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Optimism on path forward for telehealth, rare disease program despite delay

BY: BEN LEONARD | 06/12/2024 02:09 PM EDT

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) on Wednesday vowed to move forward on bills extending access to telehealth and a pediatric-rare-disease voucher program despite not including them in a markup.

Lawmakers Wednesday signaled they will continue to work on bipartisan legislation despite the recent hurdles.

Telehealth: E&C’s Health Subcommittee unanimously advanced legislation last month to extend pandemic-era telehealth rules in Medicare for two years, and that bill had been expected to be in Wednesday’s markup of health legislation. Rodgers said lawmakers are still working on a “fully-paid for” telehealth package, with additions related to diabetes and cardiac care, and she’s hopeful the committee will advance the package before the August recess.

The telehealth legislation hasn’t been publicly scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and lawmakers have raised questions about cost. Ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said the legislation is just “not ready.”

The package the committee advanced last month — similar to a Ways and Means Committee-passed bill — would also extend hospital at-home waivers for five years and establish payment parity for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics for in-person and virtual care. The pay parity provision was not included in the Ways and Means bill, though.

Voucher program: Rodgers also said legislation to reauthorize the pediatric rare disease priority review voucher program remains a top priority and is aiming for “broad, bipartisan support” despite it not being in the markup. The program intends to incentivize the development of treatments for rare pediatric diseases by speeding up the regulatory process.

Lawmakers were optimistic that a bipartisan deal could be reached after tensions simmered in a subcommittee hearing last month and legislation amended to reauthorize the program advanced on a 16-11 party-line vote.

The program expires at the end of September.

“It’s hard work to find an agreement,” Health Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said. “Where we are today I believe is very close to the finish line.” Eshoo said she wants to find an offset to bolster funding for the NIH Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act Program.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), who is working with Eshoo on the issue, said he’s “disappointed” the legislation wasn’t considered Wednesday but said he’s confident the committee can advance it with “as strong of a bipartisan showing as possible.”

What did move Wednesday: The committee unanimously advanced several bills, including bills to address fraud, and legislation that would create a code for virtual mental health services billed “incident to” a physician’s services, or services performed by other providers working with them. Bill sponsor John James (R-Mich.) said it would help ensure telehealth is being used with the “highest standards of integrity and efficiency.”

Lawmakers also advanced an amendment to a bill to streamline Medicaid access for children across state lines that would ban so-called “spread pricing” in the federal health program. It’s similar to a provision in the House-passed Lower Costs, More Transparency Act preventing pharmacy benefit managers from charging insurers more for drugs than what they are reimbursed by pharmacies.

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