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Burwell Testifies Before Ways and Means on ACA and HHS FY 2016 Budget

June 12, 2015—Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Burwell testified June 10 before the Ways and Means Committee on the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request [see Washington Highlights, Feb. 6] and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, P.L. 111-148 and P.L. 111-152).

Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) opened the hearing explaining the focus would be primarily on ACA implementation, rather than on the agency’s budget request. Reminding the secretary of Republicans’ serious concerns with the ACA, Chairman Ryan called the program “busted” and “broken.” He further stated, “The answer is to repeal and replace this law with real, patient-centered reforms.”

Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) refuted the chairman’s comments, stating “what's busted is not ACA but your attacks on it, endless attacks, never coming up with a single comprehensive alternative all these years. Millions of kids have insurance who would not otherwise have had it. People who have pre-existing conditions no longer are canceled or can't even get insurance. The donut hole is gone.”

In her opening testimony, Burwell applauded the committee for “the bipartisan, bicameral efforts you undertook in passing the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015,” adding “These policies, along with other changes in the legislation, will help protect the integrity of Medicare and contribute to slowing healthcare cost growth.”

Echoing recent Congressional concerns with the Medicare audit and appeals process and burdensome backlog, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) asked Burwell of the agency’s plans to deal with the issue.

Burwell highlighted the Audit & Appeal Fairness, Integrity, and Reforms in Medicare (AFIRM) Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation that the Senate Finance Committee passed June 3 [see Washington Highlights, June 5], stating the bill was a “strategic approach to help us get to a place where we can reduce that backlog of appeals,” and adding, “There are administrative things we can do, but we did need some statutory help.”

Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) later asked Burwell about the administration’s willingness to adjust the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP) to account for socio-economic status (SES) factors of patient populations.

Renacci stated, “The goal of the program was really something that I would support and probably many of my colleagues support. However, the implementation of this program has been problematic, especially for those hospitals serving low-income populations.”

He asked Burwell, “Do you believe the readmission program criteria can be approved by adding clear adjustments for dual eligible status as well as for other plan readmissions?”

Burwell called the issue “important” and added that “Congress, thankfully, has given money to actually do this specific study of how we can work through this issue. We look forward to working with you on how we correct it.”


Courtney Summers
Senior Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-862-6042

Len Marquez
Director, Government Relations
Telephone: 202-862-6281


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Washington Highlights, a weekly electronic newsletter, features brief updates on the latest legislative and regulatory activities affecting medical schools and teaching hospitals.

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Jason Kleinman
Sr. Legislative Analyst, Govt. Relations
Telephone: 202-903-0806