Legislative Update: July 30, 2019

Last week, the key focus in Congress was finding agreement between the House, Senate and Administration on funding the government for the next two fiscal years.

On Thursday, July 25th, the House of Representatives passed (by a vote of 284-149) the “Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (H.R. 3877)”. This legislation would provide $1.3 trillion in government funding and would allow the government to keep borrowing to cover its debts. 

H.R. 3877 will now be considered in the Senate this week and, if approved, will head to the President’s desk for signature shortly thereafter. 

After passing H.R. 3877, the House adjourned for six weeks with a scheduled return after the Labor Day holiday. The Senate is expected to adjourn for the summer later this week.

Once the budget legislation is signed into law, the Appropriations Committees will work to determine specific funding for each federal agency and related programs. This will work will begin when Congress returns to Washington in September.

In the health care arena, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled long-awaited legislation last week to reduce prescription drug costs. 

On Tuesday, July 23rd, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the “Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019”. This legislation would overhaul how the government pays for prescription drugs in Medicare Parts B and D as well as the Medicaid program.

The PDPRA proposes to modify Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit) by simplifying its design; imposing a new, beneficiary out-of-pocket spending cap; requiring drug manufacturers to pay rebates if costs increase faster than inflation; and other changes intended to lower drug costs. 

The legislation proposes to improve the Medicaid program by covering gene therapies for rare diseases and increasing transparency and accountability of drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the PDPRA legislation would save $85 billion in Medicare spending and $15 billion in Medicaid spending over ten years. It also estimated that beneficiaries would save $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs and premiums would be reduced by $5 billion. 

The PDPRA was considered in the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, July 25th and was supported on a 19-9 vote, with all Democrats on Committee supporting the legislation and nine Republicans opposing the measure. 

The PDPRA legislation is expected to remain a key Congressional focus into the fall, although timing of full Senate consideration has yet to be determined.