As the first COVID-19 vaccine begins to roll-out across the nation, negotiations on a coronavirus relief deal packaged with fiscal year (FY) 2021 spending step into overdrive as lawmakers now have until Friday of this week before government funding runs dry. President Trump is calling for another round of stimulus payments, which are not included in the $908 billion bipartisan moderate Senate package that is serving as the base of negotiations. Meanwhile, in a sign that their entire package may not be palatable, this bill is expected to introduced today but in 2 separate bills that carve the more controversial state and local funding and liability provisions into a separate vehicle.
Lawmakers announced on Friday of last week that they had come to an agreement on surprise medical billing. The logjam broke free in these negotiations as House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-MA, agreed to changes that push the policy closer to the hospitals and the insurers arbitration position. The policy is to be included in the FY 2021 spending bill and could be used to offset a longer Medicare extenders fix of up to 3 years. While this brings the health care committee leaders and Speaker Pelosi together on one policy, Senator McConnell has not yet signaled his support for this surprise medical billing policy.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care will convene a hearing to examine Alzheimer’s disease therapies and diagnostics and discuss the fiscal implications of the disease on Medicare spending. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Health Care Subcommittee, have teamed up to develop legislation to address Alzheimer’s disease. In February, the duo sought feedback from stakeholders on policy solutions targeting an array of issues, including care coordination; screening and diagnosis; access to long-term care coverage; oversight of nursing homes, home health agencies, and hospices; and innovative treatments and cures. They followed up with a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar in October, urging the Secretary to implement their recommendations through regulatory action. The hearing will likely inform legislation to be introduced next Congress.
On Thursday (December 17), the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBAC) will discuss emergency use authorization of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older. Upon emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which could occur shortly after the meeting, Moderna vaccine could be distributed within 24 hours and administered within days to health care workers and nursing home residents. Last week, VRBAC approved a recommendation for the FDA to grant EUA to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is authorized for individuals 16 years and older and Operation Warp Speed officials have stated that all 636 vaccination sites are to receive their first vaccine doses by Wednesday, December 16.