March 28, 2022
This Week in Health Policy for March 28
This Week (March 28-April 1)
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on "Examining Pathways to Universal Health Coverage."
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a hearing on "Moving Beyond the Coronavirus Crisis: The Biden Administration's Progress in Combating the Pandemic and Plan for the Next Phase."
The House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on "FDA User Fee Reauthorization: Ensuring Safe and Effective Medical Devices."
Last Week (March 21-25)
Health Care Highlights
Affordable Care Act's 12th anniversary. On Wednesday (March 23), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure delivered speeches to mark the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) 12th anniversary. Both Becerra and Brooks-LaSure noted that enrollment in ACA exchange plans reached a record-high of 14.5 million people in 2022, but Brooks-LaSure noted that they expect enrollment to fall by 3.4 million if Congress does not extend the enhanced subsidies included in the American Rescue Plan. Separately, an article in Health Affairs marking the anniversary noted up to 15 million people could lose Medicaid coverage at the end of the public health emergency due to expiring maintenance of eligibility (MOE) requirements, including pauses in Medicaid disenrollment. Both Becerra and Brooks-LaSure said there is more work to be done to reduce the uninsured rate and address rises in chronic illness, mental health challenges, and substance use disorders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospital group calls on Congress to pass additional COVID-19 relief funds. On Wednesday (March 23), the American Hospital Association (AHA) sent a letter to House and Senate leaders urging Congress to allocate the $15.6 billion in funding to reimburse providers for COVID-19 care for the uninsured, which was removed in the final hour from the recently passed omnibus package along with other COVID funding. The White House has warned it will stop accepting reimbursement claims for COVID-19 testing and treatments for uninsured people if additional funds are not appropriated. AHA also called on Congress to allocate additional funding to the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) and to extend the deadline by which providers must use current funds. To date, there has been a total of $178 billion appropriated to the PRF by Congress, of which an estimated $5 billion remains, along with a separate allocation of $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan rural relief appropriations, of which nearly all has been processed. On Tuesday (March 22), the Health Resources and Services Administration announced the disbursement of $413 million in Phase 4 funding, which providers will have until the end of June 2023 to use.
President Biden's FY 2023 budget proposal is looming. On Monday (March 28), President Biden is expected to release his FY 2023 budget request. The president's budget proposal is nonbinding and primarily serves to outline the administration's policy and spending priorities for the upcoming fiscal year.
Biden administration increases focus on cybersecurity. On Monday (March 21), the White House warned U.S. companies to bolster cybersecurity protections amid potential cyber threats originating in Russia. The notice came shortly after health officials during last week's HIMSS conference warned health care industry stakeholders that the administration would be increasing oversight of private sector cyber security measures.
President Biden signs Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. Last Friday (March 18), Biden signed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which provides new funding and educational programs to support health care workers' well-being and mental health.
Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee Hearing on Strengthening Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Programs: Opportunities, Challenges, and Emerging Issues. On Wednesday (March 23), the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing entitled, "Strengthening Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Programs: Opportunities, Challenges, and Emerging Issues." During the hearing, committee members discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation's mental health and a rise in substance use disorders (SUD). In particular, committee members discussed ways to improve children's access to mental and behavioral health services and how to overcome barriers to SUD treatment, including workforce shortages and integration of mental health and primary care. The committee heard from witnesses representing federal agencies that support mental health and SUD programs, education and research. Those witnesses discussed existing programs and efforts to improve access to mental and behavioral health and SUD programs and treatments, as well as ways Congress can build on those programs to address gaps in care.
Senate (Special Committee on) Aging Hearing on An Economy That Cares: The Importance of Home-Based Services. During the hearing, lawmakers discussed the importance of Medicaid home- and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities and the impact on informal caregivers. Lawmakers and witnesses discussed several ways to address underinvestment in the sector, including allocating additional funds to Medicaid home- and community-based services and adopting programs to direct existing funds to beneficiaries to spend on services of their choosing.
Reports, Studies, and Journals
HHS' Office of Inspector General: Telehealth Was Critical for Providing Services to Medicare Beneficiaries During the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. A recent report from HHS' Office of Inspector General found more than 2 in 5 Medicare beneficiaries used telehealth during the first year of the pandemic, with office visits accounting for the majority of telehealth visits. However, when looking just at behavioral health services, the report found beneficiaries used telehealth for 43% of all behavioral health services, compared with 13% of all office visits.
U.S. Census Bureau: COVID-19 pandemic's impact on births and deaths results in a record number of counties experiencing natural decrease. On March 24, the U.S. Census Bureau published new data showing more than 73% of U.S. county's saw natural population declines in part due to an increase in death rates from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the data show the nation's largest cities experienced some of the slowest population growth rates on record, with smaller cities seeing an influx of residents.
JAMA: Use of Medication for Opioid Use Disorder Among US Adolescents and Adults With Need for Opioid Treatment, 2019.Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study to examine characteristics associated with opioid use disorder medication treatment among individuals in need of opioid use disorder treatment. They found 27.8% of individuals with a treatment need reported past-year use of medication for opioid use disorder, including no adolescents and 13.2% of adults age 50 and older.