Today the Senate voted to confirm Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The nomination was approved in a 55–44 vote, with five Republicans voting yes: Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
In her new role, Brooks-LaSure will oversee operations for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act insurance Marketplace.
America’s Essential Hospitals in a release congratulated Brooks-LaSure and welcomed her long-standing focus on disparities in health and health care.
Infrastructure Talks Stall
Infrastructure negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans appear to be at a standstill after the two sides exchanged revised proposals. The two parties have yet to bridge their fundamental differences on the cost — there is a $1.5 trillion gap between the proposals — and the scope of their preferred approaches to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. Discussions will continue as negotiators determine the path forward.
Hearing on Telehealth, COVID-19
The Senate Committee on Finance last week held a hearing on perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned related to health care flexibility during the pandemic. The hearing examined the increased use of telehealth and how this technology could be leveraged to address health disparities
Senators from both parties communicated support for further expanding audio-only telehealth services. Participants also discussed the Hospital at Home waiver, issued during the pandemic. Lawmakers received feedback that more hospitals would be interested in this waiver program, but uncertainty around its duration could hinder adoption.
Subcommittee Examines Hospital Consolidation
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights met to discuss hospital consolidation. Lawmakers raised concerns that hospital consolidation could result in higher costs and less access to health care services. Further, the subcommittee suggested the Department of Justice should review antitrust laws related to hospital consolidation to ensure there are no negative effects on patients, employees, and communities.
Senate Committee Reviews Medical Supply Chain Issues
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs last week held a hearing to evaluate vulnerabilities and gaps in the domestic medical supply chain. The hearing featured the testimony of Shereef Elnahal, MD, MBA, president and CEO of University Hospital, an essential hospital in Newark, N.J. Participants noted a lack of transparency in the drug and medical device supply chain that contributed to, but was not the sole cause of, supply shortages during the pandemic. Lawmakers debated potential legislative improvements to the process.
A Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing this week will discuss several bills, including S. 1675, which aims to improve maternal health; and S. 1491, which would amend the Public Health Service Act to improve obstetric care in rural areas.
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on building COVID-19 vaccine confidence.
Also this week, the House Committee on Appropriations will hold hearings on the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The NIH budget hearing will be May 25 and the CDC budget hearing will be May 26.
The Senate Committee on Appropriations also has a May 26 hearing on the NIH FY 2022 budget and the state of medical research. NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, and Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will testify.