Likelihood of Lame Duck COVID Stimulus Remains Low

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has renewed his calls for Congress to pass a targeted coronavirus stimulus package before the end of the year in light of the positive results from Pfizer Inc.’s COVID vaccine trial. Democrats, however, continue to push for a larger relief bill. While Senate Republicans support a $500 billion package, without another round of individual stimulus checks or aid to state and local governments, Democrats continue to push for a $2.4 trillion measure. The House returns to session this week, though there are no talks scheduled to renew negotiations on new coronavirus stimulus legislation.

McConnell, Schumer Reelected as Senate Leaders

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reelected to lead Senate Republicans during the 117th session of Congress, while Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will remain as the top Democrat in the chamber. Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) will return to their leadership positions, with the addition of Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who will serve as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Democratic Senate leadership will also remain the same, with party Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray (D-Wash.), alongside Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who will serve as Vice Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) who will serve as Vice Chair of Outreach. Please see HERE for Hart Health Strategies Inc. updated 2020 Political/Elections Overview document.

Alaska Incumbent Wins Reelection

Senate Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan has won his race for reelection in Alaska, bringing the GOP to 50 votes in the upper chamber. Given the results of Sullivan’s race, control of the Senate will now depend on the winners of two runoffs in Georgia. If Republicans win either one, they will retain control of the Senate during the 117th Congress.

Lawmakers Question Medicaid, Exchange Changes in GA

Democratic leaders of the congressional health committees have written to top administration officials criticizing the White House’s decision to approve Georgia’s planned overhaul of its Medicaid program and health care exchange. The waiver would permit the state to impose a Medicaid work requirement and privatize its Affordable Care Act (ACA) market. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Reps. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) characterize the proposals as “blatant violations of federal law.” Their letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Treasury Department, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) outlines how these waivers would be harmful to Georgia residents, violate federal law, and increase challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Justices Appear to Support Severability of Individual Mandate

Oral arguments began last Tuesday before the Supreme Court in California v. Texas, the case in which the high court will rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The case was brought by a group of Republicanled states and is supported by the current administration. They argue that the individual mandate, which was originally tied to a tax penalty for noncompliance, was central to a 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the law, and that since Congress eliminated the individual tax mandate in 2017 the entire law must now be invalidated. Members of the court, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, signaled last week that they would support allowing the individual mandate to be severed from the remainder of the 2010 health care law, meaning that the rest of the ACA could stand even if the court decides to invalidate the individual mandate provision.

Promising New Data on COVID Vaccine Development

Pfizer and BioNTech published positive results for their COVID-19 vaccine candidate in a press release last week. Their data from a trial of more than 40,000 volunteers suggests that the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infections. Their results are based on an interim analysis completed after 90 participants, spilt between those who received the placebo and those who received the vaccine, contracted COVID-19. The trial will continue until 164 infections have occurred. The U.S. and Europe are first in line to receive doses of the vaccine, with regulators working to quickly review the safety and efficacy data.

In related news, Novavax has been granted a fast track designation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The company plans to begin its phase three clinical trial in the U.S. and Mexico by the end of this month. The FDA also granted Eli Lilly’s antibody therapy an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the treatment of COVID-19. Early evidence indicates that the treatment is effective in preventing hospitalization in people infected with the coronavirus.

Hart Health Strategies COVID-19 Resources

Hart Health Strategies Inc. continues to update the following resources related to the coronavirus pandemic. Please remember to clear your cache to ensure you download the most recent documents.

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