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  • Washington Highlights

    Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing on President’s Budget Request


    Jason Kleinman, Senior Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations

    The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing Feb. 13 on the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request that proposes a 9% cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) budget [see related story].

    During his opening statement, HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II highlighted the administration’s priorities in health care, including providing price and quality transparency, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, protecting and improving Medicare for seniors, the President’s Health Reform Vision, combating the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, and emergency preparedness.

    “Within our discretionary programs, it prioritizes funding for programs that have demonstrated effectiveness, proposes to end programs that have not, and focuses on direct services provided to the American people.” Azar said, “On mandatory spending, the Budget proposes commonsense reforms that will pave a path to fiscal sustainability and make these important programs work better for the people they serve.”

    Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) thanked the secretary for the budget’s focus on improving rural health care and reducing the costs of prescription drugs.

    “I am pleased that the budget calls on Congress to quickly pass a bipartisan bill and includes a prescription drug placeholder for $135 billion in reduced taxpayer subsidies to drug companies,” Grassley said in his opening statement.

    Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) criticized the budget proposal’s cuts to Medicaid.

    “Trump’s health care agenda rips scores of new holes in the safety net that vulnerable Americans are sure to fall through. The textbook example is Medicaid. Right now, the administration is attempting to do on its own what it failed to through the Congress: block grant the Medicaid program,” Wyden said in his remarks.

    Prior to the hearing, committee Democrats released a joint letter to Secretary Azar expressing concern over the proposed Medicaid cuts and the recent Healthy Adult Opportunity demonstration that would allow states to apply for waivers to block grant a portion of their Medicaid funding [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 31]. The letter states, “It is time for the Trump Administration’s ongoing assault on the Medicaid program to end. The public has spoken loud and clear – Medicaid services as a lifeline to millions of Americans and their loved ones, and they do not want to see it block granted, capped, or gutted.”

    Several senators, including Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.), raised concerns about the Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR) proposed rule, which would change state Medicaid program financing and reduce supplemental payments for providers [see Washington Highlights, Jan. 31]. In response, Secretary Azar said that the administration is “not trying to cut Medicaid through the MFAR regulation” and that the administration would work with states around the timing of the state budget process.