public private collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will work to speed the development of non-opioid, non-addictive pain medication and new medication assisted treatment (MAT) options. In related news, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will require information be added to buprenorphine and methadone drug labels indicating that the medications should not be withheld from patients taking benzodiazepines or other drugs that depress the central nervous system. According to the FDA, the harm of untreated opioid addiction outweighs the risks posed by combined use of the drugs. Additionally, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has scheduled a hearing on the opioid crisis for October 5th. During the hearing, administration officials will testify about federal response and implementation of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA).

Upcoming Congressional Hearings and Meetings

Senate Finance hearing to consider Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson Proposal; 2:00 p.m. 215 Dirksen Bldg.; September 25

House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health Legislative Hearing on: H.R. 93; H.R. 501; H.R. 1063; H.R. 1066; H.R. 1943; H.R. 1972; H.R. 2147; H.R. 2225; H.R. 2327; and, a draft bill to make certain improvements in VA’s Health Professionals Educational Assistance Program; 10:00 a.m., 334 Cannon Bldg.; September 26

House Oversight and Government Reform Information Technology Subcommittee hearing on Cybersecurity of the Internet of Things; 2:00 p.m., 2154 Rayburn Bldg.; September 27

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on The Federal Response to the Opioid Crisis; 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; October 5

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