Net Neutrality 2017: The Battle Continues…

By Danny Restivo (posted 7/6/17)

On July 12, 2017, a number of website landing pages will display “blocked,” “please upgrade,” or “paying customers only” banners. Fortunately for active users, the banners will only last 24 hours. These protest banners (example below) will be part of The Day of Action”, which is supported by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, GitHub, Reddit, OKCupid, Etsy, and a broad coalition of tech, media/social media, e-commerce, and other companies that peg their livelihood to the internet. The campaign aims to raise awareness regarding the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s proposed plan to roll back net neutrality measures later this summer.

Just two years ago, the FCC classified internet service providers as carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The decision forced ISPs to face regulatory measures like public utilities, while ensuring all ISPs treat content equally. Under President Donald Trump’s guidance, the FCC has targeted the regulation, drawing a number of large companies into a fray that may decide how online audiences view content.

The FCC’s net neutrality establishes three rules:

  1. Broadband providers can’t block access to legal content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.
  2. ISP’s can’t impair or reduce lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.
  3. They may not favor some internet traffic over other internet traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—no paid prioritization or fast lanes.

“The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too tom_wheeler_fccimportant to be left without rules and without referees on the field,” said Tom Wheeler, the former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, following the FCC’s 3-2 vote in favor of Net Neutrality in 2015. “Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom, for consumers who want to use the Internet on their terms, for innovators who want to reach consumers without the control of gatekeepers.”

Since its implementation, the vote has drawn the ire of internet companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Oracle and Verizon. These industry leaders have cited government overreach, as well as limits to free speech and free market principles. Because net neutrality designates ISPs as “common carriers,” such as telephone companies, they are open to a host of other government regulations.

GOP leadership blasted the FCC ruling on similar grounds after it was approved in 2015.

“Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet,” Former House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (Ohio-R) said in a statement after the ruling. “More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”

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Cable companies spent $44 million in lobbying efforts (including other issues besides net neutrality) during the 2015 showdown. Meanwhile, neutrality proponents like Amazon, Facebook and Alphabet Inc (formerly Google), paid $35 million in lobbying efforts that year.

Following his inauguration in January 2017, Trump enlisted the help of three net neutrality opponents to assist his FCC transition from Democratic to Republican control. On January 23, Trump appointed Ajit V. Pai to Chairman of the FCC. The former attorney for Verizon was one of two Republican votes against the 2015 decisions (Pai and Michael O’Rielly were the lone dissenters in the commission’s ruling).

Shortly after the transition, Congress overturned Obama-era internet privacy protections—a Republican bill removed regulations requiring individual permission before ISP’s could sell users data. Only a few days later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced the President’s goals for reversing net neutrality during a March 30 press briefing. A month later, Pai unveiled plans to loosen government oversight of the internet during a speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” said Pai. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

On May 18, the FCC voted 2-1 in favor of moving forward with rolling back the Obama administration’s Net Neutrality regulation. “The Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” does not include specific details on how the FCC will remove Net Neutrality regulations, however the proposal does allow for a 90-day public comment period. The FCC will stop receiving comments on July 18, but will allow a second 30-day commenting period for replies ending on August 18.

The FCC’s proposal includes three key tenants.

  1. Removes Title II classification from ISP’s
  2. Returns classification of mobile broadband internet carriers to private mobile service
  3. Eliminates “the catch all internet conduct standard created by the Title II order”

Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who previously voted for net neutrality, remained the lone dissenter during the May 18 vote.

“If you unequivocally trust that your broadband provider will always put the public interest over self-interest or the interest of their stockholders, then the ‘Destroying Internet Freedom’ [proposal] is for you,” she said after the vote.

Since FCC announced its proposal, the President has tapped two more members to serve on the commission. On June 14, Trump nominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, who previously served as commissioner until her term ended in 2016. Two weeks later, Trump nominated Republican Brenda Carr, a former FCC aide to chairman Pai.  Carr’s selection solidifies a 5-person commission. According to the rules, no more than three members of the commission may be of the same political party; if both Carr and Rosenworcel are confirmed, Republicans would have a 3-2 majority.

In conjunction with the commission’s plan, Sen. Mike Lee (Utah-R) introduced S. 993: “the Restoring Internet Freedom Act “in early May. With nine other cosponsors, the proposed legislation would prohibit the FCC from classifying Internet Service Providers as Title II carriers ever again. The bill—Lee introduced an identical version nearly a year ago—would require legislative action to implement net neutrality in the future. The bill has been referred to the committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Lee, along with Senate cosponsors Ted Cruz (Texas-R) and Ron Johnson (Wisc.-R), penned an opinion piece about internet freedom in the Washington Post on May 4.

“We reject the idea that the federal government should control the Internet. That’s why we have introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, which will complement Pai’s efforts to repeal the 2015 Internet takeover by preventing the FCC from issuing any similar regulations in the future.”

Meanwhile, 13 Democratic Senators signed a letter supporting the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules which was published in Tech Crunch on May 17.

“By proposing to take away the existing net neutrality protections, President Trump’s FCC is threatening to take away your ability to have free and open use of the internet. This proposal will have profound impacts on the way all of us watch movies, listen to music, do homework, talk to family, consult with a doctor, pay bills, and conduct business. Taking away these rules benefits no one except cable, telephone, and wireless broadband companies.”

The Internet Association, which represents Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix and other internet giants, released a white paper titled “Principles to Preserve and Protect an Open Internet” on June 21.  The paper outlined the “substance of the underlying rules” behind the FCC’s Net Neutrality. The paper contains “six principles and policies for preserving a free and open internet by which all proposals and potential changes to the rules will be judged.”

Principles to Preserve and Protect and Open Internet:

  1. Net neutrality rules preserve the success of the internet in driving economic growth.
  2. The FCC’s 2015 rules are working and the entire broadband internet ecosystem is thriving.
  3. Forecasting rules remain necessary to preserve and protect an open internet.
  4. Specific net neutrality rules are needed to preserve an open internet. These rules include: no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, no unreasonable interference or disadvantaging of content by ISPs, and transparency and disclosure requirements.
  5. Open internet protections should apply to broadband internet access providers on a platform-neutral basis.
  6. Strong and effective enforcement by the FCC of net neutrality rules is critical to ensuring that the benefits of the rules are realized.

The paper also states, “a free and open internet remains vital to preserving and protecting the virtuous circle of broadband innovation that benefits edge-based innovators and entrepreneurs, businesses, ISPs, and, above all, consumers.”

It also said, “undoing the existing light touch rules will create uncertainty among edge providers, innovators, and consumers, and would threaten to unravel the most dynamic segment of our economy. Instead, policymakers should seek to preserve the current rules and ensure that they remain on a firm legal footing.”

In addition to large companies supporting net neutrality, more than 800 startups, innovators, entrepreneurs and investors from all 50 states sent a letter to Pai and the FCC.

“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” the letter reads. “They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice…Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to Internet access providers.”

If net neutrality gets abolished, companies like Verizon, Comcast, Oracle and AT&T have said they can now reinvestment on infrastructure and broadband technology in communities throughout the United States.

“We also support Chairman Pai’s proposal to roll back Title II utility regulation on broadband,” Kathy Grillo, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, public policy and government affairs, said in a statement released on April 26. “Title II (or public utility regulation) is the wrong way to ensure net neutrality; it undermines investment, reduces jobs and stifles innovative new services. And by locking in current practices and players, it actually discourages the increased competition consumers are demanding.”

AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson echoed Grillo’s comments.

“AT&T continues to support the fundamental tenets of net neutrality. And we remain committed to open internet protections that are fair and equal for everyone,” he said. “The bipartisan, light-touch regulatory approach that Congress established at the internet’s inception brought American consumers unparalleled investment in broadband infrastructure, created jobs and fueled economic growth. It was illogical for the FCC in 2015 to abandon that light-touch approach and instead regulate the internet under an 80-year-old law designed to set rates for the rotary-dial-telephone era.”

While many Silicon Valley tech companies have voice opposition to the FCC plan, the multinational computer corporation Oracle has levied support. In a letter sent to the FCC in early May, Oracle said “the stifling open internet regulations and broadband classification that the FCC put in place in 2015 – for just one aspect of the internet ecosystem – threw out both the technological consensus and the certainty needed for jobs and investment.”

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Whether or not Pai and the FCC cement their proposal, the Net Neutrality rules will remain in effect through 2018.

Members of the public have until July 17 to comment on the FCC’s net neutrality proceeding. Reply comments will then be due on August 16, unless the FCC extends the process. After that, a final FCC decision on the net neutrality rollback could take several more months.

DMGS will continue to monitor this and provide updates as it develops.

Brett Goldman edited this report.

Legislative Overview and Regulatory Matters of Driverless Vehicle Technology

By Danny Restivo, DMGS

Edited by Brett Goldman, DMGS Manager of Special Projects

The popular ride-sharing service Uber introduced a fleet of driverless vehicles to Pittsburgh in September 2016. Days after the launch, President Barack Obama wrote an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and praised Uber for its innovation and effort to improve safety. “…Too many people die on our roads – 35,200 last year alone – with 94 percent of those the result of human error or choice. Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year.”

Uber’s program comes eight months after the United States Department of Transportation announced a multi-billion dollar investment into the technology. In January 2016 Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx unveiled a $4 billion, 10-year plan to accelerate driverless technology. “We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” Foxx said in a statement announcing the plan.

In light of the federal government’s investment, Google, Ford, BMW, Tesla, Volvo and General Motors have all begun developing similar driverless programs. As the technology edges closer to highways, the federal government has paved the way for autonomous vehicles to hit the road. On September 20, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released proposed guidelines and benchmarks for driverless vehicles. The announcement received applause from the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which represents Ford, Uber, Lyft, Volvo and Google. The coalition’s leadership also acknowledged the need for other regulatory entities to follow their lead.

“State and local governments also have complementary responsibilities and should work with the federal government to achieve and maintain our status as world leaders in innovation,” David Strickland, coalition spokesperson and general counsel, said in a statement following the NHTSA’s announcement. “With the guidance now publicly available, we encourage state policymakers to engage with our coalition to develop the appropriate policy solutions, and we stand ready to provide support and expertise for both technological and policy questions.”

The Obama administration’s guidelines provide 15 benchmarks companies must meet before their driverless vehicles can hit the road. Those benchmarks include operational functions and safety procedures. However, the NHTSA has given automakers and tech companies flexibility to meet those benchmarks, as long as detailed explanations are given. While the federal government’s proposal provides a framework, several states have already approved or introduced laws regulating autonomous vehicles. Legislative bodies in Nevada, Michigan, Tennessee, California, Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah, Florida and Washington, D.C., have all approved laws related to driverless vehicles. Meanwhile, Arizona’s governor wrote an executive order in August 2015 that supported efforts to test driverless cars on public roads. In June of that year, Virginia’s governor announced a partnership among the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to research and develop driverless technology.

Several other states have debated legislation, but their laws often conflict with the nature of driverless technology. For example, many states call for a licensed driver behind the wheel before a vehicle can operate. Moreover, laws related to seatbelts, unattended vehicles, hands on steering wheels and licensing requirements raise questions about legislating the technology. Whether state legislatures approve the federal government’s proposed guidelines remains to be seen.

Eric Martins, Managing Director of DMGS thinks that “if states do not adopt uniform legislation, a patchwork of laws could make autonomous driving through state lines a major challenge for driverless vehicles. This, of course, would be a terrible setback for both consumers, industry, and regulators. Crafting smart legislation and regulations will be key to making this technology thrive.”

Enacted Autonomous Vehicle Legislation

California (CA SB 1298)—Establishes safety and performance standards to be overseen by California Department of Motor Vehicles and the Highway Patrol. Also allows autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads (2012).

Florida (HB 1207)—Defines autonomous drivers and driverless technology. Also allows a licensed driver to operate an autonomous vehicle with insurance (2012). HB 7027–Eliminates the requirement that a driver be present in the vehicle. Requires autonomous vehicles meet applicable federal safety standards and regulations (2016). HB 7061–Defines autonomous technology and driver-assistive truck platooning technology. Requires a study on the use and safe operation of driver-assistive truck platooning technology and allows for a pilot project upon conclusion of the study.

Louisiana (HB 1143)—Defines autonomous technology (2016)

Michigan (MI S 169 and 663)—Defines automated vehicle technology and modes, and limits the liability an automated driver manufacturer faces in a lawsuit (2013). (SB 995-998)–Allows people to purchase autonomous vehicles upon availability. It also permits autonomous cars without steering wheels and pedals, and it doesn’t require a human operator (2016).

Nevada (NV AB 511) Permits the operation of autonomous vehicles for licensed drivers, and directs the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to adopt rules for license endorsement and for operation, including insurance, safety standards and testing in relation to driverless vehicles (2011). (NV SB 140) Permits the use of wireless handheld devices in a legally operated driverless vehicle (2011). (NV SB 313) Requires an autonomous vehicle to have insurance (2013).

Nevada regulations currently require two people in a driverless car that is being tested, which can only occur in approved areas. However, regulators have begun revamping policy for autonomous vehicles in non-testing environments.

North Dakota (ND HB 1065) Commissioned a study to research the implications of autonomous driving in relation to reducing crashes, fatalities and traffic congestion (2015).

Tennessee (TN SB 598) Prohibits local governments from banning vehicles equipped with autonomous driving technology (2015). (TN SB 1561) Establishes a program through the Department of the Safety that would certify autonomous vehicle manufactures before, they could be tested, sold or operated in the State. It also creates a per mile tax structure for driverless vehicles (2016).

Utah (HB 280) Requires certain state agencies to study autonomous vehicle technologies and best practices and report the findings. It also permits agencies to partner with driverless companies and entities (2016).

Washington, D.C. (DC B 19-0931) Defines autonomous driving and requires a prepared human driver to take control of the vehicle in an emergency. It also addresses the liability of the original manufacturer of a converted vehicle (2013)

Introduced Autonomous Vehicle Legislation in 2016

Alabama (S 178) Requires testing of autonomous technology with approval by the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency. Also requires each driverless vehicle to carry insurance and “authorizes the agency to create a driver’s license endorsement and require testing.” Status: Failed

California (A 1592) Authorizes the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to conduct a pilot project for to test autonomous vehicles that are not equipped with a steering wheel, a brake pedal, an accelerator, or an operator inside the vehicle Status: Sent to the Governor.  

Georgia (S 113) Classified autonomous vehicles and technology with specific provisions. Would allow the operation of autonomous vehicles for testing Status: Failed.

Hawaii (H 2687) Authorizes autonomous vehicles for research and testing purposes. Requires the Department of Transportation to establish an application process to report to the legislature annually. Status: Failed.

(S 630) Requires certain safety features and testing requirements for autonomous vehicles. Also requires an autonomous vehicle operator to hold a driver’s license. Status: Failed.

Illinois: (H 3136) Creates the Automated Motor Vehicle Study and Report Act to be done by the Secretary of State. The feasibility study will cover and record automated vehicle operations. Status: Passed House. In Senate. Placed on Calendar Order Third Reading. Pending Carryover.

Massachusetts (H 4321) Authorizes autonomous vehicles without human operators. Status: In House Committee on Ways and Means.

(S 1841) Defines autonomous vehicles and permits autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads if the vehicle manufacturer meets all safety standards. Status: Pending, Senate Study Order.

Maryland (H 8 & S 126) Establishes a task force that was used to research driverless vehicles and determine the best path for governing autonomous vehicles. Status: Failed.

Michigan (S 927 & S 928) Prohibits and provides penalties for accessing a computer system that operates a vehicle with intent of doing harm or damage. The proposed legislation also provides penalties for such action. Status: Pending in Senate Judiciary Committee.

(S 995 & S 996) Allows for driverless vehicles to operate without a person in the car. Status: Passed Senate. In House Committee on Communications and Technology.

(S 997 & 998) Defines automated driving and allows for the creation of mobility research centers where automated technology can be tested. Provides immunity for automated technology manufacturers when modifications are made without the manufacturer’s consent. Exempts mechanics and repair shops from liability on fixing automated vehicles. Status: Passed Senate. In House Committee on Communications and Technology.

Minnesota (H 3325 & S 2569) Establishes autonomous vehicles task force and demonstration project to serve mobility needs of people with disabilities; provides support for the task force; defines terms; appropriates money. Status: Failed

New Jersey (A 554) Requires self-driving vehicles to have ignition interlock device Status: In Assembly Committee on Law and Public Safety

(A 851 & S 343) Directs Motor Vehicle Commission to establish driver’s license endorsement for autonomous vehicles. Status: In Assembly Committee on Transportation and Independent Authorities/the Senate Committee on Transportation.

(A 3745) Permits testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roadways under certain circumstances. Status: In Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

New York (A 31) Provides and regulates the operation and testing of vehicles with autonomous technology. Status: To Assembly Committee on Transportation.

(A 10586) Directs a study and report on autonomous vehicles on highways. Also directs the commissioner of the Department of Transportation to support such testing and operation. Status: In Assembly Committee on Transportation

(S 7879) Specifies the law requiring one hand on the steering wheel does not apply if autonomous technology is engaged to perform the steering function. Passed Senate. Pending in Assembly Committee on Transportation.

Pennsylvania (H 2203) Defines terms related to autonomous vehicles. Regulates the testing of autonomous vehicles. Allows the adoption of regulations dealing with autonomous vehicles. Status: In House Rules Committee.

(S 1268) Provides for autonomous and connected vehicles. Status: In Senate Transportation Committee.

Rhode Island (S 2514) Would permit the use of vehicles equipped with autonomous technology on Rhode Island roads. Status: In Senate Judiciary Committee

Endnotes

  1. Obama, Barack. “Barack Obama: Self-Driving, Yes, But Also Safe.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Pittsburgh) September 19, 2016.  http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2016/09/19/Barack-Obama-Self-driving-yes-but-also-safe/stories/201609200027
  2. Secretary Foxx unveils President Obama’s FY17 budget proposal of nearly $4 billion for automated vehicles and announces DOT initiatives to accelerate vehicle safety innovations.” Nhtsa.gov. January 14. 2016.  http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Press+Releases/dot-initiatives-accelerating-vehicle-safety-innovations-01142016

  3. Kang, Cecilia. “Self-Driving Cars Gain Powerful Ally: The Government.” The New York Times. (New York) September 19, 2016.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/20/technology/self-driving-cars-guidelines.html?_r=1

  4. Plungis, Jeff. “Self-Driving Cars Must Meet 15 Benchmarks in U.S. Guidance.” Bloomberg Government. September 20, 2016. https://www.bgov.com/core/news/#!/articles/ODT8KW6JIJVF?niReferrerLink=homepageFeed

  5. Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. “Self-Driving Coalition Reacts to NHTSA Autonomous Vehicles Guidance.” September 19, 2016. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/self-driving-coalition-reacts-to-nhtsa-autonomous-vehicles-guidance-300330616.html

  6. Plungis

  7. National Conference of State Legislatures. “Autonomous Self-Driving Vehicles Legislation.”  September 13, 2016. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-legislation.aspx

  8. National Conference of State Legislatures.

  9. Coy, Brian. “Governor McAuliffe Announces New Partnership to Make Virginia a Leader in Automated-Vehicle Industry.”  Office of the Governor. June 2, 2015. https://governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/newsarticle?articleId=8526

  10. LaFrance, Adrienne. “Anybody Can Test a Driverless Car in Pennsylvania.” The Atlantic. (Washington, D.C.) September 14, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/anybody-can-test-a-self-driving-car-in-pennsylvania/499667/

  11. National Conference of State Legislatures

 

Delaware Primary: Key Races

Delaware Primary Election: Key Races

Congress

The assumed ascension of Congressman John Carney to the Governorship has left an open seat for Delaware’s sole representative in congress. Lisa Blunt Rochester with 43% of the vote won a surprise victory over State Senator Bryan Townsend and Military Veteran Sean Barney. Lisa Blunt Rochester does not have an opponent in the general election.  lisa_portrait_transparent

Governor

Congressman John Carney ran unopposed in the Democratic Primary for governor. He will face Colin Bonini in the general election. Carney is expected to win.

Lieutenant Governor

Bethany Hall-Long won the Democratic Primary for Lieutenant Governor with29.09% of the vote. She bested five other candidates for the seat. She will face token opposition in the general election.

Insurance Commissioner

Trinidad Navarro won the Democratic nomination for Insurance Commissioner with54.92% of the vote over Karen Weldin Stewart. Navarro will face Jeffrey E. Cragg in the general election.

Mayor of Wilmington

With 23.59% of the vote, Michael S. Purzycki received the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Wilmington. The race, an 8 way primary, was hotly contested. Eugene R. Young and Kevin F. Kelly SR came in close second and third. He will not face opposition in the fall.

City Treasurer

Velda Jones-Potter received the Democratic Nomination for Wilmington City Treasurer with 38.93% of the vote. Jones-Potter, a longtime DE businesswoman and former state treasurer defeated Darius Brown and Kenneth Matlusky.

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She will not face opposition in the fall.

 

 

Health Care Policy News

Two-Midnight Rule Out

Under the final inpatient payment update released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the rate reduction associated with the proposed two-midnight rule wouldn’t occur.

The final CMS update for Medicare payments to long-term care hospitals would reduce payments in fiscal 2017, which starts Oct. 1. CMS also said an increase in Medicare drug premiums for the 2017 plan year is needed because of greater-than-expected expenses for high-cost beneficiaries.

House Democrats Open to Zika Compromise

House Democratic leaders Sept. 7 called for a “clean” bill that would completely fund the administration’s Zika response efforts, but didn’t rule out the possibility of including such funding in a fiscal year stopgap measure.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress should use the next three weeks of the session to pass an emergency funding bill to combat the spread of the Zika virus. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders indicated Democrats would support a bill providing $1.1 billion—even though the Obama administration initially requested $1.9 billion in February—as long as it provided funding for a full year and was clean of any policy riders. Pelosi said public health agencies need greater “predictability and assurance that the resources will be there.”

Pelosi’s remarks came a day after the Senate failed for the third time to advance a $1.1 billion Zika funding measure that also included cuts to the Affordable Care Act and restrictions on Planned Parenthood. Pelosi noted public health officials have said the Obama administration has nearly exhausted every other source of money, including transferring money from other sectors to fund Zika vaccine research.

Changes to Health Plan Risk Protection Program Proposed by HHS

Changes would be made to the Affordable Care Act’s program for protecting insurers that cover sicker patients under a proposed rule released Aug. 29 by the Department of Health and Human Services. Beginning in 2017 “the proposed policies will take important steps to strengthen one of the Marketplace’s key tools for protecting consumers’ access to high-quality, affordable coverage options: the risk adjustment program,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in a release. The proposed rule would make the program “even more effective at pooling risk, allowing issuers to focus on meeting the needs of consumers,” it said.

The ACA marketplaces have lost major insurers UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and Humana, among others, as issuers have pulled back because of heavy losses on the plans. A major reason for the losses has been that the marketplaces have attracted a sicker population of enrollees than expected. The HHS Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2018 (CMS-9934-P) (RIN:0938-AS95), the latest of annual rulemaking governing the ACA marketplaces, is to be published in the Federal Register Sept. 6, with comments due 30 days after publication.

Regulators Want Doctors Sharing Drug Data

Health information technology regulators are pushing health-care organizations and technology companies to make it easier for doctors to have complete records of their patients’ medication history. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has renewed an effort to improve medication lists—electronic prescription drug records—in electronic health records. The work will require pharmacies, physicians’ offices and hospitals to work together to share drug prescribing data to ensure that any doctor who treats a patient will have a complete list of their medication history.

ONC officials hope to make progress before the end of the Obama administration in early 2017 by holding many health-care organizations accountable for the promises they made in February to help Americans more easily access their health records online. Regulators are meeting with health-care organizations about the effort. Some of the country’s largest hospital systems and health IT companies in February submitted plans to the Department of Health and Human Services outlining how they’ll improve consumer access to health records and combat instances of data blocking that hamper the ability of health-care providers to share patient data.

Many of the health IT developers committed to building standardized application programming interfaces (APIs) into their electronic health record systems that would enable the creation of mobile applications and personal health records capable of interacting with doctors’ EHR systems. All health-care organizations pledged to free share patient records. HHS officials said in February they didn’t plan to penalize those organizations that fell short of their promises but would follow up to see if pledging organizations were making progress on their vows to share data.

John Zang contributed to this report