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.


House Expected to Release CARES 2 Package This Week

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is working to ensure that the next coronavirus stimulus package originates in the House in an effort to give Democrats the upper hand in negotiations with the GOP-controlled Senate. The full House Democratic proposal is expected to be released in the coming days with a vote occurring shortly thereafter. The plan will likely include additional state and local aid, with funding for counties determined based on population. The bill is also expected to include funds for testing and facilitating reopening of the economy and more cash payments to individuals. Speaker Pelosi has argued against President Trump’s demands for capital gains and payroll tax cuts in the next bill.

Democrats are also contemplating several changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. The possible revamp would not only provide more funding for both programs, but would also likely set aside PPP money specifically for businesses with 25 or fewer employees and for nonprofits, increase flexibility around requirements for how and when PPP loans are spent, and lengthen the loan forgiveness period. A proposal from Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.), which could be included, would prohibit publicly traded companies from receiving aid and provide banks with increased processing fees for handling small loans. Lawmakers are also debating the inclusion of measures to ensure the affordability of future treatments and vaccines for the virus. Others are pushing for more funding for contact tracing programs and COVID-19 surveillance, increased oversight of nursing homes, subsidizing health insurance premiums under COBRA, and isolation programs for people who have tested positive for the virus.

Senate at Odds on Testing of Lawmakers

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) argued last week that there is not nearly enough coronavirus testing occurring to safely reopen the nation. His remarks were made during a congressional hearing on efforts that aim to launch new point-of-care testing technology by the end of the summer. Several senior Senate Republicans, including Alexander, broke with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week about testing for members of Congress. Sens. Alexander, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) asked congressional leadership to rethink their decision to decline an offer from the White House to supply rapid COVID-19 tests for members of Congress. They assert that lawmakers are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus as they travel to and from Washington, D.C. each week. The Senate reconvened last week, mostly for the purposes of considering presidential nominees. The House of Representatives is expected to come back in session as early as this week, as soon as the next coronavirus response legislation is ready for consideration.

Key Administration Officials to Self-Quarantine

Several administration officials have made the decision to quarantine themselves after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield, and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci have begun partial or full self-quarantine for two weeks. While the administration has not identified any of the infected persons, the officials’ decisions follow the announcement that Vice President Pence’s press secretary as well as a valet to President Trump have tested positive.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also announced plans to self-quarantine in Tennessee for two weeks after one of his staff members tested positive. The panel has a hearing titled “COVID-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School” scheduled for May 12. Alexander will chair the hearing via video conference, with Fauci, Redfield, and Hahn providing testimony remotely instead of appearing in person.

Giroir to Joint WHO Executive Board

Dr. Brett Giroir, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary For Health and the nation’s COVID-19 testing coordinator, was confirmed by the Senate last week to join the World Health Organization (WHO) executive board. Giroir will continue in his job at HHS while serving on the executive board, which is comprised of 34 individuals sent by WHO member countries. The board advises on and implements WHO policies. Giroir will replace former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden, who was nominated by President Obama. Giroir’s nomination was approved by voice vote.

Lawmakers Request More Funding for AHRQ

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have spearheaded letters to congressional leaders asking that $71 million in funding be included in the next coronavirus relief package for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The lawmakers argue that the additional money would allow the agency to evaluate the nation’s response to the current pandemic and improve preparedness for future public health crises. The letter to House leadership can be found here and the letter to Senate leadership can be found here.

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