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On the Hill: Lawmakers Race to Pass COVID-19 Relief

Congress is racing to pass another COVID-19 relief package through the budget reconciliation process before enhanced unemployment benefits expire March 14.

The COVID-19 reconciliation legislation includes $1.9 trillion in relief across multiple sectors of the economy. In addition to raising the minimum wage and allocating $350 billion in state and local funding, the package would enhance health insurance access and affordability and expand employer tax credits related to the pandemic. The legislation also adds funding for COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and treatment; Medicaid coverage and enhanced reimbursement for COVID-19 vaccines; Medicaid coverage for pregnant individuals 12 months postpartum; and a financial incentive for states to expand Medicaid coverage if they have not already done so.

But the legislation does not provide new funding for the Provide Relief Fund (PRF), a lifeline for essential hospitals still responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a new letter to congressional leadership, America’s Essential Hospitals urged Congress to replenish the PRF and address essential hospitals’ other critical needs.

The House Committee on the Budget yesterday marked up the COVID-19 relief package. A full floor vote is expected later this week to advance the bill to the Senate.

Cabinet Confirmation, Infrastructure Hearings

The Senate Committee on Finance will hold a Feb. 24 nomination hearing for Xavier Becerra as secretary of health and human services (HHS). The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) also has planned a nomination hearing for Becerra; although the Finance Committee has jurisdiction to confirm the HHS secretary, the HELP Committee also holds a hearing, as it oversees many HHS agencies and programs.

The HELP Committee also will hold a Feb. 25 nomination hearing for Vivek Murthy as medical director of the Public Health Service Corps and surgeon general; and Rachel Levine as HHS assistant secretary.

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a Feb. 24 hearing to examine the nation’s public health infrastructure.

Deadline Extended on 340B House Letter

Lawmakers now have until Feb. 25 to cosign a bipartisan letter calling on presumptive Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra 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) — urges Becerra to act against pharmaceutical manufacturers that continue to withhold 340B discounts from contract pharmacies, including requiring manufacturers to refund covered entities for unlawful overcharges. The letter also asks Becerra to stop attempts from third-party vendors, such as Kalderos, to unilaterally change 340B to a rebate model.

America’s Essential Hospitals supports this bipartisan effort.

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About the Author

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

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