Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy is dubbing the third week of June “health care week.” It is then the House of Representatives will bring up a series of health care-related bills as the Supreme Court prepares to issue its ruling on a major provision of the Affordable Care Act at the end of the month.
According to a memo from McCarthy to his fellow Republicans, the House will consider at least seven bills the week of June 15 that address various aspects of health care policy. Among the proposals are repealing Medicare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board (aka Obamacare’s “death panels”). But absent from the agenda is any legislation dealing directly with the outcome of King v. Burwell, the case concerning the legality of the federal health insurance exchanges. McCarthy said the House will respond when the Court issues its ruling.
“I feel very confident we’ll be able to deal with it regardless of what the Supreme Court decides,” he said.
Topping McCarthy’s list is a repeal of a 2.3-percent federal tax on medical devices. The House passed a similar bill in 2012, earning bipartisan support, and in a briefing with reporters Monday morning, McCarthy said he expected some Democrats to join with Republicans on this month’s bill.
“There’s a real push inside here, and we’ve always said we want to have greater freedom of choice and innovation in health care, and this would go right along with that,” McCarthy said.
Repealing the medical-device tax has become one of Washington’s most popular bipartisan initiatives, and not just for its innovation-spurring benefits McCarthy cites. As the Washington Post noted last year, federal lobbying by the medical-device industry has exploded in the last decade in the run-up to the passage of Obamacare in 2010. Furthermore, writes the Post, “overall lobbying by the industry never really abated after the passage of the health-care law.” The industry lobbies members of both parties and argues that the tax—a rather small element of the entire health-care law—hurts innovation in the industry.
Republican congressman Erik Paulsen is the repeal bill’s chief sponsor. Paulsen hails from Minnesota, which is also home to a big segment of the medical-device industry. The state’s senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, also support repealing the tax, even though both Democrats voted for the health-care law that instituted the tax in the first place. The American division of Medtronic, an Irish corporation, is one of the nation’s largest medical-device companies and is located in Minneapolis. And, the Post points out, Paulsen was the top recipient of campaign donations from the industry in 2014—followed only by Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell, who said a month before he became majority leader that the Senate would “make every effort” to repeal the tax.
It’s clear why repealing the medical-device tax is good for the medical-device manufacturers. But is it a priority for regular Americans? “One of the key points here is what Obamacare does to innovation in health care and, actually, to jobs and to the future of health care,” McCarthy said.