Murray Reintroduces Public Health Infrastructure Measure

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has reintroduced the Public Health Infrastructure to Save Lives Act (PHISLA) (S. 674). The legislation is aimed at maintaining and strengthening public health infrastructure beyond the conclusion of the COVID-19 pandemic through grants to state and local health departments and increased funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It would establish a national public health accreditation system focused on eight core capabilities:

  • Public health assessment
  • Preparedness and response
  • Policy development and support
  • Communications
  • Community partnership development
  • Organizational competencies
  • Accountability
  • Equity

      Sen. Murray also praised an announcement from the White House that the Biden administration would invest $7.4 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to hire and train a public health workforce charged with responding to COVID-19 and preparing for future threats to the public health.

Appropriations and Budget Update

According to a new analysis from the Washington Post, more than 300 lawmakers in the House of Representatives are seeking more than $20 billion in earmarks this year. Nearly every House Democrat contributed to $14 billion in project requests, while over half of the chamber’s Republicans requested $7 billion in funding. In related news, the White House will submit its full fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget proposal by the end of the month, according to a report from Politico. The funding request will include additional details on discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and tax reform that were not included in the administration’s previously released skinny budget. The President’s initial proposal included $769 billion in spending for non-defense programs.

HHS Encouraged to Provide PRF Flexibility

Abipartisan group of nearly 80 members of the House of Representatives has written to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for increased flexibility and additional time for health care providers to use the financial assistance they have received from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). The PRF was authorized by Congress in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to support health care providers in covering expenses and lost revenue resulting from the coronavirus. Providers currently have until June 30 to spend any unused funds. “Providers are still delivering complex care for patients with COVID-19 and coping with higher procurement costs for personal protective equipment (PPE),” the members wrote. “Providing much-needed flexibility, such as allowing providers to use a partial lookback window to calculate lost revenues when non-emergent and non-essential procedures were shuttered and, in particular, extending the deadline to use the PRF funds to June 30, 2022 would give these providers the ability to put more of their PRF award toward fighting COVID-19.”

Lawmakers Express Support for Bolstering MA Program

Abipartisan group of 70 members of the House of Representatives has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expressing their support for the Medicare Advantage (MA) program and encouraging Secretary Xavier Beccera to protect and strengthen it. “Collectively, we represent districts where the majority – over 50 percent, and in some cases over 60 percent – of seniors chose to enroll in MA,” the lawmakers write. “MA is delivering high-quality, affordable coverage, and is uniquely positioned to ensure seniors receive the care and support they need during the pandemic and beyond while improving health outcomes and advancing health equity for over 26 million beneficiaries.”

Feinstein Requests Details about COVID Airborne Transmission

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more information about the agency’s recently updated risk analysis of COVID-19 airborne transmission occurring in distances farther than six feet. “On June 5, 2020, I asked your predecessor, former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, to publish guidance that accounts for asymptomatic spread and airborne transmission in order to protect individuals and families working and residing in higher risk, congregate settings,” the lawmaker wrote to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “As we continue to fend off the spread of the new COVID-19 variants that threaten our ability to return to normal, and consistent with CDC’s announcement last week, I ask that you finally release strong guidance to ensure the public is fully informed on how to best protect themselves against airborne transmission.”

Agreement Reached on Jan. 6 Commission

Negotiators in the House of Representatives have reached an agreement on the establishment of a bipartisan commission to investigate the facts and circumstances of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. According to the House Homeland Security Committee, the bipartisan commission will be comprised of 10 individuals, with an equal number of members chosen by Democratic and Republican congressional leadership, who have significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cyber security. The commission will be granted authority to issue subpoenas, which will require agreement between the chair and the vice chair or a vote by a majority of members, and it will be required to issue a final report with findings and recommendations to “prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions” by December 31, 2021. Legislation establishing the commission is expected to be considered by the House as early as this week.

The events of January 6 remain an issue of contention on the Hill. The House was scheduled to advance the Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act (H.R. 1629) last week. The bill, which passed the chamber with bipartisan support in 2019, would prevent pharmaceutical manufacturers from receiving market exclusivity for certain rare disease treatments. Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) and Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) sponsored the bill during the 116th Congress. Rep. Dean, however, did not allow Rep. Carter to be a co-lead on the bill this year because of his objection to certifying the electoral college vote on January 6. Republican opposition on behalf of Rep. Carter prevented H.R. 1629 from being advanced under suspension of the rules on Tuesday. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will bring the bill for consideration on the floor this week.

Masks to Remain in the House Despite CDC Guidance Update

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance last week announcing that masks, face coverings, and physical distancing are no longer necessary for individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, regardless of whether they are inside or outdoors, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. The new recommendations are not recommended for health care settings. The guidance also notes special circumstances for correctional or detention facilities and homeless shelters. CDC further clarified that, as of now, masks and physical distancing should still be utilized in school settings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded that masks will still be required on the floor of the House of Representatives because the vaccination rate of members and staff is not known.

Changes to Senate Finance Committee Staff

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced additions and changes to the panel’s Democratic health care staff members. Anna Kaltenboeck joins as senior health advisor, focusing on drug pricing and outpatient prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D. Eva DuGoff will also serve as senior health advisor, focusing on health insurance coverage under the marketplaces established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as the Medicare Advantage (MA) program. Liz Dervan will lead the committee’s work on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as health counsel.

Neera Tanden Appointed WH Senior Adviser

President Joe Biden has appointed Neera Tanden as senior White House adviser. Tanden was previously nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) but withdrew from consideration after bipartisan objections to her use of Twitter to criticize political opponents. In this new position, she will plan for potential health policy changes should the Republican effort in the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be successful. Tanden will also support a review of the U.S. Digital Service.

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