COVID-19 Funding and Becerra to Congress
Secretary Becerra continues to testify on the President’s FY 2023 budget for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is typically a perfunctory process, but Member’s questions for the Secretary provide insight on areas of interest. So far Secretary Becerra has faced questions relating to surprise billing, COVID-19 response, telehealth, health equity and behavioral health. During his hearings last week, Members asked specific questions about the use of Title 42 authority, which empowers federal health authorities to prohibit migrants from entering the country if it is determined that doing so could prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
Next steps for COVID-19 relief are still pending. The process to move a $43 billion package that combines $33 billion in relief to Ukraine and $10 billion in COVID-19 funding remains stalled. Senate Democrats want to tie both funding packages together to streamline the process. Republicans have stated that if COVID-19 funding is tied to Ukraine funding, they will require a vote on an amendment to block the Biden administration from lifting Title 42. It is unlikely that the Senate will vote on the package this week because Senator Bennett was diagnosed with COVID-19 and will not be in Washington, DC—meaning that Democrats may not be the majority in the Senate this week.
Opportunities to move health care priorities prior to the November election are shrinking. There is no current avenue to tie other policy proposals to the stalled COVID-19 package. We are still waiting for details on a potential behavioral health package, with no indication yet of how broad such a package could be. The User Fees Agreement package needs to be passed, but it is unlikely that other priorities will be tied to it. With other major international and domestic issues at hand, health care appears to be sidelined for the moment.
Overall, the window to move healthcare priorities prior to the November election is closing. Debbie Curtis and Rodney Whitlock review the legislative items on the Congressional calendar ahead of the August recess.