What Happened, What You Missed: May 9-13

States Regain Authority to Pay for Home Health Aides’ Insurance 

State Medicaid agencies can once again directly pay for independent home health aides’ benefits, according to a final rule the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Thursday.  The final rule overturns a 2019 rule that required states to pay the full Medicaid rate to home health aides, which made health coverage and other benefits more costly and created administrative barriers to enrollment.  Under the new rule, state Medicaid agencies can now allow home health aides not working with an agency to have employee benefit premiums and union dues deducted from their paychecks.  According to CMS, boosting benefits for home health workers can help address the industry’s workforce shortage.

FDA Open to Moving Up Meeting Dates on Vaccines for Young Kids

A top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official told members of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis during a May 9 briefing that the agency will move up an advisory panel’s meeting dates on vaccines for children under 6 if the FDA finishes reviewing vaccine data sooner than expected.  The briefing was convened after reports emerged that the FDA was delaying its review of COVID-19 vaccines for young kids until both Pfizer and Moderna had submitted clinical trial data.  Additionally, the subcommittee was informed that the FDA would not withhold authorization for a pediatric vaccine solely because it did not reach a 50% efficacy threshold at blocking symptomatic infection, which was previously required for COVID-19 vaccines.  FDA advisory panel meetings on vaccines for young kids are currently scheduled for June 2022.

Administration Officials Still Tight-Lipped on End of PHE

The Biden administration on Tuesday sent a letter to state governors to urge them to make preparations for the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).  However, the administration declined to give any indication as to when it will let the PHE expire, although the letter did reiterate the administration’s commitment to provide states 60 days’ notice before pulling the plug on the PHE.  The PHE is currently set to end of July 16, which means the administration would have to communicate that it will let the current PHE end no later than Tuesday, May 17.  Numerous policies tied to the PHE are immensely important to the states, including Medicaid redetermination and telehealth waivers. 

Reed Officially Resigns from Congress, Takes Job with Lobbying Firm

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) officially resigned from Congress on Tuesday, and he will soon start a new role at Prime Policy Group, a government relations firm.  Reed announced in 2021 that he would not seek an additional term following allegations of sexual misconduct.  In a final floor speech, Reed decried “the current focus on extremism” in politics, and he called for “petty political posturing to end.”  Reed was the top Republican on the Social Security Subcommittee of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) is likely to replace Reed as the subcommittee’s top Republican.  Reed’s resignation will trigger two special elections this year to determine who will succeed Reed in representing New York’s Southern Tier region in Congress.

ICYMI: Paris Hilton Returns to Washington

This week, media personality and businesswoman Paris Hilton was spotted on Capitol Hill and in the White House, where she advocated for legislation to improve the oversight of youth treatment facilities.  Hilton endured psychological abuse at one such facility as a child, and in October 2021, she shared her experiences while testifying before a Utah State Senate panel.  In April, Hilton’s media company began working with a lobbying firm to advance legislation to regulate congregate care facilities for teens.

People Injured by the COVID-19 Vaccine Need More Help from the Federal Government

No vaccine is perfect, and unfortunately, COVID-19 vaccines have caused serious adverse side effects in a tiny percentage of people.   For those whose side effects are severe enough to put them out of work or generate high medical bills, the federal government can provide benefits via the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP).  This program is not to be confused with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which does not address caused by COVID-19 vaccines.  Examples of serious side effects from COVID-19 vaccines can include blood clots, long-lasting shoulder pain, and swelling of the tongue. 

However, the CICP is not up to snuff, and the majority of claims are not being addressed.  As public health officials continue to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, how can the government better serve those who face rare yet serious consequences from doing the right thing and getting their shots?

The CIPC, explained.  Created in 2010, the CICP was created to provide compensation for injuries resulting from any vaccination, medication, or other device that’s recommended to treat against a declared pandemic, epidemic, or security threat such as Ebola, Zika, and anthrax. 

In March 2020, then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar issued a declaration to provide liability immunity for countermeasures like vaccines and treatments related to COVID-19.  He also directed the CICP to provide benefits to individuals who “sustain a serious physical injury or die” from a COVID-19 countermeasure. 

In terms of coverage, the CICP provides $50,000 a year to replace lost wages and reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses.  If a person dies, a next-of-kin can receive up to $370,376.  Those who are injured by a countermeasure can request compensation by filing a request and submitting medical records within one year from the date the countermeasure was administered.  CICP medical staff then process to review compensation claims, and those who feel their claims are unfairly rejected can review an appeal before an independent panel.   

Unfortunately, many claims are not being address.  As of October 2021, over 1,300 countermeasure claims linked to COVID-19 vaccines remain pending before the CICP independent panel.  Since its creation over a decade ago, the CICP has only compensated 29 claims – none of which stem from the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of these unaddressed claims belongs to Cody Flint, an agricultural pilot from Mississippi who has been experiencing serious health issues after getting vaccinated for COVID-19 in February 2021.  Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) shared Flint’s story to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra in a May 4th congressional hearing, where she remarked that CICP has shown a lack of urgency and transparency in addressing claims

In response, Becerra didn’t provide any information on how CICP is addressing the backlog of claims.   Instead, he voiced agreement on the importance of providing transparency, and he explained he wants to make sure no one is “gaming the system” so that “those who really have medical issues to report are the ones who are receiving assistance.” 

However, Becerra did seemingly acknowledge that many claims aren’t being addressed, saying “we’ve heard this story before,” and he promised to put a member of his staff in touch with the senator to provide further details. 

Some lawmakers aren’t waiting around for the administration to take action on CICP claims, though.  Hyde-Smith is a cosponsor of the Countermeasure Injury Compensation Fund Amendment Act, which would update CICP’s adjudication framework and create a new commission to look at countermeasures specifically caused by COVID-19 vaccines.  Unfortunately, the backlog of CICP claims hasn’t captured the attention of many lawmakers so far.  The Senate bill has only garnered thee cosponsors as of this writing, and only one House bill has been introduced that would address CICP in some fashion.  Thus, it doesn’t seem like either measure has a shot at advancing in Congress anytime soon. 

While the number of countermeasures arising from COVID-19 vaccines remains incredibly small, people who’ve legitimately suffered from countermeasures deserve compensation.  Although the federal government seems aware of the fact that the CICP claims backlog is nothing short of outstanding, without any additional commentary from top HHS officials like Becerra, it remains unclear if and when the administration will take action to address the backlog.   In the meantime, the best course of action for people impacted by countermeasures is to continue to advocate for changes at CICP, with the hope that more lawmakers will take notice and put pressure on the administration to get the program in order.

What Happened, What You Missed: May 2-6

E&C Leaders Release FDA User Fee Package

On Wednesday, bipartisan leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a legislative proposal to reauthorize the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to collect fees from drug, biosimilar, and device manufacturers for five years.  Additionally, the bill contains several policy riders that would give the FDA more control over the accelerated approval program, promote diversity in clinical trials, and reinstate a ban on electric shock devices for aggressive behavior, among other items.  The Health Subcommittee is expected to markup the user fee bill next Wednesday, with the goal passing the legislation in Congress by August.

FDA Approves Marketing of New Alzheimer’s Test

The FDA on Wednesday approved the marketing of an in vitro diagnostic test for early detection of amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  Produced by Fujirebio Diagnostics, the test works by measuring the ratio of certain proteins in the fluid that surrounds the brain.  In a press release, the FDA said the availability of an in vitro diagnostic test could eliminate the needs for PET scans, which are time-consuming and expensive.  In a clinical study, the test detected Alzheimer’s disease in 97% of people who had amyloid plaques present in a PET scan.  The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that over six million Americans may have Alzheimer’s disease. 

Survey: Most Parents Will Wait to Get Young Kids Vaccinated

18% of parents of children under 5 say they’ll get their kids vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as a shot is authorized, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Another 38% say they’ll take a “wait and see” approach before getting their kids vaccinated, while 56% want more information about vaccine safety and efficacy before making a decision.  Delays in FDA authorization of vaccines for young kids also left parents with mix feelings, with 22% saying the delays have made them more confident in the vaccine and 13% sayings the delays have made them less confident.  The survey was conducted in mid-April 2022, right before Moderna filed to authorize its vaccine for kids under 5 with the FDA.

Rent-A-Cops Arrive on Capitol Hill to Provide Security

To help address staffing shortages, the US Capitol Police (USCP) recently started deploying private security guards around the US Capitol Complex.  The private officers will wear grey dress pants and a navy-blue blazer rather than the police uniform and will be unarmed.  According to the USCP, the private officers will be stationed inside secure building like the House and Senate office buildings and will help augment existing patrols.

ICYMI: Jazz in the Garden Returns to National Mall on May 20

In two weeks, Jazz in the Garden will return to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden along the National Mall.  The free concert series is a favorite summer tradition in Washington, DC, and this year’s series is set to features several genres including jazz, Afro-Brazilian, and bluegrass.  The series was closed during summer 2020 and was only open on a limited basis for summer 2021.  Guests will be required to register for the concert in advance.

Is Public Pressure Impacting the FDA’s Vaccine Review Strategy?

Parents of young children are frustrated and mad.  While adults have been able to get third and even fourth COVID-19 vaccines doses for some time now, children under six years are still unable to get their shots while the rest of society reverts to a pre-pandemic normal.

Anger among parents hit a boiling point last week when White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci confirmed reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will not approve vaccines for kids under 6 until it can simultaneously review and approve vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna.

However, less than a week later, FDA officials seemingly changed course when they announced that they may move forward on reviewing Moderna’s vaccine without waiting for Pfizer’s application – meaning that young children could get vaccinated as soon as June.  What caused the FDA to take an about face on its vaccine review strategy?

At the time of Fauci’s comment on April 21, Moderna was poised to begin applying for an emergency use authorization (EUA) within the next week or two, as initial data showed its vaccine generated strong protection in kids.  News that the FDA could soon begin reviewing Moderna’s EUA application set off a sign of relief among parents, who have had to contend with constant delays in the race to get young kids vaccinated.

However, Pfizer’s vaccine for children under 5 is still undergoing clinical trials for a three-dose regimen after results from a two-dose regimen did not yet provide strong protection against the virus, and it’s not clear when Pfizer will be ready to submit its data.  By waiting to review vaccines from both companies, the timeline for getting shots into kids’ arms faced a decent chance of getting extended once again.

What was the FDA thinking?  According to reports,  FDA officials wanted to review vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer simultaneously because approving both at the same time would be less confusing for parents than approving each at different times.  Additionally, FDA officials were worried about a possible backlash from parents if the agency approved Moderna’s vaccine first and Pfizer’s several week later when Pfizer’s vaccine demonstrated stronger efficacy. 

Despite the FDA’s rationale, reports that federal officials were delaying the review process once again elicited a strong backlash from concerned parents and lawmakers.  In the days following Fauci’s comments, lawmakers wrote to the FDA requesting an explanation as to why vaccines for young children were being delayed again, and parents and pediatricians launched an advocacy campaign to urge the FDA to review each vaccine application “at the earliest opportunity.”

Did Public Pressure Make a Difference?

The FDA finally changed its tune on April 29, when a top official announced the agency will consider vaccine applications as soon as they are ready.  While it is not clear if the FDA shifted its strategy purely in response to political and public pressures, it wouldn’t be first time public pressure might have made a difference. 

In mid-2021, the FDA appeared to be on track to approve the vaccine for children aged 5-11 by early fall, just in time for the start of school.  However, in July, the FDA asked Pfizer and Moderna to expand the size of their clinical trials for children to make sure they could detect potentially rare side effects, namely myocarditis, or heart inflammation – effectively pushing the timeline for vaccine approval out to winter 2021 or early 2022.  This drew sharp criticism from parents and pediatricians, who argued that complications from COVID-19 posed a greater threat to kids than myocarditis.

The strongest sign of pressure on the FDA came in the form of an August 2021 letter from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that called on agency to stick to its original timeline for collecting data and authorize vaccines for children under 12 as soon as possible.  A month after the pediatricians weighed in, the FDA issued an unprecedented statement saying that it would no longer wait for additional follow-up data from expanded clinical trials to made a decision on an EUA and stick to its original timeline. 

Like many things with the pandemic, nothing is certain as the FDA determines how it will review vaccines for younger children.  Moderna only began to submit data for its EUA on April 28, and the FDA has laid out a tentative schedule that leaves open the possibility that kids under 6 could get their shots sometimes this June.  However, things could still change. An FDA official say the agency could still review EUA applications from Moderna and Pfizer simultaneously if both are filed less than a week apart, and many parents and pediatricians say June is still too long of a wait for young kids to get vaccinated, especially considering that the review process for other age groups took less time. 

However, actions undertaken by the FDA last fall and last week suggest that the agency isn’t immune to public pressure.  This sets up a precedent where advocacy could sway the FDA review process in the future – for better or for worse.

What Happened, What You Missed: April 25-29

Moderna Requests Authorization for COVID-19 Vaccine in Children under 6

Moderna announced on Thursday that it has begun the application process for emergency use authorization (EUA) for its COVID-19 vaccine in children six months to six years of age.  Moderna also released revised clinical trial data on Thursday that showed its two-shot regimen is 51% effective at preventing symptoms in children ages 6 months to under 2 years.  However, Moderna’s application process is ongoing, and the company is not expected to submit all of its clinical trial data to the FDA until the first week of May.  According to a tentative schedule by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), kids under age six maybe be able to receive their COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna as soon as this June. 

Administration Finalizes the 2023 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule on the 2023 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters, which includes updates to the nondiscrimination policy for Affordable Care Act essential health benefits, standardized health plan options, and other changes.  The rule also refined prospective network adequacy reviews to focus on time and distance as well as appointment waiting times starting in plan year 2024. 

New CDC Data Shows Most Americans Have Had COVID-19

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that at least 60% of adults and 75% percent of children have been infected with COVID-19.  The latest figures show a considerable jump from December 2021 data which estimated that 35% of adults at the time had contracted the virus at some point.  According to a CDC report, the higher percentage of Americans having COVID-19 over the past several months can be contributed to the more transmissible Omicron variant.  The CDC gathered the data by analyzing blood specimens.

Former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) dies at 88

On April 23, former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the longest-serving Republican senator, died in his home in Salt Lake City at age 88.  First elected to the Senate in 1977, Hatch was an ardent conservative who helped advance the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 while serving as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  Hatch also made a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 but lost to George W. Bush.  In contrast to other members of Congress who recently passed away – including Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) – Hatch will not lie in state at the US Capitol.  Instead, Hatch will lie in state at the Utah State Capitol due to the late senator’s strong connections to the state.

ICYMI: Wild Turkey Attacks People in DC Parks

If you’re visiting Washington, DC anytime soon, you may want to take extra caution when visiting Anacostia Park and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.  That’s where a wild male turkey has been aggressively attacking cyclists, runners, pedestrians, and nature enthusiasts for at least the past five months.  The National Park Service says they’re aware of the turkey and have been attempting to catch it for weeks.  Until the turkey is captured, park rangers are advising people to “appear bigger and louder” if they come across the animal.

Current Members of Congress Who Used to Be Interns

Everyone gets their start somewhere.  For some members of Congress, their careers kicked off at the bottom of the totem pole, by serving as interns for other members of Congress.  Below is a list of key current members whose experience with the legislative branch started with answering phones and other administrative duties.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

The only woman to serve as speaker of the House of Representatives was exposed to politics at an early age, with her father serving as a Democratic Congressman from Maryland, and later, as Mayor of Baltimore.  Pelosi herself first dipped her toes in the political waters when she interned for Sen. Daniel Brewster (D-MD) while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in political science at Trinity College in Washington, DC.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Also serving as an intern in Sen. Brewster’s office alongside the future speaker was the future majority leader, Steny Hoyer.  At the time, Hoyer was finishing up a BA in government and politics from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Just a few years later in 1966, Hoyer was elected to the Maryland State Senate.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)

Hoyer isn’t the only University of Maryland alumnus serving in Congress.  While studying for his BA in government and politics, the California native interned with Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) in 2001 and 2002.  Swalwell has stated that his experience interning on Capitol Hill during the September 11 terrorist attacks cemented his desire to pursue public service. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)

While studying at the University of Miami School of Law, Rubio interned for Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a fellow Cuban American who retired from Congress only a few years ago.  Rubio also worked on the 1996 presidential campaign of Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) while in law school.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)

While attending George Washington University in the mid-1970s, Warner interned for Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT).  Shortly after graduating, Warner took a job with then-Rep. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and went on to manage Dodd’s senatorial campaign while studying in law school.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Like Pelosi, Gillibrand was born into a political family.  Her father was a staffer for Sen. Al D’Amato (D-NY), and her maternal grandmother founded the Albany Democratic Women’s Club.  While studying at Dartmouth College, Gillibrand interned in D’Amato’s Albany office. 

Inside the New Suicide Hotline Set to Launch This Summer

Everyone knows to dial 911 in case of emergency.  Soon, people experiencing a mental health crisis and are at risk of suicide will be able to dial 988 and get connected to a behavioral health counselor.  With the number of Americans reporting signs of anxiety and depression at an all-time high, a new pathway for mental health care couldn’t come sooner.  However, concerns over the ability for states to respond to 988 calls and a lack of public awareness means the success of the new suicide hotline number isn’t guaranteed.

Background: The National Suicide Hotline Prevention Act established 988 as a universal telephone number for a national suicide prevention crisis hotline in October 2020.   Since states are tasked with fielding 988 calls, the law gives states the authority to impose and collect fees to operate 988 services. 

988 isn’t the first attempt at a national suicide hotline.  First launched in 2004, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) is a 24/7 service that connects callers experiencing a suicidal crisis to one of 160 crisis centers to receive immediate counseling and referrals to behavioral health professionals.  The Lifeline is still active – more than 2.1 million callers dialed 800-273-8255 in 2020, and the Lifeline will continue to remain in effect alongside 988.  However, there are several reasons why 988 is needed as an additional pathway for crisis intervention.

First, the demand for mental health services is greater than ever.  Cases of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed during the pandemic, and suicide deaths in the US totaled more than 46,000 in 2020, justifying the need for more resources. 

Furthermore, the Lifeline was not adequately handling higher call volume spurred by the pandemic.   In 2021, callers abandoned about 17% of calls to the Lifeline before they received help due to extended wait times; additionally, 41% of text messages and 73% of online chats were also abandoned.  How well the Lifeline addressed higher call volume also varied by state.  In 2020, the state of Washington answered 74% of its calls, while Wyoming only answered 16% of its calls. 

Finally, 988 is a simple number that’s easy to remember – just like 911.  Having more people remember and dial 988 would allow more opportunities to connect people experiencing a mental health crisis with the care they need. 

988 is set to go live on July 16, 2022, and while the federal government won’t be operating the new hotline, agencies have been working to make sure states have the resources they need to start taking incoming calls on day one.  In December 2021, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced $282 million to grants to support 988 efforts, including $177 million to strengthen and expand the existing Lifeline network operations (including a network for Spanish speakers) and $105 million to build up staffing in states’ local crisis call centers.  In April 2022, SAMHSA doled out another nearly $105 million in grants to help states shore up their telephone infrastructure ahead of 988’s launch.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in federal assistance, states still may not have enough money to start fielding 988 calls once mid-July hits.  SAMHSA estimates that 988 could receive over 7.6 million calls in its first year, requiring $560 million in funding each year – which exceeds the amount of funding provided by federal agencies thus far.  While states do have the authority to fund hotline operations by imposing fees, only four states (Virginia, Nevada, Washington and Colorado) have passed legislation to do this, and many other states have been reluctant to impose fees on consumers amid widespread inflation.

On top of this, most people don’t even know about 988.  Public education on 988 has so far relied on states, which have done little to raise awareness.  A poll by the Trevor Project in April 2022 found that 69% of respondents were unaware of the forthcoming suicide hotline. 

988 has great potential to provide people undergoing a mental health crisis to get the care they need.  But without enough money and clear communication, there’s a chance the new hotline might not live up to its expectations and otherwise preventable deaths by suicide could still continue to occur. 

What Happened, What You Missed: April 18-22

DOJ Appeals Ruling on Transportation Mask Mandate

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an appeal to the US District Court ruling that overturned a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirement for masks to be worn on transit, airplanes, and other transportation-related settings.  After Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on Monday that the CDC had exceeded its statutory authority on the travel mask mandate, the CDC asked the DOJ to file an appeal.  Of note, the DOJ declined to include a motion for stay in its appeal filing meaning the federal government will not be able to reinstate the travel mask mandate unless the ruling is overturned.   Since the court’s ruling on Monday, multiple airlines, public transit agencies, and transportation providers have announced that they will no longer require passengers to wear masks.

CMS Proposes New Policies on Health Equity, Maternal Health

In a proposed rule issued on Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined new policies intended to improve health equity and maternal health.  The proposed rule calls for adding three health equity measures to the new Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting (IQR) Program that focus on addressing social determinants of health and assessing how a hospital is advancing health equity through strategic planning and data collection.  To boost maternal health, the rule proposes creating a new birthing-friendly designation for hospitals and would add two maternal health-focused quality measures to the Hospital IQR Program.  Comments on the proposed rule are due on June 17, 2022.

Moderna: “Bivalent” Vaccine Booster Provides Stronger Protection

On Tuesday, Moderna announced that its modified COVID-19 vaccine booster generated strong protection against multiple COVID-19 variants.  The company modified its booster shot to be “bivalent,” meaning that it combines a formula targeted for the original COVID-19 strain and a formula focused on the Beta variant.  According to preliminary trial results, the bivalent vaccine shot demonstrated efficacy against the Omicron variant and other COVID-19 variants of concern.  Moderna is still testing another bivalent vaccine with a formula targeted to both original COVID-19 strain and the Omicron variant, and results on this version are expected later in the spring.  However, the trial results have yet to be reviewed independently by scientists. 

Cook Political Report Shifts 8 House Races Toward GOP

Eight Democratic-held seats in the House of Representatives are less likely to remain in control of Democrats after this fall’s midterm elections, according to the latest 2022 midterm ratings by The Cook Political Report.  The updated ratings bring the total of Democratic-held seats that are in the “toss up” category or trending Republican to 27, exacerbating Democrats’ fears of a brutal midterm election this November.  The ratings shift is welcome news for the Republicans, who only need to win five seats in this fall to regain control of the House.  The new ratings comes as President Joe Biden’s approval ratings hit the lowest level of his presidency, stoking more fear among Democrats’ regarding their electoral prospects this fall. 

ICYMI: US Army Parachute Plane Prompts Evacuation of Capitol

On Wednesday night, the US Capitol Police (USCP) briefly issued, then withdrew, an evacuation alert for the US Capitol Complex after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allegedly failed to inform the USCP of an aircraft flying in the vicinity of the US Capitol.  The aircraft in question was a part of the US Army’s parachute team and was participating in a flyover at Nationals Stadium, which is less than one mile from the Capitol.  The following day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) slammed the FAA for not informing the Capitol Police of the flyover and committed to a congressional review of what went wrong.  Pelosi also noted that Capitol personnel are still reeling from the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

A History of Annual Congressional Sporting Events

Many Americans love sports, and members of Congress are no different.  A few times a year, lawmakers from both parties gather to play games in a variety of sports with the goal of raising money for charities.  Here are some of the games where Representative and Senators have the chance to take a break from the usual grind of Washington and bring out their inner athlete.

Congressional Baseball Game

Founded in 1909 by a Pennsylvania representative who once played baseball professionally, the Congressional Baseball Game is the oldest of the lawmaker-centric sporting events.  In the game, which has been played at Nationals Park since 2008, Democrats and Republicans form different teams and play against one another.  Congressional staffers, lawmakers’ families, and even some presidents attend the game, which raises money for four charities: the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Washington Literacy Center, and the US Capitol Police Memorial Fun.

Congressional Football Game

Started in 2004, the Congressional Football Game features members of Congress and former National Football League players facing off against the US Capitol Police.  An Arizona representative led the effort to start the annual tradition as a way to honor the memory of two Capitol police officers who died in a shooting in 1998.  The Congressional Football game raises money for three charities: the US Capitol Police Fund, Our Military Kids, and Advantage 4 Kids.

Congressional Women’s Softball Game

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and several other female members of Congress started the Congressional Women’s Softball Game in 2009.  Each year, a team consisting of female lawmakers plays against women of the Washington, DC press corps.  The game primarily raises money for the Young Survival Coalition, which supports women under 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Congressional Soccer Match

Founded in 2013, the Congressional Soccer Match consists of separate teams formed by Democratic and Republican lawmakers that play against one another with help from some former professional soccer players.  Nearly all lawmakers who participate in the annual event are members of the Congressional Soccer Caucus.  The US Soccer Foundation hosts the annual match, which raises funds for several charity programs that help children in underserved communities.

Congressional Hockey Challenge

The Congressional Hockey Challenge began in 2009 from a weekly pickup match consisting of congressional staff and lobbyists.  Each year, members of Congress, congressional staff, and administration officials face off against lobbyists, and proceeds from the annual match go towards the Fort Dupont Cannons, USA Warriors Hockey, Capital Beltway Warriors, the Tampa Warriors, and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

What’s Next for the Public Health Emergency?

July 15, 2022.  That’s the new end-date for the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) after Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra renewed the PHE for 90 days last week.  HHS has continually renewed the PHE over the last two years, and as the pandemic extends into its third year, many are wondering when the federal government will finally let the PHE expire.

A Brief History of the PHE

The Trump administration first declared a PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic in late January 2020.  Since then, HHS has continually renewed the PHE for 90-day periods.  Shortly after President Joe Biden took office, HHS promised to provide 60 days’ notice before ending the PHE to give health care providers and states time to prepare.  In his recent appearances before several congressional committees on his department’s budget request, HHS Secretary Becerra has reaffirmed the administration’s commitment to providing 60 days’ notice.    

Calls to end the PHE grow: Pandemic fatigue is growing and in recent months, Republican lawmakers have been pushing for the administration to let the PHE end as a signal that the country is going back to normal.  Back in February 2022, 71 House Republicans proclaimed in a letter to the administration that as long as the PHE remains in effect, it “sends the message that the country is still in a crisis that requires emergency powers.”

But health care stakeholders are saying “not so fast” on ending the PHE.  A number of emergency measures are tied to the PHE that have become a vital part of the health care system, and a 60-day notice would provide some time to allow providers and patients to prepare accordingly.  These emergency measures include:

The federal government has taken steps to ensure some of these measures don’t come to an immediate end once the PHE expires.  For instance, the omnibus signed into law last month extends certain telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries for 151 days (5 months) after the PHE, and additional Medicaid funds provided to states to allow them to maintain current enrollment levels would last under the end of the quarter when the PHE expires.

However, Congress has yet to enact any permanent fixes, specifically regarding telehealth flexibilities that are popular with both providers and patients.  On top of this, many providers are still reeling with staffing shortages and the high cost of contract labor necessary to fill in critical gaps. However well-intentioned, the cushioning provided by Congress combined with the administration’s 60-day notice still leaves health care stakeholders without enough time to prepare for a post-pandemic world.

What happens next?  As long as the administration is committed to providing 60 days’ notice, HHS is likely to make a decision on whether or not to extend the PHE, that’s currently set to end on July 16, no later than Monday, May 16 – less than one month away.  While it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen by mid-May, a lack of permanent fixes from Congress to address popular PHE-tied measures and pressure from health care providers likely means HHS is likely to extend the PHE this summer

A 90-day extension beginning in mid-July would mean a new expiration date of October 13, 2022 – less than a month away from the 2022 midterm elections.  If Congress fails to enact legislation to address temporary pandemic measures this summer, the administration would be wise to renew the PHE once again this fall – otherwise, it would be forced to reckon with the political fallout of starting the expiration countdown for popular emergency health measures.    Additionally, letting the PHE expire will trigger health care coverage cliffs and without new laws in place to allow the states and providers a smoother transition to a post-pandemic world will be far worse for patients.  Thus, the PHE is likely to remain in effect for the rest of 2022.

What Happened, What You Missed: April 11-15

Administration Extends PHE, Transportation Mask Mandate

On Tuesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra issued a 90-day renewal of the public health emergency that was initially set to expire on April 16.  The renewal ensures that Medicaid coverage protections, telehealth services, and other waivers tied to the PHE will continue through at least July 15, 2022.  While the administration has declined to say how long the PHE will continue, Secretary Becerra has repeatedly stated that HHS would give 60 days’ notice before ending the PHE.  On Wednesday, the administration also announced a 15-day extension of the transportation mask mandate through May 3, 2022.  According to a press release, the administration is keeping the mandate in place as it assesses the impact for rising COVID-19 case numbers on severe disease and hospitalization.  In recent weeks, the airline industry has been lobbying the administration to wind down the transportation mask mandate, citing advanced air filtration systems on board aircrafts.

Pfizer to Seek FDA Authorization for Booster in Kids Ages 5-11

Pfizer announced on Thursday that it will soon ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for a third “booster” dose of its COVID-19 vaccine for kids  five through 11.  The announcement comes after data from the phase 2/3 clinical trial, which revealed that a third dose administered six months after the initial two-dose regimen yielded enough antibodies to neutralize both the original COVID-19 strain and the Omicron variant.  While the results are welcoming news, scientists are concerned that Pfizer’s booster dose may only provide a few months of protection against infection.  For instance, antibodies generated from a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine in adults wane after about four months. However, Pfizer has yet to make the data available to outside scientists for review.

CMS Proposes Pay Cut for Nursing Homes

On Monday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced  a proposed rule that plans to decrease Medicare Part A payments to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) by around $320 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2023.  The payment cut is partially in response to a new payment system implemented in FY 2020 that ended up paying SNFs 5% more than initially anticipated.  The proposed rule also asked for feedback on how to code for residents in isolation, the quality reporting program, and how CMS should create minimum staffing requirements.  The deadline for stakeholders to submit feedback is June 10, 2022. 

House Appropriators to Begin Marking Up FY23 Spending Bills in June

The House Appropriations Committee is reportedly planning to begin marking up its FY 2023 spending bills in June, which means the bills could be up for consideration on the House floor by July.  Tentatively, subcommittees are planning to mark up their 12 spending bills from June 13-22, while the full committee would hold its markups June 22-30.  Appropriations committee leaders have voiced a desire to reach agreements on spending bills much quicker than they did for FY 2022, which wasn’t finalized until an omnibus was signed into law last month.  During a March 31 subcommittee hearing, Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro expressed a desire to pass all appropriations bills “on time” so they can be signed into law by September 30, 2022.

ICYMI: Rabid Fox Bites 9 around US Capitol Complex

Last week, a rabid fox bit nine people around the US Capitol Grounds, including Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA).  While foxes are common in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, last Wednesday’s incident marks the first time a fox has been spotted in the US Capitol Complex since 2014.  Out of an abundance of caution, Rep. Bera and the other individuals bitten went on to get rabies and tetanus shots.  The Humane Rescue Alliance eventually captured and euthanized the fox after it tested positive for the rabies virus.  

Members of Congress Related to Celebrities

Most members of Congress aren’t household names, but quite a few have people in their family who are, particularly in the world of film and television.  Here are some notable celebrity-lawmaker connections. 

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

The Michigan congressman’s niece is model and actress Kate Upton.  Kate was born in her uncle’s hometown of St. Joseph, MI but later moved with her family to Florida when she was seven years old.  She rose to fame after appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue in 2011, and since then, she’s appeared in prominent publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair.  Kate is also a successful actress who has appeared in several hit comedy films including Tower Heist and The Layover.  In 2016, Rep. Upton hosted his niece and gave her  a tour of the US Capitolalong with her husband, Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)

Comedienne and actress Amy Schumer and the Senate Majority Leader are first cousins, once removed.  Both Schumers have appeared publicly together to advocate on issues like gun violence, and in 2016, Amy attended a White House press conference with her uncle when then-President Barack Obama announced new actions on gun control.  However, both cousins were largely estranged from one another during Amy’s childhood, and the senator and the comedienne didn’t start to develop a relationship until Amy’s fame started to grow in 2009.

Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

The freshman Colorado senator’s cousin is filmmaker George Hickenlooper.  His feature-length documentary, 1991’s Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, explored the chaotic production of the 1979 Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now.  George’s final film was the 2010 comedy-drama movie Casino Jack, which focused on the corruption scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  The film notably featured actor Kevin Spacey in the titular role, and George’s cousin John even had a brief cameo in the film.  Sadly, George Hickenlooper died in his sleep at the age of 47 on October 29, 2010, just a month after the film’s release.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

The speaker’s daughter is filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, who has filmed, produced, and directed 14 films to date.  Pelosi’s first film was the Emmy-nominated 2002 documentary Journeys with George, which chronicled George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign.  Since then, Pelosi has gone on to receive critical acclaim for a host of other documentaries, including Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip, which explored the citizenship process for immigrants, and Meet the Donors, which looks at the influence money has  in politics. 

Former Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA)

A US Representative from Massachusetts who served from 1999 to 2019, Capuano’s famous nephew is actor Chris Evans.  After playing supporting role in films like 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie and 2005’s Fantastic Four, Evans rose to worldwide fame for his portrayal of the titular role in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.  Since then, Evans has appeared as Captain America in several Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and he’s acted in critically acclaimed films like 2013’s Snowpiercer and 2019’s Knives Out.  Notably, Evans told Esquire in 2016 that he’s considered getting into politics someday, and in 2019, he met with several Democratic senators on Capitol Hill for A Starting Point, new political venture aimed at addressing partisanship and distrust.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Actor, comedian, writer, and filmmaker Larry David and the former presidential candidate are third or fourth cousins.  Neither man was aware of their relation until historian and literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. revealed the family connection in a 2017 episode of Finding Your Roots.  David has played Sanders in multiple episodes of Saturday Night Live since 2016.  Both men were born in Brooklyn, New York City and trace their ancestry back to Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Poland.