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On the Hill: 114th Congress Convenes, ACA, SGR

The 114th Congress convenes this week. All House members and 34 new or re-elected Senators were sworn in today. The House voted to re-elect Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as its speaker, and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be recognized as the new majority leader, officially commencing the new Republican majority in the Senate.

Legislative business will be relatively quiet in the Senate this week, however committee chairs will officially be elected. The House will get started quickly with a vote on Wednesday to amend the definition of a full-time employee under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from 30 to 40 hours per week.  This measure has been supported by labor unions and businesses, yet opposed by the Obama administration. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that redefining full-time status from 30 to 40 hours per week could reduce the number of people receiving employer-sponsored coverage by about one million and increase the number of individuals covered by Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and health plans offered through the health insurance marketplaces by 500,000 to one million. If the measure passes both chambers, it will likely face a presidential veto.

Also this week, the House will take up a measure to allow companies to exempt veterans from the ACA mandate for employer-sponsored health coverage; consider terrorism risk insurance legislation, which failed to reach an agreement before adjournment in 2014; and vote on Keystone pipeline legislation Friday.

Other legislative activities to keep an eye on this year include the fast approaching deadline to extend the doc fix, which is the patch that temporarily keeps Medicare physician payments at current levels, as opposed to letting them decrease according to the formula based on the sustainable growth rate.  Physicians could face a 20.9 percent reduction in Medicare payments if the delay is not extended beyond March 31. The doc fix is also a target vehicle for pushing through other health care-related legislation, such as CHIP funding, which is set to expire Sept. 30.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Wiles is the manager of legislative affairs at America's Essential Hospitals.