The Administration is working to finalize a series of healthcare-related rules, and Pfizer and Moderna released promising coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine data.
Prospects of Further COVID-19 Relief This Year Remain Dim. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) this week urging him to restart negotiations on a COVID-19 relief package, but the two sides appear no closer to an agreement. Senate Republicans remain committed to the $500 billion plan that Democrats have blocked, while Democratic leadership continues to call for a $2.2 trillion package. In addition to the price tag, disagreements persist on additional aid for state and local governments, liability protections for businesses and unemployment insurance. The Senate adjourned this week ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, and the House will adjourn next week. Congress will return with just two weeks to reach a government funding deal, leaving a tight timeline if lawmakers wish to accomplish a COVID-19 deal before the end of the year. Also complicating the process is the January runoff election in Georgia that will determine party control of the Senate. Who holds the majority could have a significant impact on the negotiations if lawmakers wait until January to return to the table.
HHS Finalizing Key Healthcare Regulations. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published an interim final rule that allows Medicare to pay the “most favored nation” price for Part B drugs, and is expected to publish three other rules in the near term aimed at drug pricing and reforms to outdated fraud and abuse laws. It is likely the Trump Administration will publish the rules today as a final stamp on health policy before the incoming Biden Administration takes over (today is the final day to issue a rule with a 60-day implementation period for it to take effect before Inauguration Day), though the Biden Administration could still reverse the policies. The two drug pricing rules, the most favored nation rule and an expected rule to eliminate drug rebates to health plans and pharmacy benefit managers, represent significant changes and may be contested by stakeholders. Also in the pipeline are two rules that would add safe harbor protections under the federal anti-kickback statute to improve care coordination, and reform the physician self-referral law (Stark Law).
Pfizer and Moderna to Seek FDA Approval for Vaccines. Pfizer applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today, and Moderna plans to do so in the coming weeks, after the pharmaceutical manufacturers each released data showing their COVID-19 vaccines were over 90% effective in late-stage trials. The promising results mean that at least one vaccine could be available to some Americans by the end of the year. Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca are also in late-stage trials of their vaccines and could deliver results this year. The Administration has announced that it will begin distributing a vaccine 24 hours after FDA approval, although a vaccine distribution plan has not yet been finalized.