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On the Hill: HHS Budget Testimony; Groups Defend 340B

The past week saw several notable committee hearings in the House and Senate, including two featuring Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, who went to Capitol Hill to present the Biden administration’s health care–related budget for fiscal year 2024.

A March 23 hearing by the House Committee on Ways and Means’ Health Subcommittee, “Health Subcommittee Hearing on Why Health Care is Unaffordable: The Fallout of Democrats’ Inflation on Patients and Small Businesses,” focused on the impact of rising health care costs on small businesses, their employees, and other health care consumers. Comments fell along partisan lines, with Republican lawmakers criticizing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and government interference and Democrats touting the law’s coverage provisions and positive effects on Medicaid and rural hospitals.

Becerra, meanwhile, appeared at a March 22 Senate Committee on Finance hearing, “The President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Health and Human Services Budget.” Committee Democrats praised the budget plan’s proposed tax increases for the wealthy to fund Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans generally urged fiscal restraint and underscored concerns about drug pricing. There was bipartisan support for mental health initiatives and community health centers, as well as for increased funding for research into various diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Also that day, Becerra testified before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, at a hearing titled, “A Review of the President’s FY 2024 Funding Request and Budget Justification for the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Other Hill Activity

March 23 marked the 13th anniversary of former President Barrack Obama signing the Affordable Care Act. To celebrate the anniversary, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a White House event, which included a representative from America’s Essential Hospitals.

Also of note, America’s Essential Hospitals last week issued a joint statement supporting the 304B Drug Pricing Program and raising concerns about the damage to the program that could result from changes proposed by a coalition led by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of America and the National Association of Community Health Centers.

In the States

In a bipartisan vote March 23, North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation to expand Medicaid coverage, making it the 40th state to expand the program. Although still subject to budget negotiations, the legislation is expected to extend coverage to thousands of additional state residents.

On the Schedule this Week

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing March 28, at 1 pm ET, titled, “Lowering Unaffordable Costs: Examining Transparency and Competition in Health Care.” On March 29, at 2 pm ET, the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing, “Follow the Money: Oversight of President Biden’s Massive Spending Spree.” Also that day, at 10 am ET, Becerra will return to the Hill to testify at the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing, “Fiscal Year 2024 Department of Health and Human Services Budget.”

Also on March 29, at 2:30 pm ET, the Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing, “An Oral Health Crisis: Identifying and Addressing Health Disparities.” The committee also will meet March 30, at 10 am ET, for a health-related hearing, “Pharmacy Benefit Managers and the Prescription Drug Supply Chain: Impact on Patients and Taxpayers.”

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