Congressional Corner

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Jan. 25, 2018

Federal Budget Update

This week, Congress approved a continuing resolution (CR) through Feb. 8. In order to avoid another government shutdown, Congress must develop bipartisan agreements on a number of policy issues, including, but not limited to: immigration, opioid and disaster relief funding, and budget caps. The House of Representatives is on recess this week and Congress will be out another week to attend their respective party retreats. As a result, there are only six legislative working days between now and expiration of the CR, making the prospects of another shutdown or short-term CR very high.

Senate Confirms HHS Secretary

On Jan. 24, the Senate confirmed Alex Azar as secretary of HHS by a vote of 55-43. Throughout his hearings, Azar discussed his priorities, including addressing prescription drug prices, ensuring affordable and available healthcare, shifting to value-based care, as well as “aggressive prevention, education, regulatory, and enforcement efforts to stop over prescribing and over use of legal and illegal drugs.” ASTHO looks forward to meeting with HHS to offer support moving forward.

HHS Announces New Division

Last week, HHS announced a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the HHS Office for Civil Rights. According to a statement from HHS: “The Conscience and Religious Freedom Division has been established to restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental and unalienable rights of conscience and religious freedom.” Further, “the creation of the new division will provide HHS with the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom, the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.”

Meeting on Modified Risk Tobacco Product Applications

FDA and the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee held a meeting to discuss  the modified risk tobacco product application submitted by Philip Morris Products S.A. for the IQOS systems within Marlboro Heatsticks, Marlboro Smooth Menthol Heatsticks, and Marlboro Fresh Menthol Heatsticks.

In related news, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a report looking at the public health consequences of e-cigarette use. Highlights from the report state that “young people especially, age 17 and under, have quickly taken up their use: substantially more young people use e-cigarettes than any other tobacco product, including traditional combustible tobacco cigarettes.”

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

On Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. EST, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health will hold a hearing to examine implementation of the Compounding Quality Act.

On Feb. 8 at 10 a.m., the Senate Committee on Health, Energy, Labor and Pensions will hold a hearing to examine the opioid crisis, focusing on the impact on children and families.