SENATE CONFIRMS BURWELL AS NEXT HHS SECRETARY: Last week, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly (78-17) to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the next Secretary of the Department and Health and Human Services. Despite their grievances over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republicans said that their support for Burwell is a result of her acknowledgement of what is wrong with the ACA and her pledge to respond to Congressional inquiries in a timely manner.

BI-PARTISAN HEALTH BILL EMERGES FROM VA SCANDAL: Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reached a deal this week on legislation that addresses long wait times and would recruit more medical professionals to VA hospitals. The Veteran Access to Care Act (H.R. 4810) would provide an additional $500 million to the VA program, which would be used to hire more doctors and nurses, open more region VA hospitals, and allow veterans experiencing wait times greater than 14 days OR living more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, to be seen by outside providers. Currently, the VA has a shortage of 400 physicians and the bill would incentivize physician participation by offering doctors and nurses a one-time bonus for joining the VA. A section-by-section summary of the bill can be found here.

REPORT SAYS SURGEONS “MISSING” FROM ACOs: A recent study released by Health Affairs says that low surgeon participation rates in accountable care organizations (ACOs) is attributable to little devotion by program administrators to include surgeons into the models. The report finds instead that ACOs are generally geared toward primary care physicians and those who treat patients with chronic care conditions, such as diabetes. While the demand for a high quality, low cost alternative payment system is widespread among many Members of Congress, the study adds to the claims made by NASS and other specialty societies that – at least for now – ACOs are simply not are an appropriate alternative payment model for all spine care providers.