Capitol Hill Healthcare Update

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CONCERNS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS GROW ON CAPITOL HILL

As coronavirus cases continue to emerge in the United States and worldwide, lawmakers are seeking briefings from federal health officials about the outbreak that originated in China and what steps U.S. health agencies are taking to protect Americans.

Five cases were confirmed in the United States, but there have been nearly 3,000 people infected and 81 related deaths in China. The virus is from the same family of viruses that caused previous outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Senators on Friday received a briefing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Officials told senators that the risk to the American public is low, and that the agency has the resources it needs to address the spread of the disease.

Still, lawmakers are showing concern over the outbreak and are reaching out to the Trump administration for information.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., a former healthcare executive, called on the administration to declare a public health emergency. Democratic senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey wrote to the CDC and the State Department regarding screening procedures at Newark and other major U.S. airports, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., wrote a similar letter to the CDC regarding Detroit’s international airport.

DRUG SAFETY FOCUS OF HOUSE HEARING

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday to review 10 bills regarding drug and food safety.

The Fairness in Orphan Drug Exclusivity Act, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., aims to address what Dean said is a loophole in the Orphan Drug Act that allows products to receive benefits improperly.

The panel will consider legislation by committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., that would designate national centers of excellence in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Legislation by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., would extend the Food and Drug Administration’s administrative destruction authority to medical devices. The FDA is authorized to destroy certain imported drugs that pose a threat to public health; Guthrie wants to extend that authority to counterfeit devices.

The subcommittee also will consider legislation by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., that would give the FDA authority to require generic manufacturers to modify outdated labels for their products. Generic manufacturers cannot independently update their product labels with new safety information that does not follow the label of the branded version, but this can create complications if the branded drug is no longer marketed.

HOUSE PANEL TO EXAMINE MATERNAL AND INFANT HEALTH

Two subcommittees of the House Education and Labor Committee will hold a joint hearing Tuesday on maternal and infant health.

Maternal health is a growing area of concern for lawmakers. According to the recently created Black Maternal Health Caucus, the U.S. has the worst maternal death rates in the developed world.

Witnesses include representatives of the March of Dimes, the United States Breastfeeding Committee and the National Birth Equity Collaborative.

RURAL SENATORS URGE CONTINUING DELAY OF LIVER POLICY

Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for a continued delay of changes to national liver distribution policy amid ongoing litigation.

In 2018, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which manages the U.S. transplant system, adopted a new model to prioritize patients with the most urgent medical need. Blunt and Moran have led opposition to the policy change, which they believe would negatively impact patients in the Midwest.

The new policy does have broad support on Capitol Hill. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., last week praised a federal district court decision to allow the policy to move forward during a lawsuit brought by patients and transplant centers. Engel previously led 81 lawmakers in writing to Azar to praise the new model.

LAWMAKERS SEEK INFORMATION ON ALZHEIMER’S INNOVATION

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are seeking information about research on treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., wrote to HHS, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health to ask about each agency’s efforts to advance treatment.

The lawmakers cited long-term congressional interest in the disease, including the 2011 National Alzheimer’s Project Act and the 2018 Building Our Largest Dementia Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act. They asked questions about the use of federal dollars for research and also requested a staff briefing.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050. There is currently no effective treatment addressing the progression of the disease, and costs to the U.S. are projected to be more than $1 trillion in 2050 if none is developed.

COMMITTEE LEADERS WANT BRIEFING ON STIMULANTS ‘EPIDEMIC’

The bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on key federal health officials to update lawmakers on reports of the increased use of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Congress in recent years has approved billions of dollars to combat opioid abuse and treat opioid victims, yet the lawmakers warned that cocaine and methamphetamine abuse have now reached epidemic levels, too.

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., wrote to the leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The letters and requests for briefings from agency leaders were disclosed during a hearing by the committee’s oversight and investigations panel, which was examining state efforts to curb the opioid crisis.

Separately, Walden and other Republican committee members called on the Government Accountability Office to review opioid funding approved by Congress.

“Congress has authorized billions of dollars to address this crisis, but even we cannot adequately track where and how the funds were used in many cases,” the members wrote in the letter.

HOUSE DEMOCRATS SEEK DATA ON MENTAL HEALTH PARITY COMPLIANCE

More than two dozen House Democrats are demanding to know how the federal agency tasked with providing oversight of employer-sponsored health plans is complying with mental health parity laws.

In a letter to the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, the lawmakers asked how the agency is enforcing the law. The letter was led by Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va.

The 1996 federal mental health parity law prohibits individual and group insurance plans that cover mental health or substance use disorder services from applying more restrictive financial or treatment limitations on those benefits than on benefits for medical and surgical services.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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