Policy Updates: Hill Happenings and Administration Activities

By Mike Weir July 22, 2019

Hill Happenings

Budget Caps Deal Reached

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced last week that an agreement has been reached on spending levels as well as a two-year extension of the debt limit.

Congressional leaders and the Trump Administration have agreed the spending cap increases will be offset but are now working to figure out if they can get the number, specifics, and a structure agreed to before Congress leaves for its August recess, Mnuchin said. The Administration has offered a wide range of spending cuts to offset the costs of the deal, including $574 billion worth of cuts proposed in the President's budget request, along with $516 billion in "structural reforms" that will be achieved by extending current discretionary spending caps through FY2023. By extending the caps for two additional years, the White House is hoping that it would make the deal more palatable for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Congressional Democrats Seek Documents on Trump Administration’s Plans to Restrict Fetal Tissue Research

Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ (HELP) Ranking Member, sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar last week requesting documents related to the Trump Administration’s recent decision to restrict fetal tissue research. The letter expressed concerns over the role of outside groups in the decision and derided “the Administration’s continued prioritization of ideology over the critical work of the research community and at the expense of scientific advancement.”

Administration Activities

Medicare to Begin Paying for Acupuncture Treatment

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week that Medicare wants to test payment for acupuncture treatment for beneficiaries with chronic lower back pain. The agency has been working with the National Institutes of Health to study the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating lower back pain. The proposal is limited to beneficiaries at least 65 years old and are participating in clinical trials. The decision to pursue the alternative treatment is viewed as a way to combat the opioid crisis.

Trump Administration Begins Enforcement of Abortion 'Gag Rule'

The Trump administration will bar family planning funds from being distributed to groups that perform abortions or refer women for them, which could force some states and organizations to abandon the federal program. The rule faces ongoing legal challenges from nearly two dozen states and organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the largest single recipient of funding in the Title X program. Opponents argue the policy creates serious gaps in access for the roughly 4 million low-income women who depend on the $250 million-plus program for contraception, cancer screenings and other health services. Faith-based groups that oppose abortion and hormonal birth control are also now eligible for funding under the rule. Planned Parenthood announced that its clinics will start using their own emergency funds while it continues to fight the rule in court.

Family Planning Clinics Given More Time to Comply with New Restrictions

The Trump administration is giving federally-funded family planning clinics more time to comply with new anti-abortion rules that officially went into effect on July 15. Clinics will have until August 19 to submit an action plan on how they plan to comply with the new rules, which include a ban on referring patients to abortion providers and mandatory referrals for prenatal care. They have until September 18 to comply with most of the rule, and until March 2020 to meet the final provision which is full physical and financial separation between a clinic's abortion providers and other services.

Resources

The Coalition on Human Needs is organizing a National Call-In Day for Monday, July 22 aimed at Senators to enact a two-year budget deal to match or raise House levels to fund services all American families need like public health and health research, and to prevent an economic crisis by raising the debt ceiling.

The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health will host a webinar on July 30, 2019, at 2-3 PM ET, titled "Syringe Service Programs – A Critical Public Health Intervention." You may register for the webinar here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have published the latest evidence for key HIV prevention strategies such as anti-retroviral therapy (ART), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and condoms.

Job Opportunities

HIV Medication Assistance Program Manager – North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Communicable Disease Branch is accepting applications for HIV Medication Assistance Program Manager. This position is responsible for managing all aspects of the HIV Medication Assistance Program (HMAP), overseeing the HMAP supervisors, ensuring that eligible recipients receive life-saving medications appropriately, that the program is operating efficiently, and for assuring that the program follows all federal requirements.

Epidemiologist II – Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is hiring an Epidemiologist II within their Office of Health Care Planning of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. This posting is open until filled.

Upcoming Conferences

Fast-Track Cities 2019

Fast-Track Cities 2019 will take place September 8-11, 2019, in London. This will be the first international conference of more than 270 cities and municipalities, including from the United States, that are accelerating their responses to HIV, tuberculosis, and viral hepatitis. The conference’s aim is to highlight successes achieved across the Fast-Track Cities network, address cross-cutting challenges faced by local stakeholders, and share best practices in accelerating urban AIDS responses, inclusive of co-infectious diseases and comorbid conditions. Registration is currently open.

News Bulletin

Suboxone maker Reckitt Benckiser to pay $1.4 billion in largest opioid settlement in US history

“Suboxone maker Reckitt Benckiser Group will pay the U.S. government a record $1.4 billion to end criminal and civil probes into the marketing of its addiction treatment medication, making it the largest settlement related to the opioid crisis in U.S. history. The settlement will cover multiple investigations into the company's subsidiary, Indivior and its alleged illegal marketing of its drug. The company was also hit with a stock drop suit last week filed by a municipal retirement fund for cops and firefighters on behalf of itself and anyone else who purchased stock between July 2014 and April 2019 due to the company’s lies about the drug.

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. appear to be falling, CDC data show

U.S. overdose deaths last year likely fell for the first time in nearly three decades, preliminary statistics suggest.

Nearly 68,000 drug overdose deaths were reported throughout the country last year, according to provisional figures posted Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number may go up as more investigations are completed, but the agency expects the final tally will not exceed 69,000.

Overdose deaths had been climbing each year since 1990, topping 70,000 in 2017. Any leveling off — or decline — in overdose deaths is good news, but the overdose death rate is still about seven times higher than it was a generation ago.”