Federal Health Policy Updates for the Week of June 8, 2020


The Headlines



  1. Congress and the Administration continue to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  2. Help us tell the story of COVID-19's impact on your research!
Running, breakneck speed
Through summer session; Tradition
Hurry up and wait

(Summer session preview haiku)

The Details
1. Federal health updates from Capitol Hill and the agencies
While resuming a more regular schedule, new precautions are being put into place to protect Members and staff. The Office of the Attending Physician, which serves Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, has warned that pre-COVID-19 normal operations will not be back in place for quite some time.

For more information on key issues we're tracking, visit our updated Federal Issues page (now with more navigation)!
The Senate Appropriations Committee announced this week plans to begin marking up its versions of the twelve FY 2021 appropriations bills the week of June 22. The scheduling announcement follows one made last week by House Appropriations Chair Nita Lowey (D-NY), who said that the House panel would begin its work the week of July 6 and wrap up by the end of the month. While both House and Senate appropriations subcommittees have their top line spending numbers, those figures have not yet been released to the public. There is in place a statutory spending cap for both non-defense and defense spending for FY 2021, but a bipartisan effort has emerged to ensure that funding for key priorities related to the COVID-19 national health emergency have flexibilities for additional resources.
The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up and passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, which among other provisions, includes authorization to fund the Department of Defense (DoD) Medical Research Program. The House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin individual subcommittee markups on June 22 with plans for full committee consideration on July 1.
Duke Health Government Relations continues to advocate for robust and increased funding for health care priorities and medical research funding, as well as appropriate flexibilities to strengthen the COVID-19 public health response, as part of the FY 2021 appropriations process.
COVID-19 Stimulus and Recovery Legislation
The timing of appropriations work and House and Senate schedules are likely pushing any consideration of a negotiated “Phase IV” COVID-19 stimulus and recovery package to late July. While informal discussions are expected to pick up this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that the top priorities for the Senate in June will be FY 2021 funding, judicial nominations, and work on policing reforms. The Senate is expected to recess for two weeks in early July, meaning the earliest point the Senate may begin work on a “Phase IV” package would be the week of July 20 with plans to pass a final bill by the scheduled August 7 start of the summer recess period. House Democrats have already put down their marker for a “Phase IV” bill with the passage of the HEROES Act (HR 6800) in mid-May.
Duke Health Government Relations continues to advocate for at least $26 billion to be included in a “Phase IV” package to protect the research enterprise, including $10 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $3 billion for the DoD Medical Research Program, as well as additional relief for providers.
COVID-19 Congressional Hearings
Across Congress, committees continue to focus on the impact and response to COVID-19. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a hearing this week entitled “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.” In his opening statement, full Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) remarked “this hearing is happening at a truly crucial moment in our nation’s history.  We’re fighting a global pandemic, while tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs and peaceful protestors are demanding racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.  We have a lot of work to do.” The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health is planning a hearing on June 17 entitled, "Health Care Inequality: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in COVID-19 and the Health Care System." Rep. GK Butterfield (R-NC-01) serves as Vice Chair of the Health Subcommittee.
Federal Agency Response to COVID-19: Funding and Support
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this week that it will release additional funds from the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund created by the CARES Act for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers, other Medicaid “safety net” providers, and another round of funding for COVID-19 “hot spots.” HHS will distribute approximately $15 billion to Medicaid and CHIP providers (funding not available to those who received funds in the initial General Distribution), $10 billion to Medicaid “safety net” providers ($5 million minimum and $50 million maximum payment per provider), and $10 billion to providers in designated “hot spots.”
In a press release, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Pallone, House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Senate Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR) commended HHS for this action, but reiterated that more needs to be done to address the ongoing needs of large numbers of Medicaid-dependent providers that will not benefit from this announcement.
While offering praise to HHS for prioritizing the latest tranche of relief funding to hospitals providing care for the most vulnerable, the American Hospital Association (AHA) has called for the prompt release of the approximately $52 billion in remaining funds to hospitals across the country. AHA cites the unprecedented resource challenges facing health care providers that are continuing to respond to the COVID-19 national health emergency while facing delays in resuming normal operations as among the most critical reasons that additional disbursements cannot wait.

2. Are you interested in sharing an example of the impact of COVID-19 on research?
Duke Health Government Relations is supporting efforts from the Association of American Medical Colleges to collect and share examples about COVID-19’s impact on young/early stage investigators, the research process, and the potential impact on patients over the long term. Duke Health Government Relations would also like to share these stories with policymakers to provide real-world examples to illustrate why additional relief is needed during this unprecedented pandemic.
If you would like to share a story, please contact julie.rose@duke.edu. Also, visit our website to read how the pandemic is impacting a Duke PhD candidate’s research on Zika virus infection.