This Week’s Dose
House committees held markups of coronavirus (COVID-19) relief legislation, and the Senate began the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
House Committees Began Work on COVID-19 Relief Package. The US House of Representatives this week began committee markups of the President’s proposed $1.9 trillion dollar COVID-19 relief package that Democrats are preparing to pass through reconciliation. The reconciliation process will enable Democrats to potentially approve a bill without Republican support. Democrats last week approved the budget resolution with the reconciliation instructions that allow for this partisan approach. This does not rule out the possibility that the Senate may still be able to assemble a bipartisan package with some Republican support, but it does make that prospect less likely, as pursuing the reconciliation instruction in a partisan manner further solidifies positions. The healthcare provisions of the House bill include insurance premium purchasing assistance, funding for infection control efforts and expanding the public health workforce, and financial incentives for states to expand Medicaid. The House language also includes a provision for a $15 minimum wage. In a somewhat surprising move, the House draft also includes a provision to lift the 100% cap on the rebates that drug companies pay Medicaid programs for medicines whose prices rise faster than the rate of inflation, beginning in 2023. This change could force drug makers in some cases to pay states to provide their medications and is expected to face substantial pushback from the industry. There were no Medicare provisions in the legislative text marked up by the committees of jurisdiction this week. Providers are pursuing more relief under the Accelerated and Advance Payment program, among other Medicare changes, as well as more support under the Provider Relief Fund, which was also left out of the bill. However, it is not clear how closely the language that comes out of the House committees will resemble the bill that ultimately comes to the Senate floor. Senate rules require reconciliation bills to only include provisions that directly impact federal spending. Therefore, the Senate could significantly revise the House bill in the coming weeks in order to satisfy this requirement. Democratic leadership in the House and Senate have indicated that they hope to get a bill to President Joe Biden’s desk before current COVID-19 unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
Lawmakers Introduced Maternal Health Package. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, led by Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), includes 12 bills aimed at improving maternal health and addressing racial and ethnic health disparities. The legislation includes measures to fund community-based organizations working to improve maternal health; grow and diversify the perinatal workforce; improve data collection and quality measures to better understand the maternal health crisis; promote innovative care delivery tools and payment methods; and address the challenges facing pregnant women during the COVID-19 pandemic. A one-page summary of the package is available here, and additional information about the individual bills is available on the Black Maternal Health Caucus website.
White House Announced FQHC Vaccine Program. President Biden announced a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) Vaccine Program, which will provide one million vaccine doses to FQHCs across the country. FQHCs will be able to start ordering vaccines the week of February 15. The program will be phased in, with the first vaccine distribution going to at least one FQHC in each state and expanding to 250 centers in the coming weeks and then to all who wish to participate. The Administration will prioritize FQHCs that serve hard-to-reach and disproportionally affected populations, including those that serve more than 2,000 patients who are 65 or older and those with a significant number of patients who are agricultural migrant workers, residents of public housing or are experiencing homelessness.
- The Senate Budget and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees held hearings to consider the nomination of Neera Tanden to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
- The Biden Administration announced the members of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which will provide recommendations for addressing health inequities caused by the pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.
- The Biden Administration withdrew federal support for a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Affordable Care Act, which was previously supported by the Trump Administration. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in November and is expected to issue a ruling this spring.
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that the request for applications for the second cohort of the Primary Care First (PCF) Model will be expanded to allow all primary care practices in the 26 model regions to apply for participation. Cohort 2 of the PCF Model was originally intended for advanced primary care practices that were previously participating in the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus Model.
- The Food and Drug Administration issued Emergency Use Authorization for a second COVID-19 antibody treatment.
- Hospital groups are asking the Supreme Court to take up two cases challenging Trump Administration policies. The first case concerns Medicare Part B payment cuts to hospitals participating in the 340B program, and the second case concerns payment reductions for certain off-campus hospital facilities.
- Our consultants discuss the House committees’ markups of COVID-19 relief legislation on this week’s episode of the Health Policy Breakroom.
Next Week’s Diagnosis
Impeachment proceedings and COVID-19 relief negotiations continue in Congress.
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