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U.S. Senate Leaders Highlight Health Care Priorities for 2019

January 11, 2019

Although the partial government shutdown continues to dominate legislative attention, committee leaders are in the process of formally organizing, and setting the agenda and priorities for the 116th Congress.

Health care policies feature prominently in the agendas laid out by U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R- IA) and U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Both Chairman Grassley and Chairman Alexander have worked extensively on issues of importance to the hospital community throughout their careers and have track records of working in a bipartisan fashion.

The Senate Finance Committee oversees all matters related to taxation and revenue, and importantly, governs health programs under the Social Security Administration including Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and other health and human services programs financed by a specific tax or trust fund.

Chairman Grassley has pledged to work in a bipartisan manner and outlined the following specific policy objectives for the Finance Committee:

  • Lowering prescription drug prices, increasing access to prescription drugs, and addressing shortage issues
  • Strengthening and modernizing Medicare Part D
  • Increasing rural health care access, including addressing health care workforce issues, such as doctor, nurse and other health professional shortages
  • Ensuring hospital payment programs are effective and eliminating duplicative and ineffective payment incentives, including reforming the 340B drug pricing program

Under Chairman Grassley’s leadership, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to be deeply engaged in oversight activities of both the public and private sectors of health care. Areas of priority include:

  • Addressing health care consolidation and anticompetitive concerns, from supply chain middlemen to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to hospitals and health insurers
  • Overseeing the health care sector with a focus on nursing home quality and access, not-for-profit hospitals and community benefit, and drug prices
  • Enforcing and evaluating potential changes to anti-fraud statutes which impact efforts to advance greater care coordination

The Finance Committee will also conduct oversight of federal agencies and departments to promote integrity. Chairman Grassley specifically pointed to the following areas of interest:

  • National Institutes of Health research integrity
  • Accrediting Agencies for hospitals and nursing homes
  • Affordable Care Act programs
  • Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) with a focus on 340B and rural health care
  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a focus on drug shortages, generic approvals and teenage vaping

The Senate HELP Committee exercises jurisdiction over matters of public health, aging, biomedical research and development, labor, and public welfare.

Last Congress, the HELP Committee held a series of hearings exploring health care costs. Topics included: understanding the cost of health care; eliminating excess spending and improving quality and value for patients; decreasing administrative spending; the role of transparency; and improving affordability through innovation.

Building on that work, Chairman Alexander has identified reducing health care costs as the top priority for the committee. The HELP Committee will also tackle program reauthorizations including extending funding for community health centers, and engage in oversight of the two landmark opioid packages that cleared Congress in 2016 and 2018.

Pennsylvania is well positioned to offer an important voice in health care policy deliberations in the Senate. U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) serves on both the Senate Finance and the Senate HELP Committees; Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) serves on the Senate Finance Committee.

HAP will work with both Senators, and the newly elected House delegation to promote key policy priorities for Pennsylvania hospitals—promoting public investment in the health care future; supporting efforts to provide the right care in the right place at the right time; and addressing the Commonwealth’s health care workforce needs.

Please contact Laura Stevens Kent, HAPs vice president, federal advocacy, with questions.

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