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.


Lawmakers to Discuss Gain-of-Function Research Funding Report at Hearing This Week

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report last week summarizing the findings of its audit of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) grant awards to EcoHealth Alliance, NIH’s monitoring of EcoHealth, and EcoHealth’s use of grant funds, including its monitoring of subawards to a foreign entity. The audit examined three NIH awards to EcoHealth totaling approximately $8 million, which included $1.8 million of EcoHealth’s subawards to eight subrecipients, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). OIG concludes that despite identifying potential risks associated with research being performed under the EcoHealth awards, NIH did not effectively monitor or take timely action to address EcoHealth’s compliance with some requirements. Other deficiencies in the oversight of the awards identified by OIG include NIH’s improper termination of a grant; EcoHealth’s inability to obtain scientific documentation from WIV; and EcoHealth’s improper use of grant funds, resulting in $89,171 in unallowable costs. The report will be discussed during a congressional hearing scheduled for February 1 before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Membership of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) named the members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic last week. The panel, which was established by the new rules package adopted by the House of Representatives earlier this month, will be comprised of Chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) alongside Reps. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-Texas), John Joyce (R-Pa.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) and Rich McCormick (R-Ga.). The subcommittee, which is housed within the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, has been charged with investigating the origins of COVID-19, the use of taxpayer funding and relief programs to address the pandemic, the efficacy of the federal government’s pandemic preparedness and response to the spread of COVID-19, and the nation’s implementation of vaccine policies.

Health Panel Leadership Preview Agendas for 118th Congress

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) announced last week that Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) will serve as the new chair of panel’s Health Subcommittee. Guthrie has previewed his agenda for the 118th Congress, stating that he plans to focus on health care price transparency, issues related to fentanyl, drug scheduling, and mental health, and expanding access to telehealth in a sustainable way.

Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) will serve as chair of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, as well as the vice chair of the full panel. Buchanan was a co-chair of the Republicans’ Healthy Future Task Force last congress, which focused on the opioid crisis, modernizing health care delivery, and reducing health care costs. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) will continue to serve as the subcommittee’s ranking member. Doggett has said that his top priority will be protecting Medicare from any Republican attempts to scale back the program, while ensuring equitable access to telehealth and preventing telehealth fraud and abuse represents a potential area of bipartisan compromise.

On the Senate side, Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has discussed his plans to expand upon his previous work on the CHRONIC Care Act. The law, spearheaded by Wyden and the late Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), expanded access to telehealth in the Medicare Advantage program as well as at-home dialysis care. In addition to further allowing Medicare to pay for nonmedical services for people with chronic conditions, Wyden also plans to focus on the role of pharmacy benefit managers and mental health issues – including payment parity, workforce challenges, and ghost networks – in the 118th Congress. Wyden has also pledged to investigate broader health care workforce issues such as nursing shortages.

Hart Health Strategies Inc. continues to track the latest committee leadership and roster announcements in our Guide to the 118th Congress, which is updated on an ongoing basis. This living document provides a list of health professionals serving in Congress, House and Senate leadership, congressional health committee members, and biographies on new members of Congress.

Schiff Announces Run for CA Senate Seat

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) announced that he will run for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) seat in the Senate in 2024. Schiff served as the lead prosecutor during the first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump in 2020. Feinstein has yet to announce whether she will run for re-election, but the five-term senator, 89, is widely expected to retire.

GAO Releases New Report on Pandemic Relief Funds

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last week reviewing how the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allocated certain pandemic relief funds to support communities disproportionately affected by COVID-19. The report provides details about the $75 billion provided by HHS to four agencies – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Indian Health Service, and the Office of Minority Health – which directed about $29 billion (over 35%) to support these communities. The agencies distributed another $33 billion – often to state health departments – with a recommendation to support these communities. GAO found that state officials often faced delays in acceptance of federal funds as well as capacity challenges that constrained their efforts to allocate and use the funds.

FDA Panel Recommends Harmonizing COVID-19 Vaccines

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) unanimously voted to recommend matching the composition of primary COVID-19 vaccine doses and booster doses during its meeting last week. This would result in the phasing out of the original COVID-19 vaccine and making all COVID-19 vaccines consist of the updated bivalent dose. If the VRBPAC’s recommendation is endorsed by the FDA and the CDC, a single vaccine composed of the updated bivalent shot will be used for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people going forward.

Advocates Celebrate Elimination of X-Waiver at White House Event

The Biden administration recognized the end of the x-waiver requirement in an event featuring federal officials, substance use disorder treatment advocates, and legislative champions at the White House last week. The Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act, which was included in the year-end omnibus legislation signed into law late last year, eliminates the special training and required waiver process for prescribers of the opioid use disorder treatment buprenorphine. Supporters of the change say that elimination of the burdensome x-waiver requirement will increase access to addiction treatment, reduce the number of fatal opioid overdoses, and lessen the stigma around the use and prescription of buprenorphine.

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