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May 20, 2024

This Week in Health Policy for May 20

This Week (May 20 - 24)

Senate HELP Committee will hold an executive session on several health care bills

  • Date: Thursday, May 23 at 10am ET
  • More information available here.

House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "The Collapse of Private Practice: Examining the Challenges Facing Independent Medicine."

  • Date: Thursday, May 23 at 9am ET
  • More information available here.

House Budget Committee will hold a hearing on "Breaking Up Health Care Monopolies: Examining the Budgetary Effects of Health Care Consolidation."

  • Date: Thursday, May 23 at 10am ET
  • Witnesses: Chapin White, Director of Health Analysis, Congressional Budget Office; Benedic Ippolito, Senior Fellow in Economic Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute; Adam Bruggeman, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Texas Spine Care Center
  • More information available here.

Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on "Front Lines of the Fentanyl Crisis: Supporting Communities and Combating Addiction through Prevention and Treatment."

  • Date: Thursday (May 23) at 10am ET
  • Witnesses: Tony Vezina, Executive Director, 4th Dimension Recovery Center (4D); Jeanmarie Perrone, Director, Center For Addiction Medicine And Policy, University of Pennsylvania; Caleb J. Banta-Green, Research Professor, University of Washington School of Medicine; Abigail J. Herron, Vice President And Chief Behavioral Health Officer, The Institute for Family Health
  • More information available here.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Check Up: Examining FDA Regulation of Drugs, Biologics, and Devices."

  • Date: Wednesday, May 22 at 10:30am ET
  • Witnesses: Patrizia Cavazzoni, Director, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), FDA; Peter Marks, Director, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), FDA; Jeffrey Shuren, Director, Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), FDA
  • More information available here.

Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on "The Family First Prevention Services Act: Successes, Roadblocks, and Opportunities for Improvement."

  • Date: Wednesday, May 22 at 10am ET
  • Witnesses: Rebecca Jones Gaston, Commissioner For Administration On Children, Youth, And Families At The Administration For Children And Families, HHS; David Reed, Deputy Director Of Child Welfare Services, Indiana Department of Child Services; JooYeun Chang, Program Director For Child Wellbeing, Doris Duke Foundation; Laurie Tapozada, Kinship Caregiver, Peer Mentor, And Kinship Navigator Professional
  • More information available here.

Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on "Ensuring Affordable & Accessible Medications: Examining Competition in the Prescription Drug Market."

  • Date: Tuesday, May 21 at 10am ET
  • Witnesses: William Feldman, Associate Physician, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital; David Mitchell, President and Founder, Patients for Affordable Drugs; Adam Mossoff, Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University; Arti Rai, Elvin R. Latty Distinguished Professor of Law, Duke Law; Jocelyn Ulrich, Vice President, Policy & Research, PhRMA
  • More information available here.

Senate HELP Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security will hold a hearing on "Feeding a Healthier America: Current Efforts and Potential Opportunities for Food is Medicine."

  • Date: Tuesday, May 21 at 2:30pm ET
  • Witnesses: Jean Terranova, Senior Director of Policy and Research, Community Servings; Erin Martin, MASM Gerontologist, Founder & Director, FreshRx Oklahoma; Dariush Mozaffarian, Director, Food is Medicine Institute, Tufts University; James Carter Williams, CEO and Managing Principal, iSelect Fund'
  • More information available here.

Last Week (May 13-17)

Health Care Highlights

House advances several health care bills. On Wednesday (May 15), the House:

  • Voted 399-13 to pass a bill reauthorizing the Emergency Medical Services for Children Program (H.R. 6960) for an additional five years, providing funding for equipment and training to help hospitals and paramedics treat pediatric emergencies. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is expected to consider their version of the bill (S. 3765) during an executive session next week.
  • Voted 408-3 to pass the Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act (HR 4581), which clarifies funding through the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Services Block Grant can be used for stillbirth prevention activities. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
  • Voted 387-26 to pass legislation to reauthorize federal aviation programs. The legislation, which President Biden signed into law on Thursday (May 16), includes a provision (Sec. 1102) to create a working group consisting of air carriers and organ transplant providers to identify best practices for transporting organs in the main cabin of a plane, as opposed to the cargo hold area where organs currently are stored.

Senate passes resolution recognizing National Hospital Week. On Wednesday (May 15), the Senate voted to pass a bipartisan resolution (S. Res. 689) recognizing National Hospital Week, May 12-18

Senate Finance leaders release white paper to reform Medicare physician pay. On Friday (May 17), Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) announced the release of a white paper outlining policy concepts related to reforming the way physicians are paid by Medicare and meeting the needs of those with chronic illness. The white paper outlines a number of areas of interest that the committee sees as an opportunity for reform, including: Creating sustainable payment updates; incentivizing alternative payment models; rethinking how Medicare measures quality care; improving primary care; supporting chronic care benefits in Medicare fee-for-service; and ensuring continued access to telehealth.

Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group unveils AI policy roadmap with key health care provisions. On Thursday (May 16), the Bipartisan Senate AI Working Group comprised of Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Martin Henrich (D-NM), and Todd Young (R-IN) released their bipartisan Roadmap for Artificial Intelligence (AI) Policy in the U.S. Senate. Informed by hundreds of stakeholder meetings and nine AI Insight Forums, the roadmap summarized their findings and lays out policy topics that the group believes merits bipartisan committee consideration in the 118th Congress. Policy priorities include: increasing funding for AI innovation to propel U.S. leadership; developing new standards for testing and requirements for transparency and explainability; bolstering national security through adoption of emerging technologies; addressing challenges posed by deepfakes and examining the impact on content creators; identifying ways to ensure companies of all sizes can compete; and establishing a strong comprehensive federal data privacy framework. For more information see the press release, one-pager and roadmap.

Senators introduce bipartisan legislation to reform primary care pay. On Wednesday (May 15), Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Pay PCPs Act, which would direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to create a hybrid Medicare payment system that rewards primary care providers based on patient health outcomes and reduces patient cost-sharing if patients engage in certain primary care activities and services. The bill also would create a new technical advisory committee to help CMS determine Medicare fee schedule rates. The senators also issued a request for information asking stakeholders to provide feedback on the proposed hybrid model by July 15.

House Republicans challenge HHS' minimum nursing home staffing rule. On Tuesday (May 14), Reps. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) and Greg Pence (R-Ind.) introduced a Congressional Review Act measure to overturn the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) minimum nursing home staffing final rule. The push is unlikely to be successful because if the resolution were to pass both the House and Senate, President Biden could veto it because the rule was finalized prior to the 60-day "look back" period.

HHS issues maternal mental health nation strategy. On Tuesday (May 14), HHS released a national strategy to improve maternal mental health care, developed with recommendations from the Task Force on Maternal Mental Health. The strategy outlines a framework of five core pillars with the goal of improving federal coordination and integrating perinatal mental health and substance use care across medical, community, and social systems. In addition to the strategy, the task force issued a report to congress on maternal mental health.

Biden Administration increases import tariffs on select China-made medical goods. On Tuesday (May 14), the US Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai announced new tariffs on imports for a range of China-made products, including facemasks (tariff rate increase to 25% in 2024), medical gloves (tariff rate increase to 25% in 2026), and syringes and needles (tariff rate increase to 50% in 2025).

ONC announces AI data and behavioral health IT funding opportunities. On Monday (May 13), HHS' Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health IT announced a new funding opportunity for projects focused on improving the quality of health care data used by AI tools and projects focused on accelerating the adoption of health IT in behavioral health. ONC expects to issue one cooperative agreement award of up to $1 million for each focus area. The application window will remain open through July 12.

DOJ takes steps to reclassify marijuana. On Friday (May 17), the Department of Justice issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking stating that they are taking steps to reclassify marijuana from a schedule I to a schedule III drug. HHS in the past has said the reclassification would ease restrictions for health care researchers seeking to explore the drug's potential use to treat patients.

Hearings, Markups, and Other Committee Activity

Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on "Rural Health Care: Supporting Lives and Improving Communities." On Thursday (May 16), the Committee held a hearing during which they heard from witnesses representing a range of rural health care stakeholders including Graduate Medical Education (GME) experts and local hospitals and research institutes. The hearing centered on the importance of sustaining the viability of rural health care in the wake of increasing closures of rural clinics across the country. The closure of maternity services was raised as a particular concern. There was much focus on workforce shortages and tightening reimbursement margins as being the critical issues driving these trends. Telehealth flexibilities were presented as one such solution — though, the importance of parity with in-person reimbursement rates was noted.

  • More information available here.

Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee held a hearing on "Examining the Dental Care Crisis in America: How Can We Make Dental Care More Affordable and More Available?" On Thursday (May 16), the Committee held a hearing during which members heard from a panel of witnesses representing dental providers and organizations seeking to increase access to dental care. Lawmakers and witnesses focused their conversation on ways to improve access to dental care, with several Democrats touting proposals to expand dental coverage under federal health programs and Republicans focusing questions on ways to address the workforce shortage. Witnesses discussed challenges dentists face and the need to increase Medicaid reimbursement and leverage ancillary providers to fill workforce gaps.

  • More information available here.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a markup of bills related telehealth, remote patient monitoring, pediatric rare disease treatment, and more. On Thursday (May 16), the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee advanced 21 bills to extend Medicare beneficiaries' access to telehealth services for two years, paid for by pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) reforms and Medicare clinical laboratory payment cuts; increase access to remote monitoring services; encourage innovation in pediatric rare disease cancer treatments, and more. Although the initial version of the Telehealth Modernization Act (H.R. 7623) sought to permanently extend COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities under Medicare, which expire this year, a substitute amendment scaled it back to two years, aligning with the two-year telehealth extension bill approved by the Ways and Means Committee last week. The bill also includes a five-year extension of waivers for the Acute Hospital Care at Home program. The committee did not vote on two rare disease drug bills that were previously scheduled for votes: the Retaining Access and Restoring Exclusivity (RARE) Act (H.R. 7383) and the Creating Hope Reauthorization Act of 2024 (H.R. 7384).

  • More information available here.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic held a hearing on "Overseeing the Overseers: A Hearing with NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak." On Thursday (May 16), the Select Subcommittee heard testimony from NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Biden administration's response. In his testimony, Dr. Tabak said federal officials "still do not know with certainty" the origins of SARS-CoV-2, noting that is took over a decade to identify the origins of past epidemics and investigators are still looking into the origins of the 2014 Ebola outbreak. During the hearing, many Republicans focused questions on the potential role of EcoHealth Alliance, while several Democrats expressed frustration with the focus of the hearing. HHS this week announced it would begin steps to formally prohibit EcoHealth from receiving future federal grants in light of evidence related to misleading information.

  • More information available here.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability advanced the BIOSECURE Act. On Wednesday (May 15), the Committee advanced several bills, including the BIOSECURE Act (H.R. 8333), which would prohibit federal agencies from contracting with or issuing loans or grants to companies designated as "companies of concern" and any entity that contracts with such companies in performance of the contract. The House bill includes an extended phase-in period for existing contracts, allowing them to remain exempt from the prohibitions until January 1, 2032, and includes a targeted waiver and exemption process. In March, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security advanced a similar bill (S. 3558) that did not include the extended phase-in process for existing contracts.

  • More information available here.

House Committee on Education & the Workforce held a hearing on "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Health and Human Services." On Wednesday (May 15), the Committee heard testimony from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on the department's FY 2025 budget request. During the hearing, Becerra fielded questions on a range of topics including HHS' new nondiscrimination rule, implementation of the No Surprises Act's independent dispute resolution process, unaccompanied minors entering the US, the fentanyl crisis, and more.

  • More information available here.

Reports, Studies, and Journals

CMS: 2024 Quality Measure Development Plan (MDP) Annual Report. The report provides an overview of CMS' activity related to developing clinician quality measures for the Quality Payment Program.

Health Affairs: Rural Hospitals Experienced More Patient Volume Variability Than Urban Hospitals During The COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-21. The study finds 35% of rural hospitals experienced more than 20% increases or decreases in daily patient volume during the first nine months of COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 13% of urban hospitals.

RAND Corporation: Prices Paid to Hospitals by Private Health Plans. The report found that in 2022 employers and private insurers paid, on average, 254% of Medicare prices across all hospital inpatient and outpatient services (including both facility and related professional claims).

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Contact Information

For additional information concerning this Alert, please contact:

Washington Council Ernst & Young