HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: House Passes Bill to Avert Medicare Cuts

The House passed legislation yesterday that would create a quick process to raise the U.S. debt ceiling by a simple majority vote in the Senate and cancel automatic cuts to Medicare

House lawmakers approved the procedural measure on a 222 to 212 vote.

The bill seeks to defuse a fiscal time bomb set in motion by deficit spending: 10% in mandatory cuts to Medicare payments under both the so-called Paygo law and the Budget Control Act set to go into effect on Jan. 1. The pending cuts have alarmed hospital and doctors groups that say Medicare fee-for-service payments could be reduced by $14.1 billion in 2022 unless there’s action to stop them.

Cuts would also affect trade adjustment assistance, which helps workers who have lost their jobs due to trade-related circumstances, and farm price supports. Congress has previously waived the Paygo rule and Medicare sequester under the Budget Control Act.

“Some programs would be eliminated if statutory Paygo is implemented. So, it’s not hard to see why Congress has always intervened and why we must do so again now,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) said. Read more from Erik Wasson and Billy House.

BGOV Bill Summary: S. 610, Spending Cuts & Debt Limit Process

Happening on the Hill

Senior Care Provisions Drive Support for Biden Spending Plan: A host of aging services providers on Monday called on the U.S. Senate to quickly pass—without major changes—the Build Back Better legislation already passed by the House. The social spending legislation (H.R. 5376) includes numerous provisions designed to improve the quality of life for seniors, including expansion of Medicaid’s home and community-based care (HCBS) program by roughly $150 billion over 10 years. Read more from Tony Pugh.

  • Senate Democrats are expressing confidence they can pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda before Christmas, but one key holdout — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — said he’s skeptical he can vote for a bill that includes major economic changes. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Laura Litvan and Laura Davison.

Senate Panel Sets Califf Hearing: The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee announced a Dec. 14 hearing to consider the nomination of Robert Califf to serve as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, according to a press release.

Senate Floor: As early as today, the Senate may consider a resolution (S. J. Res. 29) that would block the vaccine-or-testing mandate for large employers issued by the Biden administration using the Congressional Review Act. Only a simple majority would be needed for passage. Read more in the BGOV bill summary.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Halt to Jab Mandate Gives Hospitals Breather: Hospitals caught a break when the Biden administration’s order to vaccinate health-care staff was put on hold—but not enough to offset severe worries over staffing levels and rationing patient care. A federal vaccine mandate for health-care workers threatened facilities that couldn’t afford to lose even one worker with the prospect that people would quit rather than succumb to a jab order.

Hospitals—already struggling with staff lost to sickness, burnout, and early retirement due to the Covid-19 pandemic—were days away from needing to meet Monday’s deadline for workers to get their first vaccination doses when two federal judges halted the requirement nationwide. That let hospital leaders step back—for now. Read more from Allie Reed.

Biden Vaccine Mandate for Federal Contractors Blocked Nationwide: The Biden administration’s mandate for federal contractors’ employees to be vaccinated will be halted nationwide, amid a slew of challenges from states that say the president overstepped his authority in requiring the Covid-19 shots.

Led by Georgia, the seven states that challenged the mandate set to take effect on Jan. 4 are likely to succeed in their lawsuits against the administration’s order, U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker of the Southern District of Georgia said in an order issued today. Baker’s order follows a Kentucky federal judge’s grant last week of a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit involving Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.

Pandemic Precedents Cast Shadow on Biden Shot-or-Test Rule: The Cincinnati-based federal appeals court handling the legal challenge to the Biden administration’s shot-or-test regulation has ruled against other government responses to the coronavirus pandemic in decisions that don’t bode well for the emergency measure’s survival. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit—a court dominated by Republican-appointed judges that will review the emergency standard after winning a multi-circuit lottery—previously has nixed the federal government’s eviction moratorium and two Kentucky restrictions on religious services. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

NYC Shot Mandate Built to Withstand Suits, Lawyers Say: New York City’s newly announced Covid-19 vaccination mandate for private-sector workers goes further than federal proposals, with legal challenges likely trailing in its wake. But “states have greater leeway with police powers,” said James Sullivan, co-chair of Cozen O’Connor’s workplace safety practice group and former chairman of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. He added a challenge of the city’s order could be more difficult than contesting the federal government’s vaccination requirements for federal contractors and health-care workers or OSHA’s vaccination-or-testing standard. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

Pfizer Shot Provides Partial Omicron Shield in Early Study: Pfizer’s vaccine provides less immunity to the omicron variant than to other major versions of Covid-19, according to laboratory experiments that still indicated a third dose may help stop the highly mutated strain. Researchers at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, found omicron resulted in about a 40-fold reduction in levels of neutralizing antibodies produced by people who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech SE shot, compared with the strain detected in China almost two years ago. Read more from Antony Sguazzin and Jason Gale.

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What Else to Know

Harris Maps Plan to Reduce High U.S. Maternal Mortality: Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday announced a plan to reduce the country’s alarmingly high maternal mortality rate by improving pregnancy and postpartum care nationwide. The strategy includes calling for states to extend postpartum coverage under Medicaid from 2 to 12 months and designating “birthing-friendly” hospitals. Maternal mortality in the U.S. has been on the rise in recent years — with the rate of deaths more than double that of other rich nations like France, Canada and the United Kingdom. Black and Indigenous women are more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes compared to their White peers. Read more from Kelsey Butler.

Clinical Lab Medicare Payment Rule Suit Properly Ended, HHS Says: An association’s lawsuit over a data collection rule used for setting Medicare payment rates for clinical laboratories was properly dismissed as moot by a federal trial court because the challenged rule was amended in 2018, the government said. And the American Clinical Laboratory Association lacked standing to sue Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra over the 2016 rule because it didn’t connect injuries allegedly caused by the provision to any of its members or exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit, the government told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

FDA Must Ban Phthalates in Food Packaging, Lawsuit Says: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has failed to act on petitions by health advocacy and environmental groups to ban phthalates in food packaging and processing materials, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in a federal court in Washington, D.C. The FDA allows the use of more than two dozen phthalates that leach out of materials into baby formula, cheese and meats, and other food products, the lawsuit says. Phthalates are chemicals that interfere with processes in the human body that are regulated by hormones, according to the complaint. Read more from Maya Earls.

Revive Law Protecting Against ‘Coerced’ Abortion, State Says: A South Dakota law requiring women seeking abortions to first consult with anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers must be revived to protect women against “coerced” abortions, the state told a federal appeals court. South Dakota has a compelling interest in preventing women from being pressured into having abortions, it said in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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