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.


Senate to Return Today with New Routines for Safety

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate will return to session today to work on the next phase of coronavirus relief, with a focus on expanding and strengthening protections against lawsuits that stem from reopening the economy. The chamber’s routines will be modified to maintain the safety of members while conducting business in person. Staff are being encouraged to telework as much as possible, and senators and aides are being asked to wear masks at all times. The number of senators on the floor during votes will be limited, and hearings will only take place in rooms large enough for those present to be appropriately spaced out.

According to the Capitol’s attending physician, the chamber will not have access to rapid COVID-19 testing, and there will only be enough tests available to screen staff and lawmakers who are ill. Leader McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a joint statement over the weekend rejecting the White House’s offer of rapid coronavirus testing for lawmakers, saying that such resources would be better utilized by front line facilities.

The House of Representatives will not be returning to Washington this week as originally planned, following advice from the Capitol physician regarding the risk for the spread of COVID-19 to lawmakers, staff, and others given the continuing increase in cases in the Washington, D.C. area. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent a letter to the House Chief Administrative Officer and attending physician asking for guidance on how to safely reopen the U.S. House and Capitol building. Hoyer asks for detailed plans that consider the provision of supplies to disinfect surfaces and a phased approach permitting limited staff to return first in each office. He also expresses support for rules changes that allow the use of virtual platforms to conduct all legislative activities. Speaker Pelosi hopes to bring the House back in mid-May – possibly the week of May 11, depending on when the CARES 2 bill is ready for consideration.

Despite a recent suggestion that states consider declaring bankruptcy rather than depend on aid from the federal government, McConnell indicated last week that he is open to the inclusion of relief for state and local governments in the next stimulus bill if Congress also limits the liability of health care workers, business owners, and employees from lawsuits as the economy begins to reopen. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that the merits of liability protections for businesses have not yet been discussed amongst Democrats.

Lawmakers Release Cures 2.0 Concept Paper

Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have released a concept paper outlining their priorities for Cures 2.0, the follow-up legislation to the 21st Century Cures Act, the landmark biomedical innovation legislation signed into law in 2016. The concept paper includes six major themes for Cures 2.0:

  • Improving pandemic surveillance and testing capabilities, commercializing antimicrobial resistance products, and expanding vaccine education and surveillance;
  • Creating educational and training programs for caregivers;
  • Increasing diversity in clinical trials;
  • Empowering patients’ decision-making with better health literacy and access to health information;
  • Modernizing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by providing grants for innovative clinical trial design and patient-focused drug development to improve science in these areas; and
  • Finding ways for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to keep pace with technological and scientific advances such as potentially curative therapies that have one time administration costs that can reach millions.

The lawmakers plan to deploy the same process used in the formation of 21st Century Cures by soliciting feedback from stakeholders during the drafting stages. The concept paper itself was informed by nearly 500 stakeholder comments. DeGette and Upton are seeking feedback as soon as possible on the public health and clinical trials provisions. They will introduce Cures 2.0 sometime this year, though they also said they plan to push leadership to include provisions related to pandemics and clinical trials in the next COVID-19 response legislation.

Lawmakers Urging Support for Medical Researchers

A bipartisan group of more than 160 lawmakers are pushing for the inclusion of aid for scientific and medical researchers in the next virus relief package. Their proposal would provide $26 billion in funding to supplement research grants and contracts, provide emergency relief, and fund additional graduate student and post doc opportunities for up to two years in an effort to support researchers whose work has been slowed down or stopped due to the pandemic. The letter to House leadership was spearheaded by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

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