USPSTF Announces New Leadership

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) announced the appointment of Karina W. Davidson, Ph.D., M.A.Sc., as chair and Michael J. Barry, M.D., as vice chair last week. Carol M. Mangione, M.D., M.S.P.H., will remain in her role as vice chair. Dr. Davidson will assume the role of chair from Alex H. Krist, M.D., M.P.H., who will now serve as the immediate past chair. Professional biographies for Dr. Davidson, Dr. Barry, and all USPSTF members are available here.

CDC Releases Details on Vaccine Disparities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report finding vaccine disparities in 31 states across the nation. Vaccine coverage is lower in counties that have the highest social vulnerability, which is measured through an index taking into account social, economic, racial, and ethnic factors. The largest disparity among counties related to socioeconomic status. Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, and West Virginia were found to have successfully achieved coverage in highly vulnerable counties across all or most measures. The report includes best practices from states with high equity, including early prioritization of minority groups, transportation support, and collaboration with community partners.

MedPAC Issues Recommendations on Telehealth Flexibilities

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is urging an extension of telehealth flexibilities instituted in response to the COVID pandemic for up to two years after the public health emergency (PHE) concludes. According to the recommendations published on Monday, these telehealth expansion policies would allow more time for data to be gathered on the use of virtual care to inform a decision on which measures should be made permanent. Prior to the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) generally only reimbursed telehealth care provided to rural patients at a health care setting. Coverage has since been expanded to include all patients regardless of location for the duration of the PHE. While some policymakers have raised concerns that the use of virtual care could increase health care costs across the board, MedPAC is recommending that payments for audio-only visits be extended beyond the PHE and that Medicare return to the previous lower payment rates for telehealth visits in comparison to in-person appointments. The Commission also recommends that providers be required to have in-person visits with a patient before ordering durable medical equipment (DME), which has been found to be a target for fraud and abuse.

HHS Delays Trump-Era Regulations

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided to delay until 2023 a Trump-era rebate rule that would have altered payments made from pharmaceutical manufacturers to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Under the rebate rule, PBMs would no longer be permitted to adjust rebate payments based on the price of a drug. The postponement of the regulation follows a court order from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia placing the entire rule on hold for almost two years. HHS also announced that it would delay a regulation that would cause existing health regulations to expire if they are not reviewed by HHS every 10 years. The retrospective review regulation, which was scheduled to go into effect on March 19, 2021, will now be delayed until March 22, 2022. The administration explained that the postponement was made to allow a legal challenge to the measure to proceed.

NIH Quantifies Research Losses Stemming from Pandemic

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lost $16 billion in research as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This constitutes more than a third of the NIH’s current spending level of $42.9 billion, and is a $6 billion increase over a previous projection from agency director Francis Collins. In his testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last week, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci told panel members that the pandemic has impacted the ability to conduct research in areas other than COVID-19.

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.

Upcoming Congressional Committee Activity

House Energy and Commerce hearing “LIFT America: Revitalizing our Nation’s Infrastructure and Economy;” 11:00 a.m., Cisco Webex; March 22

Senate HELP Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security hearing “Why Does the US Pay the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?;” 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; March 23

House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing “Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis;” 10:00 a.m.; March 23

Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence;” 10:00 a.m., 216 Hart Bldg.; March 23

Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Samantha Power to be Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID); 10:00 a.m., 106/VTC Dirksen Bldg.; March 23

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing “Building on the ACA: Legislation to Expand Health Coverage and Lower Costs;” 11:00 a.m., Virtual; March 23

House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing “The Pandemic and VA’s Medical Supply Chain: Evaluating the Year-Long Response and Modernization;” 2:00 p.m.; March 24

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing to examine veterans’ mental health and implementation of the Hannon Act, focusing on coping during Covid; 3:00 p.m.; March 24

Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee hearing “Child Nutrition Reauthorization: Healthy Meals and Healthy Futures;” 9:30 a.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.; March 25

Senate HELP Committee hearing “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: Improving Health Equity and Outcomes by Addressing Health Disparities;” 10:00 a.m., 430 Dirksen Bldg.; March 25

Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing “American Rescue Plan: Shots in Arms and Money in Pockets;” 10:00 a.m.; March 25

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing to examine the nomination of Deanne Bennett Criswell, of New York, to be Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security; 10:15 a.m., 342/VTC Dirksen Bldg., Cisco Webex; March 25

House Foreign Affairs Committee markup of legislation Including H.R. 391, Global Health Security Act; 1:00 p.m.; March 25

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