Weekly Policy Update – April 19, 2024

Appropriations and Budget Updates

  • Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) completes his first full week as the head of the House Appropriations Committee. The Chairman, who took on the role just last week, has already made significant changes to the subcommittee line-ups and initiated the fiscal year 2025 appropriations process. The spotlight, however, has been on Speaker Mike Johnson’s (R-LA) strategy to advance separate aid bills for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, along with legislation aimed at confiscating Russian assets, requiring the divestment of TikTok by its Chinese parent company, and imposing sanctions on Iran. Instead of bundling the aid into a single comprehensive bill, the Speaker has opted for individual bills for each country. This decision has caused discontent among House Freedom Caucus members due to the absence of border security measures in these bills, despite the Speaker’s intention to propose a bill addressing Republican border security concerns. This discontent has led some party members, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA), to contemplate advancing a motion to remove Speaker Johnson from his speaker position.
    • Democrats, while backing the foreign aid, have remained mostly on the sidelines of the Republicans’ internal conflict, taking a wait-and-see stance, with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NU) concentrating on maintaining party unity. Nevertheless, to pass any of the aid bills, Speaker Johnson will need to depend on Minority Leader Jeffries and the support of Democratic lawmakers. In fact, Democratic votes were essential in moving the rule for debate for the aid package out of the House Rules Committee last night. The House is expected to vote separately on all four bills this weekend, then under the rule, they’ll automatically get packaged together to move to the Senate.
  • This week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies and the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on the HHS budget. Secretary Becerra underscored the administration’s progress in expanding health coverage, reducing insulin and prescription drug costs, and bolstering reproductive and behavioral health care. He advocated for ongoing efforts to enhance overall health and innovation while supporting America’s vulnerable populations.
  • House Appropriations Subcommittees have announced deadlines for written Outside Witness Testimony, including a deadline of Friday, May 3, for LHHS-Ed testimony. Additionally, the Senate LHHS-Ed Subcommittee announced a deadline of May 14 for Senators to submit requests.

Hill Updates

  • New federal data suggests that the No Surprises Act, intended to protect patients from surprise medical bills, may need a second look due to private equity firms disproportionately benefiting from the law and insurers violating its rules. Experts warn that the law could increase costs for consumers.

Administration Updates 

  • FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has launched the CDER Center for Clinical Trial Innovation (C3TI). C3TI aims to promote clinical trial innovation through improved communication and collaboration. It will facilitate the sharing of lessons learned across CDER’s initiatives and manage a demonstration program for sponsors of innovative clinical trials. The center aims to improve trial efficiency, increase diverse participation, and accelerate the development of safe and effective new drugs. More information is available here.
  • Researchers at the NIH have developed an AI tool using single-cell RNA sequencing data to predict cancer response. The tool uses transfer learning to train an AI model using bulk RNA sequencing data and fine-tune it using single-cell RNA sequencing data. The model accurately predicted individual cell responses to both single drugs and combinations of drugs. The accuracy of the technique will improve with more widely available single-cell RNA sequencing data.
  • CMS has implemented numerous recommendations to reduce improper payments in Medicare and Medicaid, resulting in billions of dollars in federal savings. These include improved fraud prevention, improved Medicaid managed care oversight, and expanded review of provider screening and enrollment requirements. However, some recommendations remain unimplemented, such as equalizing certain Medicare payments based on where services are provided, assessing the quality of telehealth services, and ensuring state auditors are properly trained. These actions could save Medicare $141 billion over 10 years.
  • GAO recommends that HHS adopt a coordinated, department-wide program that incorporates input from external stakeholders to identify and resolve challenges after the federal response to a 2022 mpox outbreak. Read more about the recommendation here.
  • The NIH is revising the application and peer review process for research training fellowships to improve participation from smaller schools, early career mentors, and well-qualified students. The changes aim to address concerns about reputational bias, career-stage bias, and a burdensome application process. The revised approach will be effective for fellowship applications due on or after Jan. 25, 2025. Find more information here.


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