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On the Hill: State of the Union, Abortion, SGR, 40-Hour Work Week

On Tuesday, Congress hosted President Obama for the State of the Union Address, which focused less on health care than last year’s address and more on economic issues. Newly elected Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) was tapped to provide the Republican response. Ernst’s remarks did not respond directly to the president’s address, but rather outlined the agenda of the new Republican Congress, also heavily focused on the economy.

This week on the House floor, members will consider legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks, with limited exceptions. Also under consideration in the House is legislation to expedite permits for natural gas lines. The Senate will vote to pass a measure to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The measure has already passed the House, however President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation and it’s unlikely that Congress will have enough votes to override a veto.

In Committee business, on Wednesday and Thursday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing, A Permanent Solution to the SGR: The Time is Now. The hearing will seek a means to address the sustainable growth rate (SGR), the formula that serves as the basis for Medicare physician payments. Under the SGR, physicians face significant payment cuts, which have been staved off year after year by one-year patches known as the doc fix. Committee members will work to eliminate the need for an annual patch and discuss a way to cover the costs of potential proposals. Witnesses include former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT); Alice Rivlin, Ph.D., of the Brookings Institution; Richard Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association; and several other witnesses representing provider institutions and organizations.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will hold a hearing to examine the definition of a full-time work week under the Affordable Care Act. The current definition is based on a 30-hour work week. Many Republican lawmakers and supporting interest groups believe the work week should be redefined at 40 hours.

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About the Author

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