This week in Washington: Budget reconciliation package passes and is signed into law; Becerra’s nomination for HHS secretary advances in the Senate.
House Passes Final Budget Reconciliation Bill
On March 10, the House passed the final version of the Senate budget reconciliation bill. One Democrat voted with the Republicans, who were united against the bill. President Biden signed the bill into law on March 11.
Medicare Sequester Moratorium
The House of Representatives will take up an extension of the Medicare sequester moratorium next week. The House Rules Committee will meet Tuesday to consider the Rule for H.R. 1868, legislation to prevent across-the-board direct spending cuts. Providers had attempted to include the extension in the final version of the American Rescue Plan but were ultimately unsuccessful. The sequester moratorium extension had been included in previous pandemic relief packages that were not subject to reconciliation requirements. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Rescue Plan could result in increased sequester cuts due to its high cost. It is not clear how House Republicans stand on this issue.
Energy and Commerce Holds a Hearing on the Future of Telehealth
In a March 2 hearing of the Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health titled “The Future of Telehealth: How COVID-19 is Changing the Delivery of Virtual Care,” several representatives recommended that the panel not focus on telehealth’s potential shortcomings, as telehealth has been beneficial to supporting health care services during the pandemic. Last month, the Department of Justice named telehealth as one of its False Claims Act enforcement priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic led to an expansion of Medicaid and Medicare telehealth use, and former HHS Secretary Alex Azar and HHS Secretary-nominee Xavier Becerra have stated that this will continue. Some representatives and stakeholders have expressed concern for potential fraud and overuse if telehealth continues to be widely utilized after the pandemic ends. The Energy and Commerce hearing can be found here.
Representatives Request Information on Companies’ Plans for CARES Act Funding
On March 5, the House Committee on Oversight Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, Vice Chair Jimmy Gomez and member Mark DeSaulnier sent letters to Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen and Johnson & Johnson. In the letters, members requested information about the four companies’ plans to use their CARES Act tax provision to increase tax deductions for litigation costs related to opioid crisis settlements. The members expressed that this was not the intended purpose of the CARES Act, and also requested information about punitive actions taken within the companies.
Becerra’s Nomination for HHS Secretary to Advance
On March 11, the full Senate voted 51-48 to advance Xavier Becerra’s nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after the Senate Finance Committee deadlocked 14-14 due to Republican opposition. This is the first time that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) used his powers to force a nomination out of a tied committee.
Read more on healthcare policy in McGuireWoods Consulting’s Washington Healthcare Update.