Weekly Policy Update – May 24, 2024

Appropriations and Budget Updates

This week, House appropriators began to markup their FY 2025 bills, starting with subcommittee markups of the Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch appropriation bills. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) advanced the MilCon-VA bill and met to consider interim subcommittee allocations. HAC Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) amended his own proposed interim allocations after additional funding became available due to federal housing receipts. The new Labor-HHS allocation is $186.5 billion, a slight increase from the original interim allocation but still far lower than the FY 2024 enacted level.

House Republicans plan to pass all twelve appropriations bills by the end of July, with Labor-HHS scheduled for votes during the week of July 29. As a reminder, House Republicans managed to only pass seven out of the twelve spending bills last fiscal year amidst intra-party fighting and disagreement on funding levels and policy riders. Even Chairman Cole has acknowledged the difficulty of passing the bills with an exceedingly small majority and disagreements between moderates and conservatives in the Republican conference (Bgov, subscription required).

On the Senate side, Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS, indicated that the NIH will likely be spared from funding cuts in FY 2025, with both parties calling for increased funding to support biomedical research. While Chairman Cole said that the proposal should be considered an “opening position” for House Republicans in working out an agreement, he noted that he would also like to avoid cuts to NIH, despite potential challenges in allocating resources (Bgov, subscription required).

The House and Senate are both out of session next week. The appropriations process is set to resume on June 3.

Hill Updates

  • On May 17, the Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID), released a bipartisan white paper proposing reforms to Medicare’s physician payment system, emphasizing the need to modernize payments, incentivize quality care, and support chronic care management. This initiative aims to update Medicare to better serve both doctors and patients, ensuring sustainable practices and continued access to telehealth. Please see the white paper here.
  • On May 20, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the bipartisan Electronic Prior Authorization for Prescription Drugs Act to streamline the process for obtaining health plan approvals for prescription drugs, reducing administrative delays. This legislation aims to improve timely access to essential medications, particularly benefiting rural communities, and has garnered support from senators across party lines. Please see the full legislation here.
  • At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing exploring prescription drug prices on May 21, Democrats and Republicans accused drugmakers of patent system abuse that keeps prescription drug prices high by limiting competition. Senators criticized practices like “evergreening,” where drugmakers extend patents through minor modifications to drugs or delivery devices which limits competition and keeps prices high.
  • On May 23, the House Ways and Means Committee Health Subcommittee held a hearing titled “The Collapse of Private Practice: Examining the Challenges Facing Independent Medicine.” The hearing examined the financial and regulatory challenges faced by independent medical providers and how these ongoing issues lead to the consolidation of healthcare systems and create obstacles to patient care. Please see Health Subcommittee Chairman Vern Buchanan’s (R-FL) opening statement here.
  • On May 23, Representatives Buchanan and Gwen Moore (D-WI) launched the bipartisan Congressional Preventive Health and Wellness Caucus, aiming to bring awareness to the obesity epidemic in the country and promote policy-centric solutions. The bipartisan group will specifically focus on prevention, Medical Research and Innovation (MRI), Food as Medicine (FAM), exercise, health disparities, coverage, stigma, military readiness, and physical fitness.

Administration Updates 

  • On May 20, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) launched the Universal PatchinG and Remediation for Autonomous DEfense (UPGRADE) program, investing over $50 million to enhance and automate cybersecurity in healthcare facilities, aiming to protect operations and ensure patient care continuity. UPGRADE will develop tools to secure hospital IT environments, reduce vulnerabilities, and enable rapid, minimally disruptive deployment of software fixes, seeking to address the critical need for cyber resilience in the healthcare sector. Please see the program page here.
  • CMS launched a new online option for individuals to report potential violations of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This initiative aims to promote patient access to necessary emergency medical care and ensure the public is informed about their rights under federal law. Please see additional resources on EMTATA here.
  • NIH has issued a RFI and draft policy related to intramural research and promoting equitable access to products stemming from NIH-owned inventions. The draft policy would require organizations partnering with NIH through a patent licensing agreement that succeed in bringing certain products to market to submit a plan to promote patient access to any resulting drug, biologic, vaccine, or device. The NIH is accepting comments on this by July 22, and they will be holding a webinar on the draft policy on June 11.

Health Policy Updates 

  • A second human case of avian influenza has been reported in Michigan, raising concerns among public health experts about the virus potentially evolving to spread among humans. Notably, officials emphasize the risk of a bird flu pandemic remains low. The infected individual, a farmworker with regular livestock exposure, experienced mild symptoms, highlighting the importance of ongoing surveillance efforts and the need for protective measures in agricultural settings.

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