Funding for COVID Response, Ukraine Remains Stalled

Lawmakers remain at an impasse on how to get the latest tranche of COVID response funding through Congress. Republicans are opposed to attaching the $10 billion for COVID vaccines and treatments to a package of $33 billion in the military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, which is viewed as must-passed legislation. The GOP, along with several Democratic lawmakers, are of the position that linking COVID funding adds uncertainty and time to the process of passing support for Ukraine’s response to Russia’s invasion. Negotiations have also been complicated by the Senate’s shift to focus on a vote on abortion-related legislation.

China Competition Bill Moves to Conference Committee

Congress will go to a conference on the major manufacturing and innovation package (H.R. 4521) aimed at strengthening U.S. competition with China. The Senate wrapped up its series of votes on motions to instruct last week. These votes guide senators as they enter negotiations with House members to iron out the differences between the competing versions of the United States Innovation and Competition Act. The final piece of legislation will need to be agreed to by both chambers before it is sent to the President for his signature.

Senators Request Information About COVID-19 Pharmacy Flexibilities

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requesting clarification about the flexibilities that will be granted to pharmacists once the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) designation ends. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allowed pharmacists to provide testing, vaccine administration, and other services. “As HHS and CMS prepare to end the PHE, we want to ensure a smooth transition ensuring maximum regulatory flexibility under the statute. We request…CMS publish guidance about what flexibilities and clarified roles pharmacists will be able to maintain under Medicare once the PHE ends,” the senators wrote.

Wyden, Pallone Urge Compliance with Medicaid Enrollment Requirements

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) have sent letters to state contractors regarding determinations about who is eligible for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage at the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided a Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) increase in exchange for certain maintenance of effort requirements including maintaining continuous Medicaid enrollment for beneficiaries until the end of the COVID-19 PHE. “To protect access to health coverage for millions of eligible Medicaid beneficiaries, it is essential that contractors be held to the same level of compliance with the law as are states,” the committee chairmen wrote. “Contracts with private companies should also not be created with financial incentives that could result in eligible beneficiaries improperly losing coverage, such as contracts that increase contractor compensation based on the sheer number of individuals disenrolled.” The lawmakers request details about each company’s relationship with the state, their organizational experience working with Medicaid agencies, and information about their capacity to perform the scope of tasks they have been contracted to perform.

Baldwin Urges Passage of Workplace Violence Prevention Bill

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) held a press conference last week calling on her colleagues to fast-track legislation aimed at preventing health care workplace violence. The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1195) would require the Department of Labor to issue a standard for health care employers to develop workplace violence prevention plans. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives with bipartisan support in April 2021.

HIV Researcher in Lead for NIH Post

Mary Klotman, Duke University scientist and senior leader, is reportedly a lead candidate to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Klotman is a physician known for her research into HIV, and she has served as dean of the Duke University School of Medicine since 2017. The White House has been vetting candidates for NIH director since Francis Collins’ departure in December

Secretary of State Tests Positive for COVID

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has tested positive for COVID-19. Blinken is fully vaccinated and boosted and is only experiencing mild symptoms. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, President Joe Biden is not considered a close contact with Blinken.

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