McDermott+Consulting is pleased to provide the McDermottPlus Check-Up, your regular healthcare policy update from Washington, DC.
This week’s dose
The House unveiled and advanced a three-week Continuing Resolution (CR) with an expiry date of March 11, as top officials from both houses continued to negotiate the final details of an omnibus funding bill for the remainder of fiscal year 2022. The House and Senate held hearings on topics including ARPA-H, youth mental health, labor shortages, and dual eligible recipients.
House Advances CR in the short term, the Senate should follow suit. On Feb. 7, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced a short-term continuing resolution (CR) that would provide temporary funding for federal operations to give key officials more time to complete negotiations on the details of an omnibus for fiscal year 2022. supply bill.
The current CR is due to expire on February 18. The new RC will provide government funding until March 11, giving users an additional three weeks to work out the details of an omnibus package and potentially include other priorities like disaster or COVID relief. As a sign of progress, a broad agreement was announced on February 9 on a framework for defense and non-defence spending levels.
The House passed the three-week CR on Feb. 8 by a vote of 272 to 162, with 51 Republicans joining Democrats in approving the bill and only one Democrat voting against. The House vote tally indicates the bill will likely receive bipartisan support in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the bill would be put to a vote “quickly” and before the February 18 deadline. .
Exact timing for a Senate vote remains uncertain as leaders may first need to address an issue related to recent reports of ‘harm reduction program grants’ approved by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aimed at reducing the spread of disease among drug addicts by distributing “smoking kits”. Those reports — which the administration has called inaccurate — led Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to suspend the CR until the issue was resolved.
We are almost halfway through the 2022 federal fiscal year, which began October 1, 2021, so an omnibus vote will provide full government funding for only part of the year. Nevertheless, it is important to adopt an appropriate appropriation measure, rather than short-term RCs, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that government programs have continued to be funded at fiscal year 2021 levels and in accordance with the priorities established by the previous administration.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on ARPA-H. On February 8, the House Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee held a hearing titled “ARPA-H: the next frontier of biomedical research”. The first panel was meant to include Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Eric Lander, presenting the administration’s perspective, however, as he resigned amid a late-night controversy. previous, the hearing took place without witnesses from the administration.
The Advanced Research Projects for Health Agency (ARPA-H) is a signature priority for President Biden and was included in his fiscal year 2022 budget proposal. The intended goal is to invest in breakthrough technologies and broadly applicable platforms, capabilities, resources and solutions that have the potential to transform medicine and healthcare, and that cannot be achieved through traditional research/activity. The president and others liken ARPA-H to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA), which supports research and development of emerging technologies for military use for the US Department of Defense.
Current Cures 2.0 legislation introduced by Energy and Commerce Committee members Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) includes provisions that would establish ARPA-H with the National Institutes of Health. Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA) has also introduced legislation to establish ARPA-H, but her bill would establish the program as an independent agency within HHS. In her opening statement at the February 8 hearing, Congresswoman Eshoo called ARPA-H her “top legislative priority” of this Congress.
President Biden also recently relaunched his Cancer Moonshot Initiative, which includes related priorities specific to significantly reducing cancer death rates over the next 25 years and improving the experience of people living with and surviving cancer. Cancer. Efforts to advance these two priorities – ARPA-H and Cancer Moonshot – may be linked, although a specific path forward and funding levels are not yet clear.
The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on youth mental health. Also on February 8, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing titled “Protecting Youth Mental Health: Part I – A Notice and Call to Action”. The hearing included testimony from United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who discussed his recent Advisory on youth mental health and provided the Committee with recommendations to address the growing mental health epidemic.
The hearing was the first in a two-part series on youth mental health, the next of which will take place on February 15. It is also part of a broader committee effort on mental health reform, which began in the fall of 2021 with a request for stakeholder input and will include hearings on additional topics in the coming weeks. followed by the drafting and introduction of bipartisan mental health reform legislation later this year.
The Finance Committee’s mental health effort is divided into five key areas, each with a Democratic and Republican co-leader:
Reinforcement of staff: Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Steve Daines (R-MT)
Increase integration, coordination and access to care: Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and John Cornyn (R-TX)
Ensuring parity between behavioral and physical health care: Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Richard Burr (R-NC)
Promote the use of telehealth: Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John Thune (R-SD)
Improving access to behavioral health care for children and youth: Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
The Finance Committee hearing also follows hearings focused on mental health held in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and the Committee on Ways and Means of the House the week of January 31. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also announced a hearing on “America’s Ongoing Mental Health Crisis” to be held on February 17. This bicameral and broadly focused interest suggests that Congress is likely to push forward comprehensive legislation. on mental health in 2022.
What’s next for the national public health emergency? The most recent 90-day renewal of the national public health emergency (PHE) runs until April 16, and the administration has indicated that it will give 60 days notice before allowing the PHE to expire. . Declining case counts, the decline of the omicron winter surge, and the rollback of COVID-related restrictions and mandates in a growing number of Democratic-led states all call into question the duration of the PHE extension. Although many are planning at least an additional 90-day extension, calls to end PHE are mounting, especially among House Republicans, who on Feb. 10 sent a letter to the president and secretary of HHS asking for a plan. concrete plan and a timetable for ending the PHE. .
The expiration of the PHE has many health policy implications, as many pandemic-related flexibilities, such as those related to the provision of telehealth services, for example, are tied to the PHE. Using telehealth as a continuing example, there are numerous bills in the House and Senate, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, to expand PHE telehealth flexibilities, but there are also limited legislative vehicles. on which to attach such extensions during this midterm election year.
Our team is monitoring this situation closely and will continue to provide updates as developments occur.
The Senate HELP Committee held a audience on the employment of people with disabilities, with a focus on efforts to overcome barriers to the employment of workers with disabilities and on ways to build on recent advances, including the widespread use of inclusive practices to make the work more accessible.
The Senate HELP Committee held a audience on health workforce shortages, focusing on the need to increase workforce recruitment, revitalization and diversification – an issue that predates the current PHE but has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
The Special Senate Committee on Aging held a audience on improving care experiences for beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid coverage. During the hearing, Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that he and Ranking Member Tim Scott (R-SC) were introducing the Expanded PACE Act, a bill aimed at reducing administrative barriers that prevent the development and expansion of all-inclusive programs. Care for the Elderly (PACE).
Senators Cortez Masto and Todd Young (R-IN) presented the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, which would extend the current two-year telehealth flexibilities beyond the end of the PHE. As both senators are members of the Finance Committee, this legislation could become the basis for a consensus telehealth package in the Senate.
HHS announcement $66.5 million in U.S. bailout funding to expand community outreach efforts to increase confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and improve immunization rates.
Diagnosis next week
The House is holding committee business days Tuesday through Thursday, but is not expected to return to DC for votes until Monday, February 28. The Senate is scheduled to sit next week and will then adjourn the week of February 22. and Senate Appropriations officials will continue to seek bipartisan agreement on an omnibus bill for fiscal year 2022 — with the possibility of including other policies like disaster or COVID relief — with the March 11 as the new deadline.