Health Care Checkup
June 4, 2021
THE BIG PICTURE
The Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, issued a ruling that the Senate cannot use budget reconciliation twice this year, just to avoid filibuster. Democrats relied on this method to pass President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan in March. MacDonough’s guidance suggests that Democrats will only have one more opportunity this year to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package. The ruling limits the options for the Democratic majority who want maximum flexibility to pass President Biden's ambitious infrastructure proposals through reconciliation procedures. 
 
On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the launch of its first venture capital partnership to develop technologies aimed at combatting future public health emergencies. HHS is launching the partnership with the nonprofit organization Global Health Investment Corporation (GHIC), to “accelerate development and commercialization of technologies” needed to adequately respond to public health threats. HHS plans to provide GHIC with approximately $50 million over the next five years, with the potential for up to $500 million over 10 years.
 
On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced the appointment of two new members to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), as well as the reappointment of four current members. MedPAC advises Congress on payments to providers in Medicare’s fee-for-service programs and to health plans that participate in the Medicare Advantage program. The newly appointed members are Stacie Dusetzina and Lynn Barr. Dusetzina is an Associate Professor of Health Policy and an Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Barr is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Caravan Health.
 
Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act, which is aimed at transforming the nation’s current approach to responding to mental health crises. The Senators’ proposal expands behavioral health crisis services, covers behavioral health crisis services for all patients, and funds the development of crisis services across the country.
 
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) announced legislation to permanently authorize and expand the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program. The program supports the training of primary care medical and dental residents. The Doctors of Community (DOC) Act would increase the programs’ annual funding to over $500 million per year for fiscal years 2024-2033 and would increase the number of residency slots available each year. Currently, the program is funded at $126.5 million per year.
 
Also this week, Moderna announced that it is seeking full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its COVID-19 vaccine. If granted full approval, Moderna would be able to market the shot directly to consumers, which could help spread public awareness about the vaccine. 
What to Expect Next Week: Early next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide on Texas v. Azar, the case that questions the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on policies to promote accountability for the Sackler family’s role in the opioid epidemic. On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on President Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services. 
DEEP DIVE
Senate Parliamentarian Rules that Only One More Automatic Budget Reconciliation is Permitted This Year
 
The Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, issued a ruling that the Senate cannot use budget reconciliation twice this year, just to avoid filibuster. Democrats relied on this method to pass President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan in March. MacDonough’s guidance suggests that Democrats will only have one more opportunity this year to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package. In MacDonough’s opinion, she wrote that lawmakers intended the provision to be used only “in extraordinary circumstances and not for things that should have been or could have been foreseen and handled” in a standard budget resolution. The ruling limits the options for the Democratic majority who want maximum flexibility to pass President Biden's ambitious infrastructure proposals through reconciliation procedures. 
 
HHS Launches Venture Capital Partnership to Develop Technologies Aimed at Combatting Future Pandemics
 
On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the launch of its first venture capital partnership to develop technologies aimed at combatting future public health emergencies. HHS is launching the partnership with the nonprofit organization Global Health Investment Corporation (GHIC), to “accelerate development and commercialization of technologies” needed to adequately respond to public health threats. HHS plans to provide GHIC with approximately $50 million over the next five years, with the potential for up to $500 million over 10 years. GHIC will create a global health security fund with “matching capital from other investors.” The agency says that the partnership will allow for direct linkages with investors and will help to establish and commercialize the technologies needed for the U.S. to respond to future health security threats. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said, “The pandemic has demonstrated that the U.S. needs transformative technology that is not only available but also widely accessible.”
 
GAO Announces Appointments of MedPAC Members
 
On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced the appointment of two new members to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), as well as the reappointment of four current members. MedPAC advises Congress on payments to providers in Medicare’s fee-for-service programs and to health plans that participate in the Medicare Advantage program. The newly appointed members are Stacie Dusetzina and Lynn Barr. Dusetzina is an Associate Professor of Health Policy and an Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Barr is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of Caravan Health. The four reappointed members are Marjorie Ginsburg, Jonathan Jaffery, Jonathan Perlin, and Jaewon Ryu.
 
Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill Aimed at Expanding Mental Health Crisis Funding
 
Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Behavioral Health Crisis Services Expansion Act, which is aimed at transforming the nation’s current approach to responding to mental health crises. The Senators’ proposal expands behavioral health crisis services, covers behavioral health crisis services for all patients, and funds the development of crisis services across the country. The bill would bring together a panel of experts to “improve coordination among 911 dispatchers and 988 crisis hotline call centers, so that those in need are quickly connected to the appropriate service.” Senator Cortez Masto said, “My bipartisan legislation would completely overhaul the way that we respond to behavioral health crises, lifting the burden from law enforcement agencies and providing communities with the resources and guidance they need to develop comprehensive behavioral health crisis services.” More can be found here.
 
Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Permanently Authorize Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program
 
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) announced legislation to permanently authorize and expand the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education (THCGME) program. The program supports the training of primary care medical and dental residents. The Doctors of Community (DOC) Act would increase the programs’ annual funding to over $500 million per year for fiscal years 2024-2033 and would increase the number of residency slots available each year. Currently, the program is funded at $126.5 million per year. The DOC Act would also attempt to bring reliable streams of physicians to disadvantaged and rural communities. Chairman Pallone said, “The DOC Act will help address [the primary care physician] shortage by providing permanent, reliable funding to train the next generation of primary care providers in some of the most medically underserved communities across the country.” Additional information can be found here.
 
Pharmaceutical Companies Sanofi and Novo Nordisk Lose Legal Bid to Postpone HHS Drug Discount Mandate
 
On Tuesday, Sanofi-Aventis US LLC and Novo Nordisk Inc. lost their legal battle to postpone providing HHS with a plan to implement a federal rule requiring pharmaceutical companies give contract pharmacies the same discounts as health providers under the 340B drug pricing program. The 340B program requires pharmaceutical manufacturers participating in Medicaid to sell drugs at discounted prices to health care organizations that primarily care for low-income patients. HHS originally sent letters to the companies in May, requesting that they honor contract pharmacy arrangements and threatened that they would receive monetary penalties if they did not. HHS had set a deadline of June 1st for the companies to respond with plans for how they intend to give discounts for products that they had previously limited. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey rejected the companies’ motions for administrative stays.
 
COVID-19 Vaccine Updates
 
This week, Moderna announced that it is seeking full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its COVID-19 vaccine. If granted full approval, Moderna would be able to market the shot directly to consumers, which could help spread public awareness about the vaccine.
Additionally, two new studies have found that both Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are “completely safe” for pregnant women. The Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Francis Collins wrote a blog post about the findings and said that the vaccines may also offer protection against COVID-19 for infants born to vaccinated mothers. The studies can be found here and here.
SENATE HEARINGS AND EXECUTIVE SESSIONS
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: Nominations of Dawn O’Connell to be Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon to be Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use
Tuesday, June 8 at 10:00 AM ET

Senate Budget Committee - Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: "The President's Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Proposal."
Tuesday, June 8 at 11:00 AM ET

Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing
Subcommittee on The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies: Hearing on the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for the United States Department of Health and Human Services
Wednesday, June 9 at 10:00 AM ET

Senate Finance Committee - Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: "The President’s FY 2022 HHS Budget."
Thursday, June 10 at 10:00 AM ET
HOUSE HEARINGS AND EXECUTIVE SESSIONS
House Committee on Oversight and Reform – Hearing
House Committee on Oversight and Reform Hearing: "The SACKLER Act and Other Policies to Promote Accountability for the Sackler Family's Role in the Opioid Epidemic"
Tuesday, June 8 at 12:00 PM ET
UPCOMING HEALTH EVENTS
Vizient is hosting an upcoming virtual briefing on telehealth. You can register for the event here.
Wednesday, June 9 at 1:00 PM ET
ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCEMENTS
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
 
Food and Drug Administration
 
Guidance Documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health
QUICK LINKS
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