Health Update (June 8)
ASPR Awards $250M to Providers: On Tuesday (Jun. 2), the HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) announced an additional $250 million for health care systems responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The funding will be used to support hospitals and other health care entities to train workforces, expand telemedicine and the use of virtual healthcare, procure supplies and equipment, and coordinate effectively across regional, state and jurisdictional, and local health care facilities to respond to COVID-19. Additionally, this aid is intended to advance the goals of the National Special Pathogen System and ensure the U.S. is better prepared for future pandemics.
To view HHS’ press release, click here.
CMMI Releases Updated Payment Model Charts: CMS is providing new flexibilities for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) models in response to COVID-19. On Wednesday (Jun. 3), CMMI released a document outlining these changes.
To view the flexibilities’ chart, click here.
E&C Leaders Urge Disbursement of PHSSEF Dollars: On Wednesday (Jun. 3), a bipartisan group of House Energy & Commerce and Senate Finance Committee leaders wrote HHS Secretary Alex Azar pushing for swift disbursement of the $175 billion from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) intended to aid Medicaid-dependent providers. While funds allocated for Medicare reimbursements have been disbursed, providers reliant on Medicaid have yet to receive funding.
The letter was signed by Energy & Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), and Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR).
To view the letter, click here.
E&C Republicans Announce ‘Second Wave Preparedness Project’
Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY) announced recommendations on COVID-19 testing and surveillance on Tuesday (Jun. 2). The recommendations are intended to aid state and local officials preparing for future increases in infections, and will be the first in a series of working documents related to COVID-19.
To view a one-page summary of the recommendation, click here.
To view the complete report, click here.
E&C Hears From Governors on COVID-19 Response
The House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a virtual hearing on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 to discuss governors’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The subcommittee heard from Jared Polis of Colorado, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.
Polis outlined Colorado’s priorities from when the pandemic started and gave an update on the decisions they have made to address the crisis, such as expanding benefits for healthcare workers, granting paid leave, and aiding small businesses. Governor Whitmer discussed Michigan’s difficult time working with the federal government and the challenges the state faced in navigating the supply chain. She emphasized the need for adequate testing come fall, when a potential second wave is expected, and she closed her remarks by addressing the racial disparities that exist in infection rates. Governor Hutchinson described Arkansas’ successes in combating the crisis and explained his reasoning behind not implementing a state-wide stay-at-home order.
Finance Committee Examines Foreign Drug Manufacturing
On Tuesday (Jun. 2), the Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing to hear from public officials and private sector representatives on foreign drug manufacturing and supply chain issues. In his opening statement, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) discussed the U.S.’ overreliance on foreign facilities for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) and other drug products. Grassley expressed frustration that foreign facilities are forewarned of FDA inspections. Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticized the FDA’s issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine. During the first panel, committee members heard from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials on the FDA’s foreign inspection program and drug evaluation processes. Witnesses on the second panel explained their companies’ work to test the safety of pharmaceuticals and ensure the U.S. has an adequate supply of necessary pharmaceutical products.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and other committee Democrats brought up hydroxychloroquine as an example of the FDA’s failure to ensure safe foreign manufacturing. Republican lines of questioning, on the other hand, revolved around ways to reduce reliance on China and bring pharmaceutical manufacturing back to the U.S.
Committee Democrats spent much of their time criticizing Grassley for holding this hearing despite the protests spreading throughout the country, and urged the Chairman to hold a separate hearing on racial disparities in healthcare. The Ranking Member, along with Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), were particularly vocal on this point.
Senate HELP Holds Hearing on Reopening Universities
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions met Thursday (Jun. 4) to hear testimony from university presidents and American Public Health Association executive director Georges Benjamin on steps that must be taken to reopen college campuses in the fall. In his opening statement, Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said the “road to reopening is through testing”, a sentiment he has echoed in each of the committee’s COVID-19 hearings. Additionally, Alexander noted the unique benefits and challenges of combating the spread of coronavirus at universities, and claimed that ultimately the decision to reopen should be left up to university administrations. Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on ensuring the safety of hourly employees and minority students, who are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19.
In their testimonies, Mitch Daniels of Purdue University and Christina Paxson of Brown University described the protocols they will be putting in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Logan Hampton, of Lane College, expressed the need for additional federal aid to higher education facilities, particularly HBCU’s. Specifically, he requested the expansion of Pell Grants. All of the presidents spoke about altering classroom space, testing procedures, technology services, and athletics. The final witness, Georges Benjamin, explained the American Public Health Association’s views on what is needed to safely reopen campuses. He noted that universities need clear, specific guidance from the CDC and OSHA to protect students and faculties.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) said in a letter to fellow committee members that subcommittee and full committee markups on FY 2021 spending bills will occur the weeks of July 6 and July 13. Lowey expects the spending bills to make it to the floor the weeks of July 20 and July 27.
To view Lowey’s letter, click here.