Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Coronavirus Update

Last week signaled an apparent turning point in the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, with President Trump declaring a national emergency and invoking the Stafford Act on Friday, two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Invoking powers under the Stafford Act will allow the federal government to devote more resources to respond to the virus and make more than $42 billion available to states from the Disaster Relief Fund. States will now be permitted to request a 75 percent federal cost-share for expenses such as emergency workers, medical tests and supplies, vaccinations, and medical facility security. Only two emergency declarations since the 1960s for public health threats have targeted disease outbreaks - when President Clinton declared emergencies in New York and New Jersey in response to the West Nile Virus in 2000.

During an address to the nation from the Oval Office Wednesday evening, President Trump outlined the latest actions the administration plans to take to contain the coronavirus outbreak and respond to its economic impact. The President announced that he would be significantly restricting travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days. President Trump also announced the deferral of tax payments for individuals and businesses affected by the virus and said that he would be instructing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide emergency capital to firms impacted by the virus. During the address the President warned older Americans, who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, to avoid non-essential travel, and recommended restrictions around non-medically necessary visits to nursing homes. He also called on Congress to pass a payroll tax cut and legislation to ensure sick leave for hourly workers.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Act, in the early hours of Saturday morning. The large-scale economic relief plan aims to support Americans in combatting the spread of the coronavirus through the expansion of paid leave, food assistance, and unemployment assistance and through increased federal Medicaid funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin worked to negotiate the House-passed legislation, which was backed by President Trump. The bill would increase federal medical assistance percentages (FMAP) for state Medicaid programs by 6.2 percentage points. Medicaid funding for U.S. territories would also be increased. The bill includes a prohibition against cost sharing and prior authorization for certain coronavirus testing and related services, such as provider visits for testing. It also appropriates $1 billion for the National Disaster Medical System to reimburse costs associated with testing the uninsured. The bill would add personal respiratory protective devices as a covered countermeasure under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, and allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide liability protections for certain emergency response products. The bill will now be sent to the Senate, which will skip a planned recess and return to session today. Speaker Pelosi announced plans for the House to work on a third emergency response measure to further address the health, economic security, and well-being of Americans while the Senate considers the Family First Coronavirus Act. The House is not in session this week, but House leadership told representatives that they will be given 24 hours’ notice if any developments require they return before March 23..

The House and Senate sergeants at arms announced that the Capitol will be closed to the public until April 1. Only members, staff, journalists, and visitors on official business will be allowed to enter. Several members of Congress and their staff have made the decision to self-quarantine after coming into contact with coronavirus-positive individuals, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an aide in the office of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.).

Bipartisan leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have requested a briefing from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn about steps his agency is taking to prevent drug and medical device shortages as a result of the coronavirus. The lawmakers ask how the FDA is ensuring the safety of medical products, given that the virus has stalled facility inspections in China, and what the agency is doing to track products at-risk of potential shortage.

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