This week in Washington: Becerra confirmed 50-49 to be Secretary of Health and Human Services

House passes Medicare Sequester Moratorium

On March 19, the House of Representatives passed legislation to extend the Medicare sequester moratorium through the end of the year. The vote was 246-175. However, the bill is not certain to pass the Senate. This legislation was necessary to keep the cost of the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief package from triggering further cuts in spending. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was not available to vote for the bill, but released a statement in favor of the moratorium. A group of 29 Republicans voted in favor of the legislation, while seven did not vote, and the rest opposed the bill. Republican critics of the bill said Democrats should have thought about the pandemic relief package’s effect on Medicare before passing that legislation.

Democrats Prepare for Health Care and Drug Pricing Bills for Potential Second Reconciliation Package

On March 16, House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) expressed support for legislation that would allow drug pricing negotiations, impose inflation caps and address launch prices. The legislation could be included in a second reconciliation package, and Pallone expressed hope that the bills could be passed with GOP support. These bills will be discussed at the Subcommittee on Health hearing, March 23. The bills included in the hearing are:

  • H.R. 1790, the Fair Indexing for Health Care Affordability Act
  • H.R. 1796, the Health Care Enrollment Innovation Act
  • H.R. 1872, the Marketing and Outreach Restoration to Empower (MORE) Health Education Act of 2021
  • H.R. 1874, the Expand Navigators’ Resources for Outreach, Learning, and Longevity (ENROLL) Act of 2021
  • H.R. 1875, a bill to amend title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act to eliminate the short-term limited duration insurance exemption with respect to individual health insurance coverage
  • H.R. 1878, the State Health Care Premium Reduction Act of 2021
  • H.R. 1890, the Health Care Consumer Protection Act
  • H.R. 1896, the State Allowance for Variety of Exchanges (SAVE) Act of 2021
  • H.R. 340, the Incentivizing Medicaid Expansion Act of 2021
  • H.R. 1738, the Stabilize Medicaid and CHIP Coverage Act
  • H.R. 1784, the Medicaid Report on Expansion of Access to Coverage for Health Care (REACH) Act
  • H.R. 1025, the Kids’ Access to Primary Care Act of 2021
  • H.R. 66, the Comprehensive Access to Robust Insurance Now Guaranteed for Kids Act, or the CARING for Kids Act
  • H.R. 1791, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Permanency (CHIPP) Act
  • H.R. 1888, the Improving Access to Indian Health Services Act
  • H.R. 1717, a bill to amend Title XIX of the Social Security Act to make permanent the protections under Medicaid for recipients of home and community-based services against spousal impoverishment
  • H.R. 1880, a bill to amend the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 to make permanent the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration
  • H.R. 1390, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Pandemic Enhancement and Relief (CHIPPER) Act

More information can be found here.

Becerra Confirmed as HHS Secretary

On March 18, the Senate voted 50-49 to confirm Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary. The vote was mostly by party line but Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) supported Becerra’s nomination and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) did not vote.

Senators Ask for DOJ Investigation of McKinsey’s Opioid Work

In a March 15 letter, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate consulting firm McKinsey & Co.’s work with Purdue Pharma and other manufacturers to increase sales of opioids, including OxyContin. Last month, McKinsey reached an approximately $600 million settlement with states over its role in the opioid epidemic. The letter can be found here.

Democratic Senators Sponsor Bill to Eliminate Trump Administration’s Section 1332 Guidance

On March 16, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the “Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2021,” which would reverse the Trump administration’s revised guidance on Section 1332 waivers which were codified as part of the 2022 exchange rule. The rule would allow policies to be sold that exclude pre-existing conditions. Over 40 Democratic senators are supporting the legislation.

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