HHS Standing Committee Newsletter | July Edition

8/25/2021

HHS Newsletter

From Congress

July 15, 2021: In addition to appropriations, the House Ways and Means Committee passed several bipartisan bills on a number of issues. Bills covered: ways to combat substance use disorders, boosting access to vaccines, improving maternal health care and public health, and support for extending Medicaid funding by five years in the U.S. territories. Other House activity included hearings on: treatments and cures for neurodegenerative diseases, and direct care workforce. Senate committees heard from senior federal officials on the response to COVID-19  and disparities in life expectancy.

July 12, 2021: The House began the appropriations process for fiscal year 2022 spending bills with subcommittee markups starting and full committee markups later in the month. Areas of bipartisan support included increased funding for a number of health agencies within the HHS, increased support for the Strategic National Stockpile, and the creation of the proposed  Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) that would operate within National Institutes for Health as long as funding to start the agency doesn’t pull form other programs. There was also separate bipartisan legislation introduced to establish ARPA-H to help accelerate new medical breakthroughs and innovations, including increasing diversity in clinical trials. The House has approved several spending bills including for the Department of Labor, HHS, Education, and related agencies. Total funding for the bill included $253.8 billion with increases for several agencies within the HHS.

From the Administration

July 29, 2021: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is awarding 100 grants increasing access to facilitates across the U.S. to provide community-based support for Americans in need of substance use disorder and mental health treatment services. Funding for the services includes $77 million that will assist Certified Community Behavioral Health Centers (CCBHC) to expand program capabilities and is part of the overall $420 million appropriated for CCBHC expansion grants under the ARPA. Funding will establish services in new facilities and enhance services at existing ones. 

July 26, 2021: The HRSA is providing relief funds to support current medical residents in Teaching Health Centers (THCs) to help create new community-based primary care residency programs and also expand the number of full-time resident positions at THCs. The HRSA has awarded $8 million to support the training of 800 new residents with each THC awardee to receive an additional $10,000 per resident. Funds can help support resident training costs, salaries, stipends, supplies and curriculum developments. The HRSA is also offering three funding opportunities for a total of $76 million to assist with graduate medical education, teaching health center planning and development and THC technical assistance.

July 19, 2021: During the previous administration, a final rule was passed that required hospitals to begin publishing prices they negotiate with private health insurers. Hospitals failing to comply would face financial penalties. Now the Biden administration has proposed raising penalties on hospitals that do not publish prices. With the existing fee levels, some providers have chosen to pay them instead of posting prices. The regulation requires hospitals to post prices for at least 300 “shoppable” services with a current existing penalty of $110,000 per year. The proposed change would raise the maximum penalty to $2 million per year for the largest hospitals. The CMS is also asking for comments on these higher penalties as well as recommended best practices for online pricing tools that providers could use instead of posting standard charges for 300 services.

July 19, 2021: In other pandemic and relief related news, the HHS released a report looking at state Medicaid telehealth policies before and during the pandemic. The administration also released guidance that long-term symptoms of COVID-19 can qualify as a disability under various federal civil rights laws.

July 9, 2021:The administration issued an order to the FDA to work with states and tribes on prescription drug importation from Canada. The order directs the HHS to increase support for generic and biosimilar drugs, issuing a comprehensive plan within 45 days to combat high prescription drug prices and price gouging, and also encourages the Federal Trade Commission to ban “pay for delay” and other similar agreements.

July 13, 2021: The HHS announced the first phase of implementing surprise medical billing legislation. The agency along with the Departments of Labor, and Treasury and the Office of Personnel Management issued the first part of an interim final rule. The rule addresses requirements of the “No Surprises Act,” regarding excessive out-of-pocket costs to consumers including from surprise billing and balance billing. Read more from NCSL here.

July 2021: The DOJ and HHS released a report for fiscal year (FY) 2020 outlining the $1.8 billion in health care fraud judgments and settlements that were won or negotiated by the federal government. Due to these and efforts from preceding years nearly $3.1 billion was returned to the government or paid to individuals in FY 2020. Of the total funding, $2.1 billion was transferred to the Medicare Trust Funds and $128.2 million in federal Medicaid funds were transferred separately to the Treasury.  

July 2021: Ongoing COVID related relief actions included the opening of the Provider Relief Fund reporting portal. Providers who received funding need to input information for Reporting Period 1 until Thursday, Sept. 30. This information is part of the post-payment reporting process and several resources have been made available to assist providers in the process. Other relief funding included $80 million for COVID detection and mitigation in homeless populations and awards and guidance on the $700 million for similar efforts in confinement facilities.

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