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Walden: Other Bills May Carry Health Care Replacement

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., walks up the House steps at the Capitol for the final votes before the Columbus Day recess on Friday Oct. 9, 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., walks up the House steps at the Capitol for the final votes before the Columbus Day recess on Friday Oct. 9, 2015. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee could look to attach legislation intended to overhaul the 2010 health care law onto several other bills expected to advance this year, panel chairman Greg Walden said Tuesday.

Walden, speaking at an event hosted by the Republican Main Street Partnership, said repealing and replacing Obamacare would be the top health care priority for his panel in 2017. But a handful of other major programs under the committee’s purview are expected to be reauthorized by Congress before they expire at the end of the year.

Among the items on the panel’s 2017 agenda is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, a popular program that provides federal funding to states to help cover the cost of health care for children.

Also set to end this year are several user fee agreements at the Food and Drug Administration, programs under which drug and device manufacturers pay for specific product reviews and initiatives at the agency. The agreements fund almost half of the FDA’s total budget and are set to expire in September.

Those bills, according to Walden, could carry smaller pieces of legislation to help achieve the GOP’s goal of a “step-by-step” approach to replacing the health care law.

“They’re all vehicles,” the Oregon Republican said. “No decisions have been made. They are all pretty important pieces of legislation.”

Walden said the committee would take a “multi-faceted approach” to replacement, citing both the pending CHIP reauthorization and user fee agreements as options.

He declined to give a timeline of when his committee would begin to publicly address the upcoming expiration of those programs. Walden said some work could be done in the first quarter, but the bulk would come in the “second, third quarter.”

The pharmaceutical and medical device industry is concerned that work on the health care law could jeopardize the timely reauthorization of the user fees this year, lobbyists say. And governors who will start to develop their state budgets in the coming months have pressed Congress for a quick reauthorization of the CHIP program.

Including Obamacare replacement legislation in future bills is expected to create conflict with Democrats and threaten passage. Any delay in renewing the CHIP program, for example, could impact more than 8 million children. GOP aides anticipate Democrats will highlight that in future messaging campaigns, and say they are already preparing strategies to combat it.

Medicare drug prices

Speaking at the same event, Rep. Pat Tiberi, chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, appeared to rule out the possibility that the panel would consider any legislation that would allow Medicare officials to negotiate drug prices. Tiberi suggested he would oppose efforts to create a formulary that could prevent seniors from getting specific drugs.

“There are literally going to be millions of people . . . who aren’t going to be able to get the drug that they need for the cost that they can afford, and that’s my concern with respect to negotiating,” the Ohio Republican said. “We’ve got to do this, I believe, in a bit more balanced way.”

President Donald Trump has indicated his interest in permitting the federal government more authority to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs.

“There is very little bidding on drugs,” Trump said at a press conference earlier this month. “We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly. And we are going to start bidding and we’re going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.”

Republicans have long opposed giving the federal government additional authority to negotiate drug costs. Currently, drugmakers give the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense discounted treatment prices and offer significant rebates to Medicaid that lower drug costs.

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