March 14, 2022
This Week in Health Policy for March 14
This week (March 14-18)
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a markup hearing on "S. 3799, PREVENT Pandemics Act."
The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on "Prescription Drug Price Inflation: An Urgent Need to Lower Drug Prices in Medicare."
Senate (Special Committee on) Aging holds a hearing on "Financial Inclusion for Underserved Populations."
Last week (March 7-11)
Health Care Highlights
Congress passes $1.5T omnibus bill. On Thursday (March 10), the Senate voted 68-31 to pass a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill (HR 2471) to fund the federal government through the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2022 and appropriate $13.6 billion in humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. The bill, which passed the House on Wednesday (March 9), now heads to President Biden's desk. The Senate also approved a House-passed four-day continuing resolution, giving the president until March 15 to sign the bill and keep the government funded through FY 2022. The omnibus bill contains several health care provisions to: increase funding for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and related agencies; extend certain COVID-19 pandemic telehealth waivers for 151 days beyond the public health emergency (PHE); temporarily renew an expired CARES Act provision allowing telehealth to be provided below the deductible in high-deductible health plans; authorize new funding to improve maternal and infant care; provide over $550 million to expand rural broadband service and improve health care services; and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. A separate package of $15.6 billion in additional COVID-19 relief funds was removed from the deal on Wednesday over disagreements about the offsets. The House plans to vote separately on that measure next week, but it's unclear if it will have the support needed to pass the Senate.
Senate turns attention to prescription drug prices. On Monday (March 8) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a Dear Colleague letter, saying senators will soon turn their attention to rising prescription drug prices, including policies to lower the cost of insulin. According to Schumer, the Senate Finance Committee next week will hold a hearing on lowering the cost of prescription drugs. The announcement comes amid efforts by Democrats to revive pieces of their Build Back Better proposal. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key senator in the discussions, suggested he could accept a bill that splits revenue from tax and prescription drug reform between deficit reduction and spending, probably dealing mostly with climate change and likely leaving many of the other health care expansion proposals off the table.
HHS to disperse nearly $35 million in mental health grants. On Wednesday (March 9), HHS announced nearly $35 million in grant funding to support programs that aim to strengthen and expand mental health and suicide prevention programs for children and young adults. The funding will be dispersed through programs overseen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Office of Minority Health. The announcement is part of a broader focus on mental health in both the administration and Congress. On Tuesday (March 8), the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration asking about the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on mental health, including how the agency is addressing frontline health care workers' mental health.
FDA and device makers reach user fee deal. On Wednesday (March 9),FDA sent a letter to Congress outlining a new five-year user fee agreement with the medical device industry, nearly two months after the deadline lapsed. The letter is not yet public, but several media outlets have reported that FDA is set to receive $1.78 billion in user fees from 2023 to 2027, with the potential for that amount to rise to $1.9 billion. The Medical Device User Fee Amendment (MDUFA V) marks the latest step in the congressional review process for the next round of user fee agreements between the FDA and the drug and device industries. Those deals, whose current iterations expire on September 30, are seen as must-pass legislation and govern the fees that make up nearly half of the FDA's budget.
Federal vaccine mandate back in court. On Tuesday (March 8), the Department of Justice urged the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal employees put on hold by a lower court in January. Opponents argue that the administration's actions lack precedent and are beyond President Biden's unilateral authority. The mandate impacts 3.5 million federal workers, would be required to get vaccinated and not be given the option to get regularly tested in lieu of vaccination unless they received a qualifying medical or religious exemption.
Opponents of ACO REACH raise concerns as lawmakers. On Tuesday (March 8) A coalition of community, senior and progressive groups led by the Physicians for a National Health Program sent a letter to HHS leaders, urging the Biden administration to cancel the newly announced ACO REACH Model. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation last month announced the ACO REACH Model will replace the Global and Professional Direct Contracting (GPDC) Model. However, the groups say REACH will allow "third-party middlemen to manage seniors' care, without seniors' full understanding or consent," similar to their concerns with the direct contracting model it will replace.
Reports, Studies, and Journals
Health Affairs: The Effectiveness Of Government Masking Mandates On COVID-19 County-Level Case Incidence Across The United States, 2020.The observational study estimated association between county-level public masking mandates and daily Covid-19 case incidence. When compared with unmasked counties, the study found the daily case incidence per 100,000 people declined by an average of 23% at four weeks and 33% at six weeks in masked counties.
National Bureau of Economic Research: Mortality Rates by College Degree Before and During COVID-19.The study examined educational differences in mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. While mortality rates rose faster among those without a BA, "the ratio of mortality rates for those with and without a BA changed surprisingly little from 2019 to 2020."
JAMA: Effect of Clinical Decision Support on Cardiovascular Risk Among Adults With Bipolar Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, or Schizophrenia. Researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial of 8,937 patients with serious mental illness to examine whether a clinical decision support system targeting primary care providers could improve cardiovascular health for people with serious mental illness. The study found cardiovascular risk over a 12-month period was 4% lower for those in the clinical decision support system. However, the authors note the treatment effects were largely driven by "cumulative effects of incremental and mostly nonsignificant changes in individual modifiable cardiovascular risk factors."