The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 9.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Update on Efforts to Delay Medicare Sequestration Cuts

The Senate has advanced S 610, a bill that would:

  • Extend the COVID-19-driven moratorium on the long-time two percent Medicare sequestration until the end of March 2022, reducing that sequestration from two percent to one percent from the beginning of April through the end of June 2022.
  • Avoid the additional four percent sequestration necessitated by federal PAYGO rules by moving the additional spending PAYGO cuts need to offset onto the federal balance sheet for FY 2023.
  • Include a procedural provision that would enable the Senate to pass legislation to lift the debt ceiling with only 50 votes (addressing the debt ceiling will require separate legislation).
  • Reduce the 3.75 percent cut in Medicare evaluation and management rates, which Congress halted last year but that was scheduled to resume on January 1, to a 0.75 percent cut.
  • Delay certain Medicare laboratory payment cuts.
  • Delay the launch of the Radiation Oncology Model until 2023.

Final passage of this bill is expected by the end of this week.

The White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy Update

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy Update

  • HHS and the White House have issued a “call to action” to improve maternal health and equity and address what they characterize as a maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. Learn more about this initiative from the following resources:
    • A White House fact sheet that describes the various components of this program.
    • A White House news release that lists more than two dozen private sector organizations that will be initial participants in this effort and that describes the specific roles they will play.
    • An HHS news release about the initiative.
    • Remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris about the program.
    • Remarks from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about the undertaking.
    • A CMS news release announcing that the agency will establish a “Birthing-Friendly” designation to drive improvements in perinatal health outcomes and maternal health equity. The designation, which would be indicated on the Hospital Compare web site, would initially identify hospitals that provide perinatal care, are participating in a maternity care quality improvement collaborative, and have implemented recommended patient safety practices.
    • An issue brief from HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation titled “Medicaid After Pregnancy: State-Level Implications of Extending Postpartum Coverage.”
    • An announcement that HHS’s Office on Women’s Health has revealed the 20 winners of Phase I of HHS’s Hypertension Innovator Award Competition.  The competition was created to identify effective, existing programs that care for people with hypertension where the programs could be or are already applied to women with hypertension who are pregnant and/or postpartum. Go here for the announcement and a list of the winners and brief descriptions of their programs.
    • A news release from the NIH announcing that the agency will offer up to $1 million in cash prizes for innovative diagnostic technologies to help improve maternal health around the world in conjunction with the White House “day of action” on maternal health. Submissions will be accepted from January 5, 2022 through April 22.  For more information about the program and details about eligibility, rules, and how to register and participate, go here.
  • HHS and the administration have introduced a series of substance abuse prevention and treatment initiatives under the broad rubric of “harm reduction.” Resources with further information about this effort include:
    • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s remarks during a press call announcing the administration’s harm reduction efforts.
    • HHS’s The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced that it is accepting applications for the first-ever SAMHSA Harm Reduction grant program and expects to issue $30 million in grant awards: $10 million a year over the next three years to support harm reduction services.  This funding will seek to increase access to a range of community harm reduction services and support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use.  Learn more about the program, its objectives, and the kinds of services it will fund in this HHS news release and go here for additional information about the program, eligibility, and how to apply for funding.  Applications for the first round of funding are due February 7, 2022.
  • HHS and its Health Resources and Services Administration have awarded approximately $82 million in emergency home visiting funds to 56 entities – states, jurisdictions, and non-profit organizations – to support children and families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program supports the delivery of high-quality, voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services to children and families living in communities at risk for poor maternal and child health outcomes.  Learn more from this HHS news release and go here to see a list of the grant recipients from this and a previous round of $40 million in funding.
  • Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory to highlight “the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis,” citing in particular the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of the country’s young people and families. The advisory outlines a series of recommendations to improve youth mental health.  Go here to see the HHS news release about the advisory and go here to see the advisory itself.
  • HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have announced the expansion of a program established earlier this year to improve access to affordable, accessible housing and services that make community living possible. A new Housing and Services Resource Center will serve as the hub for this effort, implementing a federally coordinated approach to providing resources, program guidance, training, and technical assistance to public housing authorities and housing providers; state Medicaid, disability, aging and behavioral health agencies; the aging and disability networks; homeless services organizations and networks; health care systems and providers; and tribal organizations.  Learn more about the program from this HHS news release and from the new Housing and Services Resource Center web site.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has amended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to authorize the use of a single booster dose for administration to individuals 16 and 17 years of age at least six months after completion of primary vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine. See this FDA announcement and an explanation of the agency’s decision.
  • The FDA has issued emergency use authorization for the monoclonal antibody Evusheld (tixagevimab co-packaged with cilgavimab and administered together) for the pre-exposure prevention of COVID-19 in certain adults and pediatric individuals. The product is only authorized for those individuals who are not currently infected with the COVID-19 virus and who have not recently been exposed to an individual infected with the virus.  Learn more from this FDA announcement and this manufacturer’s fact sheet.
  • The FDA has updated its SARS-CoV-2 Viral Mutations: Impact on COVID-19 Tests web page to share the latest information, including FDA recommendations for clinical laboratory staff and health care providers.  The update also adds new information about COVID-19 tests whose performance could be affected by COVID-19 genetic mutations, such as those found in the omicron variant, in patient samples.

National Institutes of Health

  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., the principal deputy director of the NIH, will serve as the acting director of the NIH effective December 20, 2021.  Go here to see the announcement and learn about Dr. Tabak.

Stakeholder Events

MEDPAC – commission meeting – December 9-10

Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee will meet virtually on December 9 and 10.  The two days of meetings will consist of four separate sessions.  For agendas for those sessions and information on how to register to participate, go here.

MACPAC – commission meeting – December 9-10

Members of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission will meet virtually on December 9 and 10.  To see the meeting agenda and register to participate, go here.