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 Vote on Stimulus Bill Expected This Week

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that the House of Representatives may vote on the American Rescue Plan COVID relief legislation as early as Friday, Feb. 26. The package is advancing via the budget reconciliation process. The House Budget Committee will meet today (Feb. 22) to assemble the recommendations approved by individual House committees under the budget reconciliation framework and prepare the stimulus package for a vote. No substantial changes to the legislation are expected as the lawmakers on the panel are not able to offer regular amendments. After the Budget Committee compiles the bill, it will be sent to the Rules Committee before being slated for the House floor. The bill will be sent to the Senate as soon as it passes the House, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said the bill will bypass the committee process.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of the estimated budget effects of the American Rescue Plan over the weekend, finding that the bill totals slightly more than $1.9 trillion – exceeding the limit laid out in the budget resolution allowing the measure to advance through the reconciliation process. As a result, Democrats will be forced to trim approximately $31 billion from the legislation before it can pass the Senate. CBO’s report also finds that the majority of spending in the stimulus bill will take place in 2021, and that it would add $1.234 trillion to this year’s budget deficit.

Top Health Officials Get Confirmation Hearings This Week

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has scheduled confirmation hearings for top Biden administration health nominees. The panel scheduled a courtesy hearing to consider Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Tuesday, and Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General and Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of HHS on Thursday. The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Xavier Becerra on Wednesday. Becerra has been targeted in recent days by a $2 million ad campaign from conservative organizations attacking the nominee’s stance on abortion. The groups are specifically trying to sway certain senators, including Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who have supported restrictions on abortion. Republicans have also argued that Becerra lacks the public health experience for the top role at HHS. The GOP would need to be united in a vote against Becerra and joined by at least one Democrat to prevent confirmation. Democrats continue to stress the importance of having an HHS Secretary in place in order to implement the administration’s coronavirus pandemic response plan. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that Biden’s nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, made more than $2 million during the pandemic with consulting fees and speeches. It’s unclear if this new information will have an effect on his nomination.

Brooks-LaSure Nominated for Top CMS Position

President Joe Biden has tapped Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Brooks-LaSure is a former Obama administration health official who helped implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while serving as deputy director for policy at the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO). She chaired President Biden’s health transition team and currently works as a managing director of the consulting firm Manatt Health. Earlier in her career, she was a staffer for the House Ways and Means Committee where she helped to draft the ACA while working with nominee for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, who served on the panel during his time in Congress. She will need to be confirmed by the Senate before assuming the top role at CMS.

Senators Ask White House to Prioritize Opioid Epidemic in Budget

A group of 17 senators has sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the Biden Administration to increase federal funding to combat the opioid and substance use disorder epidemic. They request a boost in spending on prevention, treatment, and recovery programs and treatment provider workforce programs in the forthcoming White House budget. The letter, which was led by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), argues that the opioid abuse epidemic continues “to evolve and ravage communities across the country” and has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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