Feb. 12, 2016


Higher Education News:

Can Alexander and Murray Recapture Bipartisan Magic to Pass Higher Education Legislation?

U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., accomplished something few of their colleagues in Congress could during the past year: pass bipartisan legislation. Reaching a compromise was no cake walk, but Alexander, chair of the education committee, and Murray, the committee's ranking member, pulled it off. Can they do it again for higher education? In the midst of an election year, the chances of Congress producing a comprehensive bill that could garner enough bipartisan support in both chambers to pass are slim. Still, this year could bring about changes to higher education policy at the margins, driven in part by Alexander and Murray's agenda. (Washington Post - Feb. 9, 2016)

Obama to Nominate King as Secretary of Education

In a reversal, President Obama now plans to nominate John B. King Jr. as secretary of education, the White House announced Thursday. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Republican who leads the Senate education committee, last month urged Obama to nominate a secretary of education, pledging "to have an immediate hearing and markup and, barring some kind of scandal, work to have that person immediately confirmed." King has been leading the Education Department since the beginning of this year, after Arne Duncan stepped down at the end of 2015. (Inside Higher Ed - Feb. 12, 2016)

Research News:

U.S. House Backs New Bid to Require 'National Interest' Certification for NSF Grants

The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on Wednesday that would require the National Science Foundation to award grants only for research projects that the agency can certify as being in the national interest. The Republican-written measure (HR 3293), passed on a nearly party-line vote of 236 to 178, would set a series of broad yardsticks by which the "national interest" could be defined, such as improving American economic health or strengthening national defense. (Chronicle of Higher Education - Feb. 11, 2016)

*** See also, the following related news item:

Amid Testimonials, Biden Tamps Down 'Moonshot' Expectations

The vice president on Wednesday struck both optimistic and pragmatic tones, at once trying to energize the medical community and tamp down expectations that the government-led effort will eradicate all cancers in 10 years. Biden also said he believes "the science is there" while other necessary things like increased information sharing within the medical community lag far behind. There is no expectation his effort will produce "a silver bullet" cure, he said . . . To be sure, hurdles abound. Biden himself alluded to one several times during the Duke roundtable: getting the pharmaceutical industry involved. (Roll Call - Feb. 10, 2016)

Ryan: House Will Take Bipartisan Action on Zika Funding

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Thursday that he expects bipartisan action to approve funds to fight the Zika virus. The White House is asking for $1.8 billion in emergency funding for programs including the creation of rapid response teams for local outbreaks of the virus and boosting vaccine research. He didn't say that the House would approve exactly what the White House asked for, and indicated any funding would have to be offset. (The Hill - Feb. 11, 2016)

Health News:

McConnell Sets Up Confirmation Vote on FDA Chief

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is setting up the Senate to vote on President Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), despite pushback from lawmakers in both parties. Senators are scheduled to take a procedural vote at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, after the Senate's week-long recess. Sixty votes will be needed to overcome the procedural hurdle, which could be difficult to meet. Senators on both sides of the aisle . . . have pledged to oppose Califf's nomination. (The Hill - Feb. 11, 2016)

Burwell Says Administration Will Double Down on Drug Prices, Opioid Battle

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell told lawmakers Wednesday that the administration is "pursuing every administrative option" for addressing high prescription drug prices, starting with a few provisions in President Barack Obama's fiscal 2017 budget. The budget also would allow states to collectively bargain on Medicaid drug prices with some companies, and would expedite closure of the Medicare Part D coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole." Burwell also spoke about the budget's efforts to combat opioid abuse, which includes better access to medication-assisted treatment, and increased availability of the drug naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose. (Modern Healthcare - Feb. 10, 2016)

HHS Considering Action on Drug Patents Over High Prices

Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday that her department is considering issuing guidelines on an executive action known as "march-in rights" as a way to fight high drug prices. At a Ways and Means Committee hearing on Wednesday, Burwell was asked about a letter from more than 50 House Democrats last month urging HHS to issue guidelines on the administrative action. Burwell confirmed that the proposal is being considered. (The Hill - Feb. 10, 2016)

CMS Innovation Center Spending Ticks Up as Obama Era Nears End

The Obama administration is picking up the pace of spending through its $10 billion Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), which may prove to be a short-lived initiative for testing ways to improve health care by tying federal payments to the quality of services. The center is expected to spend about $1.60 billion in fiscal 2017, up 13 percent from $1.41 billion in fiscal 2106, according to the final budget from the Obama administration, which was released Tuesday. (CQ HealthBeat - Feb. 10, 2016)

CMS Issues Final Rule for Reporting, Repaying Medicare Overpayments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today issued a final rule implementing Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act, which creates a reporting and repayment obligation for providers and suppliers who receive a Medicare overpayment. The final rule requires providers and suppliers to report and return any overpayments they identify within six years of receipt, down from a 10-year look back period in the proposed rule. (American Hospital Association - Feb. 11, 2016)

MACPAC Addresses Congressional Criticism, Will Present More Offset Ideas

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) is increasing its effort to present offset options when it advises Congress on funding and policy changes to the federal healthcare programs serving low-income people and children. MACPAC's executive director, Anne Schwartz, revealed that information during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program funding. At the hearing, Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., noted that the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, advises Congress on Medicare spending regularly and presents offset ideas, while MACPAC does not when recommending changes to Medicaid or CHIP. (Modern Healthcare - Feb. 10, 2016)

2016 Presidential Campaign:

Clinton Draws Attention to Feature of Her College Plan

Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton used Thursday night's debate to reiterate their support for plans that would make public higher education free (under the Sanders plan) or debt-free (under the Clinton plan). But Clinton drew attention to one feature of her plan that isn't in the Sanders plan. Both plans anticipate a federal-state partnership, but the Clinton plan has provisions for public colleges in states where the governors and legislatures refuse to provide their share of the match. (Inside Higher Ed - Feb. 12, 2016)

Items of Note:


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