After several weeks of work, the House voted 219–212 to advance a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that closely mirrors President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
Of particular significance to essential hospitals, the House included a critical technical correction that would temporarily increase state Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotments; the new allotments correspond with the enhanced federal medical assistance percentage established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The provision would ensure essential hospitals receive the same level of Medicaid DSH payments as they would have expected absent the pandemic.
In the Senate, Republicans remain opposed to the legislation; if no Republicans support the bill, it will need all 50 Democratic votes to pass. The Senate released its first modified version of the relief package, which likely will change as it progresses through the reconciliation process.
Last week, the Senate parliamentarian indicated a $15-per-hour minimum wage increase in the House version does not meet the rules of reconciliation, the fast-track budgetary procedural tool Democrats are using to advance the bill through the Senate via a simple majority vote. Removing this provision might satisfy moderate Democrats who opposed the wage increase, making them more likely to support the overall package. However, the removal could rankle liberal Democrats.
Congress faces a March 14 deadline to pass the package before critical unemployment benefits expire.
Becerra Committee Vote Scheduled
The Senate Committee on Finance will vote March 3 on whether to advance to the full Senate the nomination of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as secretary of health and human services. Despite some Republican opposition, Becerra’s nomination is expected to clear the committee and could reach the Senate floor as early as next week.
More than Half of Representatives Sign 340B Letter
A bipartisan group of 226 House lawmakers, including 60 Republicans, sent a letter urging HHS to protect the 340B Drug Pricing Program. The letter — led by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), David McKinley (R-WV), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Dusty Johnson (R-SD), Cindy Axne (D-IA), and John Katko (R-NY) — calls on HHS to act against pharmaceutical manufacturers that continue to withhold 340B discounts from contract pharmacies, including requiring manufacturers to refund covered entities for unlawful overcharges.
Hearings on the Future of Telehealth
The Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health scheduled a March 2 hearing on the future of telehealth and the impact of COVID-19 on virtual care delivery. The hearing is likely to include discussion of telehealth priorities America’s Essential Hospitals continues to articulate to the lawmakers, including making permanent Medicare flexibility that lifted geographic originating site restrictions and site-of-service restrictions, as well as allowing the use of audio-only equipment for certain evaluation and management services.