Health Update (December 20)
Congress Poised Keep Gov. Open Through Sunday
Friday evening (Dec. 18), the House passed a two-day stopgap measure to keep the government open through the weekend. As of 6:30pm EST, the Senate has not yet voted on the measure but is expected to do so before funding expires at midnight.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced Friday the House will not return to vote prior to 1pm Sunday, regardless of whether an agreement is reached beforehand.
Lawmakers are still working to finalize a $900 billion COVID-19 relief deal to attach to the FY 2021 $1.4 trillion government funding legislation. Various Members of Congress have expressed frustration in the lack of information around the COVID-19 relief talks, as well as what is included in the legislation being negotiated.
The new package reportedly includes a round of $600 direct payments, $325 billion in small business support, including $250 billion in Paycheck Protection Program funding, and $300 per week in supplemental federal unemployment insurance benefits for at least an additional 10 weeks.
Earlier this week, the bipartisan group of senators who released the framework for a $908 billion COVID-19 package last week agreed to split up the proposal. The House and Senate lawmakers introduced two bills on Monday (Dec. 14), one that includes unemployment insurance, small-business relief, education funding, vaccine distribution, and other key priorities, and a separate bill with the issues holding up the package: state and local government and business liability waivers.
FDA Advisory Committees Recommends EUA for Moderna Vaccine
On Thursday (Dec. 17) evening, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) voted unanimously to recommend the FDA issue an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older.
Over the course of the day, the committee heard from FDA and Moderna representatives to discuss the requirements for issuance of an EUA and the continuation of placebo-controlled studies. Additionally, the committee heard presentations on both Moderna’s and the FDA’s analyses of clinical trial data and plans for future studies.
To view an executive summary of the VRBPAC meeting, click here.
VRBPAC’s recommendation is non-binding, however, the FDA traditionally decides to follow the decision of the advisory committee. FDA will make a decision on the issuance of an EUA in the coming days.
Committee Leaders Reach Deal on ‘Surprise’ Billing
Last Friday (Dec. 11), leaders of the Committees on Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), House Ways and Means, House Energy and Commerce, and House Education and Labor reached agreement on a deal to end ‘surprise’ medical billing.
Congressional leaders have prioritized finding a fix to protect patients from receiving unexpectedly large medical bills for nearly two years. However, negotiations addressing this issue had been stalled by disagreements between health plans and provider groups.
Until recently, the deal had been held up by Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), who has sided with provider groups on the issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has reportedly increased pressure on the Chairman to reach a deal, which could be included in the end-of-year legislative package.
The ‘No Surprises Act’ calls on providers and health plans to negotiate rates for out-of-network services, or bring disputes to a mediator known as Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR). The mediator will take several factors into account, including median in-network service rates, case complexity, and the market power of the health plan and the provider.
“Under this agreement, the days of patients receiving devastating surprise out-of-network medical bills will be over,” House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), House Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) wrote in a joint statement.
“Patients should not be penalized with these outrageous bills simply because they were rushed to an out-of-network hospital or unknowingly treated by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility. This is a win for patients and their families that will improve America’s health care system,” the committee leaders continued.
Provider groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA), oppose the legislation, arguing it favors health plans and will disadvantage small providers groups who may not have the resources to pursue the IDR process.
To view the legislative text, click here.
To view a section-by-section summary, click here.
To view AMA’s opposition letter, click here.
E&C Panel Gains Five New Dems
This week, the House Democratic Steering Committee nominated the following new members to the House Committee on Energy & Commerce: Angie Craig (D-MN), Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Kim Schrier (D-WA), and Lori Trahan (D-MA).
“Our nation faces unprecedented challenges, and I have no doubt these five outstanding Members will provide invaluable contributions to the Committee from day one,” Chairman Pallone said in a statement.
“In the coming months, we will push an aggressive agenda to ensure the Biden Administration has all the resources it needs to crush this pandemic, make health care and prescription drugs more affordable, rebuild and modernize our nation’s infrastructure, combat climate change, and protect people’s privacy,” Pallone continued.
To view the E&C announcement, click here.
This week, the President-elect Joe Biden announced the following nominees and appointees:
Michael Regan, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator
- Currently serves as North Carolina’s Secretary of Department of Environmental Quality
Jennifer Granholm, Energy Secretary
- Served two terms as Governor of Michigan
Deb Haaland, Interior Secretary
- Currently serves as the Representative for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor
- Served as EPA Administrator under the Obama-Biden administration
Brenda Mallory, White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair
- Served as CEQ general counsel under the Obama-Biden administration
Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary
- Former Mayor of South Bend, IN
Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor
To view a full list of nominees, appointees, and White House staff, click here.
HHS, CDC Update Vaccine Allocation Information
On Wednesday (Dec. 16), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published initial Pfizer vaccine allocation amounts provided to states and jurisdictions. This week, around 2.9 million doses were distributed. Moving forward, states and jurisdictions will place orders for additional allocations every Tuesday and direct Operation Warp Speed (OWS) on where vaccines should be delivered.
To view the allocation numbers, click here.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated guidance on vaccination priorities. As a result of initial supply limitations, CDC recommends healthcare personnel and long-term care facility (LTCF) residents should be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
To view the updated guidance, click here.
 Luthi, Susannah & Roubein, Rachel, “Lawmakers strike deal to end ‘surprise’ medical bills,” Politico Pro, 11 Dec. 2020.