Lawmakers Request Investigation Into Nurse Staffing Industry

Agroup of nearly 200 members of the House of Representatives is urging the administration to investigate the nurse- staffing industry amidst reports that some companies are using the Omicron surge to charge rates that are two or three times more than the rates charged before the pandemic. The letter, which was led by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), was sent to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients. It asks him to “enlist one or more of the federal agencies with competition and consumer protection authority to investigate this conduct to determine if it is the product of anticompetitive activity and/or violates consumer protection laws.”

Pressley, Beyer Ask for Data on Long COVID

Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) have sent a letter urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to publish data on the public health impact of long-COVID. The lawmakers cite studies that suggest that women are more vulnerable to long COVID and highlight the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on people of color. They request disaggregated demographic data on the prevalence of long COVID.

CMS Under Pressure to Lower Medicare Premiums

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) asking the agency to reduce Medicare Part B monthly premiums for beneficiaries this year. CMS has planned a 14.5% increase in premiums – the largest annual increase in the program’s history – which is in part attributed to the price of the new Alzheimer’s treatment Aduhelm. Aduhelm was originally priced at $56,000 annually, but Biogen announced late last year that it would cut the price to $28,000. CMS’ preliminary coverage decision would also limit Medicare coverage of Aduhelm to patients enrolled in qualifying clinical trials, leading many Democrats to call for a reevaluation of the premium hike. A similar letter was sent by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last week. Sanders argued that the administration “should immediately lower Medicare premiums by at least $11.50 a month and provide a refund to some 57 million senior citizens for the premium increases that have already gone into effect this month.”

More Lawmakers Request Medicare Coverage of At-Home COVID Tests

Agroup of 18 senators led by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has sent a letter to the administration asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to broadly cover at-home coronavirus tests for Medicare beneficiaries. The lawmakers argue that Medicare enrollees – older adults and individuals with disabilities – are at the highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. The letter points out that while federal guidance already requires private insurers to cover the cost of up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month, people covered by Medicare and Medicare Advantage (MA) are left “on the hook for potentially significant out-of-pocket costs.”

Opposition Emerges to Califf ís Nomination

Dr. Robert Califf, the President’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not yet appear to have enough votes in the Senate to be confirmed. A handful of lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns related to Califf ’s ties to industry and his ability to effectively respond to the opioid epidemic, and his nomination has faced increasing opposition from the GOP over the issue of access to abortion drugs. At least five Democratic senators are on the record in opposition to his confirmation. Califf ’s nomination was advanced out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee in a bipartisan 13-8 vote on January 13. Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) had hoped a Senate floor vote on his confirmation would take place by early February. Among those currently serving in the Senate are 69 lawmakers who previously voted to confirm Califf to head the FDA during the Obama administration in 2016. His first appointment was approved in an 89-4 vote.

HHS Provides Details on COVID Spending

In response to a request from Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has detailed the $18 billion in unobligated funds for coronavirus testing, mitigation, and contact tracing. Only $4.6 billion have not been allocated for a specific purpose; the remaining $16.6 billion were appropriated in the American Rescue Plan Act. The administration provided examples of major expenditures and spending routed to programs outside of its original purpose from the $97 billion it received since the start of the pandemic. This includes $29.4 billion to states for testing, contact tracing, and mitigation programs; $9 billion for community testing sites; $5 billion for the procurement of tests and supplies; and $4.5 billion to purchase and distribute 500 million tests. Unused funds will likely be taken into consideration during congressional negotiations on the need for additional coronavirus relief.

GOP Healthy Future Task Forces Request Comments on Health Care Affordability and Patient Access

The Republican Healthy Future Task Force Subcommittee on Affordability has issued a request for information (RFI) to health care stakeholders on legislation that could increase hospital price transparency, lower barriers to competition, and empower consumers to have more choice in their health care providers. The RFI is also interested in information on 340B program eligibility and how Congress can transfer more power back to state governments to manage health insurance coverage for its residents. Parties interested in responding to the Affordability RFI should fill out this form by February 4, 2022. In addition, the Healthy Future Task Force Treatments Subcommittee is seeking information regarding medical innovation to advance development and availability, while addressing patient costs. Parties interested in responding to the Treatments RFI should fill out this form by March 11, 2022. The Republican Healthy Future Task Force was created by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as a part of an effort to craft a patient-focused agenda for the future.

TN Rep. Cooper to Retire

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) has announced that he will not seek reelection this year. Cooper is a leader of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and a member of the House committees on Armed Services, Budget, Oversight and Reform, and Intelligence. Previously, he taught health policy at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. He served in Congress from 1983 to 1995, returning to Congress again in 2003. Cooper is the 29th Democrat to announce plans to retire from the House of Representatives this election cycle.

Warner, Romney Experience Breakthrough COVID Cases

Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) have tested positive for COVID-19. Both lawmakers are fully vaccinated and boosted. Warner reportedly is experiencing “extremely mild” symptoms, while Romney is currently asymptomatic.

Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Proxy Voting

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a challenge from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to the chamber’s use of proxy voting. Proxy voting procedures were instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. SCOTUS left intact, without comment, a federal appeals court ruling that the use of proxy voting is an internal legislative issue that cannot be challenged in federal court. McCarthy and a group of six other Republicans had argued that the Constitution’s quorum requirement and other provisions necessitated Congress meeting in person.

HHS Announces Additional Distribution of Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds

On January 25, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the distribution of an additional $2 billion from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 General Distribution. This is in addition to the $9 billion distribution announced in December 2021, but it does not complete the full distribution of $17 billion initially allocated to Phase 4. According to HHS, Phase 4 payments have an increased focus on equity, including reimbursing a higher percentage of losses for smaller providers and incorporating “bonus” payments for providers who serve Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare beneficiaries. Approximately 82% of all Phase 4 applications have now been processed. For additional information, visit www.hrsa.gov/provider-relief.

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