Policy News

DeMISTifying Foggy Bottom + the Rest of D.C.

Hot Topics | February 26th, 2021

If you visited Washington, D.C. as a child, you probably snickered when your parents brought you to Foggy Bottom. The somewhat silly name was a fitting description of the neighborhood at the time it was established rather than a joke gone awry. Foggy Bottom was built on low-lying lands next to the Potomac River, which made the area prone to fog. With the arrival of the industrial revolution, the area became even foggier with factories such as the Washington Gas Light Company belching gas and exhaust fumes. Today Foggy Bottom is known as the home of the U.S. State Department, JFK Center for Performing Arts, the George Washington University and other D.C. institutions.

Speaking of D.C. institutions, this week saw a flurry of health hearings, as Biden is trying to secure his administration. Nominees were met with sharp questions leading to big headlines.

Becerra: Foe of pharma

  • Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General and President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), faced criticism from Republicans during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing for his support of abortion and his qualifications. (The HillRoll Call) These critiques might be expected in the current partisan climate, but in an unexpected twist several senators attacked Becerra for not being a friend of the pharmaceutical industry. STAT pointed out the “line of attack runs counter to most Americans’ starkly negative view of the pharmaceutical sector, and the fact that before [former HHS Secretary Alex] Azar, no health and human services secretary had ever previously worked for a drug company.”

Other health hearings on the hill

  • Dr. Rachel Levine (Assistant Secretary of HHS Nominee): Dr. Levine, a pediatrician from Pennsylvania, went before the Senate HELP Committee on Thursday. While she received many questions on issues of public health and COVID-19, it was Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) line of questioning that made headlines. The Senator faced criticism for remarks that characterized gender-affirming care as “genital mutilation,” a term not used by the mainstream healthcare profession to describe these treatments. (The HillThe Washington Post)
  • Dr. Vivek Murthy (Surgeon General Nominee): Dr. Murthy, whose hearing was held in tandem with Dr. Levine’s, was questioned by Senate Republicans for his position that gun violence is a public health issue. What was not discussed was Dr. Murthy’s work as a COVID-19 consultant for the cruise industry, Airbnb and other companies. (The Washington Post)

Your guide to FDA guidance

  • This week the FDA issued a flurry of guidance for industry and for the public:
    • The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can now be stored at conventional pharmaceutical freezer temperatures. (FDA)
    • The FDA released a briefing document endorsing the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which will be reviewed by an advisory committee today. (Axios)
    • The FDA issued guidance allowing vaccine developers to forego large randomized placebo-controlled trials for clinical trials testing COVID-19 vaccines tailored to fight specific variants. (The HillFDA)
    • And coming soon: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working on safety recommendations for people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (The Hill)

It’s Up to You

  • An Ad Council campaign funded by the US government called “It’s Up to You” was revealed this week, which aims to encourage Americans to get vaccinated when it is their turn. The campaign is one of the largest public education efforts in US history, and calls for viewers to visit for more information about COVID-19 vaccine safety and availability. (The Washington Post)

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Policy News

When Politics and Plush Toys Don’t Mix: The Story of Billy Possum

Hot Topics | February 19th, 2021

The year was 1908, and Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor William Howard Taft was elected president. Roosevelt’s popularity meant toy manufacturers had profited handsomely off the teddy bear. However, the industry started to look for the next big toy craze, worried the teddy bear’s popularity would wane with its eponymous president leaving office.

Fast forward to January 1909, when a banquet in Atlanta was thrown in Taft’s honor. By request the president-elect was served “possum and taters,” which is exactly what it sounds like: an 18-pound whole-cooked opossum served on a bed of sweet potatoes.

Local supporters then presented Taft with a stuffed possum, beginning a frenzied campaign to make “Billy Possum” the latest and greatest toy. The Los Angeles Times proclaimed, “the teddy bear has been relegated to a seat in the rear, and for four years, possibly eight, the children of the United States will play with Billy Possum.” A postcard advertising the new toy declared: “No more Teddy Bear/We will fondle with glee/Billy Possum is future/Our mascot shall be.”

You may be asking yourself, given such fanfare, what happened to Billy Possum? Unsurprisingly, poor Billy was not well received by children, and the marsupial’s boosters had given up on the toy before Christmas 1909.

Drug pricing reforms arrive at statehouses

  • Several state legislatures are advancing legislation to lower drug prices. While details vary from state to state, many are looking to “import Canadian drug prices” following stalled efforts to import pharmaceuticals themselves from North of the border. By tip-toeing around potential barriers such as including Medicaid programs in the policies, states are aiming to craft bills that will withstand industry lawsuits. The fact that these proposals are advancing in states from across the political spectrum – left, center and right – illustrates the broad bipartisan support for drug pricing reform. (STAT)

Woodcook defends industry interactions

  • Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock rejected calls for the FDA to erect a “firewall” between employees involved in pre-submission industry interactions and post-submission decision-making. Woodcock argued the proposed firewall, “would cause significant negative repercussions for public health.” The FDA drew the ire of an advocacy group for the way it handled the review of Biogen’s aducanumab, an Alzheimer’s drug. The agency released favorable briefing documents it co-authored with Biogen, which prompted criticism from Advisory Committee members that the FDA gave a biased presentation. (STAT)

Your Medicaid minute

  • An analysis of House Democrats’ plan to temporarily expand healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act isn’t too rosy. The report found the proposal would cover fewer than 2 million uninsured Americans at a cost of $50 billion. (Axios) Meanwhile, the White House moved to withdraw Medicaid work requirements approved under the Trump administration. (POLITICOThe Hill)

Introducing Medicare-X

  • Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have drafted a bill that, if signed into law, would accomplish President Biden’s goal to create a government-run public option health plan. Under the proposed legislation, the plan would first roll out in markets with high premiums due to a lack of competition and be available nationwide by 2025. (The HillThe Washington Post)

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Policy News

Happy Lunar New Year!

Hot Topics | February 12th, 2021

Today is the start of the Lunar New Year, and to mark the occasion we are opening today’s newsletter with a few fun facts about one of Washington D.C.’s most dynamic neighborhoods: Chinatown!

  • Washington D.C.’s first Chinatown was established in the 1880’s along the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 4 ½ Street NW and 7th Street NW. When city planners designated the area for redevelopment in the 1920’s, neighborhood aid organizations helped acquire land and relocate the community to the present Chinatown along H Street NW. 
  • The Chinese Community Church at 500 I Street NW has been a fixture in the Chinatown community for nearly 90 years. The church building was designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, who also designed the dome of the U.S. Capitol. 
  • The Friendship Archway at H Street NW and 7th Street NW is the largest single-span archway of its type in the world.

We wish all our readers a happy and prosperous new year! 

Guide to new CDC guidance

  • This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a wave of new guidance for the public: 
    • On Masks: Wearing a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask can significantly decrease the spread of COVID-19. (The Hill)
    • On Quarantine: Individuals who have been fully vaccinated no longer need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. (The Hill)
    • School Reopening: The CDC is expected to issue guidance for the reopening of schools later today (Friday, February 12). (The Hill)

Industry agreement on ACA changes

  • Healthcare industry groups including America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lined up to support changes to the Affordable Care Act proposed by House Democrats. (The Hill) These changes would include subsidized coverage for Americans earning up to 150% of the federal poverty line and those on unemployment insurance, as well as ending the “subsidy cliff” for individuals earnings upwards of 400% of the federal poverty level. (POLITICOAxios)

Driving back disparities

  • As the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines continues, disparities in access are becoming more stark with CDC data showing over 60% of vaccine doses in a number of states have been administered to white Americans. (Roll Call) Several efforts are actively underway to reduce these disparities, including a White House push to distribute vaccines directly to community health centers (The HillPOLITICO) and an Uber/Walgreens partnership to offer free rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites. (The Hill)

Vaccine rollout full steam ahead

  • On Thursday, President Biden announced the purchase of an additional 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. With this purchase, the United States secured enough doses to vaccinate every American by July. (The Hill) Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci estimated April will mark the start of “open season” for vaccinations, when any American who wants a shot will be able to get one. (The Hill
    • Read more: The United States could pay a cost for its efforts to rapidly vaccinate its own population. Experts argue life in the US will not return to normal until COVID-19 is tamed in all corners of the world, a feat that will be difficult to achieve as long as wealthier countries continue to secure the majority of the world’s vaccine supply. (The Hill)

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Policy News

Getting the Senate Organized

Hot Topics | February 5th, 2021

Following the election of Sens. Ossoff and Warnock (D-GA) in early January, you probably read headlines that the Democrats had retaken the Senate. While not false, those headlines omitted a small but significant nuance – a wonky Senate formality known as an “organizing resolution” – that would be a final hurdle on the Democrats’ path to reclaiming the Senate majority.

The organizing resolution outlines out how each Senate will set up committees, budgets and other key operating procedures. After Sens. Ossoff and Warnock were sworn in on January 20th, Democrats controlled the Senate floor, but Republicans maintained control of Senate committees because the organizing resolution from the 116thCongress was still in effect. This resulted in some committees operating without a chairperson, since the Senators who chaired these committees in the 116th Congress had retired.

After two weeks of negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate finally passed an organizing resolution on Wednesday to govern the 117th (current) Congress.

Going big, possibly bipartisan, on COVID relief

  • On Tuesday President Biden prodded Senate Democrats to “go big” and advance legislation on a COIVD-19 relief bill. Biden’s direction came after he rejected a $618 billion proposal from ten Republican Senators, which was substantially smaller than the $1.9 billion figure the president has floated. (The HillAssociated Press – Washington Bureau) While House Democrats started the legislative process that would allow them to advance a COVID-19 relief bill without the threat of a Republican filibuster, the door on bipartisanship has not yet closed. (Roll Call) On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 16 senators drafted a non-binding amendment that calls for the next round of direct payments to target the neediest Americans. (The Hill)

Schools, seniors and the squeeze on vaccines

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cited data from her agency on Wednesday to make the case that vaccinating teachers is not required to safely reopen schools as long as other precautions are followed. (The Hill) Dr. Walkensky’s remarks were made during a week that saw several outlets report that teachers are being pushed further back in line for COVID-19 vaccines as many states prioritize elderly populations. (AxiosRoll Call). Setting aside vaccinations, there are concerns from some White House political advisors that President Biden may not be able to fulfill his goal of resuming in-person instruction during the first 100 days of his presidency. (Axios)

Drug pricing proposal delayed

  • The Biden administration has delayed the implementation of a signature Trump administration proposal that would have prevented pharmaceutical companies from negotiating rebates on prescription drug prices with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PhRMA and drug makers were in favor of the policy, and were prepared to work with the government to implement the rule. However, PBMs and their trade association, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, were vigorously opposed to the rule and filed a lawsuit to kill the policy. (STAT)

Updates on team Biden

  • STAT published a detailed profile of Eric Lander, a key figure in the Human Genome Project and founding director of the Broad Institute who President Biden tapped as the White House science advisor. As detailed by STAT’s Lev Facher, Lander will advise the president on climate change, COVID-19, public confidence in science, and other pressing issues. Meanwhile, the rumor mill was a-swirling with hints that Chiquita Brooks-LaSure (a longtime Democratic health policy expert) and North Carolina health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have emerged as frontrunners to helm the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. (POLITICO)

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Policy News

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.”

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Policy News

A Giant Stamp and The Weather Girls: How Washington D.C. Tried to Become America’s New Year’s Eve Party

Hot Topics | December 23rd, 2020

1983 was to be the first year of a grand new Washington D.C. tradition: A 14-by-21 foot replica of the January 1984 “Love” U.S. Postal Service stamp was to be lowered from the spire atop the Old Post Office Building while the public was treated to a party with all the pomp and circumstance of Times Square. Performers included Lee Greenwood and The Weather Girls, with Tony Geary emceeing the festivities. In 1985, Mayor Marion Barry was quoted in The Washington Post saying, “Times Square has more of a history, tradition, but we’re gaining on them…We’re going to outdo New York. We think we might just take over and become the best single event [on New Year’s Eve].”

However, in 1988 Mayor Barry canceled the city’s participation in the New Year’s Eve party. With crime rates rising in the District across the board, Barry declared “it’s no time to celebrate. It’s time to work hard and to pray.” By 1990, nearly all of the ceremony surrounding Washington’s public New Year’s Eve party had evaporated. Today, Washingtonians will watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast from New York, Los Angeles and New Orleans thinking about what could have been.

Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots 

  • In a bid to increase confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines being administered under Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA), several prominent American politicians received their shots in public. This included: 
    • Friday, December 18: Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (AP Washington Bureau)
    • Monday, December 21: President-Elect Joe Biden (AxiosThe Hill)
    • Tuesday, December 22: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar (The Hill)

Who’s next in line? 

  • On Sunday, a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisory panel recommended that adults over the age of 75 as well as essential frontline workers receive access to COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 1b of the vaccine rollout. (Phase 1a includes healthcare workers as well as long-term care facility residents and staff.) Frontline workers were defined as “first responders, teachers and other education workers including day care workers, food and agriculture workers, correctional facility staff, postal workers, public transit workers, and people who work in manufacturing and in grocery stores.” (STAT)

COVID-19 relief bill: Are we there yet? 

  • Congress came to an agreement on a 5,593 page bill with $900 billion earmarked for COVID-19 relief and $1.4 trillion in government funding. While the future of the bill is up in the air after President Trump announced his intent to veto the current iteration on Tuesday nightRoll Call’s Mary Ellen McIntire broke down the top three healthcare policy implications that are tucked into the bill approved by the House and Senate: 
    • Public health funding: The government funding portion of the bill provides the National Institutes of Health and CDC with increased funding for Alzheimer’s Research, public health preparedness and improvements to laboratory capacity, among other initiatives. Through the COVID-19 relief package, these agencies would receive appropriations for vaccine manufacturing and distribution, contact tracing, COVID-19 research and more. 
    • Surprise medical billing: Beginning in 2022, patients would be protected from surprise medical bills. Notably exempted from the surprise medical billing ban are ambulance trips. 
    • Extend health programs: The bill extends existing funding levels for community health centers, teaching health centers and the national health service corps through the 2023 fiscal year. The bill also extends access to telehealth under Medicare. 
      • Read morePOLITICO published a more detailed summary of the bill.

Holiday homework for HHS and CDC

  • On Monday, the House Select Subcommittee on Coronavirus released new documents which detail the efforts of political appointees to modify and suppress reports from the CDC. Subcommittee chair Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) also subpoenaed HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield to provide additional “full and unredacted” documents relevant to the ongoing the inquiry by December 30. (POLITICOThe Hill)

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Policy News

The Making of a D.C. Institution

Hot Topics | December 18th, 2020

The Smithsonian Institution is nothing short of, well, a Washington D.C. institution. A visit to the city is hardly complete without a visit to one of the cultural and scientific trust’s 19 museums or the National Zoo.

Although the Smithsonian is synonymous with America’s capital, it owes its existence to British scientist James Smithson who bequeathed his estate to the United States to create “an establishment for the increase and diffuse of knowledge.” In an ironic twist, no one knows why Smithson decided to leave his estate to a country he never visited in his lifetime. That being said, Smithson is interred at the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C., which happens to be open to the public if crypts are your type of tourist attraction. 

If crypts aren’t your thing, we have some good headlines this week:

Five days of vaccine news in five bullets

  • Did the deluge of COVID-19 vaccine news this week leave your head spinning? We summarize the highlights below:
    • Pfizer and BioNTech: This week the first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech were administered to healthcare workers around the U.S. following the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization last week. (The Washington PostThe Hill)
      • The U.S. government is also in the process of negotiating the procurement of 100 million additional doses of the vaccines. (POLITICOThe Hill)
      • Healthcare workers made a curious discovery this week: Six or sometimes seven full does of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine could be drawn from the vials, which are labeled to hold five doses. On Wednesday, the FDA authorized hospitals and pharmacists to administer these sixth or seventh doses, if the full doses could be drawn from a vial. The additional doses, which are the result from a routine industry packaging practice, could increase the U.S. vaccine supply up to 40%. (POLITICO)
    • Moderna: Following an endorsement from an FDA advisory committee on Thursday, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is expected to receive an Emergency Use Authorization. If authorized, Moderna’s vaccine candidate would be the second to become available to the American public. (The Washington PostThe Hill)
    • Vaccine Brand Names: Wondering when we can stop referring to the COVID-19 vaccines as COVID-19 vaccines? Companies are not expected to announce brand names for COVID-19 vaccines until the FDA fully approves the shots, expected in 2021. (STAT)

Sackler’s take the hot seat

  • Yesterday members of the Sackler family testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on the role of Purdue Pharma in the opioid epidemic. During the hearing, members of Congress peppered Dr. Kathe Sackler and David Sackler of knowing more than they let on and for evading responsibility for their role in the crisis. Tensions ran high, with Rep. James Cooper (D-Tenn.) telling David Sackler, “Watching you testify makes my blood boil…I’m not sure that I’m aware of any family in America that’s more evil.” (The HillSTAT)

Drug card program gets yellow card

  • On September 24, President Trump announced a plan to send 33 million Medicare beneficiaries a card that could be used to pay up to $200 in prescription drug costs. This week, his administration’s plan encountered an unexpected roadblock: An obscure industry group that sets standards for health benefit cards has blocked the cards from being created. The consortium rebuffed the cards on the grounds that they would not be consistent with the other cards it regulates, which can be used to purchase more than drugs. (POLITICO

Don’t expect this campaign to take home a Clio

  • The Department of Health and Human Services had earmarked more than $300 million for a star-studded ad campaign to boost public confidence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country. The only problem is that few of the celebs on HHS’ wish list expressed interest in the campaign for a variety of reasons. According to POLITICO, the project has faced a litany of issues with personnel and vendors.

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Policy News

The D.C. Skyline: Small Stature with a Big Impression

Hot Topics | December 4th, 2020

The skyline of Washington D.C. is easily recognized and beloved by residents, but noticeably lacks any tall buildings. There’s a pervasive myth that a city law prevents buildings from surpassing the height of the U.S. Capitol or the Washington Monument. While that would make an interesting factoid if true, the reality is that building heights in the capital are capped by a rather vanilla 1910 zoning law.

Here are this week’s big headlines:

Vaccine recommendations, not directives

  • By a 13-1 vote, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel issued non-binding guidance outlining which Americans should be prioritized to receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine following an FDA approval. It is now up to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to decide whether to elevate the recommendations to official CDC guidance. However, as POLITICO notes, states will have final discretion on distributing vaccines, and won’t necessarily have to follow this guidance. (The Hill
    • Read More: Roll Call provides an overview of what will happen following FDA approval of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate. 

Who’s in and who’s out

  • Who’s out: Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who served as a COVID-19 advisor to President Trump, resigned from his post this week. Dr. Atlas frequently clashed with public health officials and medical experts over his optimistic projections on the pandemic and his advocacy for a herd immunity strategy. (POLITICOThe Hill)
  • Who’s in: President-Elect Joe Biden asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to remain at the helm of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and to serve as chief medical advisor in his administration. (POLITICOThe Hill)
  • Who’s staying in Rhode Island: Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) was seen as a top contender to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). However, she told reporters Thursday that she would not be President-Elect Biden’s nominee for this cabinet position.

A distant, but not defeated COVID-19 deal

  • This week a bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators held promising talks on a $908 billion COVID-19 stimulus package. Though the chances of passing a bill before the end of the year remain small, the talks held this week represent the most progress Congress has made on a stimulus bill in months. (AxiosThe Hill)

Canada says no, eh? 

  • Health Canada, the Canadian agency overseeing federal health policy, issued a press release stating that certain drugs intended to be consumed by Canadians would be banned from distribution outside of Canada. The policy is targeted at the United States, which has floated proposals at the federal and state level to import drugs from Canada as a means of lowering drug prices. (POLITICO
    • Read more: As recently as October, Florida was seeking to engage a vendor to import drugs from Canada. (Kaiser Health News)

If you enjoyed this excerpt from this week’s Policy News from Goodfuse, we invite you to email us at 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.