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.