HealthCare Roundtable e-News – January 20, 2021

Congratulations to President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

America’s 58th Presidential Inauguration will take place today at the U.S. Capitol. The Roundtable looks forward to working with the Biden Administration to advance the goals of our coalition on behalf of public workers, their families, and their employers.

Biden Pushes Funding Plan for COVID-19 Relief, Vaccinations, and Health Coverage

With the House, Senate, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ deciding vote in Democrats’ favor, President-Elect Joe Biden is pushing for more aggressive COVID-19 relief and vaccination plans leading up to his inauguration on Wednesday. Biden’s proposed stimulus plan, known as the “American Rescue Plan”, includes additional stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment aid, subsidies for health insurance premiums, assistance for small businesses, and additional aid for states and schools.

Most Americans will receive $1,400 checks in addition to the funds that were distributed starting in January from the previous spending bill. Biden called the $900 billion relief package passed at the end of 2020 a “down payment” for his relief plan; Americans who received $600 in the latest round of stimulus checks would receive $1,400 in his proposed bill, rounding out the total to the $2,000 that many legislators—and President Trump—advocated for.

The proposed plan also allocates $50 billion for expanded COVID-19 testing and $20 billion to a proposed national vaccination program. Biden is hoping to partner with states, tribes, and territories to successfully launch the program, which will aim to launch community vaccination centers and mobile units around the country, particularly hard-to-reach areas. The program will also ensure that Americans receive the vaccine for free. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Biden Stimulus Plan Includes Increase in Temporary ACA Tax Credits, Subsidies for Health Insurance Premiums

President-elect Joe Biden announced his $1.3 trillion “American Rescue Plan” last week, calling for more aggressive COVID-19 relief and additional economic assistance. Some of the funds in the proposed budget are to be allocated to subsidizing COBRA coverage and increasing and expanding the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits.

The proposed plan expands existing tax credits for people who earn up to 400% of the poverty level and would eliminate the COBRA subsidy threshold. Employer groups and insurers have been advocating for the president-elect to include COBRA subsidies in his stimulus plan, including consumer advocacy group Families USA, which says the subsidies will help millions of Americans who had lost job-based coverage due to the COVID-19 and economic crises. The House had previously included full COBRA subsidies in the HEROES bill that was passed in May last year but blocked by the Senate. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The bill also looks to increase and expand the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies so that enrollees don’t have to pay more than 8.5% of their income for coverage, a significant component of the Biden administration’s agenda and one of his major campaign promises. Biden is also calling on Congress to provide $4 billion for mental health and substance use disorder services and $20 billion to meet the health care needs of veterans.

Democrats pledged that they would “get right to work” in signing the president-elect’s plan into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Pharmacy Benefit Managers File Group Lawsuit Against HHS Over Final Rebate Rule

Last Tuesday, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) filed a lawsuit against HHS regarding a final rule published by the Trump administration to end Medicare drug rebates that PBMs use to negotiate lower prices for insurers. The rule, finalized in November last year, replaced the safe harbor for Part D rebates, leaving them under the federal anti-kickback law.

Outgoing HHS Secretary Alex Azar commented that the goal of the rule was to curb the use of rebates in Medicare Part D, which Azar described as a “kickback” that drug companies must give to pharmacy benefit managers and insurers in order to get on their plan formularies. According to PCMA, the final rule lacks authority under both anti-kickback law and Medicare law to issue the regulation and argues that the administration circumvented public rulemaking. (InsideHealthPolicy)

While the rule is set to go into effect next year, President-elect Joe Biden promised that his administration would freeze all last-minute rules proposed by the Trump administration, potentially including the final rebate rule as it was published less than 60 days before Biden takes office. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Biden Appoints Nevada State Senator to HHS Role to Tackle Drug Pricing, Transparency, Palm for Deputy HHS Secretary

Last week, Nevada state senator Yvanna Cancela (D) announced her resignation from the state’s legislature to take up a role within President-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Cancela, who helped to pass the country’s first drug price transparency bill in 2017, will be taking on an unspecified role within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Prior to becoming a state senator in 2016, Cancela worked as a director for the Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas, which paid for nearly 60,000 workers’ health insurance.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) said that there is “no doubt that Nevada will benefit from having a leader who understands the challenges states face as we navigate this pandemic and continue working toward expanding access to healthcare. On behalf of the State of Nevada, we thank Senator Cancela for her service and look forward to working with her to navigate these great challenges.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

Neither Cancela nor the Biden administration has shared details of her precise role within the agency. Biden announced in December that he would be nominating Xavier Becerra to be his administration’s HHS Secretary. Becerra served 12 terms in Congress before becoming the attorney general of California in 2017.

President-elect Joe Biden on Monday named Wisconsin health official Andrea Palm, a veteran of the Obama administration and the leader of her state‘s coronavirus pandemic response, to be the deputy secretary of HHS. Palm, the designated secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services under Gov. Tony Evers, has overseen Medicaid, behavioral health, the ACA and other health and social programs. Earlier she held several roles at HHS during the Obama administration, including acting assistant secretary for legislation and chief of staff to the secretary. (Politico)