HELP committee advances public health bills

Among a series of bills voted on by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee on April 26, 2017 were bills focused on access to medications in emergency situations (Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017 (S. 916)) and hearing loss screening for children (Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (S. 652)). Also sent to the Senate floor were two other public health bills which would create a national commission on clinical care (S. 920) and better prepare the public health community for Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases (S. 849).

S. 916

The Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act seeks to amend the Controlled Substances Act to make it easier for first responders and those providing emergency medical services to have access to “time-sensitive and life-saving treatments.” The bill is sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La) and co-sponsored by Sens. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo), Roy Blunt (R-Mo), and Al Franken (D-Minn).

S. 652

The Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act is sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and co-sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), John Cornyn (R-Texas, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn). The bill aims to improve state-based efforts to screen newborns, infants, and young children with hearing loss screening and link them to follow-up care if needed by amending sec. 399M of the Public Health Service Act. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, and the National Institutes of Health would need to coordinate and collaborate these efforts with those administering such programs as the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) program, for example.

Highlight on Pennsylvania: Better Medicaid spending through technology

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced legislation attempting to reduce spending and improve patient care within the state’s Medicaid program. Under the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 600, the state would adopt new technology to monitor and identify areas of unnecessary or wasteful health care services and procedures. The state would have 90 days within enactment of the bill to pick a technology company and implement the monitoring. Lawmakers noted that by providing more information, patients and providers, alike, could make better health care decisions. Consequently, this would reduce Medicaid spending. Pennsylvania is one of the highest spenders per Medicaid enrollee in the U.S., with one out of every four dollars in the state’s annual budget accounted for by Medicaid.

The lawmakers have started to review tech companies with prior experience in collecting and monitoring patients to improve care, notably companies that have worked with Alaska’s Medicaid program. The tech company involved  reduced misdiagnosis rates, improved outpatient care, cut waste, and reduced Medicaid expenditures in Alaska by over 14 percent. According to Pennsylvania lawmakers, a similar program could generate between $2 billion and $4 billion in annual savings.

In fiscal year 2015-16, the federal government spent about $15.3 billion on Medicaid in Pennsylvania, while the state spent about $10.6 billion, bringing the total to $25.9 billion; the state’s Department of Health and Human Services budget over the past few years has increased by about $500 million annually. The influx of approximately 700,000 new patients into the Medicaid system is a 20 percent increase and has cost an additional $4.6 billion. State lawmakers are concerned that the push for health care reform by the federal government will result in a cut in the federal portion of Medicaid to the state.