Weekly Policy Update – April 12, 2024

Appropriations and Budget Updates

  • Congress returned to a busy agenda after a two-week recess. Before the recess, Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) announced that she would be stepping down as the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) chair. On Wednesday, April 10, Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) was unanimously voted as the next chair of the HAC, vowing to get the committee on track for FY 2025 funding. As HAC chair, Cole makes history as the longest-serving Native American and first Oklahoman to hold the position. Notably, Cole assumes this position with a history of working in a bipartisan manner on appropriations bills, and with a slim Republican majority that is ideologically fragmented.

 

  • In wake of his promotion, Chair Cole quickly announced changes to the Appropriation Subcommittee leadership, with Representative David Valadao (R-CA) taking on the Legislative Branch subcommittee, Representative Steve Womack (R-AR) moving to T-HUD, and Representative Dave Joyce (R-OH) assuming leadership of Financial Services (Politico Pro, subscription required). Additionally, Cole released guidance for FY 2025 programmatic and language requests, stating that a final subcommittee chair roster, and submission deadlines for each of the twelve appropriations bills will be announced in the coming days. The programmatic and language requests guidance is available here.

 

  • Meanwhile, Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Chair of the Labor-HHS Subcommittee, has been advocating for significant reforms to the appropriations process amidst widespread discontent and fracture among Republicans. Aderholt’s proposed reforms seek to increase transparency and reduce waste, including requiring all four subcommittee chairs from both chambers to approve congressionally directed spending.

 

  • On the Senate side, Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) has emphasized the challenges ahead for the FY 2025 funding process, particularly with tight funding caps for the upcoming fiscal year, highlighting the importance of balancing defense and nondefense spending.

Hill Updates

  • On April 9, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), released a draft legislative proposal that would appropriate $10 billion in mandatory funding for the NIH over the next decade to strengthen its response to Long COVID through several new initiatives. Sen. Sanders is requesting feedback from stakeholders. You can see the proposal here.
  • During the April 10 House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee hearing on ways to support patients’ access to telehealth, lawmakers discussed whether to extend pandemic-era telehealth policies permanently or temporarily to prevent a “telehealth cliff” at the end of the calendar year (IHP, subscription required). The hearing considered 15 legislative proposals regarding extensions and flexibilities. Discussions revolved around program integrity, budgetary concerns, and the quality of Medicare telehealth services. The ultimate decision on provisions and extensions will likely be included in a larger health care package expected later in the year.
  • On April 11, Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on “Bolstering Chronic Care through Medicare Physician Payment.” The hearing highlighted the need for updating and strengthening Medicare to better address the challenges faced by seniors with chronic conditions. Witnesses and members of the Committee highlighted concerns with the Medicare physician payment structure lading to a worsening physician shortage and patient access issues, and they discussed the need for reforms to physician payment, quality programs, care coordination, prior authorization, telehealth, and more. 
  • The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a Health Subcommittee hearing on April 17 to discuss the American Privacy Rights Act (APRA), a comprehensive data privacy bill, as well as the Algorithmic Accountability Act and children’s online safety measures. The APRA, introduced by Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), aims to pre-empt state data privacy laws, require algorithm impact assessments, and grant the Federal Trade Commission new regulatory authority over data privacy, with implications for AI. The hearing will also address other proposals, including the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA).

Administration Updates 

  • CMS announced a CMS Innovation Center person-centered listening session for April 24. The event will feature CMS Innovation Center leadership and other experts who will discuss how community-based organizations are being leveraged to meet health-related social needs. Please find the link to register here.
  • On April 9 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced sharp cuts to a federal program providing free or discounted high-speed internet to 23 million American households due to lack of new congressional funding. For May 2024, beneficiaries may face price hikes or service loss, depending on how internet providers handle the reduced federal aid.
  • On April 10, CMS released the FY 2025 Medicare hospital inpatient prospective payment system (IPPS) and long-term care hospital prospective payment system (LTCH PPS) proposed rule. The proposed rule would update Medicare fee-for-service payment rates and inpatient hospitals and LTCHs for FY 2025. The rule is available for your review here.
  • Additionally, as part of CMS’s proposed IPPS rule, the Biden Administration is revisiting the idea of offering Medicare add-on payments to incentivize hospitals to create buffer stocks of essential medicines to avert shortages (IHP, subscription required). Notably, CMS is tailoring the buffer stock plan to small, independent hospitals by proposing a separate payment specifically for small hospitals to foster access to a more reliable, resilient supply of critical drugs.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever national, legally enforceable standard for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and an additional $1 billion through the President’s Investing in America Agenda to combat PFAS pollution. The funding builds on the President’s 2021 action plan to address PFAS pollution.
  • HHS, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced the first-ever funding opportunity for HRSA-funded health centers to implement innovative approaches to support transitions in care for people leaving incarceration. In step with the White House Second Chance Initiative, the funding opportunity supports the provision of health services to individuals during the 90 days prior to their release to help facilitate their return to the community by expanding their access to primary health care.
  • On April 10, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) launched the Building Resilient Environments for Air and Total Health (BREATHE) program to create a scalable platform to improve indoor air quality across the country. Please see the program page here.
  • ARPA-H announced on April 11 the Lymphatic Imaging, Genomics, and pHenotyping Technologies (LIGHT) program, which will pursue comprehensive diagnostic tools and revolutionize detection of lymphatic dysfunction.
  • During National Minority Health Month, HHS is highlighting its efforts to advance health equity for all, including initiatives to lower health care costs, expand health care coverage, improve health outcomes, bolster rural health care providers, bolster Tribal health care providers, advance civil rights and nondiscrimination laws in health care, and advance data equity.
  • The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released a data brief on electronic access to immunization information among primary care physicians (PCPs). Key takeaways from the data brief include that 58% of PCPs reported general satisfaction with their electronic access to external immunization information via their electronic health record (EHR) system and/or portal outside the EHR in 2022. Please find the data brief here.
  • The FDA is seeking input from patients and providers as it develops new draft guidance for managing the lifecycle of AI and marketing submissions for AI-enabled devices (IHP, subscription required). Sonja Fulmer, FDA’s deputy director of the Digital Health Center of Excellence, highlighted the importance of addressing AI-enabled devices’ performance post-market, emphasizing the need for safe and effective innovation amid concerns about health equity and optimal patient outcomes.

Health Policy Updates 

  • Efforts are underway to increase the representation of nurses in elected offices at local, state, and federal levels, such as initiatives like Healing Politics aiming to encourage and support nurses in running for office due to the unique perspectives they bring to politics. While some nurses have already pursued political careers, including in Congress, the push for more nurses in politics is gaining momentum.

 

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