Health Care

Top Dems on Energy and Commerce panel concerned House opioid push moving too quickly

Greg Nash

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voiced concerns over the speed at which the Republican chairman is aiming to put opioid legislation on the House floor.

Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has repeatedly said he hopes the House can take up the committee’s legislation to combat the opioid epidemic by Memorial Day weekend.

{mosads}“This complex public health crisis facing our nation requires thoughtful, measured solutions,” the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), said Wednesday at the Health Subcommittee opioid markup, where lawmakers will vote on over 60 bills.

“While I support a bipartisan process to address this crisis, I am troubled by the unprecedented number of bills, 63 in total, and the chairman’s extremely hasty time frame to pass opioid legislation.”

Pallone noted that action is needed to stem the tide of the epidemic — an estimated 115 people die each day of an overdose involving an opioid. But he worried about potential, unintended consequences if the process moves too quickly, a notion Health Subcommittee ranking member Gene Green (D-Texas) also shared in his opening remarks.

“I’m concerned we’re putting quantity over quality,” Green said, noting the committee is considering some bills that are still in discussion draft form during the markup.

“The fact is many of these discussion drafts have not been fully vetted by the staffs, stakeholders, nor received technical assistance from the appropriate agencies,” he said.

The subcommittee Chairman Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said some of the bills were intentionally left in discussion draft form, “signaling our intent to continue working with members and stakeholders, and get the technical details right so that our agencies can implement these promising solutions in a timely manner.”  

Walden called the bills “really thoughtful, well-considered pieces of legislation” and noted the committee has held legislative hearings on the measures, as well as roundtables and a Member Day hearing on the opioid epidemic.

“I think it’s the height of irresponsibility to drag and delay, and that’s why we are moving forward.”

“Now we could have one bill before us, and it could be about this big,” Walden said, holding up a thick stack of paper. “We’d have them all in there, and I don’t know what your argument would be. We have looked at these individually, we will continue to work with members moving forward. It is our job to move forward.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s legislative hearings earlier this year focused on three main areas: enforcement and patient safety, prevention and public health, and insurance coverage and treatment-related issues.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Health Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to send its bipartisan opioid package to the chamber’s floor.

Deaths involving opioids have been increasing since 1999 and rose nearly 28 percent from 2015 to 2016.  

Tags Frank Pallone Jr. Gene Green Greg Walden Michael Burgess

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