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On the Hill: House Votes to Avert Medicare Cuts; Becerra Confirmed

The House voted 246–175 Friday to advance a key advocacy goal for essential hospitals: extending through the end of 2021 the moratorium on a 2 percent Medicare sequester cut to provider payments, which is set to expire March 31. Twenty-nine Republicans supported the measure.

The bill (H.R. 1868) also includes technical corrections to previous COVID-19 relief legislation and would prevent a statutory automatic Medicare cut triggered by the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. Law requires mandatory Medicare cuts of up to 4 percent when Congress passes legislation that increases the deficit.

The bill appears unlikely to have enough support from Senate Republicans to pass the upper chamber. The Senate instead could opt to take up a standalone bill to extend the moratorium. However, it is unclear if the standalone legislation could pass both chambers by the March 31 deadline.

HHS Secretary Confirmed, Votes Expected on Other Nominees

The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick for health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra, in a 50–49 vote. As anticipated, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) crossed the aisle to support Becerra’s nomination. He was subsequently sworn in to the position by Vice President Kamala Harris. In a statement, America’s Essential Hospitals thanked the Senate for confirming Becerra.

Three key Biden nominations remain on the path to confirmation.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee last week approved the nominations of Vivek Murthy and Rachel Levine for U.S. surgeon general and assistant secretary for health, respectively. Both nominees are expected to come before the full Senate this week.

In addition, Biden’s nominee for deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shalanda Young, could be confirmed soon. However, Young also is in the mix as a potential OMB director nominee after the previous candidate, Neera Tanden, removed herself from consideration. OMB plays a critical role in reviewing and approving regulations, including those on health care policy, issued by the Biden administration.

Bipartisan Legislation to Protect 340B Hospitals

Meanwhile, a group of bipartisan senators last week reintroduced legislation to ensure hospitals in the 340B Drug Pricing Program can maintain program eligibility while responding to COVID-19, regardless of changes to their payer mixes.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. John Thune (R-SD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

America’s Essential Hospitals appreciates the leadership and work of these senators to provide certainty to hospitals that rely on the 340B program, particularly during this public health emergency.

Hearings of Note to Essential Hospitals

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a March 22 hearing on the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act. America’s Essential Hospitals submitted a statement for the record in support of the hospital infrastructure provision in the legislation, which would authorize $10 billion in funding for hospital construction and modernization. The association encourages Congress to target this funding toward hospitals with limited resources that treat populations with the greatest needs.

The House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies scheduled a March 23 hearing to address the maternal health crisis. The same day, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Health scheduled a hearing on expanding health coverage and lowering costs by building on the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate HELP Committee will hold a March 25 hearing on responding to COVID-19 by addressing health disparities to improve equity and outcomes. The hearing will feature testimony from Eugene Woods, president and CEO of association member Atrium Health, in Charlotte, N.C.

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About the Author

Christina Fagnano is the legislative affairs associate at America's Essential Hospitals.

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