2016-10-06 18:17:46 UTC

Congress Passes Continuing Resolution, Avoids Shutdown

Oct. 10, 2016

Expected busy lame-duck session could focus on many of GI's priorities.

Congressional leaders have struck a deal to keep the government funded through Dec. 8. The agreement, which includes the $1.1 billion in Zika funding that the administration has been requesting, allows the House and Senate to recess until the after the election when they will return for a lame-duck session to complete the fiscal year 2017 funding for programs such as NIH and others.

Given the contentious election season, most congressmen wanted to avoid a government shutdown so they could get back to their states and districts to campaign. However, when they return after the election, many health-care priorities will be in the mix for action during the lame duck.

Accelerating the Pace of New Treatments
A top priority of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, is passage of the 21st Century Cures Act/Innovations legislation, which was overwhelmingly passed by the House. The legislation would expedite approval of new treatments for patients, streamline processes at FDA, provide incentives for young researchers and increase research funding for NIH. However, while the legislation stalled in the Senate over the mandatory funding for NIH, leaders have been working to strike a deal on finding an offset to maintain the increase. House Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton, R-MI, who has championed this legislation and is the outgoing chair of the committee, is pushing leadership to pass this legislation in the lame duck. President Obama is interested in passing the legislation since it contains the precision medicine initiative, and Vice President Joe Biden strongly supports it since it is a vehicle to push for increased funding for the Cancer Moonshot initiative.

Stopping Changes that Could Affect GI Patient Care
Another issue that will be on Congress’s radar is the Medicare Part B drug demonstration, depending on the how the administration handles it in the final rule. House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price, R-GA, and other congressional leaders oppose the mandatory demonstration projects being initiated by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation since it would force physicians to use certain medications and limit access for gastroenterology patients to certain lifesaving infusion therapies. The administration has received criticism on this proposal from both Republicans and Democrats, and there is a possibility the issue could be brought up in the lame duck if the administration moves forward with their proposal in its current form.

Removing Barriers to CRC Screening
The sponsors of the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act (H.R. 1220/S.624) are also advocating that the leadership schedule a vote on the bill during the lame duck session. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-PA, and Rep. Donald Payne, D-NJ, are organizing a sign-on letter to leadership with the request for a vote. Given that the legislation has 285 cosponsors in the House and its companion legislation in the Senate has 37, sponsors are making a compelling case as to why the legislation deserves an up or down vote.

The lame duck session is gearing up to be one of the busiest in recent years, especially since there will be a new president and possibly new leadership in the Senate. AGA will continue to advocate for increased funding for digestive disease research and continued access to gastroenterology for our patients.  

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