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On the Hill: Congress Wraps Up Budget, Debt Limit Votes Before Recess

Before leaving for August recess, the House approved a federal budget and debt limit deal negotiated between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that is partially offset by extending a  cut to Medicare provider payments.

The bipartisan legislation aims to avert a $125 billion cut to federal discretionary spending and raise the nation’s debt limit. The legislation would lift the cap on defense and nondefense spending scheduled for Oct. 1 and increase funding for these programs in fiscal years (FYs) 2020 and 2021. In addition, the legislation would increase the debt limit for two years, through July 31, 2021.

The budget deal would be partly paid for by extending the 2 percent cut to Medicare provider reimbursements, also know as the Medicare sequester, for two years through FY 2029. Under current law, the Medicare sequester would end in FY 2027.

The Senate will wrap up its legislative work for the summer with a vote this week on the budget and debt limit legislation.

Senate Finance Advances Bipartisan Drug Pricing Bill

Meanwhile, bipartisan leaders of the Senate Committee on Finance introduced legislation to reduce prescription drug prices. The committee later approved the legislation on a 19-9 vote.

The bill would require drug manufacturers pay a rebate to the Medicare program for price increases that exceed the rate of inflation and change the Medicare prescription drug benefit to reduce out-of-pocket spending for beneficiaries, among other proposals. In addition, the bill would narrow the definition of “bona fide service fees” drug manufacturers must report when determining the average sales price (ASP) for a drug, biologic, and biosimilar.

Further, the bill would extend site-neutral payment policy to grandfathered hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) by reducing the Medicare payment for the administration of Medicare Part B drugs to the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) rate.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the legislation would provide $100 billion in savings to the federal budget over the next decade.

The bill now advances to the full Senate, which could vote on it in the fall.

Patient-Focused Hearing on Drug Prices

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a drug pricing hearing last week focused on the patient perspective. The hearing featured testimony from patients and a patient advocate who described the devastating impact high drug prices had on their lives and communities.

Shortly after the hearing, Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) announced the committee will hold a September hearing featuring executives from drug manufacturers.

Bipartisan Social Determinants Bill

Last week, Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Tom Cole (R-OK), and Cathy Rodgers (R-WA) introduced a bipartisan bill to help better address social determinants of health.

The Social Determinants Accelerator Act of 2019 would create a federal interagency advisory council on social determinants of health between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The bill also would provide  $25 million in federal grants for states and local governments to create a Social Determinants Accelerator Plan to better target high-need Medicaid patients in their communities.

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About the Author

Erin Delaney is the legislative affairs associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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