HealthCare Roundtable e-News – March 25, 2020


COVID-19 Congressional Update Webinar

Friday, March 27th, 3:00 PM (EDT)

We are considering changing the vehicle (Go to Webinar vs. Zoom) for Friday’s webinar. If you’ve already registered for the webinar, we will notify you of any change on Friday morning.

Another reminder, together with final sign-up instructions, will be circulated no later than Friday noon.

We’re looking forward to Friday’s discussion. In the meantime, please stay safe!!

Senate Leaders ‘Very Hopeful’ on Passing Stimulus Package, Including Hospital and Emergency Funding, This Week

Negotiations continue as Senate leaders look to pass a $2 trillion package to stimulate the economy and curb the economic impact of coronavirus, COVID-19. The package includes $1.7 billion for procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as an additional grant of $500 million to support emergency preparedness by hospitals around the country, with $200 million of that funding being provided to grantees within 30 days.

The Senate bill includes $75 billion in surge funding for hospitals, falling short of the $100 billion initially requested by the American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, and American Nurses Association.

Delays in getting the bill to pass have stemmed from Senate Democrats’ concerns over a $500 billion funding program Republicans want to create for loans and loan guarantees. Some are calling the program a “slush fund” that lacks any oversight because the Treasury Department would have broad discretion over who receives the money.

House Democrats are following through on their threat to go rogue with their own stimulus plan, unveiling a more than 1,400-page bill Monday night, packed with policy differences compared to the proposal Senate Republicans laid out. The House measure would boost emergency funds for agencies, mandate “green” rules for airlines, eliminate a payroll tax suspension, kick in additional help for hospitals, schools and food banks, and more. (Politico)

Speaking to the Senate’s delays in passing the bill, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have “been speaking to the president. We probably spoke to him 10 times today. We kept him involved in all the details and where we are…We’re working at his direction and the president would like to have a deal.”

Updated provisions of the bill discussed on Sunday (Mar. 22) include expanding telehealth, increasing funding for community health centers, vaccines, durable medical equipment, and patient privacy protections, of which the latter will not be temporary. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Grassley Defends Senate Drug Pricing Package in COVID-19 Stimulus Bill Negotiations

Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is cautioning Senate leaders working to pass a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan against including extenders without drug pricing in the third stimulus bill, which was introduced this past Sunday (Mar. 22). Grassley, who has spent the last several months pushing the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (S.2543) in the Senate, wants to use extenders – a group of Medicare and Medicaid policies and programs that must be renewed by May 22 – as a vehicle for his drug pricing plan. The bill would save the government $94 billion over a decade, which would cover the cost of stretching out the extenders for several years. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Grassley tweeted this past Saturday, “Pres @realDonaldTrump promised to lower Rx prices & he’s been a leader in the fight. Passing surprise billing/health extenders w/out Rx reform will make keeping that pledge nearly impossible.”

Some senators have pushed to include surprise billing in the stimulus package, but the effort seemingly fell flat after more negotiations on Sunday. GOP and Democrat Senate leaders are still negotiating terms of the package as of yesterday evening (Mar. 23).

All Parties Request Extended Schedule for Case Reviewing the Affordable Care Act

Parties involved in the Texas v. USA case, which is challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, are mutually asking for extended schedule in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. The extended schedule would allow for oral arguments to begin in October of this year.

The Supreme Court announced earlier this month that it would hear arguments on the case, from which several GOP attorneys general and two Texas civilians are requesting a review of whether the Fifth Circuit Court erred in not affirming a district court decision to strike the entire law. The initial ruling determined that Obamacare’s individual mandate was unconstitutional, and defending Democrats requested the ruling be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Timothy Jost, a health policy and law expert at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, commented, “since the Court can’t hear oral arguments until October at the earliest, it makes sense for the parties to have a more leisurely briefing schedule.” (Inside Health Policy)

Insurance Stakeholders Call for Special Enrollment Period, Increased Subsidies

Several insurance lobbying groups are requesting federal lawmakers open for a nationwide special enrollment period (SEP) in order to ensure that anyone in need of coverage can get access, as well as temporary a temporary federal backstop to mitigate the financial risk. Last week, Covered California said it would keep its exchange open through June and Connect for Health Colorado also unveiled a SEP that starts now and ends April 3. CMS confirmed over the weekend that it is weighing the option, and reminding individuals that they can still visit the federal marketplace to see whether they’re eligible for an existing SEP. (InsideHealthPolicy)

In an open letter to Congress, America’s Health Insurance Plans President and CEO Matt Eyles and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President and CEO Scott Serota wrote, “the American people need the peace of mind of knowing that their health and financial future are secure. That means knowing that they can count on their health care coverage when they need it most.”

In addition to requests for a SEP, the lobbies are urging Congress to establish a temporary, emergency risk mitigation program to make sure that health insurance premiums do not spike now and remain stable in the future. Both groups are recommending that the program cover a portion of related costs for 2020 and 2021 and apply to the individual, employer, Medicare and Medicaid markets. (InsideHealthPolicy)