This week in Washington: Andrea Palm’s nomination for HHS Deputy Secretary Advances out of Senate Finance Committee, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure’s nomination deadlocked.


House Republicans Introduce Drug Pricing Legislation

On April 21, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Virginia Foxx (R-NC) introduced the Lower Costs, More Cures Act (H.R. 19), which aims to reform drug pricing. In a letter, the representatives called on their Republican colleagues to support their legislation and oppose House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3). The letter states that H.R 3 would make the U.S. more reliant on China and lead to fewer cures. The Lower Costs, More Cures Act would provide out-of-pocket cap and insulin cost cap for seniors in the Medicare Part D program, increase drug price transparency and reduce cancer treatment costs for Medicare beneficiaries, among other measures. The letter can be found here. The text of the Lower Costs, More Cures Act of 2021 can be found here.

House Passes Bill to Extend Schedule 1 Classification for Fentanyl-Related Substances

On April 21, the House passed a bipartisan bill to authorize a five-month extension on emergency scheduling of fentanyl-related substances, which classifies the analogues as Schedule 1 drugs. In 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) temporarily scheduled fentanyl-related substances as Schedule 1 substances. Classifying fentanyl-related substances as Schedule 1 designates them as illicit drugs with high potential for abuse and no potential medical use. The scheduling was set to expire on May 6, 2021. If the House bill is enacted, the Schedule 1 designation for fentanyl-related substances will expire on Oct. 22, 2021.

House Energy and Commerce Democrats Reintroduce Prescription Drug Pricing Bill

On April 22, Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Richard Neal (D-MA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) reintroduced the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3). The bill would allow the federal government to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs and cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs, among other things. The House passed H.R. 3 with bipartisan support in 2020. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the bill May 4. The White House is reluctant to include drug pricing in the infrastructure package as it might not have the Senate votes to pass.


Senate Finance Committee Deadlocked on Advancing Nomination of Brooks-LaSure for CMS Administrator

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee voted 14-14 along party lines to advance the nomination of Chiquita Brooks-LaSure for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator. The vote came after committee Republicans criticized the Biden administration’s decision to revoke Texas’s 10-year extension of an 1115 Medicaid waiver. The waiver, which had allowed Texas to use federal funding to increase its uncompensated care pool, was revoked on April 16. Earlier this week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked that the Senate Finance Committee vote be delayed to give him time to meet with the White House chief of staff to discuss the Texas 1115 Medicaid waiver revocation, but the vote was not postponed. Sen. Cornyn put a hold on Brooks-LaSure’s floor vote confirmation on April 21. The hold, which is a request to temporarily block a vote from coming to the floor, can be either approved or denied by the majority leader. The Senate Finance Committee advanced the nomination of Andrea Palm for deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) out of the committee. The tie vote for Brooks-LaSure’s nomination requires Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to file a discharge petition to bring the nomination before the full Senate.

Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Expand Medicare to Individuals From 50-64

On April 21, Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Medicare at 50 Act, which would allow adults from ages 50-64 to buy in to Medicare. The legislation comes as some Democrats express support for congressional action to strengthen public health programs in the next legislative package, rather than putting all savings into the Affordable Care Act (ACA). President Biden campaigned on providing Medicare for people age 60 and up. The Medicare at 50 Act is cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Bob Casey (D-PA). The Medicare at 50 Act was previously introduced in 2019.

Democratic Senators Introduce Bill to Let Employers Buy in to New Medicare Part E

On April 15, Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Choose Medicare Act that would create a new Medicare Part E that would be available to individuals on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges. The bill would provide the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with $2 billion to develop a Medicare E plan that would cover all 10 essential health benefits required under the ACA and items and services covered by Medicare. The bill would also extend the ACA’s tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies, cap Medicare out-of-pocket costs and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. The legislation was cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Jack Reed (D-RI). A summary of the bill can be found here.

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