January 24, 2022
This Week in Health Policy for January 24
This Week (January 24-28)
Both the House and Senate will be in recesses this week.
Last Week (January 17-21)
Health Care Highlights
Biden says BBB likely to be broken up. President Biden said at a press conference this week that his nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better social and economic spending package will likely have to be broken up in order to get the support needed to become law. Democrats will have to "get as much as we can now and come back and fight for the rest later," he said. Pivotal Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) also said this week that Democrats are back to the drawing board and starting with "a clean slate" regarding negotiations around the package. He specifically mentioned pharmaceuticals among his priorities: "Take care of the pharmaceuticals," he said, "you're gouging the people with high prices, we can fix that."
Buchanan to take top GOP spot on W&M health subcommittee. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) will assume the top Republican role on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee this week, filling the vacancy left by Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-CA) following his departure from Congress. "Health care represents one-fifth of our economy and is enormously important to every family and business in the country," he said in a press release. "We need to make it more affordable and accessible for every single American, without imposing burdensome big government regulations." His agenda will "focus on a patient-oriented system that would encourage innovation and increase personalized health care choices," according to the statement. Rep. Greg Murphy (R-NC) will also join the House Ways and Means Committee, filling the open spot created by Nunes. A practicing physician, Murphy will also join the health subcommittee.
Biden administration begins accepting at-home test orders. The Biden administration began accepting orders for free at-home COVID-19 tests this week, allowing every U.S. household to request four kits via CovidTests.gov or over the phone. The administration expects the tests to initially be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service in seven to 12 days but says deliveries could move faster as the program ramps up. Meanwhile, Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Scott Peters (D-CA) called on the White House to provide full reimbursement to Medicare recipients who buy at-home test kits, following the administration's requirement for commercial insurers to cover the cost of at-home tests. "We write today to urge you to take immediate action to ensure that those covered by Medicare have the same ready, cost free access to COVID-19 diagnostic tests," they said in the letter. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) also sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), COVID-19 test manufacturers, and retailers, urging companies to make at-home test prices lower. Markey cited reports that show at-home rapid tests can cost as little as $2 each to manufacture, but sell for $12 or more and urged the FTC to "respond immediately to any such illicit activity" related to "predatory or profiteering behavior."
Biden administration will make available 400 million free N95 masks. The Biden administration is preparing to release 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from the Strategic National Stockpile with plans for Americans to be able to pick them up from tens of thousands of pharmacies and community health centers across the country beginning late next week, the White House said this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised earlier guidance on masks last week, suggesting that Americans "may choose" to wear N95 or KN95 masks. It had previously held back on that recommendation out of concern that it would cut into the supply of high-quality masks for health care workers. A White House official said the stockpile currently has more than 750 million masks, triple what it held a year ago, meaning there's ample supply for health care workers and enough inventory for hundreds of millions of masks to be distributed to the general public. Shipments of the masks will begin by the end of this week, with the intention of having the program fully up and running by early February.
CMS vaccination mandate in effect country-wide. The Biden administration's vaccine mandate for health workers is now enforceable across the U.S. after a federal court Wednesday (Jan. 19) dismissed a lawsuit filed by Texas, the only state that didn't have to comply following last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision. Two dozen states affected by the Supreme Court's decision are required to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated by March 15. Health facilities in 25 states not involved in the litigation have until Jan. 27 for workers to get their first dose and Feb. 28 for full vaccination. CMS hasn't yet released guidance on the deadline for Texas facilities.
HHS distributes $103M to address provider burnout. The Department of Health and Human Services announced it awarded $103 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan to address burnout and mental health challenges among health care workers, with the money going to 45 grantees focused in underserved and rural areas. About $29 million will go toward helping the groups create and strengthen programs that promote mental wellness for health-care workers and roughly $68 million will help the organizations develop resiliency training programs and curriculum. Another $6 million will be awarded to George Washington University to establish a technical assistance center to support other health-care organizations. "The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified issues that have long been a source of stress for frontline health care workers — from increased patient volumes to long working hours," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "We will continue to promote the well-being of those who have made so many sacrifices to keep others well."
Reports, Studies, and Journals
CBO: Prescription Drugs: Spending, Use, and Prices. This report examines trends in nationwide spending on prescription drugs over the 1980—2018 period. It also provides a detailed analysis of trends in spending, use, and prices in the Medicare Part D and Medicaid programs over the 2009—2018 period.
CBO: The Prices That Commercial Health Insurers and Medicare Pay for Hospitals' and Physicians' Services. This report examines potential reasons that the prices paid by commercial health insurers for hospitals' and physicians' services are higher, rise more quickly, and vary more by area than the prices paid by the Medicare fee-for-service program.
Kaiser Family Foundation: How Are Private Insurers Covering At-Home Rapid COVID Tests? At this time, about half of the insurers reviewed are implementing their testing coverage policy using only reimbursement.
National Bureau of Economic Research: Effects of Daily School and Care Disruptions During the COVID-19 Pandemic on Child Mental Health. Results showed that daily disruptions to care and school were common, with families reporting a disruption on 24% of days. For all families, care or school disruptions strongly predicted worse child behavior, more negative parental mood, and increased likelihood of losing temper and punishment.
Health Affairs: Negative Patient Descriptors: Documenting Racial Bias In The Electronic Health Record. Compared with White patients, Black patients had 2.54 times the odds of having at least one negative descriptor in the electronic health-records system at a Chicago-area academic medical center. Findings raise concerns about stigmatizing language in the EHR and its potential to exacerbate racial and ethnic health care disparities.