Framing the Week

By: | March 16, 2020

COVID-19

Congress remains in session this week in an extraordinary effort to mitigate the health and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The House acted last Friday to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), designed to guarantee free coronavirus testing, establish paid leave, enhance unemployment insurance, expand food security initiatives, and temporarily increase federal Medicaid funding to 6.2 percent. The Senate remains in a holding pattern, while waiting for the House to pass technical correction to H.R. 6201 as soon as today.

Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi have also announced they will act quickly to introduce an addition legislative package to address the pandemic, which will include major provisions to address the economic and public health crisis.

Telehealth

Medicare telehealth provisions were clarified in the version passed Friday of last week to ensure that new Medicare beneficiaries are able to access telehealth services under the emergency authority granted to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released several fact sheets and guidance documents relating to the coronavirus response (see WHG summary here) the agency has yet to issue guidance implementing the Medicare telehealth provisions from the first coronavirus package signed into law on March 6.

Drug Pricing

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new score for the updated version of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (S. 2543). Much to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) delight, CBO estimates the bill would save, over the 2020-2030 period, $95 billion to taxpayers, reduce cost-sharing by $72 billion, and reduce premiums by $1 billion. Chairman Grassley continues to rally Republican support in order to persuade Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) to bring S. 2543 up for a floor vote.

2020 Election

Lastly, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio are scheduled to hold Democratic primary elections tomorrow.

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Alyssa Llamas