This Week’s Dose
Congress returned from August recess and has just a few weeks to complete its fall agenda before lawmakers hit the campaign trail.
Congress Is Back with a Focus on Government Funding. The Senate returned to Washington this week while the House of Representatives completed one more week of remote committee activity before its scheduled return on September 14. Both chambers now face the looming September 30, 2020, federal fiscal year end government funding deadline with the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election adding pressure to the negotiations. Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that they will agree to a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at current levels, but it is unclear for how long and whether other policies could be included in this bill. Expect negotiations on the specifics to begin in earnest next week.
COVID-19 Relief Talks Remain at a Standstill. Despite reaching a preliminary agreement on government funding, congressional Democrats and the White House remain at a stalemate over additional COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus. Senate Republicans introduced a narrowly tailored relief bill this week that prohibits COVID-19-related liability action against healthcare providers and workers during the public health emergency, gives states the option to extend enhanced unemployment benefits at $300 per week through December 27, 2020, and provides funding for vaccine development, increased testing and future pandemic preparation. This offering is a second attempt by the Senate Republican leadership to build consensus within the party on a way forward. The first effort came in July when Senate Republican leadership unveiled the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. This bill lacks many of the provider relief provisions included in HEALS. Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the new measure on Thursday and continue to call for a broader relief and spending package more closely aligned with the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the House passed in May. If a COVID-19 compromise is going to be reached in line with the funding deal, negotiators have less than three weeks to achieve that agreement. If an agreement is not reached in tandem with the funding package, it becomes less likely that a COVID-19 package is approved before the election.
HHS Issued Request for Information (RFI) for COVID-19 Testing Labs. The RFI asks labs whether access to new machines and instruments would allow them to increase their testing capacity, and how fast. In August, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would acquire testing machines for two commercial labs to increase their capacity, and this RFI may inform a similar deal to provide new equipment to various commercial, academic, medical center and public health labs. Labs have until September 20, 2020, to respond to the RFI.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup of 38 bills on a range of issues, including bills aimed at expanding Medicare coverage of mental health services and improving Medicare enrollment. All 38 were passed out of committee with bipartisan support.
- The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s vaccine development efforts.
- Democratic leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter requesting information from HHS on the Administration’s plan to deploy a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Democratic leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to HHS expressing concern over recent drug manufacturer actions to add new requirements for covered entities in the 340B program.
- A bipartisan group of House lawmakers led by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) sent a letter asking the Food and Drug Administration to consider expediting approval for rapid, in-home COVID-19 tests.
- A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling on the agencies to increase coordination between public health databases to create a “coordinated, interoperable real-time, nationwide public health surveillance system.”
- Senate Democrats issued a report detailing how operational changes at the US Postal Service have led to delayed deliveries of prescription drugs.
- HHS issued guidance authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become available.
- The health plans and patient groups challenging the Trump Administration’s expansion of short-term limited-duration insurance plans are asking a full federal appeals court to review a July decision by a three-judge panel that upheld the rule.
- McDermottPlus Vice President Rodney Whitlock offers his take on election polling on this week’s episode of the Health Policy Breakroom.
- The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) includes $175 billion in resources for healthcare providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Toolkit provides a detailed analysis of the PRF, including timelines, distribution, links and other important details.
- Find all McDermottPlus analysis related to COVID-19 on our COVID-19 Resource Center.
Next Week’s Diagnosis
The House returns to Washington, DC, following a week of remote committee activity. Lawmakers may produce a CR to fund the government as early as next week.
For more information, contact Mara McDermott, Rachel Stauffer, Emma Zimmerman or Katie Waldo.
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