March 21, 2022
This Week in Health Policy for March 21
This Week (March 21-25)
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on "Strengthening Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Programs: Opportunities, Challenges, and Emerging Issues."
Senate (Special Committee on) Aging holds a hearing on "An Economy That Cares: The Importance of Home-Based Services."
Last Week (March 14-18)
Health Care Highlights
Biden names next COVID-19 response coordinator. On Thursday (March 17), the White House announced that Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health, will replace Jeff Zients as the nation's COVID-19 response coordinator — also know as the "Covid Czar" — effective April 5. In the role, Jha will play a central role in communicating the federal government's COVID-19 response strategy. In a statement, Biden suggested the change in leadership reflected the nation entering "a new moment in the pandemic." Jha is a well-known public health expert and internist who has urged an aggressive approach to the pandemic.
Federal government warns COVID-19 funding running low. On Thursday (March 17), HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced that beginning March 22 it will stop accepting COVID-19 claims for testing, treatment, and vaccine administration for the uninsured due to insufficient funds. HRSA also said beginning April 5, it will stop accepting vaccination claims for the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund due to insufficient funds. The White House has separately warned it needs billions of dollars to purchase more vaccines and treatments. The HRSA announcement came as HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci met with House Democrats Thursday (March 17) to urge them to pass the $15.6 billion pandemic relief package. House Democrats last week stripped the measure from the omnibus spending package over disagreements on funding offsets, however Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), said this week they will seek to pass a Covid response bill "that can get votes in the Senate." She didn't explain how that might be done, or whether it will be closer to the $22.5 billion sought by the administration, noting the need for more funding than initially proposed.
MedPAC issues March 2022 report. On Tuesday (March 15), the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) released its March 2022 report to Congress. The March report contains policy and financial overviews, as well as recommended updates, on the Medicare fee-for-service payment systems, the Medicare Advantage program, and the Medicare Part D. In the report, MedPAC reiterated the need to address the Medicare Trust Fund, which is projected to become insolvent by 2026. The Commission also recommended Medicare payment rate increases for acute care hospitals, long-term care hospitals, and outpatient dialysis facilities in 2023, while recommending a 5% cut to nursing home, home health agency, and inpatient rehabilitation facility payments in 2023.
MACPAC issues March 2022 report. On Tuesday (March 15), the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) released its March 2022 report to Congress. The report provides findings from a congressionally mandated study on the Money Follows the Person program, ways to improve vaccination rates and access for adults enrolled in Medicaid, and provides an update on Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments to states.
Federal health leaders raise concerns about data sharing. On Tuesday (March 15), HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure delivered separate speeches at the HIMSS 2022 conference in Orlando, Florida. In a pre-recorded video address, Becerra touted HHS' health IT accomplishments, including the implementation of the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. However, he noted more work remains to improve data sharing and address information blocking violations. In her address, Brooks-LaSure said CMS is working on rulemaking to strengthen data exchange and address the use of application programming interfaces (APIs). They also indicated future rulemaking would be aimed at investigating information blocking claims and increasing civil monetary penalties, including for providers. A recent OIG report found that of the nearly 300 information blocking claims filed since last April, the majority have been filed against health care providers.
Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Prescription Drug Price Inflation: An Urgent Need to Lower Drug Prices in Medicare. On Wednesday (March 16), the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing entitled, "Prescription Drug Price Inflation: An Urgent Need to Lower Drug Prices in Medicare." During the hearing, Democrats and their witnesses called on Congress to pass reforms in the Build Back Better Act, including giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices, setting penalties for drugmakers whose prices rise faster than inflation, and capping out-of-pocket costs for insulin. Meanwhile, Republicans and their witnesses criticized proposals to give Medicare negotiating authority, saying such policies would result in rate-setting and harm pharmaceutical innovation. Instead, Republicans voiced support for policies that would create market incentives to improve private market negotiation and inflation.
Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Hearing on S. 3799, PREVENT Pandemics Act. On Tuesday (March 15), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee held a hearing to consider the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) (S. 3799). The bipartisan legislation aims to strengthen the nation's public health and medical preparedness and response systems. The committee voted 20-2 to advance the measure with eight amendments, including one to increase domestic production of antibiotics.
House Energy & Commerce Committee Hearing on the Future of Medicine: Legislation to Encourage Innovation and Oversight. On Thursday (March 17), the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled, "The Future of Medicine: Legislation to Encourage Innovation and Oversight." During the hearing, lawmakers considered 22 bills the panel is largely eyeing to attach to must-pass FDA user fee legislation, including measures to improve diversity in clinical trials, alter the FDA's accelerated approval process, bring more interchangeable generic and biosimilar drugs to market, and establish the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an agency independent of the National Institutes of Health.
House Education & Labor Committee Markup Hearing. On Wednesday (March 16), the House Education & Labor Committee held a hearing to markup six pieces of legislation, including the Improving Access to Workers' Compensation for Injured Federal Workers Act (HR 6087), which would cover services by physician assistants and nurse practitioners provided to injured Federal workers. The committee adopted all six measures with HR 6087 passing on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis.
Reports, Studies, and Journals
The Lancet: Acute COVID-19 severity and mental health morbidity trajectories in patient populations of six nations: an observational study. The researchers examined the long-term mental health of adults in six countries who were diagnosed with COVID-19 but did not require hospitalization. The authors looked at prevalence of depression, anxiety, COVID-19-related distress, and poor sleep quality. They found extended time bedridden was associated with higher risk of depression and anxiety compared with those without a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Commonwealth Fund: Primary Care in High-Income Countries: How the United States Compares. The researchers found the United States lags behind other wealthy countries in primary care in part due to decades of chronic underinvestment. They call on policymakers to improve the primary care field, including by reducing the wage gap between generalists and specialists.
JAMA: Five-Year Trends in US Children's Health and Well-being, 2016—2020.The researchers examined recent trends in children's health, including potential impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. They found childhood diagnoses of anxiety and depression rose between 2016 and 2020, while physical activity declined. They also found preventive medical visits declined in the wake of the pandemic, while diagnoses of behavioral or conduct problems rose.