McDermott Health Policy Update


This week’s dose

Congress is nowhere near passing additional funding for COVID-19, and without it, some programs run out of funds. While the House was in recess, the Senate focused on confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.


Concerns about the launch of the suicide hotline. On March 23, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing entitled “Strengthening Federal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Programs: Opportunities, Challenges, Emerging Issues,” where senators discussed the impacts of the pandemic on mental health and federal programs and partnerships to provide solutions. The witness list included testimony from officials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Health Resources & Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

During the hearing, senators expressed concern about the operational readiness of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s transition to its new number 988 in July. Witnesses also shared lawmakers’ concerns that an additional infusion of federal funds is needed to ensure infrastructure readiness and bolster the behavioral health staff who will provide the hotline. The federal government has invested $282 million in mental health crisis infrastructure and only two states have not requested funding.


The president’s budget is coming soon. President Biden is expected to release his highly anticipated 2023 budget request on Monday, March 28. The budget will highlight the administration’s funding and policy priorities and provide economic projections that take into account rising inflation. The president’s budget signals certain policy initiatives that the administration has the authority to implement, but most recommendations require either legislative authorization or congressional funding.

The status of additional COVID funding. The Biden administration is ending the reimbursement program that pays for COVID-19 treatment, testing and vaccines for uninsured people due to a lack of funding. The federal government has spent more than $20 billion over the past two years to help uninsured people receive these benefits.

The administration pushed for an additional $22.5 billion in COVID relief to be included earlier this month in the omnibus spending bill. Congress reduced that amount to $15.6 billion, but then removed those funds from the final bill due to disagreements over funding mechanisms for COVID relief. Democrats continue to work on a standalone COVID funding bill, but those negotiations continue as they work to reach an agreement on the level of funding and necessary payments – both of which are needed to get 60 vote in the Senate.

Amid these negotiations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of a doubling in prevalence of Omicron’s new BA.2 subvariant in the past two weeks, and the Administration is evaluating whether a fourth dose potential of the coronavirus vaccine is needed for older, immunocompromised adults. White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said the administration does not have the funds to purchase a fourth dose without additional funding from Congress.


Air Ambulance Surprise Billing Case Updates. There are a number of lawsuits pending challenging federal surprise billing regulations. Most focus on whether the Biden administration adhered to the text of the law without surprises when implementing the Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR) process and directing arbitrators on how to take into account consider statutory factors when making decisions. Plaintiffs in the cases argued, among other things, that the regulations are contrary to law because the regulations and accompanying guidelines require IDR arbitrators to give particular weight to the amount of eligible payout when resolving payment disputes. payment between suppliers and payers.

On February 23, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas ruled in favor of the Texas Medical Association in its lawsuit challenging parts of the regulations. On March 22, Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in surprise billing cases brought by the Association of Air Medical Services and the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association. As next steps, parties to the case have been invited to submit additional briefs.

Judge Leon asked the government if it would appeal the Texas Medical Association case. The government said it has not yet decided whether to appeal.

Quick shots

  • The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced on March 22 a limited reopening of the comment period for the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard for the Healthcare Industry, originally issued on June 21, 2022. Additionally, OSHA intends to hold a public hearing on COVID-19 Prevention Policy for Healthcare Providers on April 27, before finalizing the rule.

  • On March 21, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid released templates and resources for two state reporting requirements that will help CMS and states monitor enrollment and renewal efforts as states return to routine Medicaid after the end of the public health emergency.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services, through HRSA, announced on March 22 that it would distribute $413 million in Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 payments to more than 3,600 providers. affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. HRSA is working to complete PRF distributions as there is no additional funding in sight from Congress.

  • On March 23, the Special Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing entitled “An Economy that Cares: The Importance of Home Services”, during which the Committee discussed the need to approve funding for services home and community and home care workforce.

  • On March 22, the House Ways and Means Committee held a Republican meeting on “Remedies and Coverage: A Chilling Precedent for Patients” to discuss how new restrictions on FDA-approved drugs prohibit access and treatment for Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced that the health subcommittee will hold a March 30 hearing on the reauthorization of the Medical Device User Fees Act.

  • The House Ways & Means Committee has issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking feedback from twelve health systems regarding their work and operational policies to address climate change, and how the federal government can support these initiatives. It seems that the RFI can be sent to other entities over time.

Health Policy Break Room Podcast

Twelve years ago this week, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became the law of the land and millions of Americans gained affordable coverage as a result. Since 2010, the ACA has endured several legislative challenges and legal challenges. Debbie Curtis and Rodney Whitlock have both been active on both sides of the aisle during the development of the ACA legislation and share their experiences on the development of this law, as well as perspectives on what is needed to sustain and strengthen ACA for future generations.

Diagnosis next week

The House and Senate will be in session next week, with just two weeks until the chambers go into recess for spring recess. Stakeholders will review the president’s budget to understand key policy priorities.


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