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On the Hill: Extenders Funding, Lower Health Care Costs Act

House Passes Funding for Extenders

The House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 3253, the Empowering Beneficiaries, Ensuring Access, and Strengthening Accountability Act of 2019, which would extend funding for a number of Medicaid programs. The legislation would fund:

  • the “Money Follows the Person” program through fiscal year (FY) 2024, which helps Medicaid beneficiaries with disabilities and chronic conditions transition from institutionalized to community-based care settings;
  • an extension of the Medicaid spousal income disregard for home and community-based services until March 31, 2024; and
  • community-based behavioral health clinics though Dec. 31, 2021.

The legislation also includes a provision to change how drug rebates are calculated under the Medicaid program. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.

House Passes Government Spending Bill

The House passed  H.R. 2740, the $987 million spending package that would fund many federal agencies for FY 2020.

The appropriations legislation combines five spending bills into one legislative package that would fund the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Defense, and Education, among other federal agencies.

The funding package assumes Congress will pass legislation to lift caps on domestic spending required under the Budget Control Act of 2011. If Congress fails to increase the spending caps, the automatic cuts from the 2011 budget deal would trigger a $126 billion reduction in defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The deadline to prevent the cuts from taking effect is October 1.

The package now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Holds Hearing on HELP Lower Health Care Costs Act

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) last week held a hearing on the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act discussion draft. The hearing focused on three proposals to stop surprise bills, reduce prescription drug prices, increase health care cost transparency, and improve maternal care, among other provisions.

Following the hearing, the bipartisan leaders of the HELP committee officially introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act (S. 1895). The legislation was revised to include changes from the discussion draft, such as establishing a benchmark payment to providers for out-of-network care equal to the median in-network rate for the service in a geographic area to address balance billing. This proposal mirrors the benchmark payment rate in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s No Surprises Act bipartisan discussion draft introduced by Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR).

The bill also includes a measure that would extend funding for a handful of expiring health care provisions, including community health centers, the National Health Service Corps, Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education, and special diabetes programs, all scheduled to expire at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

America’s Essential Hospitals sent an Action Alert to members to urge their lawmakers to oppose the median contracted rate language in the Lower Health Care Costs Act.

The committee will mark up the package along with other health care bills on Wednesday.

House Hearing on U.S. Territory Funding

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on federal funding for U.S. territories and focused on the dire situation in Puerto Rico.

U.S. territories rely on a capped Medicaid federal matching rate and additional funds from the Affordable Care Act, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, and the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 to fund their Medicaid programs. Pending congressional action, U.S. territories will run out of Medicaid funding at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Hearing witnesses, representing health care groups in each of the territories, focused on the potential loss of health care services and providers if the Medicaid funding cliff is not averted.

Additional Congressional Hearings

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a June 25 legislative hearing on reauthorizing vital health programs. The hearing will feature four bills that would reauthorize respite care services and several children’s health initiatives.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold a June 27 markup of several drug pricing bills. The bills would expand the Federal Trade Commission’s role in examining negotiations between pharmacy benefit managers and drug companies and would implement anticompetitive measures among drug manufacturers.

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About the Author

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

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