Weekly Policy Updates
Friday, September 25, 2020
TOP LINKS FOR THE WEEK:
FEHB & OPM
The Incumbent: Bending the Bureaucracy: Trump’s broad agenda to reform the federal government will likely be pursued aggressively if he wins in November. This includes efforts to weaken federal unions and movement of key OPM policy offices to the White House.
Representative Dusty Johnson’s Tribal School Bill Passes the House: The House passed a bill that would, among other things, extend FEHB eligibility to tribal schools. The ACA extended FEHB eligibility to certain tribal employers, but many tribal schools do not meet the eligibility criteria.
Congress Gears Up for a Supreme Court Battle: The Senate is preparing for a contentious process to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with aides speculating that hearings could commence as early as October 12 for a potential floor vote on October 29. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Trump aimed to use the vacancy to repeal Obamacare, as the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act days after the election. Schumer similarly cautioned that the vacancy could have devastating effects on healthcare in his remarks to the Senate Democratic Caucus. McConnell has promised the Senate would hold a vote on Trump’s nominee despite threats from Democrats to impose measures like ending the filibuster or adding justices to the Supreme Court in the case of a Biden win in November. KFF also addressed this topic this week in a detailed analysis of the potential impact of the case.
House Passes Stop Gap Funding Bill to Avert Government Shutdown: On Tuesday, the House passed a bipartisan government funding bill set to keep the government open until December 11th. Negotiations had initially stalled because of Democratic objection to provisions sought by the Trump administration surrounding farm assistance payments through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The final bill allows the aide to continue through the CCC, but also includes measures by Democrats to prohibit payments to fossil fuel refiners. The bill now heads to the Senate, which is scheduled to take up the bill early next week, preventing a government shutdown both parties wanted to avoid leading up to the election. However, it sets up the clash over continued funding for the lame-duck session after the November elections.
Pelosi Preps New Coronavirus Relief Plan Amid Stalled Talks: On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi directed Democratic leadership to begin preparing a scaled back COVID relief package for potential negotiations with the White House. Although Pelosi had declined for weeks to consider passing a new package, she faced increased criticism from Republicans and Moderate Democrats to act prior to the election. While committee leadership had started drafting a potential relief bill in August, Pelosi instructed them to update it this week to a $2.4 trillion in aid. While agreement from Republicans on the price tag seems unlikely, the House could vote on the new bill by next week even without GOP support.
Senate Dems Introduce Bill to Probe Politicization of COVID-19 Response: On Tuesday, Senate Democrats introduced the Science and Transparency Over Politics (STOP) Act that would create an investigative task force to look into claims the Trump Administration had politicized health agencies’ COVID responses. The legislation comes after reports that the White House and Trump appointees had pressured agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to tailor their reports and messaging to be in line with the White House’s depiction of the pandemic response.
As COVID-19 Recession Extended Into Summer 2020, More Than 3 Million Lost Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Coverage and 2 Million Became Uninsured: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation analyzes data from the Household Pulse Survey and finds that 3.3 million no-elderly adults in America lost employer-sponsored health insurance over the summer of 2020, leaving 1.9 million uninsured. Nearly half of those who lost their insurance were Hispanic adults.
Primary Care Docs Call for Federal Aid as 1/3 Still Face Significantly Low Revenue: Results from a recent survey of primary care doctors finds that 35% say revenue and income are still significantly lower than they were before COVID-19. Another third indicate that they are slowly recovering, but that the situation is still troublesome. One fifth of practices sited early retirements or people leaving their jobs because of COVID-19.
Private Health Plan rates paid to Hospitals Almost 2.5 times Medicare Rates: The Rand Corporation released a report this week that shows private plans pay considerably more to hospitals than Medicare for the same procedures in the same hospitals and there is wide variation in reimbursement rates among plans and geographically. The study shows that the rate differences between Medicare and commercial plans have grown from 224 percent (commercial to Medicare) in 2016 to 247 percent in 2018.
FDA Regulations to Allow Drug Importation Moving Ahead: FDA regulations allowing the importation of drugs from other countries are under review by OMB and may become final prior to the November 3 election. The Trump Administration has been pushing approval of this proposal to lower drug prices and appears ready to do so on a timetable far faster than normal.
Racial Disparities in COVID-19 Hospitalizations and Deaths in Epic Electronic Health Records: A new chart from KFF highlights significantly higher rates od hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 for Black, Hispanic, and Asian patients when compared to their white counterparts.
J&J Starts COVID-19 Vaccine Phase 3, Eyes Early 2021 Approval: A 60,000-subject Phase 3 trial for a COVID-19 vaccine has begun. J&J hopes for approval of its vaccine in early 2021. Three other pharmaceutical companies already have vaccines in phase 3 trials.
FDA Poised to Announce Tougher Standards for a COVID-19 Vaccine That Will Make it Unlikely One Will be Cleared by Election Day: In the wake of public opinion polls that reveal many Americans are skeptical that a COVID-19 vaccine with be safe and effective, the FDA is rolling out new guidance in an effort to boost public trust in the vaccine approval process.
Advice on Airborne Virus Transmission Vanishes from C.D.C. Website: Guidance published late last week on the C.D.C. website that acknowledged that COVID may be transmitted by fine particles floating in air was taken down abruptly, prompting much concern among scientist about political influence in the country’s premier health agency.