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.


Senate Clears Bills to Avert Medicare Sequester Cut, Extend PPP

The Senate amended and passed legislation (H.R. 1868) to extend for nine months the temporary moratorium on the 2% Medicare sequester in light of the ongoing public health emergency. The bill, as amended, would delay the automatic cuts from April 1 to Dec. 31, and was passed by a vote of 90-2. The measure, which was negotiated by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), includes an offset that would add 5.5 months onto the sequester whenever it is allowed to take effect. The Senate amended the bill passed by the House of Representatives to exclude a provision that would also waive a $36 billion – or 4% - cut to the program in 2022 stemming from the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act and pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) requirements. Democrats will likely use government funding legislation as a vehicle for waiving the PAYGO cuts and avoiding the 4% sequester. The House will have to vote again to pass the Senate amended version of the legislation, but it is unlikely that the chamber will take up the measure before it returns from recess on April 13. While the 2% cut is scheduled to go into effect next week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has historically given providers flexibility on submitting claims if it appears that lawmakers plan to act shortly beyond the deadline.

The Senate also passed a two-month extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) last week. The bill was passed by a 92-7 vote ahead of the program’s scheduled expiration on March 31. It was previously passed by the House of Representatives and will now be sent to President Joe Biden for his signature. The program has a balance of $79 billion left to distribute, and companies will have until he end of May to apply for loans through the small- business relief program.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently previewed the chamber’s spring agenda, saying that Democrats will look to tackle voting rights, economic recovery, and gun safety when the Senate returns from recess in mid-April. The Senate also plans to vote on Sen. Mazie Hirono’s COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act legislation (S. 937).

WH Expected to Release Infrastructure Proposal In Coming Weeks

Following the passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package through reconciliation earlier this month, the Biden administration is turning its focus to a potentially larger infrastructure and jobs proposal currently known as the Build Back Better program. The plan is expected to include tax hikes, education provisions, and health care measures. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is encouraging President Biden to use the package to lower the Medicare eligibility to as low as age 55, allow the program to negotiate drug prices, and to expand coverage for dental and hearing care. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has confirmed that the drug price negotiation provision is already under discussion amongst Democrats. She has floated the idea that the savings created by the drug pricing proposal could be used to fund new community health centers.

House Panel Advances Health Care Workplace Violence Bill

The House Education and Labor Committee advanced the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195) last week by a 27-20 vote. Two Republicans voted in support of the measure. The bill would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a regulation to reduce violence in health care and social service workplaces.

E&C Unveils Infrastructure Package

Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have released their proposed infrastructure package, the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s (LIFT) America Act. The bill would invest more than $312 billion in clean energy, energy efficiency, broadband, and health care infrastructure. It includes $7 billion in investments for core public health infrastructure for State, local, Tribal, and territorial health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and $10 billion in funding to reestablish the Hill-Burton hospital infrastructure program for construction and modernization of hospitals and medical facilities. The bill also includes $10 billion in funding for community health center capital project grants, $5 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS) for the planning, design, construction, modernization, and renovation of hospitals and health care facilities, $4.5 billion to improve laboratory infrastructure, and $500 million for community-based care centers that address COVID-19 and other public health crises.

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