Azar Reserves Power to Issue New Rules for Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar has issued a memo barring agencies from signing any new rules, reserving such power for the Secretary. The bulletin was sent to the leaders of operating and staff divisions within HHS and covers all 27 agencies and offices within the department. The agency clarified in a statement that “The only change made by this memo is that, instead of the Secretary’s just approving all agency regulations, each regulation now also will be formally signed by him.” Also stating that this “should have no effect on operational work and does not pertain in any way to guidances or any vaccine or drug approval or authorization.”

Cassidy, Warren Request Guidance on Student Mental Health During Pandemic

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Education to issue guidance for how schools should address the mental health challenges faced by students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter states that young adults are among the most at-risk population for mental health illnesses, and that pre-pandemic rates of mental health conditions have been steadily increasing. The lawmakers request information from HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on how schools should use federal funds to support mental health needs, taking into consideration the challenges unique to minority students, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and tribal nations.

Coronavirus Panel Questions Guidance from WH Task Force

House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Chair James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx expressing concerns that the White House Coronavirus Task Force has weakened or retracted previous recommendations amidst the continuing pandemic. He requests that all Task Force reports tracking the spread of the coronavirus and recommendations to contain it be made public. Clyburn’s letter details the status of certain states that failed to follow prior guidance and are now facing severe outbreaks.

Democrats Criticize Fetal Tissue Research Restrictions

House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging him to reverse the Trump administration’s attempts to block federally funded fetal tissue research. The lawmakers cite internal HHS documents showing that political appointees “pursued these fetal tissue restrictions to advance an ideological agenda at the behest of the White House” and that the recommendations made by the Human Fetal Tissue Ethics Advisory Board are not supported by science. The letter argues that the restrictive policies have impeded research and promising therapies for a number of diseases, including coronavirus.

Bipartisan Group of Policymakers Ask for APM Threshold Fix

Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) are urging House leadership to address the forthcoming threshold jump for qualifying participants in alternative payment models (APMs). To qualify for participation bonuses under MACRA, a certain percentage of provider revenue must come through the APM. This threshold increases from 50 percent to 75 percent on January 1, 2021. The lawmakers ask that a fix to this policy be included in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill given the important role value-based care has played in responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the challenges faced by providers in meeting current thresholds due to subsequent shifts in care.

E&C Republicans Request Info on Coinciding Flu Season, Pandemic

Republican leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has written to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield to ask how the agency is planning to manage its response to the coinciding seasonal flu and COVID-19 pandemic during the fall and winter months. The letters notes that experts have predicted as many as “100 million cases of influenza-like symptoms that could overwhelm current testing capacity” and greatly increase stress on hospitals. The lawmakers underscore the need to increase the flu vaccination rate and ask what the CDC is planning to due to ensure access to the flu vaccine.

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.

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