Health Update (January 17)
House Impeaches Trump, Senate Moves Forward on Nominations
On Wednesday (Jan. 13), the House voted 232-197 to impeach President Trump for “inciting violence against the government of the United States.” House Republican Conference Chairman Liz Cheney (WY) and nine other House Republicans voted with Democrats for the one article of impeachment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the Senate will not return before Tuesday (Jan. 19). Impeachment proceedings in the Senate will likely start after Trump is out of office. Under current Senate rules, once proceedings begin, the Senate is barred from completing other work.
The Senate aims to begin cabinet nomination hearings prior to receiving the articles of impeachment. Currently, committees are scheduled to hold hearings on the following nominations: Janet Yellen, nominee for Treasury Secretary; Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security; Anthony Blinken, nominee for Secretary of State; and Lloyd Austin, nominee for Defense Secretary.
Biden Outlines ‘American Rescue’ COVID-19 Relief Plan
On Thursday (Jan. 14), President-elect Joe Biden outlined his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” to address the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulate economic recovery. The plan invests $400 billion to directly combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden has also urged Congress to authorize an additional $160 billion for a nation-wide vaccination program, expanded testing, and to aid efforts in mobilizing a public-health jobs program. Biden is also calling on Congress to authorize $170 billion to support reopening K-12 schools and higher learning institutions. Around $1 trillion of the proposal is dedicated to direct economic relief for individuals and small businesses.
National Vaccination Program and Expanded Testing: The proposal includes $20 billion to initiate a national vaccination program in partnership with state, local, and tribal governments. The program will include launching community vaccination centers and deploying mobile vaccination units to remote areas. To ensure free vaccines for all, the president-elect will also work with Congress to expand the Federal Medicaid Assistance Program (FMAP) to 100 percent for vaccine administration.
An additional $50 billion will be used to expand COVID-19 testing. The federal government will use these funds to purchase rapid tests, expand lab capacity, and help schools implement regular testing protocols.
Provide Emergency Relief for Critical Supplies: The proposal includes $30 billion into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Relief Fund to ensure sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Additionally, the plan calls for an additional $10 billion investment in domestic manufacturing of pandemic supplies. President-elect Biden reiterated his support for the full utilization of the Domestic Production Act (DPA).
Reopen Schools: Additionally, Biden’s plan includes $130 billion to aid K-8 schools as they reopen during the pandemic. The funds will allow schools to purchase additional PPE, employ additional nurses and janitors, and mitigate costs associated with reopening schools. Funds could also be used to reduce class sizes and implement the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended social distance guidelines and improve ventilation mechanisms. Another $35 billion will be directed to the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.
Biden has pledged $5 billion of the funds will go toward the low-income communities which he has described as “the hardest hit” by the pandemic. The plan will also allow schools to qualify for reimbursement for certain COVID-19 related expenses and receive support and guidance to implement regular testing protocols.
OSHA: Biden will urge Congress to authorize a COVID-19 Protection Standard within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to expand unsafe work conditions and retaliation protections for frontline workers. The President-elect is also calling on Congress to provide additional funds to OSHA for enforcement and grant programs.
Economic Relief: Biden also said he will urge Congress to pass $1,400 stimulus checks, $400-per-week unemployment insurance through September, expand paid leave, expand housing and rental assistance, raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, expand access to affordable childcare, increase funds to address hunger issues, and expand health coverage. He called for the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit to assist working families. To help small businesses, Biden said the plan will provide a total of $15 billion in grants to more than one million businesses as well as provide $35 billion in government funds for a total of $175 billion investment for low interest loans.
To view the American Rescue Plan, click here.
To view a fact sheet on the plan, click here.
CMS Unveils Changes to Medicare Part D
On Friday (Jan. 15), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule that aims to strengthen and modernize Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug programs. The final rule will require the use of a “real-time benefit tool” that will enable enrollees to know the cost of their prescriptions in advance and compare their out-of-pocket payments for different prescription drugs in order to lower enrollee cost sharing on expenses drugs.
The finalized rule will be effective for the 2022 plan and is estimated to result in approximately $75.4 million in federal savings over ten years.
To view the final rule, click here.
To view the CMS fact sheet, click here.
Wyden Promises Drug Pricing Reforms
On Wednesday (Jan. 13), incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) said continuing drug pricing negotiations will be a top priority of the committee in the 117th Congress. Wyden intends to work from the drug pricing bill he and Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) agreed upon last year. This bill aims penalize manufacturers for price increases and cap
out-of-pocket spending for seniors and has garnered support from several Republicans on the committee.
Many in Washington are anticipating Senate Democrats will resort to using the budget reconciliation process to pass a drug pricing package with a simple majority. However, Wyden has declined to say whether he supports this method and it is unclear if the conference would have the necessary 50 votes.
Wyden has also noted the Finance Committee will prioritize addressing Medicare solvency through cost-control methods such as drug price negotiation, and reforming the Affordable Care Act to lower premiums and expand Medicare and Medicaid options.
Ways and Means R Members Announced, Committee Ds Release Policy Priorities
Representatives Carol Miller (R-WV), Kevin Hern (R-OK), and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) will join the House Ways and Means Committee. Republicans added an extra spot on the committee after picking up seats in the November election.
Representatives George Holding (R-NC) and Kenny Marchant (R-TX) served on the committee in the 116th Congress, however, did not seek reelection last year.
On Monday (Jan. 11), House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) released a new legislative framework for the 117th Congress. The plan addresses how committee Democrats will address racism, ableism, and other social issues in the U.S. The report includes health and economic equity pillars.
To view the Ways and Means Democrats report, click here.
GOP Announces New E&C, Approps Members
On Wednesday, the House GOP steering committee announced new members on the committees for Energy & Commerce and Appropriations.
Representatives John Joyce (R-PA), John Curtis (R-UT), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Gary Palmer (R-AL), and Greg Pence (R-IN) will fill seats on E&C.
Representatives David Valadao (R-CA), Mike Garcia (R-CA), Ben Cline (R-VA), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Tony Gonzalez (R-TX) will fill seats on the appropriations committee.
Biden-Harris Transition Team Announces New Nominees, Appointees
This week, President-elect Joe Biden announced the following nominees and appointees:
- Stefanie Feldman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Director of the Domestic Policy Council (DPC)
- Christen Linke Young, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Health and Veterans Affairs
- Deanne Criswell, FEMA Administrator
To view the full list of DPC nominations, click here.
To view the full list of nominees and appointees, click here.
On Friday (Jan. 15), the Biden-Harris transition team announced additional members of the White House COVID-19 Response Team:
- David Kessler, Chief Science Officer of COVID Response
- Rosa Po, COVID Response Team Deputy Chief of Staff
- Andy Slavitt, Senior Advisor to the COVID Response Coordinator
- Vidur Sharma, Policy Advisor for Testing
- Ben Wakana, Deputy Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement
- B. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor for COVID-19 Equity
- Amy Chang, Policy Advisor
- Abbe Gluck, Special Counsel
To view a press release on new Biden-Harris COVID-19 Response Team members, click here.
Azar Holds OWS Briefing
On Tuesday (Jan. 12), HHS Secretary Alex Azar and other Operation Warp Speed (OWS) officials held a briefing to provide an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Notably, Azar announced HHS is making changes to release the full quantity of vaccine doses available to jurisdictions, a break from the initial plan of reserving doses needed for the second shot. Additionally, Azar said the CDC is lowering their vaccine prioritization age from 75 to 65.
States will receive the additional allocations based on their pace of administering the vaccines, as well as their population of individuals 65 and older. The doses will be released in two weeks to allow jurisdictions to prepare for the new plan.
To view the briefing, click here.
Luthi, Susannah, “Wyden promises to push for drug negotiations, other pricing reforms,” Politico Pro, 13 Jan. 2021.
 Lotven, Amy, “Wyden Lays Out Finance Committee Priorities,” Inside Health Policy, 13 Jan. 2021.
 Becker, Bernie. “3 Republicans set to join House Ways and Means.” Politico Pro, 14 Jan. 2021.