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.


GOP Draft of Next COVID Stimulus Package Expected This Week

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced plans for the Senate to release and begin discussion on the next round of pandemic relief in the coming days. McConnell is drafting the GOP-only proposal alongside the Trump administration, with Sen. Blunt (R-Mo.) taking the lead on many of the healthcare-related provisions. Debate on the bill will begin amongst Senate Republicans this week before negotiations with Democrats commence. Leadership hopes to complete work on the relief bill before August recess, which is scheduled to begin August 10.

The draft liability provisions of the proposal would offer a five-year shield from coronavirus-related lawsuits, retroactive from December 2019 through 2024, or until the end of the emergency declaration, if that comes later. Federal courts would be given jurisdiction over personal injury or medical liability lawsuits related to COVID-19 infections. Liability would only apply to institutions that did not make “reasonable efforts” to follow public health guidelines, or those that committed an act of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that the proposed liability changes would not be necessary if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a new standard for responding to COVID-19. Over the weekend, several news outlets also reported that the Trump administration was rejecting a proposal by Republicans to include an additional $25 billion for COVID-19 testing, and instead fund other Trump priorities.

House Appropriators Advance FY21 Labor-HHS Spending Bill

The House Appropriations Committee advanced its $196.5 billion fiscal year 2021 (FY21) Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill last week by a party-line vote of 30-22. The legislation would provide $96.4 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a $1.5 billion increase from the current fiscal year, and sets aside $24.4 billion for state and local health departments in the midst of responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The panel approved the bipartisan manager’s amendment and an amendment by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) that would require health insurers to report on their compliance with federal mental health parity requirements.

E&C Passes 17 Health Bills

The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced 17 health-related bipartisan bills last week, including legislation to overhaul the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). H.R. 7574 would require monthly reports to Congress on stockpile requests and allow the government to sell products in the stockpile that are set to expire. It would increase spending on the SNS from $610 million to $705 million for the next three years. The Committee also marked up legislation (H.R. 7539) that would require health insurance plans to report on how they are applying non-quantitative treatment limits to mental health and substance use disorder services to help regulators enforce existing parity laws. A similar provision was included in the House’s fiscal year (FY) 2021 Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill. Additional legislation included the “School-Based Allergy and Asthma Management Program Act (H.R. 2468) and several bills focused on suicide prevention. The House is expected to vote on the bills in the coming weeks. The full list of legislation included in last week’s markup can be found here.

Senate Dems Release Recommendations of COVID-19 Vaccine

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) released a white paper containing recommendations for safety and accessibility policies for a future COVID-19 vaccine. The paper calls for $25 billion in new emergency funding for vaccine research and development, and to ensure that the vaccine is provided to the public at no cost. Lawmakers outline policies in the following areas that would help ensure one or more safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are produced, distributed, and administered widely enough to end the pandemic:

  • Requiring the Administration Develop and Implement a Comprehensive Strategic Plan;
  • Providing $25 Billion in Emergency Funding for Vaccines and Vaccination Activities;
  • Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccines are Available at No Cost;
  • Setting Rigorous Standards for Vaccine Development and Scientific Review;
  • Scaling Vaccine Manufacturing and Preventing Supply Chain Challenges;
  • Ensuring Equitable Distribution of Vaccines;
  • Preparing for and Implementing Widespread Vaccine Administration; and
  • Ensuring Post-Market Surveillance and Safety.

HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) statement in response to the report urged Democrats and Republicans to work together to accelerate the development and distribution of vaccines.

Bipartisan House Coalition Calls for COVID-19 Liability Protections

Reps. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) have sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging Congress to implement targeted and time-limited COVID-19 liability protections for health care providers and facilities as well as for businesses and non-profit organizations, that follow proper public health guidelines in response to the current pandemic. “Nurses, doctors, and other healthcare providers, in addition to hospitals and other healthcare facilities, are already stretched thin as they face this deadly virus day in and day out,” the letter states. “If we do not take reasonable and targeted steps to protect those who protect us, they may no longer be there when we need them most.” The letter was signed by 12 other members of Congress.

Lawmakers Call for Mandated Reports on Health Disparities

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are pressuring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding its failure to produce congressionally mandated reports on racial and ethnic health disparities. HHS is required to report biannually on its efforts to improve health disparities but did not release such reports in 2017 and 2019 under the Trump administration. “Without successfully addressing these racial disparities in health outcomes and health care access, we will not be able to mitigate and fully control the COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers write. The letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar asks for details by July 28 to clarify why the administration has failed to take appropriate action.

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