HealthCare Roundtable e-News – February 16, 2022

Health Experts Mixed on State Govs.’ Proposal to End Public Health Emergency

In recent weeks, leaders of local governments have been pushing the White House to consider how the country might shift to a more state-led pandemic response as different regions across the country are starting to see COVID cases decrease. According to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), he and a bipartisan group of governors have asked President Joe Biden to work with them on shifting away from the public health emergency (PHE), with other federal lawmakers also calling on the president to share a timeline of when the White House is looking to end the PHE.

Currently, the PHE is set to end on April 15 of this year, with the Biden administration citing that it would notify stakeholders at least 60 days in advance if the administration decides not to further extend the PHE period. When asked when restrictions might end, Anthony Fauci said he hoped it would be “soon” and agreed with the suggestion during a press event that it was likely to happen this year. According to Dr. Fauci, the U.S. is moving out of the “full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19,” he recently told the Financial Times.

“These decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated. There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus,” Fauci said.

According to Adriane Casalotti, chief of government and public affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, placing responsibility for pandemic management on state and local public health officials at this stage – while the country is still seeing 150,000 new cases per day – could have “serious consequences for communities.” Casalotti noted that without the federally mandated PHE, changes to out-of-pocket costs for COVID testing, telemedicine provisions, Federal Emergency Management Agency mobilization, and more would not be possible and more likely eliminated in many areas. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Biden Pushes Drug Pricing as Key Component of Revamped “Build Back Better” Package

President Joe Biden addressed key components of his Build Back Better plan, calling for government drug price controls to be featured in the package that is still being negotiated. During a speech given in Culpepper, VA, Biden acknowledged that a scaled-back version of the bill will be the priority for Democrats, despite ongoing delays in bringing the legislative package to life.

During the event, Biden touted Build Back Better’s key drug pricing measures, with emphasis on a provision that would allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices. Democrats have long considered the bill’s drug pricing measures to be its most popular and giving it the best chance to pass through reconciliation. Biden said that the bill proposes the government be able to “negotiate fair prices that reflect the cost of research and development and the need for significant profit but still is affordable.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had previously attempted to pass their own form of drug pricing legislation that would tie Medicare reimbursement to drug prices paid by Veterans Affairs. The duo’s bill differs from the drug pricing measures included in Build Back Better and had previously been blocked by Senate Republicans; however, it includes provisions around drug pricing that many Democrats had previously supported. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Wyden Calls for Bipartisan Effort to Tackle Youth Mental Health Legislation in Finance Committee Summer Package

During a hearing on youth mental health last week, Sen. Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called on subcommittee leaders to prioritize legislation that offers solutions to the nation’s mental health crisis. Wyden is intending to pull together bipartisan legislation that would help alleviate the crisis by integrating primary and mental health care and prioritizing access to telehealth, as well as increased access to behavioral health care for children.

The bill is being assembled as part of the Senate Finance Committee’s summer legislative package on mental health. It likely will contain post-pandemic telehealth policies which is co-led by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), as well as an effort to grant advocates’ request for coordinated care via an integrated health system through Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas).

“I think it is so important in this day and age that there is mental health parity with physical health,” said Senator Cortez Masto at the hearing. “There is too much of a stigma around mental health, but nobody has [a] stigma about being concerned about their physical health and getting the health care they need….” Cortez Masto has also recently sponsored the Senate bill known as the “Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act,” which would extend telehealth waivers for two years.

Additionally, Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will collaborate on a bill to focus on ensuring parity between behavioral and physical health care, and Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) will work on legislation to improve youth access to behavioral health care as advocates have long pushed for more investment in the pediatric behavioral health workforce. (InsideHealthPolicy)