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.


Preliminary Deal Reached on Omnibus Funding Bill

The House of Representatives passed a three-week stopgap spending bill by a 272 to 162 vote last week ahead of the February 18 deadline to fund the federal government. The Senate will vote on the three-week continuing resolution (CR) this week, which would keep the government open through March 11 as lawmakers work to finalize a fiscal year (FY) 2022 appropriations deal. The latest CR continues funding the government at FY 2021 levels with very few exceptions. It also extends the temporary designation of fentanyl as a Schedule I controlled substance through March 11. A day after the House passed the temporary stopgap measure, Senate Appropriations leadership Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) announced that an agreement had been reached on the framework for a full-year omnibus spending bill to enact appropriations for the remainder of the fiscal year. Federal agencies have been operating on temporary continuing resolutions since the fiscal year began on October 1, 2021. If a final appropriations deal is reached, the House would be expected to vote on the package in early March when the chamber returns from recess. The Senate is scheduled to reconvene today, and the House of Representatives returns to session on February 28.

Vote on Califf Confirmation Expected This Week

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has filed cloture to limit debate on Robert Califf ’s nomination to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A final vote on his confirmation could occur as early as Tuesday of this week. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) had been pushing to confirm Califf ahead of the Presidents’ Day recess. While setting up a vote signals that Democrats have the support to confirm Califf, much of the chamber remains uncommitted on whether they will back the FDA nominee. Votes could also occur this week on the nominations of Shalanda Young and Nani Coloretti to serve as director and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Both were advanced out of committee with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers Express Concerns About Cuts to Specialists

Agroup of 63 lawmakers have sent a letter to congressional leadership asking that relief for office-based specialty providers be included in the forthcoming omnibus appropriations package to protect Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care. The letter, led by Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), expresses concerns that the cuts of up to 20% for some specialty providers contained in the 2022 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) could disproportionately impact patients of color. They warn that these cuts “threaten to undermine efforts to address health inequity, accelerate health system consolidation, and weaken our ability to deal with the pandemic.”

GOP Blocks Consideration of Standalone Drug Pricing Measure

Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to bring prescription drug pricing legislation to the floor last week. The standalone measure would have required manufacturers with products covered by Medicare to price such products at the level offered to the Department of Veterans Affairs. President Joe Biden continues to push Congress to pass his administration’s plan to lower drug prices. The President’s stalled Build Back Better package would have allowed the federal government to negotiate the cost of certain prescription drugs, capped out-of-pocket spending for Medicare beneficiaries, and limited the price of insulin. The White House is currently working to revise the $2 trillion plan to emphasize deficit reduction to secure the support of Democratic holdout Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose concerns about the impact of the legislation on federal debt and rising inflation have thwarted passage of the reconciliation package.

Wyden Releases Mental Health Agenda

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has released his panel’s agenda to improve the nation’s mental health care system. Wyden hopes to draft a bipartisan bill this summer that increases access to care, ensures parity between behavioral and physical care, expands the use of telehealth, and improves behavioral care access for children and young adults. More information about this effort and the co-chairs leading work in each of these focus areas can be found here.

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