Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Congress Returns to Appropriations Process and Health Law Oversight

The House and Senate return this week with the House scheduled on Tuesday to again consider the passage of H.R. 4144, the Expatriate Health Coverage Clarification Act of 2014, which exempts such plans and plan sponsors from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and related statutes. On Wednesday the House will take up the Military-Construction/Veterans Administration (VA) appropriations bill, H.R. 4486. The House appropriations committee is expected to continue with the fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations process by finalizing the 302(b) subcommittee allocations while the Senate Appropriations Committee continues with their hearings on agency requests for the fiscal year (including agencies under the Labor/Health and Human Services (HHS)/Education Subcommittee). The House will also wrestle with resolving the fate of the Senate’s temporary extension of unemployment benefits which that chamber sent to the House using the House-passed bill, H.R. 3979, which excludes volunteer firefighters and emergency workers from being counted for purposes of the PPACA’s employer mandate. During the upcoming hearings on the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the new HHS Secretary, Republicans are likely to ask the nominee a series of probing questions regarding her plans for the implementation of the PPACA.

PPACA Implementation Process Probed; Enrollment Tops 8 Million

President Obama used a public forum to announce that 8 million people were tabulated as having enrolled under the PPACA’s various health insurance exchanges. Despite the news, Republicans continued their scrutiny and criticism of the law and its implementation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report finding that then HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius contacted the chief executive officers of five organizations after being asked by Enroll America to aid their efforts in helping with the law’s implementation. The report, requested by Senate and House Republicans, cited HHS’s authority for such actions under specific sections of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA). Nonetheless, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) responded to the report by saying the Secretary’s actions were of questionable merit and caused a disconcerting appearance of a conflict of interest. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) criticizing the agency’s lack of effort to reduce identity theft which also noted the increased duties for the agency to process third-party information and millions of new tax returns as a result of the PPACA. In related news, HHS said users of the HealthCare.gov website should change their password even though the agency’s chief information officer said that the so-called Heartbleed internet security risk has not been detected on the website. HHS also said that individuals currently enrolled under the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), which will close at the end of the month, will have from May 1 through June to sign up for new coverage under the various PPACA health insurance exchanges. People seeking health coverage in Oregon will soon have to access the federal HealthCare.gov exchange, given the recent decision by state officials to abandon their state-based Cover Oregon initiative.

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