HealthCare Roundtable e-News – February 2, 2022

Build Back Better Negotiations Face Legislative Competition as Congress Returns from Break with Full Agenda

Congress returned from break this week with a heavy agenda, including continued discussions on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, as well as the likely nomination of a Supreme Court justice. According to some lawmakers and staff, it’s becoming more and more likely that BBB negotiations would be sidelined while more time-sensitive items are prioritized.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who spoke on the West Virginia radio show “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval”, last week, explained that Build Back Better negotiations are on the table to be discussed. Manchin had blocked negotiations back in December 2021, claiming that the plan was too expensive and would worsen inflation.

“They’ve been reaching out and everything. We haven’t sat down physically and started to enter negotiations.” Democratic leaders have pressed Manchin to continue negotiations while his vote remains to be the only way to break the tie. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Some Democratic lawmakers have expressed interest in either passing Build Back Better in pieces or as a single, scaled-back budget reconciliation bill. Where the process to build a reconciliation package is long, and the party would only get one opportunity to use it, some lawmakers have expressed little interest in passing pieces of the bill. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said government drug price controls will likely be packaged with tax incentives for clean energy in a smaller budget reconciliation bill. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Lawmakers Call for Extensions to Medicare Telehealth Waivers in February Omnibus

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling for an extension to the pandemic telehealth waivers as part of February’s must-pass omnibus legislation while they work to pass permanent telehealth legislation. In a letter to congressional leaders, Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) cited that the extension of these benefits would also provide additional time to collect and analyze data on how the use of Medicare telehealth has evolved in the last couple of years, where prior to the pandemic its use wasn’t nearly as high.

“Without more definitive knowledge about the duration of the pandemic and Medicare’s long-term coverage of telehealth, many organizations have been hesitant to fully invest in telehealth,” the letter explains. “An extension of the telehealth authorities would provide assurance that the investments will be sustainable over the long term. It would also reassure patients that their care will not end abruptly.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

Other organizations have expressed support for extending the telehealth waivers into 2024. A coalition of more than 330 healthcare and industry organizations, including the Alliance for Connected Care, American Telemedicine Association, and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, penned a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to “ensure millions of Americans don’t lose access to this care” and take action to enact comprehensive telehealth reform. The coalition noted that while the Biden administration can elect to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency, the PHE’s 90-day renewal cycle creates significant uncertainty for the U.S. healthcare system. 

Survey Highlights Education Gap, Shift In Consumer Attitudes on Short-Term Plans

Results from a recent Leukemia & Lymphoma Society survey report that many Americans are unaware of the risks associated with short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. Responses to the survey indicated that as respondents became more educated on the policies of the plans, the more negative they felt towards them by the end of the survey, a point that LLS plans to lean on as it advocates for more restrictions on the plans at the state and federal level.

According to the survey, 11% of respondents said at the beginning of the survey that they were aware of short-term plans. After respondents were given a description of the plans, explaining that while short term plans can be advertised as good, low-cost insurance they don’t necessarily have to follow the same rules as comprehensive insurance and can deny or limit coverage, a total of 79% of respondents said that the plans should be required to follow the same rules as traditional insurance.

Most significantly, the results showed that as respondents to the survey became more educated about the plans and their policies, the more negative consumers became towards the plans by the end of the survey. Lucy Culp, executive director of state government affairs, explains that LLS commissioned the survey to get a deeper understanding of consumers’ opinions of short-term plans. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Additionally, 82% of survey respondents said agents/brokers are responsible for the quality of plans they sell, and 88% said brokers should warn consumers about potentially inadequate plans. Consequentially, 69% of respondents agreed that brokers could face harm to their reputations for selling plans that might look cheaper at the outset but fail to pay for services down the road. (InsideHealthPolicy)