HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Romney Works for Covid Funding Offsets

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Democrats sent Sen. Mitt Romney a new proposal yesterday on how to offset the cost of a Covid-19 spending bill, as the Utah Republican serves as the GOP point person on negotiations.

Romney told reporters yesterday he received a new Democratic proposal, adding, “We are making progress.” A previous $15.6 billion proposal fell through as House Democrats objected to a plan to rescind $7 billion in stimulus aid to state and local governments. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said negotiators will have to find a way to offset the cost of the bill in order to gain Republican support in the Senate.

Other key players have let Romney take the lead in discussing potential offsets. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said he planned to discuss Covid funding yesterday with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, but that he wasn’t involved in Romney’s talks with Democrats.

“I’m glad Sen. Romney is taking the time to make his way through this,” Blunt said.

Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said yesterday afternoon he hadn’t seen the new proposal but that he would review it.

Romney has “been outstanding on the issue,” Shelby said. “He’s raised that question—probably the earliest one to raise it. Do we need more money? What for? And then secondly, and maybe more importantly, what happened to all the money we appropriated?”

Pelosi said earlier this month that an eventual Covid-19 bill will need to be bigger than the $15.6 billion measure previously proposed, though it will still need to be offset.

“The resources that we would have had in the bill, I think, need to be enhanced now, because we’re another week later and we still don’t have it,” Pelosi said, Jack Fitzpatrick reports.

Happening on the Hill

Senate Passes Bill to Expand Medical Research on Marijuana: A bipartisan bill (S. 253) that would expand scientific and medical research on marijuana and its compounds passed the Senate. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the legislation will “cut the red-tape around the research process, helping get FDA-approved, marijuana-derived medications safely to patients.” Read more from Alisa Parenti.

Warnock to Introduce Bill to Cap Some Senior Drug Costs: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) will again pull out a key provision of Democrats’ drug pricing agenda and introduce it as a standalone bill in coming weeks, the senator told reporters Thursday.

Warnock—facing a tough reelection battle in Georgia this year—will offer a bill to cap out of pocket costs for seniors on Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. Such a cap is part of a sweeping drug pricing package including a partisan domestic spending bill that’s currently stalled by opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Warnock previously introduced a bill to cap out of pocket costs for insured people needing insulin, legislation Senate leaders say will come to the floor in April. Warnock is partnering with Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in hopes of garnering bipartisan votes for that bill.

More Telehealth Data Urged Before Making Eased Rules Permanent: Congress should get a clearer picture of how patients use telehealth before making pandemic-inspired relaxed rules permanent, Medicare advisers say. Lawmakers recently extended telehealth changes until five months after the end of the public health emergency is declared. This extension in the omnibus spending package (Public Law 117-103) eases telehealth advocates’ concerns about a “telehealth cliff,” or the abrupt cut off of coverage of most virtual care. Many medical groups have called on lawmakers to make broader telehealth permanent, but concerns about quality, cost, and fraud have kept lawmakers from moving forward. Read more from Allie Reed.

U.S. Ambulance Companies Sound Alarm on Workers in Short Supply: Ambulance companies are warning they face a major worker shortage that could slow emergency response times across the country if nothing is done to help them. Industry groups are lobbying Congress to fund training programs for emergency response personnel, and to boost Medicare pay for ambulance workers. They’re hoping these changes can accompany any broader efforts in Congress to address workforce shortages facing the health care industry. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Oversight to Hold Hearing on Health Care Access: The House Oversight and Reform Committee scheduled a hearing on expanding access to affordable health care, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal‘s (D-Wash) Medicare for All Act (H.R. 1976) and single-payer health insurance program proposals.

Biden’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Proposal — BGOV Webinar: In a March 30 webinar, Bloomberg Government’s expert analysts lead a deep dive review of and provide insights on Biden’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, and answer your questions on the administration’s top priorities. Topics include topline agency funding levels, new spending initiatives and revenue proposals, and next steps in the budget process. Register here.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Fast-Track Reviews of Covid-19 Patents Extended for Third Time: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will extend for the third time a pilot program for expedited reviews of patent applications for products and processes tied to Covid-19, according to an upcoming Friday notice in the Federal Register. The extension comes as patent disputes over Covid-19 vaccines and treatments continue to ramp up worldwide. Read more from Jay-Anne B. Casuga.

Behavioral Health Clinics to Get New Funding Awards From HHS: The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced two funding opportunities for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics to expand and increase access to evidence-based mental health and substance use services. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration anticipates funding for these two programs to total $312 million over four years for up to 156 awards for each fiscal 2022 Notice of Funding Opportunity, according to the department. Read more from Bloomberg Law.

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What Else to Know

Arizona Bans on Abortion, Transgender Athletes Sent to Governor: Arizona measures to ban abortions after 15 weeks, keep transgender athletes off girls’ sports teams, and prevent children from receiving gender reassignment surgeries need only the governor’s signature to become law. The state Legislature sent the GOP bills to Gov. Doug Ducey (R) Thursday after the House of Representatives passed them on party lines. The bills add to an election-year push by Republicans in states across the country to limit abortion access, as well as restrict health care for transgender youth. Read more from Brenna Goth.

Google Search Wants to Help People Book Doctors’ Appointments: Google wants its search engine to be a gateway to help users book appointments with doctors—the latest step in the company’s winding effort to play a larger role in health care. Users still will need to make appointments with medical professionals separate from the search platform. Read more from Nico Grant.

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With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporters on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at; Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at

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