This Week’s Dose
The Senate is expected to pass its version of coronavirus (COVID-19) relief legislation as early as this weekend after the House passed its package along party lines late last week. The Senate Finance Committee sent the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Senate floor.
Congress Advanced COVID-19 Relief Package. After the House of Representatives passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan, by a largely party-line vote of 219-212 late last week, the Senate quickly released its own version and took up consideration of the bill. The Senate version is substantially similar to the House version, but contains key changes, including an additional $8.5 billion in relief funding for certain providers – still far short of the $35 billion sought by stakeholders. In comparison to past relief bills, the provider funding is not broadly available, but rather is targeted at only rural entities. The Senate bill does not define what constitutes an eligible rural provider, but presumably, HHS would use the same definition it used to deploy targeted funding to rural providers last year. The Senate version also restores an area wage index floor for hospitals in all-urban states, and provides the Secretary of HHS with authority to temporarily waive or modify the application of certain Medicare requirements concerning ambulance services furnished during public health emergencies. In addition, the Senate bill increases the size of healthcare subsidies for laid-off workers, covering 100% of health insurance premiums people pay under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), up from the 85% provided in the House. The Senate bill, however, did not include other key priorities; notably it does not extend relief from sequester cuts that are set to take effect at the end of the month. It also removes a House provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. The Senate could vote on a final bill as early as this weekend. The House is expected to pass the Senate version shortly thereafter before sending the bill to the President for his signature.
Becerra Nomination Heads to Full Senate. Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s pick to lead HHS, will be voted on by the full Senate after the Finance Committee evenly split its vote on his nomination this week. Becerra’s nomination will require a majority vote by the Senate to be confirmed, which is likely to take place next week.
CMMI Slows Geographic Direct Contracting Model. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) put this model, first proposed by the Trump Administration, under review this week, saying that additional information would be forthcoming. The model would test the viability of provider networks covering the total cost of care for patients in specified geographic regions. The application process was originally slated to open this week.
- The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing on the future of telehealth.
- The White House announced a partnership with vaccine manufacturers that it says will provide enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it is allocating $2.3 million for current Navigator grantees to increase outreach and enrollment in the COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for the Federally-Facilitated Marketplace. The SEP runs through May 15, 2021.
- The Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The new vaccine requires a single dose and can be stored under regular refrigeration (unlike the previously-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require two doses and must be stored in ultra-cold freezers).
- HHS announced additional Administration staff appointments.
- Our consultants discuss the latest developments related to COVID-19 relief legislation on this week’s episode of Health Policy Breakroom.
Next Week’s Diagnosis
The House is expected to vote on the Senate version of the American Rescue Plan. The Senate is expected to confirm Becerra as HHS Secretary.
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