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.


Democrats to Start Reconciliation Process While COVID Relief Negotiations Remain Underway

The White House continues to stand by its nearly $2 trillion proposal for coronavirus relief while also expressing hope that a stimulus package can be passed on a bipartisan basis. Republicans have largely rejected the proposal citing concerns about the overall size of the measure. While there is a consensus that more funding is needed for the vaccine distribution campaign, there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who are hesitant to approve $1,400 stimulus checks to most individual Americans without any additional means testing. Republicans are also resisting proposals to raise the federal minimum wage and provide additional funding for state and local governments.

A group of 10 Senate Republicans led by Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent a letter to President Joe Biden over the weekend requesting a meeting on COVID relief. The letter outlines the framework for their counterproposal, which includes a total of $160 billion for vaccines, testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment (PPE), in line with the President’s plan. The group is expected to release more details on their proposal today. The letter was signed by GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Bill Cassidy (La.), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Todd Young (Ind.), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Thom Tillis (N.C.), and Mike Rounds (S.D.).

While a bipartisan alternative remains under discussion, Democratic leadership are also preparing to pursue the option of reconciliation, a budget procedure that would allow certain provisions to pass both chambers with simple majorities. Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has said that the House of Representatives intends to hold a vote this week on a budget resolution, the first step to starting the reconciliation process for COVID stimulus legislation. The resolution will not be considered by the committee but will instead be brought directly to the floor. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) released a revised schedule for the House to accommodate this process and provide committees two weeks in February to focus on the legislative work. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also informed his caucus that a vote on a budget resolution could come as early as this week. Lawmakers are working to pass additional COVID-19 legislation ahead of March 14, when expanded unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire.

The Biden administration may need to reconsider its agenda in terms of which measures can be passed through reconciliation and which measures require regular order. The Byrd Rule prohibits the Senate from considering extraneous matter as part of the reconciliation process, but the Senate parliamentarian determines germaneness. Direct stimulus checks and extended unemployment aid are expected to qualify for the reconciliation process, while it is not clear whether vaccine funding and a minimum wage increase would qualify. The status of aid for state and local governments remains unclear. Some suggest that democrats push back should the parliamentarian rule that a provision is not germane and appeal to Vice President Harris or the Senate president pro tempore to exercise their constitutional power to rule the provision germane.

Phase 3 Data from J&J Vaccine Released

Global Phase 3 clinical data has been released for the investigational COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. The single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66 percent effective in preventing moderate and severe disease, and 85 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and deaths in all regions where it was tested. The vaccine can be stored at regular refrigerated temperatures. The company plans to request an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this month. Johnson & Johnson has said that it can meet its commitment to provide 100 million doses by June.

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