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.


Biden Announces Chief of Staff, COVID Advisory Council, HHS Transition Team

President-elect Joe Biden has selected his long-time aide Ron Klain to be his chief of staff. Klain is the nation’s former Ebola czar who led the nation’s response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015. Klain previously served as chief of staff to Biden at the beginning of his vice presidency and also worked as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore toward the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris met for the first time last week with their advisory council that will support them and their transition team in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The virus panel will be co-chaired by former commissioner of Food and Drugs David Kessler, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Marcella Nunez-Smith, Yale University professor of public health. Other members include Atul Gawande, Brigham and Women’s Hospital surgeon; Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota; Celine Gounder, professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University; Ezekiel Emanuel, a former Obama administration health adviser; Luciana Borio, vice president at In-Q-Tel, Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA); Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Loyce Pace, president of Global Health Council; Robert Rodriguez, a professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine; and Eric Goosby, professor of medicine at the UCSF School of Medicine. The group will be charged with mapping out the public health and economic approach necessary to respond to the pandemic. Ron Klain also stated last week that the Presidentelect plans to appoint a White House coronavirus response coordinator to provide daily briefings. Biden also announced the members of his Health and Human Services transition team. The agency review team will be led by Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, who worked as Democratic staff for the House Ways and Means Committee during the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). She later served as deputy director for policy at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Robert Gordon will serve as co-leader of the team. He is the director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services who was acting deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under President Barack Obama.

Biden Awaits Official Ascertainment for Transition

President Donald Trump continues to dispute the results of the presidential election as President-elect Joe Biden presses the administration release the funding and access provided to allow the presidential transition team to contact federal agencies, access nonpublic information, and set up government offices. The General Services Administration (GSA) has yet to sign the necessary paperwork to initiate a formal government transition as President Trump moves forward with legal challenges to overturn Joe Biden’s win with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. The President has received some support from Republicans in Congress for his efforts to challenge the election results. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declined to recognize Biden’s victory and stated in a floor speech last week that President Trump is “100 percent within his rights” to do so. Only four Republican senators have publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory: Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Ben Sasse (Nebraska). According to the Associated Press (AP), Biden has currently secured 290 Electoral College votes while President Trump has 232. Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain is specifically pushing for the incoming administration to be able to take part in the planning process for the distribution of an eventual coronavirus vaccine and to enable Biden’s plans for a rapid scale-up of the federal COVID response come January. President Trump has until December 8 to complete any legal challenges to the election. December 8 marks the “safe harbor” date for which a state’s electors are accepted by Congress. The Electoral College will meet on December 14 to cast their votes for Biden, and Congress is scheduled to accept the results on January 6.

Senate Appropriators Release FY21 Spending Bills

Senate appropriators released a $1.4 trillion package of all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills last week to jumpstart bicameral negotiations on the passage of an omnibus spending measure during the lame-duck session of Congress. The Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill includes $195.1 billion in discretionary funding. Lawmakers propose $43.6 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a $2 billion increase. More than $4 billion is appropriated for pandemic preparedness programs, an increase of $161 million, including an increase of $30 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative, and an increase of $50 million for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). The bill also includes $518 million for the White House initiative to end the spread of HIV/AIDS (an increase of more than $200 million), $3.9 billion to combat the opioid epidemic (an increase of $88 million), with new approval for funds to be used to curb methamphetamine and other stimulus misuse, and $4 billion for mental health programs (an increase of $194 million). The $153 billion Agriculture bill includes $23.3 billion in discretionary funding. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would receive $3.2 billion. Additionally, the State and Foreign Operations committee report calls for $118 million for the World Health Organization (WHO), despite President Trump’s push to withdraw from the international body. While Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) stressed the bipartisan nature of the appropriations measures, Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) criticized the absence of emergency funding to respond to COVID-19. The Senate package would not exempt any coronavirus-related funding from statutory spending caps, while the previously passed House bill included more than $230 billion in cap-exempt emergency spending. House Democrats have so far largely refrained from commenting on the substance of the Senate bills. The current stopgap spending measure is set to expire on December 11.

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