Senate Committee on Aging: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Seniors: A Look at Racial Health Disparities
Tuesday, July 21, 2020: The Senate Committee on Aging held a hearing on how the COVID-19 pandemic and racial health disparities are affecting the country’s seniors. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Ranking Member Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) highlighted how challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have erected barriers between communities of color and accessible health care, and how this has exacerbated the deadly impact of the virus for older Americans of color.

House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Pathway to a Vaccine: Efforts to Develop a Safe, Effective and Accessible COVID-19 Vaccine
Tuesday, July 21, 2020: The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to cover ongoing efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Operation Warp Speed finalists testified on whether the rapid pace of vaccine development could lead to approvals of vaccines that are not up to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) historical standards. AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna and Pfizer testified at the hearing. Find more details on the hearing here.

Why this is important: Leaders of the companies working on COVID-19 vaccines predict they should have shots available by early 2021, but said they will rely on the federal government to determine how to distribute them.


House Passes First Set of Appropriations Bills
On July 24, the House approved a $259.5 billion spending package in a 224-189 vote. The four-bill minibus adds to the budgets at the departments of State, Interior, Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and other agencies. The package is the first of two fiscal 2021 funding bundles that House Democrats plan to pass by the end of the month. The House will take up a seven-bill, $1.4 trillion package this week that would fund the Pentagon and the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Energy and more.

Appropriations Committee Urges Domestic Production of Drugs, Domestic Production of Influenza Vaccine
On July 23, the House Appropriations Committee urged the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to boost domestic production of drugs and drug ingredients and to make more influenza vaccine than usual to gear up for a second wave of coronavirus infections colliding with flu season. The committee added that Medicare can hopefully improve vaccination rates among seniors by figuring out how to make vaccines free in Part D, similar to coverage in Part B. The proposals were included in the HHS spending bill passed by the House Appropriations Committee last week, with a 30-22 vote.


Senate GOP to Unveil COVID-19 Aid Bill, After Delay
On July 23, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced a delay in the Senate Republicans’ counteroffer to the Democratic $3.4 trillion coronavirus bill. The bill is expected to be released today. The delay put in jeopardy a bipartisan goal of getting a bill done by July 31 in jeopardy. The Republican $1 trillion bill will include $105 billion in support for school reopening, a liability shield for businesses that reopen, a reduced boost in federal unemployment insurance down to 70 percent of pre-pandemic pay and a possible second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for businesses. A side-package will propose more direct payments to individuals, according to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Republican Senators Call for Grassley Drug Pricing Bill to be put in COVID-19 Relief Plan
On July 22, Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) gave floor speeches in support of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (S. 2543), Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) drug pricing bill. Sen. Grassley wrote a bipartisan bill with Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-OR), which was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Grassley, in seeking support for the bill, made changes to the bipartisan bill with no Democrats supporting. Find the bill here.

Senate Refuses to Vote on Bill That Would Require Trump to Invoke DPA
On July 22, the Senate rejected Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin’s (D-WI) request to pass by unanimous consent a bill that would require President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to provide states with medical equipment, such as tests, respirators, gowns and gloves. During a Senate floor debate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) objected to Murphy and Baldwin’s bill, the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act (S. 3627), arguing that the two senators were trying to bypass the committee of jurisdiction. The House included its version of the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act as part of its COVID-19 relief package, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, which passed the House on May 15.

Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.