COVID-19: Federal Update (8/5)
— WHITE HOUSE TOUTS POTENTIAL EXECUTIVE ACTIONS AS COVID-19 RELIEF TALKS FALTER. Officials will resume talks today with hopes of striking a bipartisan agreement by the end of this week, as the Trump administration considers its options at the executive level should the parties fail to reach an agreement.
— TWO HOUSE INCUMBENTS LOSE PRIMARIES. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS) will not be returning for the 117th Congress after losing their primaries yesterday.
— ENDANGERED GOP SENATORS ARE DRIVING FORCE FOR VIRUS DEAL. Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen.
— CRAPO FLOATS PROPOSAL ON EXPANDED EMERGENCY LENDING, RELAXED BANK CAPITAL RULES. The measure was filed as an amendment to the Senate's COVID-19 legislative vehicle that's currently pending before the upper chamber.
— CMS ANNOUNCES TEMPORARY POLICY FOR PREMIUM REDUCTIONS. The agency is temporarily exercising enforcement discretion to allow issuers to offer premium reductions for one or more months for 2020 coverage.
Capitol Hill Update
— WHITE HOUSE TOUTS POTENTIAL EXECUTIVE ACTIONS AS COVID-19 RELIEF TALKS FALTER. As talks on the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation continue with little progress, the Trump administration is continuing to weigh its options at the executive level should the parties fail to reach an agreement. Speaking with reporters yesterday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin noted that the White House is preparing to address the expired moratorium on evictions and enhanced unemployment insurance benefit via executive order if an agreement does not come together. However, these efforts are likely to run into constitutional barriers given Congress' "power of the purse."
— SCOPE OF NEGOTIATIONS INCLUDE SNAP, BROADBAND, POSTAL, CHILD CARE, AND PENSIONS ALSO ON THE TABLE. Meanwhile, negotiations over the course of this week have touched on a wide array of issues outside of the more pressing areas concerning unemployment insurance and housing. These topics include boosting food security through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), bolstering the nation's broadband infrastructure, shoring up the U.S. postal service, providing additional funding for child care and education purposes, as well as addressing a pension fix. Officials will resume talks today with hopes of striking a bipartisan agreement by the end of the week, yet it's likely that the negotiations will stretch into next week given the existing disagreements over the size and scope of this next relief package.
— TWO HOUSE INCUMBENTS LOSE PRIMARIES. In notable political news from yesterday, two House lawmakers will not be returning for the 117th Congress after losing their primaries. Ten-term Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was edged by Cori Bush, a registered nurse and progressive activist. In Kansas, freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-KS) was bested by State Treasurer Jake LaTurner after the incumbent's campaign was roiled due to felony voter fraud charges. For a full list of lawmakers not returning to their seats next Congress, click here to view the TRP Congressional Casualty List.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents. Sen. Martha McSally, who has fallen behind in polls in Arizona, is breaking with conservatives to endorse a temporary extension of a $600-per-week supplemental benefit. Republicans up for reelection such as John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are demanding results before returning home to campaign. And Sen. Susan Collins is in overdrive, backing help for cash-starved states and local governments — and Maine’s shipbuilding industry.
The $137 billion proposal would temporarily eliminate the $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction for 2020 and 2021. House Democrats included it in the virus-relief bill they passed in May, and it represents about 4% of the total price tag. That is separate from nearly $1 trillion proposed in direct aid to state and local governments. The tax-deduction proposal is now wrapped up in broader negotiations between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats, and it has become one of the prime points of attack that Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been using against his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
President Trump on Tuesday signed a major piece of conservation legislation into law as he and other Republicans seek to tout conservation accomplishments ahead of the elections in November. Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act, which would provide $900 million annually in oil and gas revenues for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which helps secure land for trails and parks. The legislation would also provide billions of dollars over five years to address a maintenance backlog at national parks.
As Congress wrangles with the latest attempt at a coronavirus relief package, state highway departments are increasingly alarmed at the possibility of some $37 billion in budget shortfalls. Most states pay for their highways with federal support and a state gas tax. But with a precipitous drop in driving since March, they’ve struggled. And while empty airports and subway cars have provided very visible symbols of the decline in travel caused by COVID-19, empty highways have not yet ignited the imagination of lawmakers trying to figure out where to throw federal dollars during this crisis.
COVID-19: What We're Hearing
Senate Republicans officially introduced their opening offer proposal for the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation following days of intraparty negotiations between GOP Senators and White House officials. The legislative package was officially released as multiple pieces of legislation, with six total sections:
Click here to view TRP's side-by-side of the Senate GOP HEALS Act and the House Democratic HEROES Act.
COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers
— CMS ANNOUNCES TEMPORARY POLICY FOR PREMIUM REDUCTIONS. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the agency is temporarily exercising enforcement discretion to allow issuers, when consistent with state law, to offer premium reductions for one or more months for 2020 coverage. This temporary policy will be in effect until the end of 2020.
— CRAPO FLOATS PROPOSAL ON EXPANDED EMERGENCY LENDING, RELAXED BANK CAPITAL RULES. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) rolled out a proposal yesterday that would give the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve more flexibility to take risks in emergency lending with the goal of keeping the economy stable during the balance of the pandemic. The measure was filed as an amendment to the Senate's COVID-19 legislative vehicle that's currently pending before the upper chamber.
The proposal would provide the central bank with temporary authority during "unusual and exigent circumstances" to ease a set of bank capital requirements established by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law's Collins amendment.
It would also provide Treasury with the authority to approve loans and other investments even if it appears they "may incur losses," thus providing more flexibility for the $454 billion in emergency lending authority Congress provided Treasury and the Federal Reserve.
— TRUMP EO SEEKS TO MAKE PANDEMIC-RELATED TELEHEALTH FLEXIBILITIES PERMANENT. President Trump signed an executive order on August 3rd aimed at improving rural health and boosting access to telehealth, while also amplifying the administration’s work to codify some of the telehealth flexibilities offered through the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The order also instructs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to develop new value-based payment models for telehealth that will provide flexibilities from existing Medicare rules and establish predictable financial payments.
— HHS ANNOUNCES EXTENSION, REOPENING OF PROVIDER RELIEF FUND OPPORTUNITIES. On July 31, HHS announced a second extension of the deadline to apply for the $15 billion Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) allotment. The new deadline is August 28. Eligible providers may receive up to two percent of reported revenue from patient care.
HHS also announced that, starting the week of August 10, the department is offering another opportunity for Medicare providers to apply for additional funding from the $20 billion portion of the $50 billion Phase 1 Medicare General Distribution.
Providers will have until August 28, 2020, to complete an application to be considered for the balance of their additional funding up to two percent of their annual patient revenues.
Finally, starting the week of August 10, HHS is also allowing providers who experienced change in ownership challenges to submit their information by August 28 for consideration for Provider Relief Fund payment.
— NIH AWARDS FUNDING FOR NEW COVID-19 TESTING TECHNOLOGIES. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced nearly $250 million in new contracts for companies developing COVID-19 testing as a part of the agency's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES 'WARP SPEED' PARTNERSHIP WITH SANOFI, GSK. The Departments of Health and Human Services and Defense announced a new "Operation Warp Speed" partnership with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to support advanced development of a COVID-19 investigational adjuvanted vaccine.
— HHS OIG UPDATES COVID-19 FAQs. The (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has updated its list of frequently asked questions pertaining to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
— CMS, CDC ANNOUNCE PROVIDER REIMBURSEMENT FOR COUNSELING PATIENTS. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that payment is available to physicians and health care providers to counsel patients, at the time of COVID-19 testing, about the importance of self-isolation after they are tested and prior to the onset of symptoms.
— HHS ISSUES TRENDS REPORT ON TELEHEALTH UTILIZATION. HHS has published a report detailing utilization trends of telehealth services for primary care delivery in Fee-for-Service (FFS) Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
— CMS UPDATES DATA ON COVID-19 IMPACTS ON MEDICARE BENEFICIARIES. CMS released its first monthly update of data that provides a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on the Medicare population, including data for American Indian/Alaskan Native Medicare beneficiaries. Information on the is here and an FAQ on the data release is here.
— FED EXTENDS COVID-19 LENDING FACILITIES THROUGH END OF 2020. The Federal Reserve announced a three-month extension for pandemic-related lending facilities that were scheduled to expire on or around Sept. 30.
The extensions apply to the Primary Dealer Credit Facility, the Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility, the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility, the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility, and the Main Street Lending Program.