HealthCare Roundtable e-News – March 24, 2021

Upcoming Webinar Alert

“The First 100 Days: New Congress, New Administration and Public Sector Purchasers”

The Public Sector HealthCare Roundtable will host its next webinar on Wednesday, March 31st at 3:00pm EDT, to closely examine the federal policy activities of the new 117th Congress, the Biden Administration, and discuss priorities for public sector purchasers. Following the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a number of important issues to public sector purchasers will be considered in the coming months, including drug pricing, issues related to Medicare Advantage, Medicare eligibility, and a range of other reform proposals such as the “public option”. Join us to hear about the current state-of-play in Washington, D.C., and engage in a discussion on issues critical to you, our members.

Registration is now open for this webinar at the following link:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

U.S. Senate Confirms Xavier Becerra as HHS Secretary

Last Thursday, the Senate voted 50-49 to confirm California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as HHS secretary, the first Latino to hold the position. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was notably the only GOP Senator to vote in favor of Becerra’s nomination, while Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) did not vote. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was among the last of the Democrats to express his support for Becerra on Thursday.

Becerra will look to lead HHS at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic continues and case numbers have begun to increase in some states. The agency is expected to help facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations and testing efforts as health officials hope widespread inoculation will beat back a mutating virus and allow businesses and schools to reopen.

Becerra has received some criticism in the past for his support of abortion rights and Medicare for All. Becerra had expressed during his confirmation hearings that despite his beliefs on Medicare for All, his role within the Biden administration would be to support the president’s agenda, which includes plans to create a Medicare-like public health-care option and build on the Affordable Care Act.

Collins shared that she looked forward to working with Becerra on “shared goals”, which include a focus on reducing drug costs and reliance on foreign drug production. Senate Finance Committee ranking Republican Mike Crapo (Idaho) expressed that while he did not vote to support Becerra’s nomination, he is also looking forward to working together on areas of common interest, including improving Medicare solvency.

The Senate health committee also voted last week to advance the nominations of Vivek Murphy as surgeon general and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary for health. Murphy was approved 16-6 – with GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Ark.) Collins, Mitt Romney (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.), and Roger Marshal (Kan.) voting in favor – and Levine was approved 13-9 with the help of Collins and Murkowski. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Medicare For All Legislation Reintroduced by House Sponsors

Last week, Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), reintroduced Medicare for All legislation last week that would transform Medicare into a program covering all Americans’ medical, dental, vision, long-term care, and more. The House sponsors of the bill were joined by several industry advocacy groups, 14 committee chairs, and 100 lawmakers who are co-sponsoring the bill, according to Jayapal’s office.

While the Biden administration has been vocal in their support for building on the Affordable Care Act instead of overhauling the entire healthcare system, the bill looks to shed light on the current issues surrounding healthcare that have been brought to light by the pandemic. House Energy & Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) – who is also a sponsor of the bill – said he has agreed to hold a hearing. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Some sections of the bill received support from the Physicians for a National Health Program, including provisions establishing an Office of Health Equity, increasing access to mental healthcare, and automatically increasing the global budget during a pandemic or other health emergencies. Other health care experts and stakeholders argued a “one-size-fits-all” approach is unrealistic and not as effective as building off of the current system. The Chamber of Commerce echoed the concerns, citing that employer-sponsored insurance “has served as one of the most stable and reliable components of our health system.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

Survey Shows Voters Want Biden, Congress to Work to Lower Drug Costs

According to a recent survey conducted by Families USA, nearly 72% of voters think it’s very important for President Joe Biden and Congress to take action to lower drug costs this year. The results, which were released last Wednesday (Mar. 17), also concluded that 92% of voters said that lowering drug costs was very or somewhat important to them.

In the last year alone, lowering prescription drug costs has been on trend to be among the top health priorities for voters across the political spectrum. According to the survey results, 81% percent of Democrats said lowering drug costs is very important, as well as 65% of independent voters and 64% of Republican voters. Of those who were surveyed, 75% said healthcare should be a top or high priority for the Biden administration and Congress this year. (InsideHealthPolicy)

“Voters across the electorate and across party lines are truly looking for meaningful actions here on the topic of health care, specifically related to reducing the cost of health care,” Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates said. “This is not a partisan mandate. It is something that is important to Democrats, Independents, and Republicans.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

There is some variation, however, between parties over the notion that lawmakers won’t take enough action in lowering drug costs. In the survey, 67% of voters said they worried lawmakers won’t go far enough to lower costs, including a majority of Republican voters surveyed.

HHS Invests $150M to Expand Access to COVID-19 Therapies in Vulnerable Communities

The Biden administration announced last week that it will invest $150 million to increase the use of COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies for patients in vulnerable communities. According to the administration, the efforts will enable HHS to help support traditional and nontraditional healthcare settings increase staffing and infusion center capacity. The funds will also be used to obtain equipment needed to administer antibodies and increase awareness of antibody therapies and how patients might be able to access them.

“These recommendations by the NIH and by IDSA send a really strong signal to patients as well as providers all over the country – a message that these treatments are efficacious,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. “They show enough promise in clinical studies to recommend their broader use during this pandemic to help us save lives. And we are certainly tracking all the latest science and updating clinical recommendations as needed.”

The CDC released data late last year finding that COVID-19 is affecting underserved communities and ethnic minorities disproportionately largely due to poverty and uneven access to health care in those communities. Also considered are communities in which monoclonal antibody treatments currently are available and equitable access can be increased quickly for underserved populations. There are three monoclonal antibody treatments that are available under emergency use authorization from the FDA which can help to neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19 to prevent the progression of the disease.