Coronavirus Panel to Investigate Operation Warp Speed

House Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee Chair Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) is requesting details about potential conflicts of interest between the Trump administration and Operation Warp Speed. In a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Clyburn expresses strong support for efforts to develop and distribute an eventual coronavirus vaccine, but notes concerns that “the selection of candidate vaccines for Operation Warp Speed lacked transparency and excluded many vaccine experts.” Operation Warp Speed’s chief advisor, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, is a venture capitalist and former pharmaceutical executive.

Oversight Panel to Probe Ventilator Contract

The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Consumer Policy has invited the President’s trade aide Peter Navarro and Philips North America CEO Vitro Rocha to testify before the panel on the administration’s ventilator contracts with Philips Respironics. Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) has expressed concerns that the White House overpaid by as much as $504 million, and possibly caused a substantial delay in the acquisition of ventilators. A hearing on the subject is scheduled for September 16.

E&C Dems Investigate COVID-19 in Youths, Insurer COVID Practices

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), alongside leadership of the Oversight and Health subcommittees, have sent a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to request a briefing on the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s children and young people. The letter cites CDC data indicating that 270,000 youth have been infected with coronavirus and at least 77 have died. The lawmakers request that a briefing take place by August 25.

Democratic leadership of the panel also announced the launch of an investigation into the practices of health and dental insurers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers sent letters to nine insurance companies requesting information about coverage policies for COVID-19 tests and related items and services. They also ask whether increased profits are being used to provide consumer relief. They request documents and answers to a series of questions by August 27.

Lawmakers Probe Impact of COVID-19 on Overdose Trends

Bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have written to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar regarding concerns about the impact that COVID-19 has had on the substance use disorder and overdose crisis also taking place across the nation. The letter refers to data from the Washington Post that indicates an increase of 18 percent in suspected overdoses compared to last year. They ask that the Secretary brief them on the latest overdose trends, whether those trends have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and what actions can be taken to address the current situation.

CMS Announces New Rural Health Models

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an initiative last week containing new funding opportunities to increase access and improve quality in rural health care. The Community Health Access and Rural Transformation (CHART) Model is in line with the President’s recently issued Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access executive order. The voluntary CHART Model will tie payment to value. Providers will have two options to participate: under the Community Transformation Track, up to 15 rural communities will have the opportunity to receive an upfront investment to implement care delivery reform, provide capitated payments, and take advantage of operational and regulatory flexibilities such as telehealth expansion. It would also allow participant hospitals to waive cost-sharing for certain Part B services and to provide transportation support and gift cards for chronic disease management. Under the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) Transformation Track, rural health care providers will receive upfront investments to enter into two-sided risk arrangements under the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) and will have access to all waivers available under that program. The model is designed to save an estimated $80 million in taxpayer money.

HHS Personnel Announcements

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Chief Information Officer Jose Arrieta announced his resignation on Friday. His office has been the subject of recent scrutiny following the Trump administration’s decision to direct hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when reporting data on the coronavirus. Arrieta, a career civil servant, has held the position of chief information officer at HHS for a little over a year, and his departure was unexpected.

Kyle McGowan, chief of staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Amanda Campbell, CDC deputy chief of staff, jointly announced their departure from the agency on Friday. The pair plan to start their own consulting business. Both McGowan and Campbell have been at the CDC since the start of the Trump administration.

DOD Considers Cut to Military Health Care

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is proposing a $2.2 billion cut to the military health system over the next five years as a part of an effort to eliminate inefficiencies within the Department of Defense. Senior defense officials have raised concerns that the funding reduction will negatively impact health care for military personnel and their families in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Esper argues that the U.S. private civilian health care system can help absorb the loss. The military health system currently serves approximately 9.5 million active duty personnel, military retirees, and their dependents.

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