MN Delegation Requests Revision to Medicaid Proposal
The 10 members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) calling on the Administration to revise the proposed Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR). The letter states that many of the proposed changes could negatively impact Minnesota and the care provided to residents who rely on Medicaid as health care systems in the state confront the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter can be found here.

Democrats Outline Proposal for Next Coronavirus Package
Democrats in Congress, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said the next coronavirus stimulus bill should include at least $760 billion over five years for water projects, broadband, and transportation, plus $10 billion for community health centers and more for housing and education, as a way to strengthen U.S. infrastructure and the economy. “We need to invest in our infrastructure to address some of the critical impacts and vulnerabilities that have been laid bare by the coronavirus,” Pelosi said Wednesday on a call with reporters.

The Speaker and other Democrats raised concerns Wednesday that the epidemic will exacerbate inequality, both in access to health care and in the ability of people to keep working or going to school while following social distancing guidelines. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said the virus response should focus on “equitable” recovery, unlike stimulus measures to respond to the 2008 recession and the Great Depression.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he was willing to work on a bipartisan response to the coronavirus, but added that the GOP would not support attempts to use the crisis to enact other priorities such as climate change controls or federally mandated election procedures. “As the legislation from the first three phases is implemented, Republicans stand ready to work across the aisle to support the individuals and institutions that will need more help in the fight against the virus,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in an interview published yesterday, told the Washington Post he will move slowly on considering any follow-up coronavirus aid legislation, and will ignore attempts by Speaker Pelosi to jump-start discussions. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis.”

Health Groups Eye More Aid Before Phase III Funds Are Released
Health industry leaders expect Congress will need to send billions of dollars more to hospitals and doctors this year, even before any of the $100 billion in emergency funds cleared last week have been doled out. Hospital and doctors’ groups say they are pushing on two fronts: getting the emergency funds to providers as soon as possible and persuading lawmakers to provide more money.

Health organizations are asking the Department of Health and Human Services to start dispensing the funds, part of the $2 trillion economic rescue package signed into law last Friday, as soon as they can to help keep hospitals, health centers, and doctors’ offices afloat as they respond to the outbreak. Some want HHS to use the emergency fund to forgo collecting Medicare advanced payments, effectively allowing the government to pay doctors immediately through the public health insurance system.

Hospitals and surgery practices in particular have been warning they are short of cash needed to pay staff partly due to the halt on most elective surgeries, which are more lucrative for health care providers than emergency services typically related to treatment for Covid-19. That need is so great it is expected to exhaust emergency funding by this summer.

Trump Criticized for Resistance to Re-Opening ACA Exchanges
President Trump is coming under criticism for not taking full advantage of the Affordable Care Act as the number of people infected with the coronavirus in the U.S. tops 200,000. The Trump Administration signaled this week it will not re-open the Affordable Care Act exchanges to allow uninsured Americans to purchase health-care coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several congressional Democrats warned Wednesday the decision could leave millions of Americans without health insurance and in need of health services. People who lose their jobs can already qualify to buy insurance on the individual market or other public programs, a senior White House official said in a press statement. If a person had an employer-sponsored health plan but loses their position and that coverage, they would still be able to sign up for health insurance on HealthCare.gov even though there is no special enrollment period.

Administration to Consider Hazard Pay for Health Care Workers
President Trump said his administration is considering ways to compensate health care workers with supplemental hazard pay as they grapple with the coronavirus outbreak. “It’s something we’re discussing in terms of bonus or bonus pay,” Trump said Wednesday evening during a White House briefing. The administration has previously signaled it would pursue hazard pay for health workers as part of a phase four emergency plan to be made with Congress.

The call for additional pay has come amid reports that many hospital employees are caring for coronavirus patients without adequate protective gear, like masks. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the same briefing on Wednesday, said the administration is “making great progress” in procuring equipment for the health workers and wants to ensure that they are compensated for working under hazardous conditions.

EPA Cracking Down on Misbranded Disinfectants
The Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up enforcement against products making unproven antiviral or disinfectant claims in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The EPA recently blocked a shipment of allegedly antimicrobial plastic cards from Japan and Hong Kong from entering U.S. ports in Honolulu and Guam. The cards, containing chlorine dioxide and worn on a lanyard around the neck, falsely claimed they provided anti-viral and anti-bacterial protection, the agency said.

The ramped up enforcement on sham disinfectants stands in contrast with the agency’s guidance document released March 26 that allowed enforcement discretion for a variety of environment regulations in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Products that claim to kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and therefore must be registered with the EPA before they’re distributed or sold.