HHS Provides Additional Clarity Regarding the Reporting Requirements Under the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund

Congress has appropriated approximately $175 billion for the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. Thus far, including the additional $5 billion allocation for nursing homes announced last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has allocated approximately $132 billion. One key element of receiving the funds, per the Terms and Conditions, are extensive reporting requirements. Last week, HHS posted a document providing additional clarity regarding those reporting requirements. As part of the notice, HHS stated: “The purpose of this notice is to inform Provider Relief Fund (PRF) recipients that received one or more payments exceeding $10,000 in the aggregate from the PRF of the timing of future reporting requirements. Detailed instructions regarding these reports will be released by August 17, 2020.” (emphasis added) These revised requirements have lowered the threshold – from $150,000 in the Terms and Conditions to $10,000 in the notice. In addition, the notice altered the timeframe for reporting – from 10 days after each calendar quarter to two new reporting deadlines. All recipients must submit an initial report by February 15, 2021, and this can be a final report if all funds have been expended by December 31, 2020. Otherwise, the final report deadline is July 31, 2021. The portal for report submission will be open as of October 1, 2020.

NAM Panel to Draft COVID Vaccine Distribution Plan

A committee at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is working to develop a distribution plan for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. The panel is charged with recommending criteria to equitably distribute the vaccine among groups of recipients, accounting for health disparities, risk, and access for communities of color. The committee, which is led by former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director William Foege, met for the first time on July 24. A final report is expected in the early fall. The Trump administration’s goal is to deliver 300 million doses of vaccine by January 2021.

HHS Extends Emergency Declaration

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officially extended the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration for another 90 days ahead of its expiration on Saturday. The renewal provides for the extension of a number of requirements instituted in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including that payers cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing, waivers for the provision of telehealth, and the 20 percent add-on Medicare payment for treating COVID-19 inpatients. The latest renewal will expire in October without another extension.

Draft 2020 Democratic Platform Released

The Democratic Party released its draft 2020 Platform in advance of this week’s meeting of the party’s full Platform Committee. The 80-page document offers a range of ideas in several policy areas including economic policy, health care, criminal justice reform, climate change, voting rights, education policy, and foreign trade and international diplomacy.

On the health care front, the draft platform recommits the party to getting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) back to full strength as a means to provide universal health care coverage. The drafters also wish to add a public option to the ACA to ensure that private insurers are properly motivated to provide “affordable, quality coverage to every American.”

According to the document, the public option will provide at least one plan choice without deductibles, will be administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), will cover all primary care without any copayments, and will control costs for other treatments by negotiating prices with doctors and hospitals, just like Medicare does on behalf of older people. Everyone will be eligible to choose the public option or another ACA marketplace plan. To help close the persistent racial gap in insurance rates, Democrats will expand funding for ACA outreach and enrollment programs, in order for every American to be aware of their options for securing quality, affordable coverage.

Democrats also aspire to give wide latitude to states who want to use ACA waivers in their quest to experiment with statewide universal health care approaches.

The draft platform also promises “aggressive action” to address the issue of prescription drug affordability by allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices for all public and private insurers, for families and business – as well as older Americans – no matter where they get their drug coverage.

In addition to focusing on Medicare, the platform drafters pledge to prevent the price of brand-name and outlier generic drugs from rising faster than inflation and will crack down on anti-competitive efforts to manipulate the patent system or collude on prices. This includes eliminating tax breaks for prescription drug advertisements.

Finally, the draft platform pledges to support policies to increase the number of primary care physicians, registered nurses and dentists and also pledges to outlaw the practice of surprise medical billing.

The draft platform is scheduled to be considered by the full Platform Committee today. The Platform Committee consists of 180 delegates who can amend the draft party platform prior to placing it before Democratic National Convention next month.

The Democratic Platform Committee is chaired by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is also on the short list of potential nominees for Vice President.

E&C Leaders Sharply Criticize Azarís Leadership Role in COVID Response

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) have sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar sharply criticizing his role in the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawmakers assert that Azar has promoted politics over science and allowed officials to repeatedly undermine key public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It is time for you to either stand up to protect public health or step aside as the nation’s top health official,” the Committee leaders write. The letter goes on to detail several examples where Azar failed to defend the CDC against attacks from the White House.

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