Congress To Address Health Issues In New Legislative Session

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As Congress prepares for anew legislative session that begins on Tuesday, lawmakers are preparing toaddress several issues related to health care, the New York Times reports (Hulse, New YorkTimes, 1/15). Summaries of the issues appear below.

  • Defense authorization bill: Members of the House are continuing work on the fiscal year 2008 $696 billion defense authorization bill (HR 1585), which President Bush vetoed last month. Senior legislative aides on Monday said Democrats likely would not launch a major fight over the veto, preferring to move onto other issues that could be a major focus in the months leading up to the November presidential election, including health care (New York Times, 1/15). The legislation includes almost $950 million for improvements to health benefits for veterans and pay increases for military personnel (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 1/3). Democrats have challenged the constitutionality of the veto, saying that Bush does not have the authority to pocket veto legislation between sessions of Congress and that his statement on the bill is the same as a regular veto (Rogin, CQ Today, 1/14).
  • Genetics non-discrimination: A "behind-the-scenes veto threat from the White House apparently kept a popular genetics anti-discrimination measure" (HR 493) from being attached to the FY 2008 omnibus spending bill (PL 110-161), CQ Today reports. Regan Lachapelle, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said senior administration negotiators told Senate Democrats that Bush would veto the package if the genetics measure was included. The legislation would bar employers and insurers from using information from genetic testing to determine how much a person's insurance premiums should be or other business decisions, including hiring. According to CQ Today, "Congress will work to clear the bill early this session" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 1/14).
  • Medicare: House Democrats are considering using reconciliation procedures to "jam through the Senate tricky offsets" for Medicare legislation during the FY 2009 budget process, CongressDaily reports. Democrats will be faced with reversing a 10% cut to Medicare physician fees later this year, after they passed legislation last session to stop the cut for six months. House Democrats last year attempted to block the cuts by reducing payments to private Medicare Advantage providers, but the plan was rejected by the White House and most Republicans (Cohn, CongressDaily, 1/14).

SCHIP:House Democrats are planning an override vote next week on Bush's second vetoof legislation that would have expanded SCHIP (Abrams, AP/Boston Globe, 1/15). Bush last month signedlegislation to provide funding for SCHIP through March 2009. The extension isexpected to provide enough funds to cover children currently enrolled in theprogram (Kaiser Daily HealthPolicy Report, 1/2). Democratswere unable to override the previous veto of the bill (New York Times,1/15).

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House New DemocratCoalition Agenda

In related news, the HouseNew Democrat Coalition is preparing to launch a health policy task force thismonth, which has a legislative agenda containing a proposal already endorsed bythe Bush administration. Issues they will be addressing include electronicprescribing, payments for providers based on quality of care, portable healthinsurance, expanding school- and work-centered prevention efforts, mandatedcomparisons of the effectiveness of drugs and treatments, and giving FDA theauthority to approve generic versions of biologic drugs (Johnson, CongressDaily,1/15).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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