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.


California AG Nominated to Lead Health and Human Services; Walensky to Run CDC; Murthy Selected as Surgeon General

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Xavier Becerra, former congressman and current attorney general of California, as his nominee for secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). During his time as attorney general, Becerra has led several legal efforts on health care, including a defense of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the current case before the Supreme Court. Before he became attorney general of California in 2017, Becerra served 12 terms in Congress, representing the congressional district containing the city of Los Angeles. While in Congress, he served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and chaired the House Democratic Caucus.

Biden has chosen Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, to serve as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Walensky is also a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. As the leader of the CDC, she will be responsible for supporting the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In related news, President-elect Biden selected Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as his surgeon general. Dr. Vivek currently serves as co-chair of Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board. He previously served as Surgeon General for former President Obama. Biden is expected to name additional nominees for his health team later in the week.

New Bipartisan Stimulus Plan Gains Momentum; Congress Likely to Pass a Stopgap CR

Abipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate have drafted a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus plan that they are pushing to pass before the end of the year. The legislation is designed to provide coronavirus relief through March. It includes nearly $300 billion in support for small businesses and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), $160 billion in aid for state and local governments, and $180 billion to extend pandemic unemployment benefits. Vaccines, testing, and tracing would get $16 billion, and $35 billion is allocated to the provider relief fund. An additional $5 billion would be set aside for opioid treatment. The proposal includes a short-term moratorium on COVID-19 related liability lawsuits.

The proposal is supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who have backed down from their prior insistence on a much larger $2.4 trillion relief bill. They have characterized the bipartisan proposal as the baseline for negotiations with congressional Republicans and the White House. The Democratic leaders hope to combine the relief measure with a fiscal year (FY) 2021 omnibus spending package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) responded by circulating his own package, a slightly revised update of his previously introduced $500 billion plan. The bill includes $333 billion in spending on business subsidies, plus funding for schools, vaccines, and agriculture. It also includes legal liability protections and a one-month extension of pandemic unemployment relief followed by a two-month phase out. Neither proposal has been released in legislative form.

It is not clear whether President Trump would sign any measure beyond the $500 billion bill proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). President-elect Joe Biden has endorsed passage of the $908 billion package during the lame-duck session as a “down payment” on a more comprehensive bill he wishes to sign into law next year.

Lawmakers are considering the use of a one week stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown when current government funding expires on December 11. The continuing resolution (CR) would provide additional time (through December 18) for negotiators to reach a deal on a full-year spending bill to which coronavirus stimulus relief could be attached. Appropriators had hoped to finish their work by the end this week.

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