Window to Washington

An inside-the-beltway look at the legislative and regulatory process.

Much action on Capitol Hill, but will there be any movement?

By Jessica Zigmond

February got off to a strong start for healthcare policy in Washington Wednesday, as lawmakers planned to discuss the contentious physician payment formula issue, welcome the Food and Drug Administration chief for a prescription drug hearing, and vote to repeal another provision of the health reform law.

Members of the House-Senate conference committee responsible for finding long-term answers to a middle-class payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance for some 5 million Americans, and the complicated way Medicare reimburses the nation's doctors, were scheduled to meet for four hours to negotiate on Wednesday. In the end, they met for three hours instead of four and plan to resume deliberations at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Also on Capitol Hill Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee will host a hearing on the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act and listen to testimony from FDA Administrator Dr. Margaret Hamburg. And in the evening, House members will vote on a bill to repeal the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, the voluntary, long-term-care program embedded in the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, yesterday marked the close of the comment period for HHS' “Essential Health Benefits Bulletin,” which the agency released in December for the purpose of gaining feedback from the healthcare industry about the Affordable Care Act measure that will outline what health plans need to include. (A few weeks ago, the GOP took HHS to task for releasing the bulletin, rather than a proposed rule, but an HHS spokeswoman said in December that the agency plans to follow the regular rulemaking process).

The Federation of American Hospitals weighed in (PDF) on behalf of more than 1,000 investor-owned community hospitals and health systems. Among its comments, the Federation said HHS should create a minimum federal standard or some basic requirements for essential health benefit packages for which states must comply, and also that the agency should implement a standard definition of “medical necessity.”

Here's a sampling of other public comments that have been sent to HHS from the Essential Health Benefits Coalition and the Children's Hospital Association (PDF), formerly the National Association of Children's Hospitals.

Follow Jessica Zigmond on Twitter @MHJZigmond.


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