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.


Congress Faces March 11 Government Funding Deadline

The Senate and the House of Representatives return to session on Monday ahead of the March 11 deadline to fund the federal government. Lawmakers aim to enact a spending package that includes aid for Ukraine, COVID-19 relief, and the 12 annual appropriations measures by the end of this week, but negotiations on supplemental spending have complicated an agreement on a broader omnibus bill. The administration is asking Congress for $22.5 billion in COVID-19 relief for the purchase of anti-viral treatments and therapies, tests, and improved vaccines, as well as to support global vaccine efforts, in anticipation of possible new COVID-19 variants and waves of infection. Both the White House and Democratic leadership are pushing to attach COVID-19 and Ukraine supplemental spending to the omnibus government funding package. Some Republicans, however, have raised concerns about whether more COVID-19 spending is really necessary and about how support for Ukraine impacts total defense spending levels.

Biden Delivers First SOTU

During his first State of the Union address last week, President Joe Biden pointed to the progress that has been made in combating the coronavirus pandemic and the ability of Americans to return “back to more normal routines.” The President announced a new “Test to Treat” initiative that will make COVID-19 tests and treatments available for free at pharmacies across the nation. The initiative would allow Americans to soon be able to access Pfizer’s antiviral treatment at the pharmacy immediately after testing positive for COVID-19. The administration is aiming for one million antiviral pills to be available in March and to double that figure in April. The President also announced that Americans will be able to order additional free COVID-19 tests online as early as this week and that the Department of Justice plans to name a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud.

During his address, Biden made the case that spending on his economic agenda could help fight inflation. He highlighted the health care goals he aims to achieve amid the pandemic and war in Ukraine and endorsed efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs, health care premiums, and long-term care, including a legislative initiative to limit the price of insulin to $35. The President touted his Cancer Moonshot initiative and the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). He also announced plans for the White House to examine the role of private equity in the ownership and operation of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The President spotlighted the need to end the opioid epidemic, increase access to mental health care, and investigate the health of veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances during their deployment. He also called on lawmakers to pass legislative initiatives to address gun control, support U.S. manufacturing and supply chains, and reduce the federal budget deficit.

Masks No Longer Required on House Floor

Capitol attending physician Brian Monahan announced that masks will no longer be required on the floor of the House of Representatives. His announcement follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) easing most COVID-19 related restrictions in areas of the country that are experiencing low coronavirus transmission rates and a decrease in hospitalizations. Washington, D.C. is currently in the CDC’s low-risk category. A negative test was still required for entry to the joint session of Congress for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday

Debate Continues on Status of Telehealth Flexibilities

Lawmakers continue to negotiate the extension of telehealth flexibilities instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a part of the expected omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government beyond the expiration of the current continuing resolution on March 11. According to a GOP aide, Republicans have proposed using bipartisan payfors to extend telehealth access for multiple years beyond the conclusion of the current public health emergency (PHE) but have received push back from Democrats who are hoping to use those same pay-fors to fund the stalled Build Back Better reconciliation package. Democrats, however, say that Republicans are not on board with a long-term extension of telehealth access and are instead insisting on a short-term extension lasting only 25 days beyond the PHE expiration. The administration has committed to giving a 60-days’ notice before allowing the PHE declaration, which must be renewed every 90 days, to expire. Given this commitment, the PHE declaration is expected to extend through at least July.

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