Expected Congressional action at the start of 2018
As both the House of Representatives and the Senate return to Washington, DC this week, the following is a list of health care-related items that lawmakers are expected to address in the first several weeks of the new year:
- Nomination of Alex Azar
The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for January 9 to consider the nomination of Alex Azar as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Azar has previously worked as HHS general counsel in the George W. Bush Administration and as a pharmaceutical executive.
- Funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Before Congress adjourned for their holiday recess, they passed a short-term extension that funds CHIP through March 31. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a statement that indicated the short-term funding may not be enough, and the program may run out of money well before March 31—possibly by the end of January.
CHIP provides health coverage for 9 million children, and lawmakers from both parties would like to see program funding extended for five years. There are disagreements on how to pay for the program, although the Congressional Budget Office released a revised score that estimates the cost of extending CHIP will be substantially less than previous estimates.
- Affordable Care Act Stabilization Bills
Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Susan Collins (R-ME) would like to see Congress take action on two bills that aim to stabilize the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). One bill would fund the ACA’s cost-sharing reduction subsidies for two years and the other bill would provide short-term reinsurance funding. The White House has indicated their support for the bills as has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). However, it remains to be seen if the bills could be passed in the face of opposition from House Republicans.
Debate and action on CHIP funding and ACA stabilization legislation will likely be within the context of a bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The government is currently funded through January 19, and lawmakers may look to attach CHIP funding and ACA stabilization to must-pass government spending legislation.