The Energy and Commerce Committee won’t be passing any blockbuster health care bills this session—much as some GOP members would still love to repeal the Affordable Care Act—but several smaller measures on the agenda are likely to make it to the House floor.
Up first will be a bill on user fees for veterinary drugs. The bill will reflect the negotiated agreement between the Food and Drug Administration and the pharmaceutical industry on how much drug companies should pay to help fund review of their products. Last year, the committee marked up and passed a larger suite of such bills, and the process was the rare model of bipartisan and bicameral harmony, passing both chambers long before the expiration of the programs. Committee staff are expecting a similarly smooth path for the less controversial veterinary bill, and it has already held a subcommittee markup.
Also on the FDA docket, the panel is grappling with legislation on tracking drugs as they make their way from factory to patient. Recent scandals over counterfeit drugs and other gray-market practices have led to a call for more information on how drugs move through the supply chain. Legislators had hoped to work out such a bill in time for last year’s big FDA legislation, but the complex policy questions demanded more time.
Consumer advocates want the ability to track drugs at the level of individual pill bottles—so that a scan on a single unit could reveal its entire history through the supply chain. But committee Republicans think tracking by larger batches is more practical. Because several states have passed their own requirements, potentially creating a patchwork of rules, industry is pressuring Congress to pass a uniform national standard soon. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee is also working on track-and-trace legislation, increasing the chances that a law could pass both chambers.
There may not be legislation, but the committee is likely to hold hearings on a program that provides drug discounts to certain hospitals, and the oversight subcommittee recently held a hearing on whether FDA needs new authority to oversee the manufacturers of compounded medications, like the Massachusetts company responsible for last year’s fungal meningitis outbreak.
If Congress and President Obama strike a much-hoped-for deficit-reduction bargain, the committee may have a role to play in spelling out particular cuts to the big health entitlement programs. But maybe not. In the fiscal-cliff negotiations and other recent deals, those details came down from the top or were determined by the Senate.
And, while last year’s monthly repeal votes on “Obamacare” will be missing, the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee is planning a series of hearings on the implementation of the complex law. Several have taken place already.
This article appears in the April 18, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as No Big Bills, But Plenty Of Action on Health Care.