Capitol Insights Newsletter

Authors: Luke Schwartz & Matt Reiter

What happened in Congress this week?

This week Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) requested the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate UnitedHealth Group (UHG) over cybersecurity failures related to the Change Healthcare cyberattack. Senator Wyden is asking these agencies to determine whether UHG violated any laws that resulted in the compromise of health data likely impacting one-third of Americans.

Senate Finance Committee Members Release
Proposal to Reduce Physician Workforce Shortages

A bipartisan group of Senators on the Senate Finance Committee released a proposal to increase Medicare Graduate Medical Education (GME) slots. In addition to increasing GME funding, the proposal would better incentivize hospitals to train physicians in rural areas, create a council to improve the distribution of the added GME slots, and improve federal Medicare GME data collection and transparency.

While Congress has added 1,200 GME slots over the past four years, this proposal acknowledges more slots are needed to address physician shortages, particularly in rural areas. The proposal would add new Medicare GME slots from 2027 to 2031, with at least 25% going toward primary care residents and at least 15% toward psychiatry or psychiatry subspeciality residences.

This expansion would occur under a modified GME allocation formula to increase the number of slots in rural areas. To further this goal, the Senators would direct HHS to direct new GME slots to hospitals affiliated with a center of excellence, historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs), or minority-serving institutions (MSI) with the vision that these groups are more likely to work in rural and underserved communities in the long run.

The proposal creates a GME Policy Council of key stakeholders in medical education that would evaluate the distribution of the new GME slots and make recommendations to the HHS Secretary accordingly, especially in regard to allocation in rural areas and specific specialties.

Lastly, the proposal would improve data collection in response to concerns that the Medicare GME program lacks accountability. This provision would “require HHS to calculate Medicare GME slots per 100,000 residents by state and projected physician shortages by state and assess how Medicare GME investments address these projected shortages.” This additional data collected will be publicly available to increase transparency surrounding the program.

This policy proposal is an encouraging act by Congress to address the physician shortage impacting medical practices and hospitals across the country. However, increasing GME funding would have a steep price tag. The proposal does not identify a mechanism to offset this cost. The proposal has an unlikely path forward until Congress determines how to fund it.

Top Stories in Healthcare Policy

Findings published in JAMA Health Forum found that audio-only telehealth visits dropped from 31% to 25.4% between 2020-2022. However, patients who used audio only were more likely to be Black, older, rural, dually eligible, and have complex medical conditions. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling for high levels of surveillance throughout the summer for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

CMS has developed a web portal for patients to file a complaint if they were illegally denied emergency care. A patient’s right to be seen in an emergency stems from the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).

Louisiana has criminalized possession of two main abortion pills, Mifepristone and Misoprostol, without a prescription. It adds the drugs to the list of controlled substances that includes addictive narcotics.

Nursing homes have begun to sue CMS over the new staffing mandate, as they claim they will be unable to comply. However, AARP—one of the largest lobbying groups in the country—is backing CMS’s decision.

Phishing emails are a growing problem in the healthcare sector. The HHS Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center and the Office of Information Security have issued a warning on phishing attacks that can lead to patient data being compromised. 

California’s Senate has voted in favor of a bill that would limit insurer’s use of artificial intelligence (AI) in evaluating coverage decisions. The bill now awaits a vote in the State Assembly.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released on Wednesday calls on CMS to more appropriately oversee prior authorization decisions made by Medicaid managed care plans for children’s health benefits. House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) called on GAO to investigate the situation and author the report.