Health Policy News – Summer 2019


As in past years, Health Policy News is marking the summer season with the publication of one special edition. For summer 2019, we have prepared a roundup of pending federal legislation—in particular, efforts to protect consumers from rising health care costs (including surprise medical bills), to promote Medicare for All, and to preserve Affordable Care Act provisions.

This edition also includes the follow-up to our May article, “Eat Your Veggies,” which we have eagerly anticipated sharing with you. Looking ahead to next steps for federally-funded Produce Prescription programs, this piece contains insights from our interview with program leaders at Wholesome Wave—a nonprofit dedicated to combating diet-related disease and food insecurity by ensuring consumer access to fresh produce.

Legislation Aimed at Health Care Costs Advances in Congress

Unlike many topics under discussion in Congress this year, the issue of health care costs is a priority across party lines. Cost control legislation is moving forward in both chambers, with the House having recently passed H.R. 987 (the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act) and the Senate advancing its own S. 1895 (the Lower Health Care Costs Act). Both bills include provisions aimed at prescription drug costs (the article also details Senate legislation targeted solely at prescription drug costs); the Senate bill also includes provisions related to health care cost transparency, surprise medical bills, and a range of other issues.

In June, the executive branch also broached concerns about health care costs when the President signed the Executive Order on Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First,—seeking to lower rising healthcare costs through price disclosures. Click here for more information about each of these policy actions.

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Bipartisan Federal Surprise Billing Legislation Likely to Pass

Although it has been discussed and debated at the federal level for years, viable bipartisan surprise billing legislation had not been proposed until recently, in the form of the No Surprises Act. It seems likely that the pending federal legislation will move forward- a first step towards a nationwide approach to consumer protection from balance billing.

The present debate about the No Surprises Act centers around what is not in the current draft— specifically, protection from air ambulance surprise bills, and the right for providers and insurance carriers to use arbitration to resolve pricing and payment disputes. For more on the currently pending Act, as well as recent developments at the state level to protect consumers from surprise balance billing, click here.

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Hearings Begin on “Medicare for All” Legislation

On June 12, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee conducted its initial hearings on H.R. 1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019. Similar Medicare for All legislation, in the form of S. 1129, was also introduced in the Senate this year—though no action has been taken on that bill to date.  Legislators on both sides of the aisle have questioned H.R. 1384 and S. 1129, citing concerns that (if enacted) the laws would increase the federal deficit, reduce choices for consumers, overturn key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and take employer-based coverage away from 180 million Americans.  Click here to read more about these and related bills.

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The House Passes Legislation Aimed at Preserving the Affordable Care Act

Notable among the bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in recent months are two bills aimed at shoring up the Affordable Care Act (ACA). H.R. 987, the Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act, addresses a variety of recent actions relative to the ACA and seeks to increase transparency regarding ongoing federal activity. H.R. 986, the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019, would prevent federal officials from implementing the recent guidance on Section 1332 Waivers that makes it easier for states to waive certain provisions of the ACA.

Combined, these two bills comprise most of the content previously included in H.R. 1884 (the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions and Making Health Care More Affordable Act of 2019); however, H.R. 1884 also addresses affordability, reinsurance and state outreach and enrollment. For an in-depth look at each of these bills, click here.

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How Can Communities Support Fresh Produce Programs for Their Citizens?

For the first time ever, the federal government has invested in a five-year Produce Prescription (Produce RX) pilot program, designed to connect physicians and patients with vendors that accept prescriptions for fruits and vegetables. Interested bidders have been compiling responses to the government’s request for proposals in hopes of using the funds to launch their own Produce RX programs. The outcome of this pilot will likely lead to debate about the effectiveness of these programs and future funding mechanisms. To understand the current funding barriers, as well as what is needed to implement Produce RX programs at a larger scale, we conducted a short interview with Wholesome Wave program leadership. Click here to read our takeaways from the conversation and learn how to join the Wholesome Wave network.

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