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McDermottPlus Check-Up: September 11, 2020

This Week’s Dose

Congress returned from August recess and has just a few weeks to complete its fall agenda before lawmakers hit the campaign trail.

Congress

Congress Is Back with a Focus on Government Funding. The Senate returned to Washington this week while the House of Representatives completed one more week of remote committee activity before its scheduled return on September 14. Both chambers now face the looming September 30, 2020, federal fiscal year end government funding deadline with the ongoing pandemic and upcoming election adding pressure to the negotiations. Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that they will agree to a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at current levels, but it is unclear for how long and whether other policies could be included in this bill. Expect negotiations on the specifics to begin in earnest next week.

COVID-19 Relief Talks Remain at a Standstill. Despite reaching a preliminary agreement on government funding, congressional Democrats and the White House remain at a stalemate over additional COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus. Senate Republicans introduced a narrowly tailored relief bill this week that prohibits COVID-19-related liability action against healthcare providers and workers during the public health emergency, gives states the option to extend enhanced unemployment benefits at $300 per week through December 27, 2020, and provides funding for vaccine development, increased testing and future pandemic preparation. This offering is a second attempt by the Senate Republican leadership to build consensus within the party on a way forward. The first effort came in July when Senate Republican leadership unveiled the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. This bill lacks many of the provider relief provisions included in HEALS. Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the new measure on Thursday and continue to call for a broader relief and spending package more closely aligned with the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the House passed in May. If a COVID-19 compromise is going to be reached in line with the funding deal, negotiators have less than three weeks to achieve that agreement. If an agreement is not reached in tandem with the funding package, it becomes less likely that a COVID-19 package is approved before the election.

Administration

HHS Issued Request for Information (RFI) for COVID-19 Testing Labs. The RFI asks labs whether access to new machines and instruments would allow them to increase their testing capacity, and how fast. In August, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would acquire testing machines for two commercial labs to increase their capacity, and this RFI may inform a similar deal to provide new equipment to various commercial, academic, medical center and public health labs. Labs have until September 20, 2020, to respond to the RFI. 

Quick Hits

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup of 38 bills on a range of issues, including bills aimed at expanding Medicare coverage of mental health services and improving Medicare enrollment. All 38 were passed out of committee with bipartisan support.

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Administration’s vaccine development efforts.

  • Democratic leadership of the House Oversight and Reform Committee sent a letter requesting information from HHS on the Administration’s plan to deploy a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Democratic leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to HHS expressing concern over recent drug manufacturer actions to add new requirements for covered entities in the 340B program.

  • A bipartisan group of House lawmakers led by Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) sent a letter asking the Food and Drug Administration to consider expediting approval for rapid, in-home COVID-19 tests.

  • A bipartisan group of senators sent al etter to HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calling on the agencies to increase coordination between public health databases to create a “coordinated, interoperable real-time, nationwide public health surveillance system.”

  • Senate Democrats issued a report detailing how operational changes at the US Postal Service have led to delayed deliveries of prescription drugs.

  • HHS issued guidance authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become available.

  • The health plans and patient groups challenging the Trump Administration’s expansion of short-term limited-duration insurance plans are asking a full federal appeals court to review a July decision by a three-judge panel that upheld the rule.  

Next Week’s Diagnosis

The House returns to Washington, DC, following a week of remote committee activity. Lawmakers may produce a CR to fund the government as early as next week. 

© 2020 McDermott Will & EmeryNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 255
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Mara McDermott, McDermott Law Firm, Washington DC, HealthCare Law Executive

Mara is an accomplished health care executive with a deep understanding of federal health care law and policy, including delivery system reform, physician payment and Medicare payment models.

Most recently Mara served as the senior vice president of federal affairs at America’s Physician Groups (formerly the California Association of Physician Groups, CAPG), a professional association representing medical groups and independent practice associations practicing in capitated, coordinated care models. As head of the Washington, DC, office, Mara...

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Rachel Stauffer, McDermott Law Firm, Washington DC, Health Policy Consultant

Rachel is a highly experienced government relations and legislative affairs strategist and advocate who is informed by a solid foundation of health policy knowledge.

Prior to joining McDermottPlus, Rachel served as the director of policy and government relations for a health IT contractor, where she developed the company’s first strategic plan for government relations. She grew the company’s profile on Capitol Hill by establishing new relationships with key leaders in the federal, state and military health program space. As a result, the company...

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Katie Waldo Healthcare Attorney

Katie is an experienced government relations strategist who helps clients navigate the complex issues surrounding Medicare, Medicaid and the healthcare marketplace.

Katie works with clients to represent their needs before the US Congress and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its agencies by relying on extensive experience as a policy advisor on the Medicaid and Medicare programs, as well as the 340B program and other aspects of the Public Health Service Act. She anticipates the effects of state and federal policymaking on issues impacting their businesses and...

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Government Relations Professional and Registered Lobbyist

Emma is a government relations professional and registered lobbyist who supports clients on a range of health policy issues.

As a policy consultant, Emma lobbies and consults with legislators and congressional staff on issues relating to Medicare, Medicaid payment and regulation, and the 340B Drug Pricing Program. She provides analysis of the federal political and regulatory environment, and routinely monitors pertinent Hill activities including congressional hearings, bill markups and think tank events.

Emma graduated...

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