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The Highest Court in All the Land

Hot Topics | January 29th, 2021

Quick, what is the highest court in the United States?

If you answered the Supreme Court of the United States, then you may be in for a surprise.

There is one court higher than SCOTUS, and that is the basketball court that sits above the main courtroom where SCOTUS hears cases. Once upon a time the basketball court (which is smaller than regulation size) was a spare room used to house journals, but during the 1940’s it was converted into a small gym for SCOTUS employees. The basketball court has seen more than just b-ball: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was known to hold yoga classes in the space.

Today, clerks, off-duty police officers and other SCOTUS employees are allowed to use the court and the adjacent full-service gym and weight room. However, the basketball court is closed when court is in session since the sounds of sneakers and basketballs disturb proceedings in the courtroom below.

Biden hits Ctrl + Z

  • On Thursday, President Biden signed two orders that aimed to “undo the damage” done by President Trump. The first executive order required federal agencies to (1) open a special enrollment period for Obamacare from February 15 to May 15 and (2) review existing policies implemented by the Trump administration that could be limiting access to healthcare. Another presidential memorandum rescinded the Mexico City policy, which prevented federal funds from being allocated to foreign aid groups that provide abortion-related services. (The Hill)
    • Read more: Roll Call summarizes President Trump’s healthcare agenda: his accomplishments, his shortcomings and what President Biden might undo.

But do we have to?

  • On January 1, 2021, a new rule from the Trump administration took effect requiring hospitals to publicly post prices for every service, drug and supply they offer. As reported by The Washington Post, hospitals have been dragging their feet and compliance is inconsistent one month into 2021. According to the American Hospital Association, compliance officers are stretched thin. No matter the reason for non-compliance, the $300 per day penalty is insignificant for America’s large hospital systems.

Who gets the vaccines?

  • In a press conference with reporters, President Biden said he believes any American who would like a COVID-19 vaccine should be able to get one by the spring. (The Hill) That being said, a report from Axios found the U.S. neighborhoods hit hardest by COVID-19 are being vaccinated at a slower rate than wealthier, whiter areas. These disparities can be found in cities and states across the country, and showcase the tradeoff between speed and equity in the vaccine rollout.

Getting schooled

  • A report authored by three researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and published in JAMA found there is “reassuring” evidence that widespread COVID-19 transmission is not occurring schools. Republicans have cited this report as evidence to exert pressure on President Biden to reopen schools. For his part, President Biden has called for schools to reopen, and has asked $130 billion to cover the costs associated with safe reopenings. (The HillThe HillThe Washington Post)

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Policy News

It’s About the Journey and the Destination

Hot Topics | January 22nd, 2021

Last week security concerns led President Biden to scuttle his plans to travel to Washington, DC for Inauguration Day via Amtrak. That being said, there was little question Biden would be at the U.S. Capitol on the morning of January 20 to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

The same cannot be said for George Washington. Though our nation’s first president had a reputation as a wealthy man, he was what 18th century society referred to as “land-poor.” Despite owning his valuable 500 acre Mount Vernon estate, Washington had few liquid funds. In order to pay for his journey to New York City (the capital of the U.S. in 1789) for his inauguration, Washington had to borrow £600 at 6% interest.

Who’s in and who’s out

  • In: Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler was tapped to serve as chief science officer of the COVID-19 response effort (which will no longer be called Operation Warp Speed). 
  • In: If confirmed by the Senate as the Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Rachel Levine would become the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed federal official. (The HillAssociated Press D.C. Bureau)
  • In: Eric Lander was nominated to serve as President Biden’s science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (STAT
  • In: Janet Woodcock, Director of Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, has been tapped to lead the FDA on an interim basis. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • Out: Dr. Stephen Hahn, who told POLITICO on his way out that COVID-19 created a “clash of cultures” between the FDA and the White House. (POLITICO)
  • Out: Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams resigned his post at the request of Joe Biden this week. (The Washington Post)

Changes to healthcare policy on Day 1

  • Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain issued a regulatory freeze memo which will halt a number of last minute Trump administration regulations governing FDA authority over medical devices, changes to certain Medicare drug coverage rules and consent requirements for researchers working with tissue from aborted fetuses. (STAT)
  • Roll Call and POLITICO published roundups of the new administration’s executive orders on healthcare, which among other things, created the office of COVID-19 response coordinator, required masks to be worn on all federal properties and reversed the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

COVID: Priority number 1

  • It’s clear that COVID is the top priority of Democrats in Washington. This week the American public got a first look at President Biden’s COVID-19 strategy, which notably promises 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in 100 days. (The HillThe Washington Post). Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House will move immediately to pass another COVID-19 relief package. (The Hill)

It’s not all Biden news

  • Talks between the FDA and industry continue on the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA). PDUFA VII will be in effect FY 2023 through FY 2027. There are several subgroups meeting to align on their priorities for this legislation including finance, post-market, manufacturing and inspections, and digital health and informatics. Expect more updates in the coming months. (Regulatory Focus)

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Policy News

New Year, New Beginnings and a New Administration

Hot Topics | January 15th, 2021

As we look ahead to Inauguration Day, we are hopeful for new beginnings and an affirmation of all that makes our nation’s democracy good. With the shift in power around the corner, policymakers and media alike have been busy at work. Here are this week’s top headlines:

Biden watch 2021

  • Biden’s team has tapped Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, to serve as acting FDA Commissioner while they determine who will be nominated to succeed Dr. Stephen Hahn. (Endpoints News)
    • Read More: While Policy News was on vacation, several more Biden appointees were announced in various healthcare roles:
      • Marcella Nunez-Smith will serve as a top adviser and the chair of a new task force focused on addressing health disparities related to COVID-19. (STAT)
      • Bechara Choucair (a Kaiser Permanente executive), Carole Johnson (commissioner of New Jersey’s human services department) and Tim Manning (former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency) will join Biden’s COVID-19 response team. (POLITICO)

Operation speed-it-up

  • Following a slower-than-expected rollout of COVID-19 vaccines under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday it would release all available doses of COVID-19 vaccines and recommend states begin vaccinating all adults over age 65. (The HillRoll Call) Meanwhile, President Elect Biden is reported to be frustrated with his team in charge of planning his administration’s response to COVID-19. Some of Biden’s advisors are worried the administration may not be able to fulfill its promise to administer 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in 100 days. (POLITICOSTAT)
    • Read More: Axios’s Caitlin Owens explains how Biden’s administration could pick up the pace.

It’s a big one

  • On Thursday, President Elect Biden presented his $1.9 trillion emergency relief package to the American public. Titled the “American Rescue Plan,” the package includes:
    • $400 billion to fight COVID-19 (e.g. increasing vaccines, testing, safely reopening schools)
    • $1 trillion in direct relief to families (e.g. stimulus payments, unemployment benefits)
    • $440 billion in aid to communities and business

Biden defended the size of the package saying, “I know what I just described will not come cheaply…But failure to do so will cost us dearly.” (The Washington Post)

While we were out – a roundup of the stories you may have missed while you were taking that vacation

  • On December 28, 2020, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction preventing the Trump administration’s “Most Favored Nation” policy for drug reimbursement from taking effect. This policy would have tied the price of drugs offered under Medicare Part B to lower prices in other developed countries.
  • On January 1, 2021, a new rule from the Trump administration took effect requiring hospitals to publicly post prices for every service, drug and supply they offer. Hospitals are required to post not only the list prices found on chargemasters, but also the discounted prices they have negotiated with insurers. (Kaiser Health News, via Roll Call)
  • Axios’ Caitlin Owens outlined why Operation Warp Speed’s vaccine rollout is behind schedule (Axios) and how poor planning could increase racial and ethnic disparities in America (Axios).
  • On January 4, ex-POLITICO reporters Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan launched their new media venture Punchbowl. The outlet plans to “focus on the several dozen people who have power in Washington, and exercise it, how they exercise it and why.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt from this week’s Policy News from Goodfuse, we invite you to email us at YourTeam@goodfuse.com to sign up the full weekly “insider only” newsletter featuring fun-to-read round-ups of Hot Topics, breaking news and some quirky facts to make your Fridays Goodfused.