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.


Opioid-Related News Update

The House of Representatives devoted last week to the passage of legislation to address the problem of opioid abuse and addiction. The chamber succeeded in passing nearly 40 bills. Most of the measures were approved with bipartisan support under suspension of the rules. The chamber is expected to consider over a dozen more opioid-related bills this week, including H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. The bill was introduced last week by bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees. The bill includes reforms to the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and will serve as the underlying vehicle to move the majority of the House-passed opioid-related bills to the Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously advanced its Helping to End Addiction and Lessen (HEAL) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018. The bill aims to prevent drug abuse and increase Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary access to education, prevention, and treatment of pain and addiction as well as non-opioid treatments for pain. It encourages states to expand access to residential treatment programs as well as telemedicine when treating substance use disorders. It would require doctors to screen Medicare patients for painkiller misuse and abuse during annual wellness visits. It would also expand and clarify how Medicaid can treat those suffering from addiction, removing lifetime limits for medication-assisted treatment (MAT). HEAL combines 22 individual bills introduced by committee members last month. The Senate Judiciary Committee and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee have also approved opioid-related legislation. The full chamber is expected to vote on a broad package of bills to respond to the crisis over the summer.

Leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking information about efforts to stop the importation of illegal opioids and other potentially harmful products entering the country through international mail facilities (IMFs). The bipartisan group of lawmakers request details about the implementation of the Office of Criminal Investigations’ (OCI) priorities and question whether OCI is effective at blocking illegal drugs at U.S. ports of entry. The committee asks the FDA to provide statistical data about the cases being generated through the port of entry initiative and its prosecution track record by Friday, June 22.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) released its research plan for the Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. HEAL is a trans-NIH effort launched in April of this year to advance national priorities to address the opioid crisis through science. The research plan outlines how the NIH will spend the $500 million Congress has provided NIH to combat the opioid epidemic. The interdisciplinary research plan was written by NIH Director Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Walter Koroshetz, and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Nora Volkow and focuses on two areas: improving treatments for opioid misuse and addiction, and enhancing strategies for pain management. The plan describes a multifaceted program that encompasses preclinical, clinical, drug repurposing, and community-based approaches.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released fiscal year (FY) 2018 Expanding Access to Quality Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services grants last week. These grants were appropriated in the March 2018 omnibus bill and help support local health centers in expanding substance use disorder (SUD) prevention efforts and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and increasing access to quality integrated mental health services.

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