Senate Finance Committee Approves 12 Health Policy Bills

All Pass on Unanimous Voice Vote

Senator Hatch opened this, the sixth Chairman's Mark held so far this year. Apparently, this is rather unusual, and may speak to an unusually bipartisan concern over an issue - healthcare.

Senator Hatch opened this, the sixth Chairman’s Mark held so far this year. Apparently, this is rather unusual, and may speak to an unusually bipartisan concern over an issue – healthcare.

The Senate Finance Committee approved a dozen health policy bills, in a decidedly bipartisan fashion, without a single dissent from the committee of 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats, following a 50 minute Open Executive Session, on Wednesday, June 24. Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) described them as “common sense legislation that will improve the healthcare system for patients and taxpayers alike.”

With the passage of today’s 12 bills, the Finance Committee has processed a total of 36 bipartisan bills since the beginning of the 114th Congress. One wonders, however, if those bills will have any real effect on the nation’s “broken entitlement programs,” which include Medicare and Medicaid. It is a long stated goal of Senator Hatch to reduce the cost of healthcare. the Senator also leads the fight to repeal “Obamacare” – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or Affordable Care Act (ACA) for short.

A veritable army of staffers were seated all around the room, no doubt happy to see all their hard work pay off when the bills were passed.

A veritable army of staffers were seated all around the room, no doubt happy to see all their hard work pay off when the bills were passed.

In his opening statement, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) went out of his way to thank and compliment the many staffers, ringing the room, who evidently worked very hard on the bills and got them all ready for the hearing.

A video recording is available of the entire hearing here. (Advance to about 10 minutes in, to get to the beginning of the hearing.)

All the Chairman’s Marks of all the bills and the opening statements are also available on that same page.

The Twelve Bills

The bills approved by voice vote, en bloc, were as follows:

  • S. 607  – The Rural Community Hospital Demonstration Extension Act of 2015;
  • S. 1349 – The Notice of Observation, Treatment and Implication for Care Eligibility (NOTICE) Act of 2015;
  • S. 1461 – A One Year Extension of the Enforcement Instructions on Supervision Requirements of Outpatient Therapeutic Services in Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) and Small Rural Hospitals;
  • S. 313 – Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act of 2015;
  • S. 1253 – Patient Access to Disposable Medical Technology Act of 2015;
  • S. 1347 – Electronic Health Fairness Act of 2015;
  • S. 704 – The Community Based Independence for Seniors Act;
  • S. 1362 – The PACE Innovation Act of 2015;
  • S. 861 – Preventing and Reducing Improper Medicare and Medicaid Expenditures Act of 2015;
  • S. 349 – Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2015;
  • S. 466 – Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act; and
  • S. 599 – Improving Access to Emergency Psychiatric Care Act of 2015.

What About Other Bills?

The voice vote was unanimous, followed by quite a loud murmur, no doubt the result of so many relieved staffers.

The voice vote was unanimous, followed by quite a loud murmur, no doubt the result of so many relieved staffers.

After the voice vote, Senators Hatch and Wyden then held a short “Colloquy” (a pre-scripted floor dialogue between two members at the hearing, usually the chairman of the committee and another member). A Colloquy dialogue is usually held to clarify the intent behind certain provisions of a bill for purposes of legislative history. In this case, however, it seemed to reflect the Chairman’s expectation of a bit of a battle with the Senate leadership. Senator Hatch began with, “[Senator Wyden] and I intend to work with our respective leaders to see that the bills we’ve reported today are considered on the Senate Floor in a balanced and bipartisan manner. That’s my intention, I’ll tell you that.”

Colloquy is normally pre-scripted, but part of Senator Wyden's script seemed to be a surprise to Senator Hatch.

Colloquy is normally pre-scripted, but part of Senator Wyden’s script seemed to be a surprise to Senator Hatch.

Senator Wyden then agreed in almost exactly the same wording, but went on to mention that “…there are several additional bills that were considered as part of our efforts, but they didn’t make it over the finish line because of the need for scores, further technical work, or offsets.” He then asked a direct question of the Chairman: “Is it the intention of the Chairman to continue working on these bills, with the hope that the Committee can consider them in the near future?”

Senator Hatch seemed genuinely surprised by the question from Senator Wyden, but still gave a positive, encouraging "Yes" answer.

Senator Hatch seemed genuinely surprised by the question from Senator Wyden, but still gave a positive, encouraging “Yes” answer.

Senator Hatch seemed surprised by the question, but replied simply and genuinely, “Yes,” with a look of an unspoken “of course.” Senator Wyden thanked the Chairman, but there was no further mention of these bills or which ones he was referring to in his question. Nevertheless, within minutes, the hearing was adjourned.

Several Senators commented earlier in the hearing about their disappointment that some of these “other bills” did not “meet the qualifications” that Senators Hatch and Wyden had set to be a part of the Chairman’s Mark for this hearing.

One might suspect that the AFIRM Act is still among those “other bills” except for the fact that AFIRM still does not seem to have a bill number – or at least none that we can detect.

Discussion on Finally Friday!

Join us for a discussion of what these bills may hold in store for providers, on our show on Friday, June 26.

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