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Washington, DC, update: Deadline looms for Congress; association health plan efforts shift focus

Following a short-term fix in January, Congress faces another critical budget deadline that will have both spending and policy implications for health care. For several weeks, Congressional leaders have been meeting to come to agreement on a $1.3 trillion omnibus bill. The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote today, after which the bill will move on to the U.S. Senate, where it could run up against the Friday midnight deadline.

The bill includes $78 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which represents a $10 billion increase from 2017. Some highlights include:

  • $37 billion for the National Institutes of Health, a $3 billion increase.
  • $8.3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, $1.1 billion increase.
  • $5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, a $1.3 billion increase.
  • $7 billion for the Health Resources and Services Administration, a $550 million increase. This includes $315 million for the Children’s Hospital Graduate Medical Education program.
  • $4 billion for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (no increase from 2017).

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Nearly $4 billion in the omnibus bill is earmarked to combat the opioid epidemic. On Monday, President Donald Trump and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar unveiled Pres. Trump’s Opioid Initiative, which seeks to:

  • Curb over-prescribing and reduce demand through education about the dangers of opioid and other drug use.
  • Cut off the supply of illicit drugs by cracking down on international and domestic illicit drug supply chains.
  • Help those struggling with addiction through evidence-based treatment and recovery support services.

Association Health Plan
After the State Senate failed advance SB 806—the Association Health Plan bill—the Society has shifted efforts back to the federal arena. Earlier this month, the Society submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Labor on a proposed Association Health Plan rule that, as written, would make it difficult for the Society’s Association Health Plan Trust to continue to operate. And last month, Society staff and members met with offices of Wisconsin Congressional delegation offices to outline these concerns. Society staff are requesting the Department of Labor modify the proposed rule to allow for the continued operation and expansion of the Society’s Association Health Plan Trust. This will involve further meetings with both our Congressional delegation, and the Department of Labor.

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