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 Passes Changes to Paycheck Protection Program

On Friday, the President signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (H.R. 7010) after the Senate passed it by unanimous consent. The small-business loan legislation, which had previously been passed by the House of Representatives, would increase flexibility in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), giving companies much more time to spend the money – within 24 weeks or until the end of the year, whichever comes first – and still qualify to have their PPP loans forgiven. Certain loans to businesses would also have up to five years, instead of two years, to repay any money owed on any remaining loan amount and could use a greater percentage of proceeds on rent and other approved non-payroll expenses (to 40% instead of the current 25%) and still receive full loan forgiveness. Despite these changes, the program is still slated to end on June 30.

Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza asking them to disclose additional details on the loans issued under the PPP, including the names of borrowers. The lawmakers also request information on the number of approved loans, the volume of approved loans, and the number of lenders. They ask that the agencies have a plan in place by June 10 outlining the process by which SBA will provide lawmakers and the public with ongoing updates.

Next COVID Package Pushed to July

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has stated that the next stimulus legislation will not be considered before the July 3 two-week recess. While the dollar amount of the bill remains uncertain, McConnell has reportedly told the President that he does not want it to exceed $1 trillion. President Trump, however, has expressed support for the inclusion of an infrastructure package that could push the legislation beyond that amount.

Lawmakers Raise Concerns About HHS Relief for Medicaid Providers

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar asserting that emergency funding to health care providers that serve large populations of Medicaid patients is not being sent fast enough. Ru¬ral hospitals and doctors that rely primarily on Medicaid funds have argued that HHS has failed to target funding from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund to those who care for a large number of Medicaid beneficiaries in a timely manner. The letter states that HHS should “martial its resourcefulness, and its relationship with states, to develop a methodology to fairly and robustly allocate funds for Medicaid providers.” The letter was signed by Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

House Appropriators to Meet in July

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) has announced plans to hold all subcommittee and full committee markups the weeks of July 6 and 13, with the potential for spending bills to be considered on the floor the weeks of July 20 and 27. Rep. Lowey stated that she is working with the Office of the Attending Physician and House leadership to find a room that can accommodate all panel members at a safe distance from each other. The specific order of spending bill consideration will be announced later this month.

Grassley Continues Push for Drug Pricing Bill

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is continuing to push for passage of his panel’s bipartisan drug pricing legislation. In an interview last week, Grassley discussed the need for the bill to ensure access to products created in response to COVID-19 and to prepare for future pandemics. According to Grassley, President Trump is also still interested in pursuing the issue of high drug prices. While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has told Grassley that she would engage with the Finance Committee on drug pricing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has raised concerns about the legislation and has yet to signal whether he will bring it to the floor for a vote.

Senate Confirms Pandemic Watchdog

The Senate confirmed Brian Miller, by a vote of 51-49, as special inspector general for pandemic recovery last week. This position is charged with overseeing the trillions of dollars in federal aid being dispersed to support economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Miller has served as a White House lawyer and was a part of President Trump’s impeachment defense.

Giroir to Step Down as Testing Czar

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir announced that he will be stepping down as the Trump administration’s COVID-19 testing czar at FEMA in mid-June. An HHS spokesperson indicated that there are no plans for a new testing point person to be appointed. Giroir will return to his regular position at HHS.

Lawmakers Request More Community Health Center Funding

A bipartisan group of senators has written to appropriations leadership requesting additional assistance for community health centers in the next coronavirus relief package. The lawmakers state that community health centers are critical to the COVID-19 response, serving more than 29 million patients nationwide. They argue that more funding is necessary to support these providers that are facing lost revenue as the pandemic continues. The letter was led by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and signed by 41 senators.

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