The Republican National Convention kicks off today, beginning with an in-person roll call to officially nominate President Trump. On Thursday, President Trump will “further illuminate” his second term “core priorities.” This President’s health care to-do list includes reducing prescription drug prices and ending surprise medical billing, two issues that have alluded both the Trump administration and Congress, as well as other aspirations – prioritizing patients; lowering premiums; covering all pre-existing conditions; and protecting Social Security, Medicare, and veterans.
On Saturday, the President tweeted that he signed the favored nations pricing executive order last week ahead of the 30-day deadline (August 24) given to pharmaceutical companies to reach a deal on an alternative. The executive order is expected to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a regulation that sets Medicare Part B drug reimbursements to the lowest among the prices of other medically advanced countries.
Meanwhile, Democrats will resume their probe into the operations of the U.S. Postal Service, following House passage largely along party lines (257-150) of the Delivering for America Act (H.R. 8015) on Saturday. Unconvinced by Postmaster General Louis Dejoy’s assurances that controversial operational changes will be suspended “to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) interrupted the chamber’s summer recess with the weekend vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the Senate would not take up “House Democrats’ piecemeal postal bill,” noting President Trump would not sign the legislation into law. The House is scheduled to reconvene for floor votes on September 14, and the Senate will return on September 8.
The Delivering for America Act would revoke operational changes to the Postal Service – including reduction of office or facility hours, restriction on the use of overtime, and any changes that would have the effect of delaying mail – until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency or January 31, 2021, whichever is later. It also includes provisions aimed specifically at safeguarding mail-in ballots. An additional $25 billion would be made available to the Postal Service.
This morning, Postmaster General Dejoy and Chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Robert M. Duncan will testify before the House Oversight Committee. They will be questioned about the impact of operational changes on delivering prescription medicines and other essential goods, as well as mail-in voting.
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-CO) are also investigating the impacts of the operational changes to the Postal Service on the delivery of prescription medicines. They requested information by September 11, 2020 from CVS Health, Express Scripts, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Optum Rx, Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, Rite Aid, and Walgreens on their mail-order delivery services and any complaints received from patients and customers regarding delayed or lost deliveries. House Democrats also asked whether Postmaster General Dejoy’s operational changes at the Postal Service should be reversed, potential impacts of these changes if implemented, and any actions they plan to take to mitigate any adverse effects. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) are conducting their own investigation into the Postal Service and mail order prescriptions and have reached out to Cigna and Express Scripts, CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, UnitedHealth and Optum, and Humana.
Leader McConnell indicated that House approval of legislation focused only on the Postal Service could create an opportunity for negotiations on a more limited COVID-19 relief package. Senate Republicans are expected to include $10 billion in assistance to the Postal Service in the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, a scaled-back version of their roughly $1 trillion coronavirus relief package. The “skinny” plan is expected to:
- Extend the expired federal unemployment benefit at $300 per week through December 27 (consistent with the President’s memorandum);
- Include liability protections for health care providers, businesses, and schools through at least October 1, 2024;
- Provide $158 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing only eligible small businesses to obtain a second round of loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (limited to entities with 300 or fewer employees that experienced at least a 35 percent reduction in gross revenue during the first half of 2020 relative to 2019); and
- Provide $105 billion for schools and universities, $29 billion for vaccine and drug development and distribution, and $16 billion for testing and contact tracing.
Speaker Pelosi, however, continues to push for more comprehensive aid. In her latest Dear Colleague letter (August 23), she points to experts’ support for Democrats’ funding priorities in the Heroes Act, painting a stark contrast with Republicans. Last week, Speaker Pelosi rejected calls from Democrats to vote over the weekend on narrow economic relief measures, such as an extension of the expired weekly $600 federal unemployment benefit, stating in a Dear Colleague letter (August 20), “we must consider their timing and strategic value. They cannot come at the expense of addressing the priorities of the Heroes Act — particularly support for our heroes in state and local government and education, who are in crisis.”