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On the Hill: Focus on Health Care Ahead of Elections

Congress will have several health carerelated measures to consider this fall before lawmakers depart for the campaign trail, including legislation to combat the opioid epidemic, fund the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and enable a federal response to pandemic threats.

The House in June passed a legislative package targeting the opioid crisis, but similar efforts have stalled in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently announced the Senate likely will consider the package after senators return from an abbreviated August recess, which began Aug. 6.

The Senate’s opioid package has been delayed partly by the debate over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. When senators return on Aug. 15, they will begin Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

Lawmakers also are expected to consider a spending bill that would fund HHS and the Department of Labor. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), head of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, indicated he might combine the bill with a defense spending measure to ease passage.

Congress also must act by Sept. 30 on legislation (S. 2852; H.R. 6378) to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act. Without congressional action on the legislation, which the House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently passed, the act — and the funding it authorizes — will expire.

Congress will have about six weeks, with the House in session for only 19 days, to work on these and other issues before lawmakers leave Washington to campaign for the midterm elections.

Contract Pharmacy 340B Inquiry

In other news, the Energy and Commerce Committee last week sent letters to nine contract pharmacies that participate in the 340B Drug Pricing Program. The letters come after a June report from the Government Accountability Office found a lack of oversight by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The letter asks contract pharmacies specific questions regarding their use of discounted drugs for low-income, uninsured individuals; the distance between providers and their contract pharmacies; and duplicate discount and diversion prevention efforts. The committee requested responses within two weeks.

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About the Author

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