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Tuesday Jun 05, 2018

Key Issues Face Congress Before Summer Recess

"It makes me that much stronger. Makes me work a little bit harder. It makes me that much wiser, so thanks for making me a fighter."
-- Christina Aguilera

This week, the AAFP is launching Fighting for Family Medicine -- a set of member communication and advocacy products designed to give you up-to-the-minute information about the comprehensive advocacy work the Academy is doing on behalf of family physicians and their patients. The new brand represents our commitment to being an organization that stands up and speaks out on behalf of family physicians.

[inside rotunda of the capitol building]

A key component of this new initiative will be the Fighting for Family Medicine (FFFM) newsletter, which will hit your inboxes every other Tuesday (starting today, June 5). The FFFM newsletter will cover a wide variety of advocacy topics, focusing not just on our work in Washington, D.C., but also our work with state governments, private insurance companies, patient organizations and other groups engaged in health care. This content will be comprehensive, timely and, most importantly, informative. We have a great team assembled to produce content for the newsletter and the Fighting for Family Medicine hub.  

As I mentioned in my previous post, In the Trenches will be featured content in each FFFM newsletter. Starting this week, you can access In the Trenches via the newsletter or you can access it directly via the Fighting for Family Medicine hub.

For those of you looking for a deeper dive into our federal and state advocacy work, you should join the Family Medicine Action Network (FMAN). The FMAN will open a door to policy briefs, talking points, and up-to-the minute information about what is happening in Washington or your state capital. In addition, the FMAN will open doors to direct advocacy engagement resources, where you can communicate with our elected officials on key issues impacting your practice, your patients and our health care system.

What's Hot for the Summer

Congress returns this week for the summer work period. By historical standards, summer is one of the busiest and most productive stretches of time in any legislative session. Given that 2018 is an election year, the summer work period is crucial. Congress is scheduled to depart Washington in late July for the annual summer recess, returning in early September for a few weeks, and then adjourning again for the 2018 mid-term elections. All told, we do not anticipate that Congress will be in session more than a few dozen days between Aug. 1 and Nov 6.

This adds pressure to the next eight weeks, and we expect some meaningful legislating will take place. Although we do not anticipate the workload will meet historical norms, we do anticipate a busy two months in Washington. The following is a summary of three items that will dominate the congressional calendar prior to lawmakers' adjournment for the summer recess.

1. Opioids -- The opioid epidemic continues to result in thousands of deaths per year across the nation. The negative impacts of this epidemic are numerous, and lawmakers are eager to pass legislation that assists individuals fighting addiction and substance use disorder (SUD) as well as communities that are facing mounting bills from the daily engagement they are undertaking.

This spring, there has been substantive legislative action in both the House and Senate. In fact, the Energy & Commerce Committee alone has approved more than 50 opioid and SUD-related bills during this calendar year. Although it is unlikely that all bills approved by House and Senate committees will become law, it does reflect the broad bipartisan effort aimed at addressing this crisis.

The AAFP has been actively engaged in the legislative process, working to shape the final legislative package to ensure that solutions advanced are built on evidence, protect the physician-patient relationship, and trend toward treatment versus law enforcement actions.

The House will take up the issue the week of June 12, and we anticipate that both the House and Senate will approve comprehensive bills on or around July 4. This is a devastating epidemic, and there is not a single policy that will solve every issue. Addressing this issue will require that the entire health care system works toward a set of common goals.

The AAFP has an informative position paper -- Chronic Pain Management and Opioid Misuse: A Public Health Concern that is a good resource on this issue. We also have a good summary of the CDC Guidelines on Opioid Prescribing for Chronic Pain. Finally, if you are interested in education on opioid prescribing and addiction treatment, the AAFP has a comprehensive online CME resource for members.

2. Government Spending/Appropriations -- As has been the case in recent years, Congress will face tight deadlines and a hyperpartisan atmosphere this summer and fall as legislators assemble, debate and attempt to pass the annual appropriation bills that fund the federal government. Current year funding is set to expire on Sept. 30, meaning Congress will be required to act on the appropriation bills prior to the elections in November or, once again, pass short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government funded until a future date. The smart money is on the enactment of a short-term continuing resolution that funds the government until mid-November -- after the November 6 elections. I agree with the smart money on this one.

3. Public Health -- Congress is poised to reauthorize the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act(www.gpo.gov) (Public Law 113-5) this summer. This program funds most of our national biodefense and pandemic preparedness programs. Originally passed in 2006, this program has strong bipartisan support, and we anticipate that it will be reauthorized this year.

4. Sleeper Issues -- There are three sleeper issues that could pop into the health care conversation that we will keep our eyes on. Those items are: health insurance stabilization, rural health and yes, you guessed it, repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Posted at 08:00AM Jun 05, 2018 by Shawn Martin

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Shawn Martin, AAFP Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Practice Advancement and Policy.

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