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On the Hill: Congress Wraps Up Spending, Opioid Bills

Before recessing to campaign for midterm elections, the House wrapped up work on legislation to fund several federal agencies, combat the opioid crisis, and fund the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP).

Trump Signs Minibus Spending Bill

President Trump last week signed a bill to fund the departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education in fiscal year (FY) 2019.

The legislation includes a continuing resolution that provides temporary funding for other federal agencies through Dec. 7. Congress will reconvene after the midterm elections to approve FY 2019 funding for those agencies.

House, Senate Reach Deal on Opioid Legislation

House lawmakers reached a deal with the Senate on bipartisan legislation, H.R. 6., to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. The House on Friday passed the comprehensive legislation on a 393-8 vote; the bill now heads to the Senate for a final vote this week. The Senate will remain in session for most of October.

Among the provisions of H.R. 6 are priorities for essential hospitals, including one that would repeal for five years Medicaid’s Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion and allow states to cover 30 days of substance use disorder treatment for eligible Medicaid beneficiaries over 12 months. In addition, the final bill includes a demonstration program to test alternative pain management protocols to limit the use of opioids in hospital emergency departments. The program is based on an initiative at association member St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, in Paterson, N.J.

The final version of the legislation omits a provision that would have aligned confidentiality regulations for substance use disorder treatment with HIPAA privacy protections.

HPP Funding

The House also passed a final version of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2018, H.R. 6378, which would fund several emergency health programs, including the HPP. The bill would authorize a $385 million annual funding level for the HPP for FYs 2019 through 2023. The bill  is pending in the Senate and could receive a vote before the end of this month.

Pharmacy Gag Clause

The House approved two bills, S. 2553 and S. 2554, to end pharmacy contract terms that prevent pharmacists from advising patients in private health plans and Medicare about the availability of cheaper, alternative medications. Both bills now move to the president to be signed into law.

Committee Hearing Delayed

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has delayed a Sept. 27 hearing on reducing health care costs, with a focus on improving affordability through innovation. The new date has yet to be announced.

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About the Author

Erin Delaney is the legislative affairs associate at America's Essential Hospitals.