Congress returned to Capitol Hill shortly after Labor Day facing a growing list of critical and timely issues to address. Much of the work in the Senate though was dedicated to efforts to pass legislation to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act before the threshold for votes increased from a simple majority to 60 after the October 1 start of the Fiscal Year. The consensus proposal that emerged was the Graham-Cassidy effort that sought to dismantle patient protections and return (reduced) healthcare funding to the states. The proposal was more dramatic than others the Senate had already voted down. Following widespread condemnation from patient groups, professional societies, hospitals, and insurers (who feared the gutting of coverage requirements would destabilize markets and push a majority of Americans to government funded healthcare) no vote was held.
With outright repeal and healthcare system overhaul efforts on the backburner, the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee reinvigorated a bipartisan effort to craft a narrow package of legislative fixes to stabilize insurance markets. Despite multiple hearings by the HELP Committee, no substantive proposal has emerged. Given the timing, any changes that ultimately pass would be unlikely to impact the next plan year.
Capping off the acrimony (and lack of action) over healthcare reform was the resignation of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tom Price. With Secretary Price’s departure, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb are potential candidates for the Secretary position. The departure of Secretary Price and the disruptions at HHS are unlikely to impact ongoing efforts to advance quality standards in electrodiagnostic medicine.