Policy

Panel Turns to Other Health Issues After Obamacare Defeat

Children's Health Insurance, FDA user fees face deadlines

Rep. Greg Walden and his Energy and Commerce Committee are ready to move on. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, following a massive setback in March in the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law, is preparing to move ahead on several other health initiatives.

The panel needs to write two major bills by Sept. 30 — one renewing the Food and Drug Administration’s authority to collect industry user fees and another reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. Companies, patients and state officials affected by these measures are urging quick action.

Republican committee members met March 30 to discuss the panel’s health care agenda. The huddle came after House leaders canceled a vote on March 24 on legislation to repeal the health care law. That effort remains in limbo, as conservative and moderate GOP lawmakers continue to try to negotiate a deal.

Exiting that meeting, Chairman Greg Walden said he expected the committee would proceed next to work on the reauthorization of the FDA user fee program that funds almost half of the agency’s total budget. The panel has already held a few initial hearings on the issue over the past few weeks.

“I don’t know [if] it’s been fully decided, but those we need to keep moving on in regular order,” the Oregon Republican said.

Any delay in the reauthorization of those agreements, which use money from drug and medical device companies to pay for several major FDA initiatives, would likely result in the dismissal of a large portion of the agency’s workforce whose salaries are funded by user fees. FDA officials have testified that they would have to start planning this summer for such layoffs if Congress is not making progress.

The committee is also expected to begin work soon on reauthorizing CHIP. Last renewed in 2015, the program provides federal funding to states to help cover children — and in some cases pregnant women — in low-income families who make too much money each year to qualify for Medicaid.

A panel aide said the Energy and Commerce Committee is not currently considering packaging the user fee and CHIP reauthorizations together or attaching the renewals to the upcoming bill to fund the federal government past April 28.

Several lawmakers said they expect work on a CHIP reauthorization to be done in a bipartisan fashion, but some noted that it could serve as a vehicle for small, possibly bipartisan tweaks to the health care law.

“The [user fees] and CHIP are all really bipartisan things we have to do. The question is if you attach something to that, that destabilizes it and I’m not sure that would be the plan,” Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., told CQ Roll Call last week. Some policy changes, he said, such as permission to sell insurance across state lines “might get attached that might cause some struggles.”

Several industry lobbyists expressed concern that a few key areas in the CHIP debate, like the level of funding and length of a renewal, could stymie the panel’s efforts. The most recent reauthorization allowed states to receive a 23 percentage point funding boost that originated in the 2010 health care law. Democratic and Republican congressional aides say it could be a major area of conflict as conservatives seek to scale that back.

Advocacy groups are urging Congress to reauthorize the programs on a timely basis to provide clarity to governors who must soon work on fiscal year 2018 budgets.

“Without a funding extension, we could see the disruption of vital coverage for around six million kids. Quickly passing a long-term funding extension of CHIP will provide states much needed predictably and stability, and allow families across the country to breathe a sigh of relief,” Jim Kaufman, vice president of public policy at the Children’s Hospital Association, told CQ Roll Call.

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