The Week Ahead: March Madness – Washington, DC Version

Let’s start with 3 questions about timing this week.  See if you can guess the answers! 

  • What happened on time?   Selection Sunday for the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tourneys – one of our favorite events of the year! 
  • What happened early?  Cherry blossoms.  The National Park Service declared peak blooms hit on March 17 – the second earliest peak on record. 
  • What happened late? Well, sort of, we still don’t have a clear path to fund the government past March 22.  Better late than never?! 


The Administration 

Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra will makes a second set of appearances this week on the President’s Budget.  His testimony before the Senate Finance Committee last week touted the Administration’s efforts to lower prescription drug costs and increase the number of people insured under the Affordable Care Act.  Expect more pointed questions in the House Appropriations Committee about funding priorities and the House Ways and Means Committee about Medicare and health savings accounts on March 20. 


What hasn’t yet come up in these hearings is the Administration’s response to the cyberattack on Change Healthcare, a unit of UnitedHealth Group that processes 15 billion health care transactions annually and touches 1 in every 3 patient records.  CMS, the HHS Office of Civil Rights, and the Department of Labor have all sent out notices of assistance within their jurisdiction.  The American Hospital Association has indicated the response to date has been woefully inadequate. 


The Senate 

The mad dash this week is to make sure the government remains funded past March 22 and before both the Senate and House will go back to their states and districts for a 2-week district work period.  While appropriations leaders have been working through the weekend, there’s no paper yet.  


We will be keeping our eyes peeled for any updates on the AI front, as the Gang of Four was predicting releasing their lessons learned from the various AI Insight Forums held over the last few months.  While the leaders will release a set of findings and suggested direction, the work of legislating will be left to the committees. 


The House 

If it feels like déjà vu all over again, you’re not alone.  We have 1 week to go to fund 6 major departments including HHS, Education, Labor, Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Treasury.  Funding for Homeland Security is one of the sticking points.  We had been anticipating the possibility of certain health care policy riders being attached, such as pharmacy benefit manager reform, hospital price transparency, and community health center funding, but it looks like these proposals may have to wait until after the election. 


  • Don’t forget – Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO-4) is retiring on March 22 – shrinking the GOP majority to a mere 5 votes (218-213). The margin will likely shrink further when New Yorkers go to the polls on April 30 to select a replacement, likely a Democrat, for the recently retired Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY-26).  


Besides Sec. Becerra’s appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee, we will be watching closely as the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee rips into FDA’s controversial proposed rule to regulate lab developed tests on March 21. The full Committee may also be marking up a number of health and non-health bills. 


So, here we go – March Madness – DC style.  If you have a free minute, don’t forget that MedPAC and MACPAC sent up their annual March Reports to Congress!  If you remember being able to receive those pubs by mail, let us know….  



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