Senate HSGAC Launches Probe into COVID-19

According to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), the committee will launch an investigation into the origin of, and government response to, the coronavirus pandemic. The panel plans to examine why the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) was not prepared for the public health emergency, the reasons for pharmaceutical ingredients and medical devices being manufactured abroad, the role of the World Health Organization (WHO), and how coronavirus initially spread.

Members of CARES Oversight Commission Selected

Congressional leadership have chosen several fellow lawmakers to serve on the commission charged with overseeing the Trump administration’s implementation of coronavirus relief efforts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chose Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) named Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) picked Bharat Ramamurthi. Ramamurthi most recently served as Deputy Policy Director for Economic Policy on the presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The Congressional Oversight Commission was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to oversee the $500 billion provided by the law to major industries. McConnell also announced last week that he would tap Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Wyo.) to lead the Senate’s own oversight effort to monitor CARES Act implementation. Pelosi had previously indicated that she would launch a new select committee, chaired by Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), for such a purpose.

Lawmakers Push to Relax Physician Visa Regulations

A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers is pushing for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to allow doctors working on certain employment-based visas, like the Conrad 30 program, to provide care outside of the restrictions for their immigration status. The letter warns that, unless certain restrictions are waived, physicians on visas could be putting their immigration status in jeopardy by taking certain actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter was led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa), and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and signed by 31 other lawmakers.

FDA Says Research Still Needed on Impact of Vaping on COVID-19

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rejected a call from Democratic lawmakers to pull e-cigarettes from the market in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy announced that committee leaders had been told by the agency that more research is necessary to determine whether vaping increases the risk of COVID-19. The FDA will not suspend approvals for e-cigarette marketing approvals, as requested by Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.). Officials from the National Institute of Health (NIH) have warned that lung damage, which can be caused by vaping, exacerbates symptoms of COVID-19.

Ryan Calls for Additional Flexibility in Provision of Behavioral Health

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) is urging the Trump administration to fix several Medicare reimbursement issues for mental health providers. Ryan notes that current regulations requiring therapists to have a qualified supervisor physically present where the service is being delivered and restrictions around telehealth telephone-only therapy calls are negatively impacting the quality and quantity of behavioral health services during the current public health emergency. He asks that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allow that supervisors only be required to be immediately accessible by telephone and that audio-only counseling sessions have billing parity with audio/visual telehealth sessions and in-person sessions.

Grassley Urges Support for LTC Facilities

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar calling on the administration to ensure that long-term care (LTC) facilities receive adequate resources in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The letter, which was co-signed by 26 other lawmakers, urges federal agencies not to overlook these providers in its response to COVID-19. They request that a meaningful level of support from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) is allocated to the nursing home, skilled nursing facility (SNF), and LTC industries.

Democrats Reiterate Calls for COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period

House and Senate Democratic health leaders continue to urge the Trump administration to immediately establish a special enrollment period to allow individuals to access health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace during the coronavirus pandemic. The lawmakers point to recent spikes in claims for unemployment benefits, and the fact that most Americans receive their health insurance through their employer, to illustrate the need to help these individuals access comprehensive health care coverage. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) is also telling House leadership to ensure that the next coronavirus response package include measures to assist families struggling to afford access to their existing health coverage because of job losses. He is requesting that the bill include federal subsidies for COBRA.

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