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March 1, 2016



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2015 EHR “Meaningful Use” – Hardship Exemption Deadline Extended

House and Senate Hearings on HHS Budget

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Senate Finance on Examining the Opioid Epidemic

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House and Senate Hearings on HHS Budget

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the fiscal year 2017 Health and Human Services (HHS) budget. The president submitted his fiscal year 2017 budget to Congress on February 9 and in the hearing, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell provided testimony on the department’s proposed budget. Much of the hearing focused on spending concerns, with Republicans highlighting that in 2015, federal spending for the major health care programs – Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies offered through health insurance exchanges and related spending – exceeded Social Security outlays for the first time.

“I appreciate the strong bipartisan record this committee has in working with Secretary Burwell, especially our work to solve the Medicare physician payment issue last year,” Health Subcommittee Chairman Joseph Pitts (R-PA) stated. “However, as I reviewed the budget, I have to say I am disappointed. This budget does not balance.”

Pitts also highlighted two new reports in his opening statement. One report was from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), which he said shows Obamacare enrollment continues to be full of inconsistencies, putting billions of taxpayer dollars at stake. He also highlighted a report on the continued troubles of from the HHS Inspector General. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) asked Burwell if her agency plans to cooperate with repeated requests from both Energy and Commerce Committee and the Ways and Means Committee for documents relating to the Basic Health Program. Sec. Burwell stated that the agency had produced information and agreed to provide a briefing.

On the Administration’s “moonshot” effort to cure cancer, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) stated that the way for policy to be enacted is through the 21st Century Cures Act and the Senate’s Innovation project. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee recently held the first of three committee meetings on medical innovation and passed seven bills with bipartisan support. Read more in Advocacy Now online here.

“We’ve done the hard, time consuming work of listening, soliciting ideas, and listening some more,” Upton stated. “The legwork is done, and as I mentioned, with 344 votes in the House, the policies have been pressure tested. We look forward to combining our efforts and the vice president’s best ideas into one unified bill to improve our health care innovation ecosystem. We have an incredible opportunity – let’s be sure that we deliver.”

Burwell also this month appeared before the House Way & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee to discuss the recently released White House budget. There, the Senate hearing centered primarily around the opioid overdose epidemic, with senators on both sides of the aisle acknowledging the need to find a solution quickly. The president’s budget included $1.1 billion dollars for 2017 so that HHS could implement a three-pronged plan, which includes: overhauling prescription guidelines, funding state- and community-based treatment programs, and expanding access to life-saving overdose drugs like Narcan.

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On the House side, much of the focus was on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange enrollment numbers, with Burwell citing that the ACA is making “historic” strides, even if 2016 enrollment on its web-based exchanges amount to little more than half of what budget scorekeepers initially projected. She argued that the amount of people uninsured is down to its lowest level in American history, proving the success of the law.

Click here to download a comprehensive report on the President’s FY2017 budget request.