HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Pelosi Says ACA Measure to Come by July 4

The House will vote on a package of Affordable Care Act measures meant to make insurance cheaper and convince more states to expand their Medicaid programs, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said yesterday.

Pelosi told reporters that Democratic leaders have put an “Affordable Care Act stabilization” bill on the schedule for action before July 4. A senior Democratic aide said members have been working on an ACA package that would expand Obamacare’s insurance subsidies and push more states to extend eligibility for their public health insurance programs for the poor to a wider swath of people.

The legislation hasn’t yet been introduced, but it would be similar to legislation (H.R. 1884) already passed by the House that would have beefed up the ACA’s insurance subsidies and made other reforms to the health-care law. That bill was largely ignored by Senate Republican leadership, who didn’t take it up, Alex Ruoff reports.

Nearly 4 million uninsured people would have had insurance coverage if the 15 holdout states expanded Medicaid, according to an analysis released yesterday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Happening on the Hill

Senators Urge HHS to Fund Medicaid-Focused Hospitals: Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) yesterday requested the Trump administration to “act swiftly” to distribute emergency funds allocated in Covid-19 funding packages to hospitals “that overwhelmingly serve Medicaid and low-income patients,” according to a statement. Without adequate federal funding, these hospitals will be unable to effectively treat the country’s most vulnerable communities, they said in the letter. Read the letter here.

Nursing Homes Told to Stop Seizing Stimulus Aid: Two top House Democrats yesterday demanded a probe into reports that nursing homes and assisted living facilities have been seizing residents’ stimulus payments. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (Mass.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (N.J.) told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “to protect the interests of these residents and ensure facilities comply with the law by issuing guidance on the status of” the relief checks. Read the letter here.

Beth Martino a spokeswoman for AHCA/NCAL, which represent nursing homes and other elder-care facilities, said that the group is “not aware of widespread issues with resident stimulus funds.” Martino said the funds are treated as any other. Residents “can manage their own money, choose someone they trust to manage for them” or “have someone appointed to manage their finances,” she said. In regard to stimulus checks, Medicaid eligibility and Medicare coverage is protected for residents who rely on either program, she said. Nursing facilities will not receive any additional private payments, she said.

  • Separately, AHCA/NCAL yesterday asked HHS and FEMA for $5 billion to cover staffing and testing costs for assisted living facilities. The request comes after HHS sent nearly $5 billion to nursing homes, which are more health-care focused than assisted living facilities, which generally serve elderly people who need only limited assistance compared to those in nursing homes. Read the letter here.
  • At the same time, some states are struggling to meet a new federal goal of inspecting all nursing homes by July 31. Industry representatives argue they need more collaboration from the Trump administration. Read more from Tony Pugh.

McSally Bill Targets FDA Breakthroughs: Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation yesterday that would “secure patient access” to FDA-cleared breakthrough medical treatments and technology by providing temporary coverage under Medicare, according to a statement. “It can take up to three years after FDA approval for these breakthrough technologies to be approved by Medicare for seniors,” she said in a statement. “My bill fixes that by allowing seniors to get equal access to new medical technologies right away.” Read text of the bill here.

Panel Probes Antibody Test Research: House Oversight and Reform Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) will hold a video briefing today to “examine the role serological antibody tests play in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, recommendations and limitations for their use, and federal policy,” according to a statement.

Virus Research, Treatment & Testing

Lockdowns May Have Prevented 500 Million Cases: Lockdowns and other public-health measures may have prevented about half a billion coronavirus infections in six countries, including 285 million cases in China and 60 million cases in the U.S.

The virus has now caused some 7 million reported cases of Covid-19, with more than 400,000 fatalities. Published yesterday in the journal Nature, the first peer-reviewed analysis of the effects of health policies suggests that the toll would have been vastly worse without lockdowns, social distancing, travel restrictions and other measures. Many infections are relatively mild, and a majority of the roughly 500 million averted cases would have gone undetected, the study said. Read more from Janice Kew.

U.S. Buys $151 Million in Testing Gear: The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded contracts worth about $151 million to 16 companies to provide swabs and other supplies for Covid-19 testing, according to the General Services Administration website and a Bloomberg Government database. The largest of the contracts went to Longhorn Vaccine and Diagnostics, Thomas Scientific, and Remel. The majority of the contracts are to be completed by July 1, though a few end in early October. Read more from Shira Stein.

Gene, Cell Therapy Applications Delayed: The Covid-19 pandemic is delaying the FDA’s ability to advance applications for potentially transformative cell and gene therapy treatments, the head of the biologics center’s advanced therapies office said. The Food and Drug Administration may have to push back meetings for applications that don’t address Covid-19 by a month or two. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

WHO Sees Low Asymptomatic Risk: Transmission of the coronavirus by people who aren’t showing symptoms is “very rare,” the World Health Organization said yesterday, contradicting speculation by public health officials and researchers that the disease was being spread by people who weren’t showing signs of illness. Read more from Bloomberg News.

AstraZeneca Signs Covid Deal with U.S. Defense, Medical Agencies:AstraZeneca advanced on another front in the Covid-19 battle, signing a deal with two U.S. government agencies and Vanderbilt University to develop antibodies that could both prevent and treat the disease. The U.K.’s biggest drugmaker licensed two immune proteins from Vanderbilt and signed an agreement with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to develop and conduct an early clinical trial, according to a statement Tuesday. If successful, the antibodies could serve as an alternative to vaccinations in some cases. Read more from Suzi Ring.

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Industry, Regulation & Legal Fights

Christie Becomes Lobbyist for Addiction Services: Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) registered to lobby for CleanSlate Centers, a Tennessee-based company that provides outpatient addiction treatment services, through his consulting firm Christie 55 Solutions. Along with Rich Bagger, a former top pharmaceutical company official that previously served as executive director of Trump for America and Christie’s chief of staff, Christie’s firm will be lobbying on “regulatory issues regarding the provision of substance use disorder treatment and implementation” of the CARES Act (Public Law 116-136).

CleanSlate offers medication-assisted treatment for substance abuse disorders, and the CARES Act, signed into law in March, eased confidentiality rules around substance abuse records in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing those records to be shared with health-care providers following a patient’s consent. HHS is now working on regulations to comply, Megan R. Wilson reports.

  • Meanwhile, Former Rep. Barbara Comstock registered her first two lobbying clients since leaving Capitol Hill for K Street at the start of 2019. The Virginia Republican, who was unseated by a Democrat in the 2018 election and now works at Baker Donelson, signed on to advocate on behalf of two Florida-based addiction treatment centers, Transformations Treatment Center and Summit Detox, Wilson reports.

Medicare Spending Fell in May: Medicare spending fell 9% to $6 billion in May as those relying on the insurance program didn’t seek routine care, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. On a longer scale though, federal outlays were higher partly due to an increase in the total number of Medicare beneficiaries and because health costs grew, CBO said in the report, published yesterday. Between October to March outlays were $2.3 trillion, or $149 billion (7%) higher than they were during the same period last year, the CBO said.

Joint Program to Fight Online Opioid Sales: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced yesterday it’s partnering with the FDA to start a 120-day pilot program aiming to curb illegal online sales of unapproved opioids. They are working with three domain name registries to suspend the domain names of websites illegally selling such unapproved drugs. At the end of the pilot, the agencies will assess its efficacy as a long-term solution to stop opioid sales online. Christopher Brown has more.

Anti-Abortion Group Endorses Peterson Challenger: The political arm of the anti-abortion nonprofit Susan B. Anthony’s List said yesterday that it’s backing former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R) for the seat held by 10-term Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Fischbach for now has endorsements of all major anti-abortion groups despite the fact she’s trying to oust Peterson, one of the few remaining anti-abortion Democrats. But Peterson has since been criticized for backing funding bills carrying abortion riders, Alex Ruoff reports.

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With assistance from Megan R. Wilson and Rebecca Kern

To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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