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 Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, FY22 Budget Resolution

The Senate passed the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package on Tuesday by a vote of 69-30, with 19 Republicans joining in support of the legislation. The bill contains traditional infrastructure-related provisions to fund roads, bridges, transit, and broadband build-out with nearly $550 billion in new funding. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the legislation will add $256 billion to the deficit over the next decade. Hart Health Strategies Inc.’s summary of health provisions in the infrastructure package can be found here.

The package will now be sent to the House of Representatives, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that the bipartisan infrastructure package is not “inclusive of the totality of President Biden and Congressional Democrats’ vision to Build Back Better.” Speaker Pelosi plans to pass the budget resolution and then pass the reconciliation bill as soon as possible. Therefore, Speaker Pelosi has instructed the House Rules Committee to consider advancing a rule that covers both the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure package.

After Senate passage of the infrastructure legislation, Senate Democrats turned to consideration of their $3.5 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget resolution, containing reconciliation instructions and top-line spending figures for a broader package of measures such as Medicare expansion, immigration reform, climate change, and universal pre-K that could be advanced through the Senate without GOP support. The budget resolution was passed in the early hours of Wednesday morning by a 50-49 party line vote, following hours of debate and a vote-a-rama of non-binding, political messaging amendments.

Roughly one-third of the budget framework consists of health-care related provisions, including an expansion of the Medicare program to include dental, vision, and hearing care; lowering of the Medicare eligibility age to age 60; closing the Medicaid gap; making permanent recent increases to health insurance subsidies; increasing access to home and community-based services; addressing health professional shortages; and preparing for the next pandemic. Hart Health Strategies Inc.’s summary of key instructions related to health care in the Senate-passed budget resolution can be found here.

The budget resolution instructs committees of jurisdiction to draft provisions by mid-September. The resolution will not be signed into law, but is a necessary step to kickstart the budget reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to bypass the 60-vote threshold required to past most legislation through the chamber. All 50 Senate Democrats will need to be unified around the social spending package, which is expected to be brought for a vote in late September. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have already raised concerns about the total size and price of the bill.

President Joe Biden issued a call to Congress last week to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and to specifically allow the Medicare program to negotiate drug prices, as lawmakers begin negotiations on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. The package is expected to rely on savings created by a reduction in drug prices. The President also expressed support for penalizing pharmaceutical manufacturers that raise their prices faster than inflation and for capping out-of-pocket costs for consumers.

Before a bill can be passed via reconciliation, the House will need to adopt the same FY 2022 budget resolution. While the House was originally scheduled to be in recess until September 20, the chamber is now expected to return the week of August 23 to consider the budget resolution along with voting rights legislation. According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House will remain in session until “business for the week is concluded.”

Rep. Ron Kind Announces Retirement

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) has announced that he will not seek reelection at the end of the 117th Congress, telling reporters that he has “run out of gas” after 13 terms in office. Kind is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and sits on the Health Subcommittee. He beat his Republican challenger by less than three percentage points in 2020, and his district is expected be competitive in the 2022 cycle.

HHS Issues Vaccine Mandate

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is requiring its more than 25,000 health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate will apply to staff, contractors, trainees, and volunteers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Indian Health Service (IHS), and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “Vaccines are the best tool we have to protect people from COVID-19, prevent the spread of the Delta variant, and save lives,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement following the announcement.

OSHA Releases New Mask Guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidance on Friday to reflect the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding mask usage. The CDC advises that in areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission, all workers – including those who are fully-vaccinated – should wear masks indoors while on the job. The guidance, which does not apply to health-care employers covered by OSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, also recommends that fully vaccinated workers who come into close contact with people who have COVID-19 wear masks indoors for up to 14 days unless they have a negative COVID test three to five days after the contact. The agency suggests that “employers consider adopting policies that require workers to get vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing—in addition to mask wearing and physical distancing—if they remain unvaccinated.”

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