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.


House to Vote Today on Bill to Bolster ACA

The House of Representatives plans to vote today on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 1425). The bill would incentivize states to adopt Medicaid expansion, expand tax credits for coverage on the exchange, and cap premium charges at 8.5 percent of an individual’s income. It would permanently extend federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), allow states to cover children whose family income exceeds eligibility thresholds, and block the White House from implementing its expansion of short-term, limited-duration health plans. The legislation provides $10 billion for an “Improve Health Insurance Availability Fund” to support states in setting up reinsurance programs or providing financial assistance to people in the individual market, and $200 million to states looking to establish their own insurance exchanges. The cost of these measures would be offset by a provision to allow the government to negotiate the price of certain pharmaceuticals, as proposed in H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The legislation has been characterized by many as a messaging bill; it is unlikely that it will be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate for a vote.

According to remarks made by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar over the weekend, the administration does not plan to work with Congress on an ACA replacement plan until the Supreme Court rules on the validity of the law. The Supreme Court is not expected to hear the case until after the presidential election on November 3.

House Dems Push to Ensure COVID Treatment Affordability in Next Stimulus

Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.), and Sean Casten (D-Ill.) led a letter sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging House leadership to prioritize measures that increase the affordability of future COVID-19 treatments in the next pandemic relief package. The letter specially calls for a prohibition on cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment under Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, and private insurance. The letter was cosigned by 15 additional members of Congress.

COVID-19 Panel Oversight Panel Investigates Administrationís Testing Decisions

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, joined by House Democrats from Texas, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, are urging HHS Secretary Alex Azar to reverse a recent decision by the White House to end federal funding for 13 COVID-19 testing sites at the end of the month. While the administration has said that the decision will not impact testing in those states, the lawmakers express serious concern that it will negatively impact the spread of the virus, especially after record-breaking increases in new infections across the country. The nation saw 38,000 new cases on June 24, the highest single day total during the pandemic so far. HHS announced a 14-day extension for five Community-Based Testing Sites (CBTS) in Texas.

Chairman Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) has also filed requests with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Azar, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield for any evidence that the administration has moved to limit the number of COVID-19 tests performed in the U.S. The letters follow a recent claim by President Trump that he has instructed officials to slow the nation’s rate of testing.

Dunford Vetted for COVID Oversight Position

Retired Marine General and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford is reportedly the leading candidate to chair the Congressional Oversight Commission responsible for overseeing the $500 billion in loans made to industries in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The choice of chairman, which has not yet been finalized, is the joint responsibility of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The panel’s members – Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Bharat Ramamurti, and Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) – were named in April and have already issued two reports but have been unable to hire staff because of the lack of a chairman. Shalala has told reporters that the panel is still on schedule to meet the deadline to issue its third report. The Commission’s first report is available here and the second here.

CMS Creates New Office on Regulatory Burdens

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the creation of an office to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens in health care. The Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics will support the administration’s Patients Over Paperwork initiative, which stems from the President’s 2017 executive order to eliminate duplicative and excessive regulations. CMS said that it expects the initiative to save health care providers $6.6 billion and 42 million hours through 2021.

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