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On the Hill: Federal Spending, Postacute Care, Children’s Health, Antibiotics, Ebola

Last week, Congress wrapped up its legislative activities until after the Nov. 4 midterm elections. The House and Senate successfully passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 11.  The measure was signed into law Sept. 19, and included $88 million in new funding to address the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, additional funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to continue processing claims, and enhanced authority for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border.

In the coming weeks, congressional appropriators will work to pull together an omnibus spending package to secure federal funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2015. The package is expected to include 12 unfinished spending bills for passage during the postelection lame duck session. The House and Senate Committees on Appropriations have already laid the foundation for an omnibus bill. The Senate committee was prepared to bring all 12 bills to the floor before the close of last week’s session, and the House committee had reported 11 of the 12 bills out of committee, passing 7 on the House floor. The outstanding House bill comes from the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) Subcommittee. The LHHS appropriations bill is often the most controversial and difficult to pass. Negotiations will continue when Congress returns.

Other measures passed last week include the IMPACT Act of 2014, which requires postacute care (PAC) providers to submit standardized PAC data based on factors including patient assessment, quality, and use of resources. The bill also directs the secretary of HHS to provide PAC providers with feedback on their performance, instruct the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission to recommend a unified PAC payment system and prototype for such system, and study the effect of patient socioeconomic status on the measurement of health care quality. The House Ways and Means Committee consulted with America’s Essential Hospitals during the drafting of the legislation. Finally, legislation reauthorizing the Emergency Medical Services for Children Program (EMSC) also passed both chambers and was signed into law by the president.

In committee business, a panel of witnesses testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Health informing members of the need to develop antibiotics, diagnose antibiotic resistance, and prevent misuse of existing antibiotics. The Senate Committee on Finance, Subcommittee on Health held a hearing supporting a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a joint hearing with the Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on LHHS focused on the Ebola outbreak.

Both the House and Senate are scheduled to return Nov. 12 for the lame duck session.

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About the Author

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

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