House and Senate Democrats Seek Aid for Mental Health Providers

A bicameral group of 76 Democrats are pressing congressional leadership to include emergency funding for mental health in the next coronavirus stimulus package. Their letter calls for at least $38.5 billion for behavioral health organizations, with special consideration given to organizations enrolled in Medicaid or providing care to underserved populations. The lawmakers argue that many such organizations are at risk of closure as a result of the pandemic, while the number of Americans dealing with mental illness will only continue to grow because of the emotional and economic repercussions of the coronavirus.

Lawmakers Explore Potential of Serological Testing

House Oversight Subcommittee on Consumer Policy Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) has sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) urging the agency to comply with his panel’s investigation into the deployment of coronavirus serological testing. Meanwhile, House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) is calling for the agency to immediately require validation data for serological tests and to remove tests that do not comply from the market. House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Ore.) has also indicated that she will examine the issue of serological testing during hearings this year.

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a teleconference last week with Dr. Florian Krammer, Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; Dr. Elizabeth McNally, Professor and Director at the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; and Dr. Denise Toney, Director at the Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, State Laboratory for the Commonwealth of Virginia on the topic of serology testing for COVID-19. The panel discussed the potential of serological tests to protect essential workers and to prioritize individuals when a vaccine for the coronavirus is available. The FDA’s policies for developing and distributing tests was also discussed, as was the need for quality standards.

Lawmakers Consider COVID Contact Tracing, Privacy Concerns

House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) have written to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging the administration to develop a national contact tracing strategy for COVID-19 and to increase the country’s tracing capacity. They questioned whether any member of the White House coronavirus task force was responsible for spearheading tracing efforts. The letter also asks about whether the administration is considering using any digital contract tracing tools or technology.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) plans to introduce legislation that would require technology companies like Apple and Google to provide an opt-out requirement for apps to collect individual’s health or location data as a part of their work to track the spread of the virus. The COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act would also require companies to explain how personal information will be handled, to whom it will be transferred, and how long it will be retained. Companies are currently at work on an app project that would allow public health agencies to trace the spread of the virus – using the location of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 to alert others who have come in contact with them about possible exposure. Wicker’s bill would allow consumers to opt out of the app and require transparency reports from companies on their efforts to maintain privacy standards and establish security measures to protect or delete personally identifying information. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) have signed on to the bill.

Thompson Inquires on COVID Health Disparities

House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has sent a letter to the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) about health care disparities in the administration’s response to COVID-19. He asks the HHS OIG to explore past and present efforts to eliminate racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities. He also asks the OIG to consider recommendations to support the recovery of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Fauci Will Not Testify Before House Panel This Week

The White House is blocking National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci from testifying before the House Appropriations Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Subcommittee this week. The panel is holding a hearing on May 6 regarding the nation’s response to the coronavirus. A spokesperson for the administration stated that it would be “counterproductive” to have individuals involved in efforts to expedite vaccine development and safely reopen the nation appear before a congressional hearing.

House Foreign Affairs Panel to Launch Inquiry on WHO Funding

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) announced that he is launching an inquiry into the administration’s decision to withhold funding from the World Health Organization (WHO). Rep. Engel characterizes the move as a “political distraction from the administration’s own response to the coronavirus global pandemic.” He is requesting that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provide him with records related the decision to halt WHO funding.

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 Hearings and Markups

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing on COVID-19 Response; 10:00 a.m., 2359 Rayburn Bldg.; May 6

Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee roundtable “COVID-19: How New Information Should Drive Policy;” 2:00 p.m., video conference; May 6

Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing “to examine the state of the aviation industry, focusing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic;” 2:30 p.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.; May 6

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing “to examine new tests for COVID-19;” 10:00 a.m., 106 Dirksen Bldg.; May 7

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