This week, the House and Senate convene hearings on COVID-19, focused on racial and ethnic disparities, telehealth, public education, and the Paycheck Protection Program. Tomorrow, President Trump is expected to issue an executive order, outlining an array of initiatives focused on police reform. They include creating national standards for use-of-force and tracking police misconduct.
Under pressure to address police brutality, both parties are working expeditiously to advance their police reform proposals but whether they will reach a consensus is unclear. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will mark-up the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (H.R. 7120), backed by over 200 House members, with a vote expected later this month. Senate Republicans are expected to unveil by Wednesday their counter proposal – the JUSTICE Act – spearheaded by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC).
The House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Subcommittee on Health will continue the discussion tomorrow on how COVID-19 has exacerbated racial and ethnic health disparities. Insufficient demographic data on COVID-19 testing, hospitalizations, and deaths for minority groups remains a frustration for Democrats. Whether the updated Report to Congress on COVID-19 testing and demographic characteristic – due today and required by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (Public Law No: 116-139) – will be comprehensive remains to be seen. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) had characterized the initial report as “woefully inadequate.” Democrats may also scrutinize the recent fact sheet, released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the Trump administration’s initiatives to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black communities and other communities of color.
As telehealth has transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic into a vital platform to deliver health care across the country, the national debate has shifted from whether flexibilities should be made permanent to which ones. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma has recognized that “the genie’s out of the bottle on this one…there’s absolutely no going back.” Wednesday’s hearing in the Senate HELP Committee may provide some hints as to the scope of permanent telehealth changes that Congress envisions – such as modifications to originating and geographic site restrictions, payment parity between in-person and at-home care, and allowable telehealth services.
With his legacy top of mind, retiring Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is highly motivated to “ensure that the United States does not lose the gains made in telehealth.” In fact, it is one of his recommendations in his recent white paper – a starting point for a pandemic preparedness package that he wants Congress to act on this year. The Senate HELP Committee has already scheduled another hearing next Tuesday (June 23) to discuss more broadly lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and to inform the forthcoming pandemic preparedness package. Comments in response to the Chairman Alexander’s white paper are due June 26.
Looking ahead, House Democrats are aiming to take up legislation to enhance the Affordable Care Act (ACA) around the week of July 4. Though the bill is still being crafted at the committee level, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) revealed that the legislation would increase advanced premium tax credits and incentivize Medicaid expansion – two proposals included in Senate Democrats’ proposal to improve health coverage in response to COVID-19.