This week in Washington: The House and Senate are in recess.

Representatives Propose a Permanent Extension of CHIP Funding
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is looking at ways to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and expand Medicaid coverage. A proposal by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) and Lucy McBath (D-GA) to permanently extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding is under discussion as part of the committee’s agenda. CHIP is set to expire in 2027. In addition, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán’s (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would provide the extension in addition to letting states increase Medicaid and CHIP eligibility levels for children living in families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level without a waiver.

Representatives Introduce Bill to Allow Medicare Advantage Plans to Reimburse Audio-Only Telehealth Visits
On March 24, Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced “The Ensuring Parity in MA and PACE for Audio-Only Telehealth Act,” which would allow Medicare Advantage plans to count diagnoses from audio-only telehealth services towards the risk adjustment for plan years 2020 and 2021. The bill would also allow providers to be reimbursed at the same rate for audio-only telehealth and in-person visits during the pandemic. The bill is slightly different from one introduced last month in the Senate, as the Senate bill does not apply its provisions to PACE.

Pelosi States That Drug Pricing Bill May Help Pay for Infrastructure Package
On March 23, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stated that the upcoming infrastructure package will likely be paid for by including Democrats’ drug pricing bill, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3). Leader Pelosi also said that the infrastructure package will include several health care provisions, including a permanent increase to the ACA tax credits. Pelosi stated that including H.R. 3 would pay for $500 billion of the cost of the infrastructure bill and could be utilized to boost ACA tax credits and make ACA coverage more affordable.

32 Democratic Senators Support Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Bill
On March 22, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The bill has 32 Democratic cosponsors, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced identical legislation in the House.

Senators Reintroduce Bill to Increase Drug Pricing Transparency
On March 23, Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Braun (R-IN), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) reintroduced the FAIR Drug Pricing Act. The legislation would require drug manufacturers to notify the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of certain price increases and submit a transparency and justification report 30 days prior to increasing the price of certain drugs by more than 10 percent in one year or 25 percent over three years. The report will require manufacturers to provide information to justify the price increase.

Senator Sanders Chaired Senate HELP Hearing on Drug Pricing
On March 23, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security held a hearing titled “Why Does the US Pay the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?” Subcommittee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other subcommittee Democrats expressed support for allowing drug pricing negotiations and benchmarking drugs costs with other nations. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, highlighted manufacturers’ gaming of the patent system and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke in support of her bill to make drug companies justify their price hikes. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) expressed support for allowing employers and the government to negotiate drug prices.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.