Health Care Checkup
May 14, 2021
THE BIG PICTURE
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 61-37 to confirm Andrea Palm as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Palm, who received bipartisan support, is a veteran of the Obama Administration and recently served as Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services Secretary-designee.
 
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-48 to discharge the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The vote placed Brooks-LaSure one step closer confirmation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the final vote on her confirmation will likely occur next week.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance easing mask restrictions for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine or Moderna’s vaccine (or two weeks after the first and only dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine).

Also on Thursday, CMS sent a letter to State Medicaid Directors, advising them how to utilize provisions laid out in the ARP to boost their federal Medicaid payments for home-based care by 10%. CMS stated that the letter is meant to serve as guidance for states on how to implement Section 9817 of the ARP, which provides states with a temporary federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) increase.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the Biden Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request for HHS. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified at the hearing on issues ranging from drug pricing to vaccine patent waivers. MCRT’s full summary of the hearing can be found here.
 
The CDC issued a statement, recommending that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine be given to adolescents ages 12-15. The CDC’s recommendation came days after the FDA authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in adolescents of that age group. Upon issuing the EUA, the FDA said that the potential benefits of the vaccine in individuals 12 years of age and older outweigh the potential risks.
What to Expect Next Week: It is expected that the Senate will make a final vote on Chiquita Brooks-LaSure’s nomination to be the CMS Administrator. On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on the FY2022 budget for the CDC. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing that evaluates the experiences and lessons learned during the pandemic. On Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing that examines the health care workforce shortage in America. 
DEEP DIVE
CDC Eases Mask Guidance for Fully Vaccinated Individuals
 
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance for individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Someone is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine or Moderna’s vaccine (or two weeks after the first and only dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine). The CDC’s updated guidance allows for fully vaccinated individuals to return to their “normal activities” without wearing a face mask, except where “required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.” More information can be found here.
 
Biden Administration to Invest $7 Billion from American Rescue Plan into Public Health Workforce
 
On Thursday, the Biden Administration announced that it will invest $7.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to “recruit and hire public health workers to respond to the pandemic and prepare for future public health challenges.” $4.4 billion will be devoted to states to help them bolster their public health departments. The funds will be used for hiring new staff and will support the development of the “next generation of public health leaders by creating a Public Health AmeriCorps.” The Administration is also looking to expand the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, which is a program used to help contain public health outbreaks. The CDC will also use an additional $3 billion to create a grant program that will “facilitate federal investment in the people and expertise needed at the state and local levels to expand, train, and modernize the public health workforce for the future.” Additional details can be found here.
 
CMS Advises States How to Increase Federal Medicaid Payments for Home-Based Care
 
On Thursday, CMS sent a letter to State Medicaid Directors, advising them how to utilize provisions laid out in the ARP to boost their federal Medicaid payments for home-based care by 10%. CMS stated that the letter is meant to serve as guidance for states on how to implement Section 9817 of the ARP, which provides states with a temporary federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) increase. Before receiving the extra 10% FMAP payment, states must clearly outline how they will use the funding. The increased FMAP will be available to states until March 2022.
 
Andrea Palm Confirmed as HHS Deputy Secretary; Chiquita Brooks-LaSure One Step Closer to Being Confirmed as CMS Administrator
 
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 61-37 to confirm Andrea Palm as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Palm, who received bipartisan support, is a veteran of the Obama Administration and recently served as Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services Secretary-designee.
 
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-48 to discharge the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to serve as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The vote placed Brooks-LaSure one step closer confirmation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the final vote on her confirmation will likely occur next week. Brooks-LaSure also served in the Obama Administration, where she helped carry out the Affordable Care Act.
 
House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on HHS Budget Request for FY22
 
On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the Biden Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget request for HHS. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified at the hearing on issues ranging from drug pricing to vaccine patent waivers. Several Republicans criticized the Biden Administration’s support for waiving vaccine patents. Becerra responded to the criticism, asserting that “When you have extraordinary circumstances like a deadly pandemic, you need extraordinary measures.” Becerra also defended drug pricing bill H.R. 3, stating “If we want to lower drug prices, we have to have the ability to negotiate.”
 
Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Full Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) praised President Biden’s HHS budget for including $6.5 billion to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). The ARPA-H would focus on creating innovative therapies to treat diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY) noted that, while we must improve public health infrastructure, Congress also has a responsibility to be “good stewards of taxpayer dollars.” MCRT’s full summary of the hearing can be found here.
 
Key Congressional Democrats Write Letter Asking HHS Secretary to Revoke Trump-era Policy on Lab-developed Tests
 
On Tuesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, asking him to revoke the Trump-era policy that “remove[s] the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require premarket review of coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) laboratory developed tests (LDTs).” The policy denies the FDA any authority to review diagnostic testing for COVID-19 before it hits the market. The lawmakers said that the former FDA Commissioner, along with career scientists at the FDA opposed the policy, and told HHS officials that it could lead to “inaccurate tests flooding the market.” The lawmakers urged Becerra to reverse the policy “immediately” to ensure proper oversight of COVID-19 tests.

Ten Congressional Democrats Write Letter to Pelosi Urging Collaborative Approach to Drug Pricing Legislation

Ten Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) that signaled their likely opposition to H.R. 3, the drug bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies. The lawmakers’ letter urged Pelosi to take a bipartisan, bicameral approach to drug-pricing legislation. While the lawmakers advocated for Congress to make patient affordability its number one goal, the letter signals disagreements within the Democratic party over support for the bill. In response to the letter, Speaker Pelosi’s spokesperson said, “Polling shows strong action to lower outrageous prescription drug prices and stop Big Pharma from charging Americans three times or more than what they charge for the same medicines overseas is overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.”

COVID-19 Vaccine Updates
 
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a statement, recommending that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine be given to adolescents ages 12-15. The CDC’s recommendation came days after the FDA authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in adolescents of that age group. Upon issuing the EUA, the FDA said that the potential benefits of the vaccine in individuals 12 years of age and older outweigh the potential risks.
 
On a call Tuesday with state governors, the White House reported that states will not receive Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) vaccine next week due to ongoing production issues. The shortage comes as the FDA has yet to give Emergent BioSolutions the go-ahead to release its J&J vaccine supply, after a mix-up at the manufacturing facility that contaminated millions of doses. If the FDA does clear the release of Emergent’s stockpile, then the distribution of J&J’s vaccine is expected to speed up.
SENATE HEARINGS AND EXECUTIVE SESSIONS
Senate Appropriations Committee - Hearing
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies: “Review of the FY2022 Budget Blueprint for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
Wednesday, May 19 at 10:00 AM ET
 
Senate Finance Committee - Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: "COVID-19 Health Care Flexibilities: Perspectives, Experiences, and Lessons Learned."
Wednesday, May 19 at 10:00 AM ET

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing: "COVID-19 Part II: Evaluating the Medical Supply Chain and Pandemic Response Gaps."
Wednesday, May 19 at 2:30 PM ET
 
Senate (Special Committee on) Aging - Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: “Taking Aim at Alzheimer’s: Frontline Perspectives and Caregiver Challenges.”
Thursday, May 20 at 9:30 AM ET
                 
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee - Hearing
Full Committee Hearing: "A Dire Shortage and Getting Worse: Solving the Crisis in the Health Care Workforce."
Thursday, May 20 at 10:00 AM ET
HOUSE HEARINGS AND EXECUTIVE SESSIONS
House Committee on Appropriations - Hearing
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Hearing: “The Need for Universal Broadband: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Tuesday, May 18 at 10:30 AM ET

House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis - Hearing
Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis Hearing: Hybrid Hearing on "Examining Emergent BioSolutions' Failure to Protect Public Health and Public Funds."
Wednesday, May 19 at 10:30 AM 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
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