March 10, 2021
Senate HELP hearing on COVID-19 response
On March 9, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing entitled, “Examining Our COVID-19 Response: An Update from the Frontlines,” featuring witness testimony from providers, public health officials, and academics. The committee focused their questioning on efforts to ramp up vaccinations in hard-hit communities, investments in public health infrastructure, the mental and behavioral health impacts of the pandemic, workforce needs, and back-to-school efforts. Both Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-NC) noted the need to ramp up vaccinations both in the US and globally, in addition to bolstering our public health infrastructure to address today’s pandemic and those of tomorrow. The witnesses all agreed that there is a great need for increased investments in public health infrastructure, which Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University said has been “hollowed out” over the past decades. When asked about reaching high-risk and vulnerable communities specifically, Dr. Abraham of Kedren Health Vaccines noted that it’s not a “magic trick,” but that they need more resources and more hands.
Another focus area was on mental health, which Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) called the “third wave” of the pandemic. Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health for Washington State, said 1:4 people now experience anxiety vs. 1:12 pre-pandemic, and that over-worked providers are experiencing “compassion fatigue” and aren’t addressing their own mental health issues. Several of the panelists also noted concerns with current payment and delivery systems that make it difficult for primary care practices to survive and the need for care to be delivered to patients at home and where it is most convenient, as well as investments in the workforce more broadly. Regarding school reopening, Dr. Jha said that it is a “false dichotomy” that it is either kids’ education or teachers’ safety, and that with universal masking, ventilation and testing, along with vaccinations for teachers and school employees, they should be able to open safely.
Other topics discussed included sequencing, surveillance, and data analytics capabilities; vaccine timelines for children; issues specific to long-term care facilities; the need for more public-private-partnerships, and more. The attached Tax Alert has additional details.
Full text of Tax Alert