What Happened, What You Missed: January 30-February 3


Biden Administration to End PHE in May

The White House announced on Monday that the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will officially come to an end on May 11.  Since it was first declared on January 31, 2020, the PHE has been renewed 12 times at 90-day intervals, with the most recent renewal being January 11, 2023. The end of the PHE will kick off a gradual unwinding of emergency measures and flexibilities related to the use of telehealth and a continuous coverage requirement for Medicaid. The PHE’s termination will also mean the end of free COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. By announcing the end of the PHE 101 days before May 11, the administration is honoring its commitment to provide 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE.

Surprise Bill Faces Lawsuit over IDR Process

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) filed another lawsuit against the No Surprises Act – this time, over a 600% increase in administrative fees for parties seeking to enter the independent dispute resolution (IDR) process to resolve payment disagreements between health plans and out-of-network providers.  The Biden administration increased the $50 initial administrative fee to $350 to account for “increasing expenditures in carrying out the Federal IDR process,” likely due to the fact that more billing disputes have been directed to the IDR process than initially anticipated.  According to the TMA, the jump in administrative fees will disincentivize physicians’ ability to seek arbitration and disproportionally impact specialties with small-dollar claims, like radiology.  The TMA has filed three lawsuits against the No Surprises Act, and a district court ruling from one lawsuit compelled the administration to change its rules pertaining to the IDR process.

Study: US Health Outcomes Worse Despite Higher Spending

The US has some of the worst health outcomes among high-income countries despite having the highest health spending per person, according to a study from the Commonwealth Fund.  For example, the study found that the US had the lowest life expectancy at birth, the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, the highest suicide rates, and the highest death rates for avoidable or treatable conditions.  Some of the possible reasons for the poor health outcomes described in the study could be the lack of guaranteed health coverage in the US and the fact that the US has the lowest rate of practicing physicians and hospital beds per 1,000 population.  The study also noted that Americans see physicians less often than residents of other wealthy nations.

Lawmakers Call for Drug Czar to Be Cabinet-Level Position

55 bicameral, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday calling for the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to be elevated to a Cabinet-level position to better address the nation’s drug overdose epidemic.  Colloquially known as the “drug czar,” the position of ONDCP director was a Cabinet-level position until 2009 when then-President Barack Obama downgraded it.  Established under former President Ronald Reagan in 1988, the ONDCP coordinates with 19 federal agencies to lead US drug policy.  In the letter, the lawmakers urged President Biden to announce the reinstatement of the position to the Cabinet in the upcoming State of the Union address on February 7 due to a 60% increase in overdose deaths since 2019.

ICYMI: Modernization Committee Lives On in 118th Congress

Despite being dissolved at the end of 2022, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress will live on in the 118th Congress as a subcommittee within the House Administration Committee as the the fate of the panel up until this week was in limbo due to a change in control of the House.  Like its predecessor, the new subcommittee consists of four members, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.  Subcommittee leaders plan on building on the success of the select committee, which includes raising the pay ceiling for staff above what members earn and reviving a more transparent version of the earmarks process.

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