And they’re back. Today, Congress starts a four-week legislative session, and it’s going to be a busy one.
In fact, the next four weeks are key for the opportunity for Congress to produce. The Senate Finance Committee is rumored to be working on a drug pricing package, the Senate HELP Committee should turn their cost containment discussion draft into a mark-up, and the House is likely to decide how to proceed with an extender package. There is a lot coming together in a short period of time. We will be looking for signs of bipartisan agreement and a path forward for all these policy areas.
Speaking of Extenders, E&C kicks off the week with a hearing. The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday to address several health care extenders – a number of temporary policies that need reauthorization or annual appropriations this year. The hearing will feature two panels of witnesses, the first dealing with public health extenders and the second with extenders related to Medicare and Medicaid. We’ll be watching to see where members of the committee find common ground. Both sides will have to work together if they want to produce an extenders package that can pass the Senate. The most significant extender under consideration this year is the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payment cuts set to go into effect on October 1. DSH policy is likely to drive any extenders package that we expect to see come together in the next few months.
But it’s not just DSH. Other extenders on the table this year include funding for Community Health Centers, Teaching Health Centers, the National Health Service Corps, Medicaid spousal impoverishment, outreach and education activities for Medicare beneficiaries, and the Special Diabetes Programs, all of which expire on September 30, 2019. Because of the broad scope of these issues, a number of congressional committees will be involved in the process. As a result, actions on any of these items open the door for numerous other proposals to be introduced.
Don’t forget about the money. All of the health extenders cost money, most notably delaying the DSH cuts, which are currently set to start at $4 billion in FY 2020. This means that stakeholders may find themselves trying to have a program or policy extended, while also defending provisions they care about that might be cut to offset the costs. These funding negotiations will be center stage for the next four weeks as Congress works to get things done ahead of the July 4th recess. After that, there’s only one more legislative session before September and then the end of the fiscal year.
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