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Brady Urges HHS to Work with Congress on Health Tax, Medicare

By Kerry Young, CQ Roll Call

February 10, 2016 -- House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady urged Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell Wednesday to work with Congress on the areas of rare policy agreement between Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration, citing specific Medicare programs and a tax on insurers as examples.

At a hearing on HHS' fiscal 2017 budget request, Brady, a Texas Republican, pointed out recent actions on the so-called "Cadillac" tax as a model for how bipartisan work still can be done by the Hill and White House. Last year's spending and package tax package (PL 114-113) made significant legislative revisions to the 2010 health overhaul by placing a two-year moratorium on a tax on high-cost employer health plans and a tax on medical devices.  Obama's budget includes a $1.2 billion proposal to narrow the scope of the Cadillac tax insurers pay on high-cost employer-sponsored health care plans. 

"While we will disagree more than we agree today, I do believe that there are some important areas of cooperation," Brady said. "I'm glad that the White House has finally faced reality in one area and agreed that the so-called Cadillac tax is not workable."

Brady also raised with Burwell two policy issues that he has long championed as specific areas in which bipartisan agreement could be found. One is unifying the patchwork of Medicare payment policies now in place for care provided to people after hospital stays for serious illnesses and injuries, known as post-acute care. The other is the training of physicians in the United States, a field in which the federal government is a major contributor through the Medicare and Medicaid programs as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Services.

At the hearing, Brady also initially sought to reignite partisan debates over how successful the Obama administration has been in implementing the new health insurance exchanges. He said the policies sold through the exchanges have proven costly, while Burwell defended the program for reducing the number of American who lack health insurance. Brady also criticized what he sees as duplicative social welfare programs in the Obama budget. These include a plan to create a home visiting program through the Department of Agriculture, even though Burwell's department already has one.

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