HealthCare Roundtable e-News – February 17, 2021

House Ways & Means Clears Provisions of $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

The House Ways & Means Committee recently cleared its provision of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package aimed at enhancing Affordable Care Act tax credits. The bill will subsidize COBRA, offer maximum credits to Americans who are on unemployment, and give working families an additional direct payment of $1,400 per person—bringing their total relief to $2,000 per person. 

“Over the last two days, the Ways and Means Committee has considered aggressive, science-based solutions that will deliver the urgent relief our country so desperately needs. From unemployment benefits to health care affordability, the work we’ve done is substantial, and it is exactly what the American people have been calling on us to do to meet this moment,” said Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) after marking up the draft bill. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

Several GOP committee members had argued that Democrats had rejected or delayed most of their party’s recommendations, with ranking minority member Kevin Brady (R-T.X.) suggesting that the group rejected an amendment that California GOP Rep. Devin Nunes brought up for discussion that would allow anyone to buy catastrophic coverage, but withdrew the provision since it was not relevant. A future hearing on the amendment is expected. (InsideHealthPolicy)

CMS Looks to Fund More Grants for ACA Navigators Through Special Enrollment Period

According to reports, CMS is considering offering more money to health insurance navigators through the current special enrollment period, which opened earlier this week. The SEP will allow consumers states that use to sign up through the exchange, call center or direct enrollment pathway. According to the agency, there are 13 states and the District of Columbia that have planned to reopen their marketplaces. 

Previously, the Trump administration had cut grant funding for navigators from $100 million a year to $10 million, leaving several states with only one navigator group with some having no in-person assistors. Additional navigator funding would aid assisters who work year-round during existing SEPs, as well in the new enrollment period, and those who seek to help more enrollees but worry about how to do so without additional funding. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

In Florida, Jodi Ray, the Director of Florida Covering Kids & Families the sole navigator entity in the state, commented that there is a lot of anxiety to meet demand as groups prepare for an SEP that they had not been previously budgeting for. The group has been helping families complete their applications remotely since 2017 due to budget cuts, and will continue to do so through the pandemic and SEP. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

Confirmation Hearing Scheduled for Biden’s HHS Secretary Nominee Becerra

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expected to hold a hearing next Tuesday (Feb. 23) to confirm President Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is expected to field questions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and the administration’s response, as well as his role in protecting the Affordable Care Act in the landmark California v. Texas case last year. 

Former HHS Secretaries and other industry experts have been pressuring the Senate to take up the hearing quickly as the pandemic continues to take a toll on Americans. While Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been keen to get a hearing scheduled and Becerra confirmed quickly, Becerra has faced opposition from Senate Republicans. (InsideHealthPolicy) 

Becerra’s hearing will happen after another committee is set to hold its first hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s pick for US attorney general. There are still more than two dozen nominees waiting to be confirmed by the Senate.

New Report Says US Could Save $1.3B Annually By Speeding Up FDA Generics Approvals

According to a recent report from US Matrix Global Advisors, the United States could save $1.3 billion annually if the FDA sped up its approval process to admit several generics that have been adopted across Canada and Europe. The report, “Potential Savings from Accelerating US Approval of Complex Generics,” includes an analysis of the current approval process and federal efforts to encourage the approval of complex generics. 

The Matrix report identifies seven complex generics—Abraxane (paclitaxel), Forteo (teriparatide), Invega Sustenna (paliperidone), Restasis (cyclosporine), Risperdal Consta (risperidone), Sandostatin LAR (octreotide) and Venofer (iron sucrose)—that currently have pending FDA approval status. Matrix CEO Alex Brill said it’s reasonable to believe that FDA should have approved those products by now if regulatory bodies in Canada and Europe already approved them. 

“Currently it’s only 12% of applicant applications that are approved in that first cycle. And in fact, for most it takes three reviews, or more, and each of those review cycles is upwards of 10 months. And so that’s far too long,” said Tonya Winders, president and CEO, Allergy & Asthma Network, who argues the FDA should approve more generics during the first cycle of generic drug reviews. In the case of Advair, a 10-month delay in approvals can cost patients and the health care system $1 billion. (InsideHealthPolicy)