Another month has gone by, which means it’s time for an edition of the Monthly Roundup. This has been an incredibly busy month in health policy, and we have done our best to compile the highlights for you. From a new COVID-19 relief bill to the approval of a new vaccine, there is a lot changing that’s important for pharmacists to understand.
And with that, here is what you need to know from March 2021
The American Rescue Plan Act
On March 12, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the first signature piece of legislation of his presidency. The $1.9 trillion package provides significant relief to individuals and businesses to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis. While most people may be more familiar with provision providing $1,400 stimulus checks, the ARP will have enormous effects on the U.S. healthcare system and is set to be the single largest expansion of health care coverage since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A summary of health care provisions are included below:
- Funding to set up a national vaccination program in order to reach communities across the country as quickly as possible, including communities of color and rural areas
- Funding for disease surveillance, including testing, contact tracing, PPE, and genomic sequencing
- Investments in the health care workforce, including funding for public health workers, community health centers, and mental health providers
- Providing 100 percent subsidies for COBRA coverage for people who have lost their jobs or who have seen their hours reduced
- Increased funding for Medicaid expansion incentives and for ACA Marketplaces
- Expanded subsidies for ACA Marketplace insurance plans and elimination of the 400 percent subsidy cliff, which will drastically expand affordable coverage for millions of people
Approval of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine
At the end of February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted to issue an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This vaccine is a single-shot vaccine and is largely seen as a cost-effective alternative to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It does not have some of the same storage challenges that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have, and therefore can easily be used in more rural communities. In preventing serious disease, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is just as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
New Guidelines for Vaccinated Individuals
On March 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the first set of public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. According to the guidance, fully vaccinated people can now visit each other without wearing masks or social distancing. They can also visit with unvaccinated people from a single household, if they are at low risk of getting severe disease. The CDC has also said that fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to quarantine if they come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are not symptomatic.
Increased Medicare Payment for COVID-19 Vaccine
On March 15, Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor for the federal COVID-19 response, said that the Medicare reimbursement rate for vaccines would be nearly doubled. Prior to the announcement, the Medicare reimbursement rate was about $23. Now the reimbursement rate is $40 per shot, giving providers $80 for a two dose regimen. This change was done as a result of a provision in the American Rescue Plan, requiring no out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries. The move is likely to make it easier for providers to go into communities to provide vaccinations, and will improve access for the elderly and low-income communities.
The White House
Senate Confirmation of Key individuals to Lead the Department of Health and Human Services
This past month, the Senate also confirmed three individuals who will lead massive health care initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Senate voted to confirm Xavier Becerra as the Secretary of HHS. The Senate also voted afterwards to confirm Dr. Vivek Murthy to his previous role as Surgeon General under the Obama Administration, and Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health, making her the first trangender individual approved by the U.S. Senate. These individuals have an incredible challenge ahead as they try to navigate the country out of the pandemic and tackle the rest of President Biden’s health care agenda.
Read More: 2 More HHS picks hit the Hill
Access to Health Care for Newly Arriving Immigrants
As there often is around presidential administration changes, there has been a recent dramatic increase in the number of migrants seeking to enter the U.S. During times of processing, migrants may be held in immigration detention centers. We have previously written about how there has been limited access to healthcare in these detention centers and even reports of inappropriate care being provided. Due to the large number of migrants currently at the U.S.-Mexico Border there has been reports of children being held in detention centers longer than legally allowed. There have not been recent reports of limits to health care access or inappropriate administration of care in detention centers, however, there is risk that without widespread structural changes to the immigration detention center system that issues have remained.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Legislation We Are Tracking:
- S. 920 – A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to allow for the importation of affordable and safe drugs by wholesale distributors, pharmacies, and individuals
- S.562 – A bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to citizen petitions.
- S.586 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to combat the opioid crisis by promoting access to non-opioid treatments in the hospital outpatient setting.
- S.610 – A bill to address behavioral health and well-being among health care professionals.
- H.R.1829 – To require the Government Accountability Office to study the role pharmaceutical benefit managers play in the pharmaceutical supply chain and provide Congress with appropriate policy recommendations, and for other purposes.
- H.R.1857 – To amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to clarify the meaning of a new chemical entity.
- S.773 – A bill to enable certain hospitals that were participating in or applied for the drug discount program under section 340B of the Public Health Service Act prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency to temporarily maintain eligibility for such program, and for other purposes.
- S.889 – A bill to require the use of prescription drug monitoring programs.
Articles/Papers We Are Reading: