POLICY BRIEFINGS


Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


THIS WEEK'S BRIEFING - MARCH 9, 2020


Coronavirus Update


President Trump has signed a $7.8 billion emergency spending bill (H.R. 6074) to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The bipartisan Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 also allows the Medicare program to spend $500 million on telehealth programs used in response to the virus. The legislation includes $6.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), $1.25 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and $20 million for the Small Business Administration. The bill provides:

  • $3.1 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to be used to develop and purchase vaccines and medical supplies;
  • $300 million in contingency funds to purchase vaccines if necessary;
  • $100 million for community health centers;
  • $2.2 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including $950 million for state and local preparedness grants, $300 million for global disease detection and response, and $300 million for the Infectious Disease Rapid Response Reserve Fund;
  • $836 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH);
  • $10 million for worker-based training and health worker protection;
  • $435 million for international public health programs, including $200 million for the U.S. Emergency Reserve Fund; and
  • $300 million for humanitarian and health assistance in areas affected by the virus.

The bill will also allow HHS to regulate the commercial price of a coronavirus vaccine. It was advanced by the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 415-2 and was passed by the Senate a day later by a vote of 96-1. Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against the measure. Lawmakers have said that they expect Congress will need to augment funding before the outbreak subsides, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated that his panel will consider “appropriate tax relief responses” to the coronavirus if it becomes necessary.

Dr. Deborah Birx has been tapped to coordinate the White House’s response to the coronavirus. Birx is a retired Army colonel, former Obama administration appointee, and most recently served as the State Department’s global AIDS coordinator. Vice President Mike Pence also met with lawmakers last week on the latest COVID-19 policies and to discuss the supplemental funding request. The Vice President stressed that it remains unclear how significant the outbreak will be. He also acknowledged concerns about the slow pace of testing for the virus. He told lawmakers that the government will ensure that the coronavirus diagnostic test is affordable for all Americans, but it is unclear how universal coverage of the test will be implemented. A letter sent on Friday from Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) urges HHS and the Department of Labor to require that private insurers cover the test without any cost-sharing requirements.

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Special Committee on Aging are asking HHS to take action to protect the senior population, who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, from the outbreak. Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ranking Member Bob Casey (D-Pa.) urged HHS Secretary Azar to “consider the unique health needs of older Americans in all aspects of the domestic response, from hospital preparedness to the impact of drug shortages to vaccine development.” Several Democratic lawmakers have also written to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting details on what the agencies are doing to stop consumer scams related to the virus and the marketing of fraudulent coronavirus cures. Letters focused on fraud were sent by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) also released a spotlight report on the coronavirus last week.


Grassley Sees Increasing Support for Drug Pricing Bill


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced that 24 Republicans have signed on in support of his panel’s updated bipartisan drug pricing legislation. Grassley has stated that he needs 25 Republican members to convince Senate leadership to allow a vote on the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, which already has the support of President Trump. Chairman Grassley also discussed a new cost analysis for the bill from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week, which estimates that the legislation would save $50 billion over the next decade in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. This is almost double CBO’s original estimate of $27 billion. Savings from premium spending, however, decreased from $5 billion to $1 billion, while government savings over the next 10 years also declined from $85 billion to around $80 billion. The bill has been revised to lower Part D beneficiary cost sharing in the initial phase of coverage from 25 percent to 20 percent. Grassley plans to officially introduce the updated legislation “very soon.”



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