September 26, 2022
This Week in Health Policy for September 26
This Week (September 26-30)
Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass legislation to reauthorize FDA User Fees for fiscal years 2023—2027 and keep the federal government funded.
White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The Biden-Harris Administration will host the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The Administration will also release a National Strategy with actions the federal government will take to drive solutions to these challenges.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Executive Session. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a markup to vote on the nominations of Karla Ann Gilbride to be general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Jessica Looman to be administrator of the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division; Moshe Z. Marvit to be a member of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
Last Week (September 19-23)
Health Care Highlights
The PHE continues despite Biden remarks. On Sunday (Sept. 18), President Biden in an appearance on CBS News' "60 Minutes," said, "We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over." The comments, which were later walked back by the administration, including Biden, spurred a debate among public health officials over when exactly the public health emergency (PHE) would be rescinded. On Monday (Sept. 19) Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Sarah Lovenheim in a tweet assured states and providers that there will be at least 60 days' notice before the PHE is allowed to expire. The debate comes as the Biden administration is urging Congress to include $22 billion in emergency funding for COVID-19 response efforts and more than $4 billion for monkeypox response efforts in an upcoming continuing resolution to keep the government running beyond Sept. 30.
Congress nears government funding package with FDA User Fees. This week, lawmakers continued to work toward a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government temporarily funded beyond a Sept. 30 deadline, as well as User Fee Agreements for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that also expire at the end of the month. Lawmakers are currently debating which, if any, policy riders could be added to the CR, which is expected to include the FDA user fee legislation. On Thursday (Sept. 22), Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said he expects lawmakers to include a "practically clean" User Fee bill in the CR, meaning many of the policy changes included in the House-passed legislation could be left out. If an agreement is not reached by the expiration of FDA funding, the agency could be forced to send pink slips to thousands of employees funded by the program.
HHS releases roadmap to mental health. On Friday (Sept. 16), HHS released a roadmap detailing strategies for integrating mental health and substance misuse care into other parts of the health care system. Among other things, the document includes reforms to increase access to behavioral health, better engage high-risk populations, and test new Medicaid payment models to support whole-person care.
Senate Committee unveils policies to address mental health workforce. On Thursday (Sept. 22), the Senate Finance Committee released a discussion draft of legislation to bolster the mental health workforce in the United States. For example, the discussion draft would fund 4,000 new Medicare-backed residency slots over a decade to train psychiatrists, amend the Stark Law to better address physician burnout, and expand Medicare's Health Professional Shortage Area Physician Bonus Program. The draft is the third installment in a series of mental health discussion drafts put out by the committee to improve mental health care.
Education and Labor mental health bills head to the floor. H.R. 7780, the Mental Health Matters Act may find its way to the House floor next week. H.R. 7780 includes various grants to increase the number of school-based mental health services providers, establishes requirements for institutions of higher education concerning students with disabilities, and amends ERISA to prohibit arbitration and discretionary clauses in employer-sponsored benefit plans.
Providers drop challenge to surprise billing rule. On Tuesday (Sept. 20), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) took steps to dismiss their lawsuit against the federal government's arbitration process for certain out-of-network bills. The provider groups said an updated rule released late last rendered their lawsuit "moot." Similarly, the Association of Air Medical Services during a congressional hearing on Wednesday (Sept. 21) indicated it would drop its lawsuit challenging the surprise billing rules. However, both the provider groups and AAMS separately said they still have concerns with the updated rules and are considering next steps. Additionally, the Texas Medical Association on Thursday (Sept. 22) filed a second lawsuit against the federal government's surprise billing arbitration process, saying the updated rule and process still unlawfully favors insurers over providers. The AMA and AHA support the Texas lawsuit.
USPSTF issues new screening guidance for anxiety. On Tuesday (Sept. 20), the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended all adults ages 64 and younger be screened for anxiety, assigning a "B" rating to the screening policy. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), private health plans, including self-insured plans, must cover preventive services that the Task Force assigns either an "A" or "B" rating without cost-sharing.
House Ways and Means Committee Advances Mental Health and MIECHV Reauthorization Legislation. On Wednesday (September 21), the House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bipartisan bill, The Jackie Walorski Maternal and Child Home Visiting Reauthorization Act of 2022 (H.R. 8876), along with a package of bipartisan bills aimed at addressing the mental health crisis. Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) praised the mental health legislation as being both bipartisan and critical to strengthening mental health care across the continuum, expanding access and improving transparency for patients. The legislation aims to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services within the Medicare program, increase reporting and transparency about service offerings and coverage in the private market, make improvements to physician education while mitigating burnout, and ensuring that the system as a whole works better for patients. The bills, as amended, were all ordered to be reported favorably and will advance to the full House.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Advances Vaccine Injury Compensation, Trauma Systems, Inquiry Requests, Other Legislation. On Wednesday (September 21), the House Ways and Means Committee advanced several bipartisan health care bills out of committee. Bills includes those to modernize the vaccine injury compensation program (VICP) (H.R. 3655); allow Federally Qualified Health Centers to use New Access Point grants for establishing mobile health units (H.E. 5141); reauthorize grants to support the improvement of emergency medical services and trauma care readiness and coordination (H.R. 8163); and amend the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WINN) Act, enacted in December 2016, to reauthorize the Lead Exposure Registry program at $5 million annually for FY 2023 through FY 2032 (H.R. 6737).
Reports, Studies, and Journals
HHS Office of Inspector General: FDA Repeatedly Adapted Emergency Use Authorization Policies To Address the Need for COVID-19 Testing. The report found the FDA's use of emergency use authorizations (EUA) for COVID-19 tests resulted in less reliable tests entering the market. OIG recommended the FDA overhaul its EUA strategy to avoid similar quality issues during future pandemics.
Food and Drug Administration: FDA Concludes Internal Review of Agency Actions Related to the U.S. Infant Formula Supply. The report details the findings of the FDA's internal review following the infant formula shortage that occurred this summer. The report identifies five areas the agency should improve, including modernizing information technology systems, maintaining sufficient staffing levels, and updating emergency response protocols.
JAMA: Receipt of Out-of-State Telemedicine Visits Among Medicare Beneficiaries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The study found interstate telehealth visits were used most frequently by individuals who lived near a state border and typically were scheduled for primary care and mental health treatment, with cancer care being the most frequently used specialty care. The study authors recommend policymakers rely on regional compacts to facilitate interstate telehealth visits between neighboring states.