Democrats are seeking to draw a stark contrast with Republicans on health care, following the Trump administration’s call (in a brief to the Supreme Court) that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety “must fall.” Today, the House is expected to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Enhancement Act (H.R. 1425) – a bill to bolster health care coverage, incentivize Medicaid expansion, and lower prescription drug prices through direct government negotiation. H.R. 1425 is not expected to be considered by the Republican-controlled Senate but will, no doubt, be touted by Democrats during the campaign season heading into the November 2020 elections.
This afternoon, the House Rules Committee will meet to determine how to structure floor debate over the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2) – a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package that includes measures to modernize the nation’s health care infrastructure and expand broadband access, among other proposals. The House is eyeing on passage before the 4th of July recess, but its viability in the Senate remains unclear. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has rejected efforts to include infrastructure funding in a coronavirus relief package. The Trump administration, however, is reportedly crafting its own $1 trillion infrastructure proposal that they aim to include in the next relief package.
The Senate will hold a procedural vote this evening to begin debate on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (S. 4049), which authorizes $44 million for vaccine and biotechnology research supported by the Department of Defense for the COVID-19 response. On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee will mark-up its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (H.R. 6395). It includes a provision that would create a $1 billion Pandemic Preparedness and Resilience National Security Fund – $200 million to purchase goods or services from small businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; $50 million to produce medical countermeasures against novel threats; and $750 million to support research and development efforts related to biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness and resilience.
Tomorrow, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will question Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), Dr. Robert Redfield (CDC Director), Dr. Stephen Hahn (FDA Commissioner), and Admiral Brett Giroir (Assistant Secretary for Health) on progress toward reopening the country. The last time this panel appeared before the Senate HELP Committee on May 12, Dr. Fauci warned that states that prematurely open without the capability to respond effectively may see “spikes that might turn into outbreaks.” The recent surge in coronavirus cases in some states have caused governors across the country to pause reopening. Senate HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) will likely again press Admiral Giroir on the administration’s national COVID-19 testing strategy, which Democrats have repeatedly called for – especially after the administration has failed to deliver a plan with clear targets.
In response to the increased need for mental health and substance use services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health will convene a hearing to examine legislation aimed at improving access to these services. This hearing also seeks to address pressure from mental health and behavioral health treatment centers and providers who “have not been included or eligible for sufficient amounts of COVID-19 relief funds” from HHS’ Provider Relief Fund, according to the E&C Committee memo.
Most bills slated for the discussion have bipartisan support, including the Telemental Health Expansion Act of 2019 (H.R. 5201). This bill would permanently include the patient’s home as an eligible originating site for mental health services delivered via telehealth and remove Medicare’s geographic restrictions for these services. The Greater Mental Health Access Act (H.R. 4428), another bipartisan bill, would provide $6 million in grants from the Prevention and Public Health Fund for outpatient mental health services.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hear from Dr. Francis Collins (NIH Director), CDC Director Dr. Redfield, and Dr. Gary Disbrow (Acting Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)) on Operation Warp Speed (OWS) – an initiative to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 countermeasures. The hearing will focus on OWS vaccine development. OWS is aiming to “deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021.” Currently, HHS is narrowing down 14 vaccine candidates to about seven for further testing in early-stage clinical trials.