This week, members of Congress return from campaign trails and head into a lame duck session. The Nov. 4 election outcome creates a Senate leadership shakeup in the upcoming 114th Congress, with Republicans in the majority. Republicans gained eight seats, after needing only six to take the majority. Results from the Louisiana Senate race are still outstanding. A run-off election will take place Dec. 6 between Democrat incumbent, Sen. Mary Landrieu and current Republican House member, Rep. Bill Cassidy. In House election results, Republicans gained 12 seats, which increases the current majority to 244 seats. This bump could cost Democrats slots on key House committees.
The lame duck session will include passage of legislation to fund the federal government beyond Dec. 11, when the current funding extension expires. The House and Senate hope to complete a comprehensive omnibus spending package and bring it to a final vote the week of Dec. 8. Senior appropriators in both chambers are leading negotiations to reach an agreement. The package will likely include emergency appropriations for both Ebola and defense. The president has requested $6.18 billion in emergency funding to continue combating Ebola in West Africa, better prepare the United States to manage domestic cases if needed, and expedite access to vaccines and therapeutics to fight the virus.
Other potential legislation that could be taken up during the lame duck session includes the following:
- a permanent fix for the Medicare physician payment system, which is currently based in part on the sustainable growth rate
- an extension of the expiring Medicaid primary care provider payment bump, which was implemented by the Affordable Care Act to match Medicaid primary care payment rates with Medicare rates
- a Medicare hospital payment reform package centered on new policies for Medicare payment for short inpatient stays
- extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); current funding expires Sept. 30, 2015
While various constituencies are pushing for each of these priorities, none is considered urgent before January. Instead, they are likely to be taken up when the next Congress convenes in January.
In committee business, the Senate Committee on Appropriations is holding a hearing Nov.12, to evaluate the U.S. response to Ebola. Witnesses include U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH; and National Institute of Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, MD. Also testifying are the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and U.S. Department of State Deputy Secretary of Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom.
America’s Essential Hospitals submitted testimony in advance of the hearing. Recommendations included the need for better clarity on Ebola preparation and procedures from federal and state officials, adequate hospital resources to respond to a U.S. Ebola outbreak, full funding of the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), and enhanced funding for designated pandemic response hospitals. America’s Essential Hospitals continues to update its Ebola checklist for hospitals as new information becomes available.