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On the Hill: House Passes COVID-19 Relief Bill; President Signs CR

The House of Representatives late last week passed an updated version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, Democratic leadership’s legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new $2.2 trillion package, which passed on a 214-207 vote, formalized Democrats’ most recent offer in negotiations with Republicans to pass additional COVID-19 relief. The legislation addressed several outstanding essential hospital priorities, including:

  • increasing state Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotments by 2.5 percent for fiscal years (FYs) 2020 and 2021;
  • increasing the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) by 14 percentage points for FY 2021; and
  • providing an additional $50 billion to the Provider Relief Fund, and targeting funds to providers treating high volumes of low-income and Medicaid patients.

In a release, the association thanked House lawmakers for passing legislation that would support essential hospitals, which anchor the nation’s response to COVID-19.

Notably, several Democrats in close re-election campaigns opted to vote against this bill, citing their preference to support legislation more likely to garner Republican support and pass the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue negotiations but remain opposed on key issues, including state and local funding and liability protections for employers. Reports indicate the negotiations appeared to accelerate after the president’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis.

President Signs Bill Funding Government Through Dec. 11

Meanwhile, the president signed a continuing resolution (CR) to avert a government shutdown and maintain federal funding through Dec. 11. Congress by Dec. 11 must finish work on its annual spending bills or agree to another short-term CR.

The CR includes two essential hospital priorities:

  • further delaying, to Dec. 12, implementation of a $4 billion cut to Medicaid DSH funding; and
  • relaxing repayment and recoupment terms for Medicare accelerated and advance payment loans.

The association will continue efforts to stop the scheduled DSH reductions for at least two years.

Senate Fails to Block Government Role in ACA Lawsuit

The Senate voted 51-43 against legislation to prevent the Department of Justice from arguing against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The effort came ahead of a highly-anticipated Supreme Court case next month.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) employed a rarely used procedural tactic to force a floor vote on the measure.

The bill gained support from a handful of vulnerable Senate Republicans keen to show their support of protecting insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions. Protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions remains a flash point in the upcoming elections and the Supreme Court confirmation process for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Her confirmation hearings are expected to commence as scheduled, despite Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delaying most Senate floor activity until Oct. 19 as several Republican senators quarantine after COVID-19 diagnoses or possible exposure.

House Oversight Hearing Examines 340B Contract Pharmacy Issue

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last week held a two-day hearing on prescription drug prices. The second day included a witness from Novartis, one of the pharmaceutical manufacturers engaging in concerning actions that could eventually restrict access to drugs purchased through the 340B Drug Pricing Program at contract pharmacies.

Notably, the Novartis representative did not commit to continue shipping 340B-priced drugs to contract pharmacies, but indicated the manufacturer is reviewing data from hospitals and other covered entities to determine next steps.

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About the Author

Nikki Hurt is a manager of legislative affairs at America's Essential Hospitals.

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