Neal Requests Details on PPE Shortages

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is requesting more details from the administration about its response to shortages of PPE. In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Neal raises concerns about challenges that health workers and states are facing in securing PPE from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). He urges the White House to help states secure PPE from private vendors.

President Names Coronavirus IG

President Trump has selected Brian Miller, special assistant to the President and senior associate counsel in the White House Counsel’s office, to serve as the special inspector general for pandemic recovery (SIGPR). In this position, which was authorized for five years under the CARES Act, Miller will oversee the disbursement of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal relief funds. Miller has previously served as inspector general for the General Services Administration (GSA). Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) wrote to the President on Friday, urging the administration to ensure full transparency and willingness for independent oversight. President Trump had previously made remarks indicating his intention to supervise the inspector general’s reports to Congress.

HHS Will Not Open COVID-19 Special Enrollment Period

As of now, President Trump has decided not to establish a special Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period specifically designated for COVID-19. Re-opening enrollment would have allowed people to gain health insurance coverage prior to contracting the virus and getting sick. The President’s decision was quickly condemned by Democratic health leaders in Congress, who argued that Americans will be forced to weigh seeking treatment for COVID-19 against their financial security. During the task force press conference on Friday, Secretary Azar reminded Americans that those that lose their job due to the pandemic are eligible to enroll in ACA plans.

COVID-19 to Further Delay VA/DOD EHR

The Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to further delay the rollout of its new electronic health record (EHR) system because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The system, which is being developed by Cerner, would connect the VA with the Department of Defense’s (DOD) EHR to provide service members with a unified health record from enlistment through discharge. It was announced in February that the new EHR’s testing phase in the Pacific Northwest would be delayed, and it remains unclear what the VA’s latest timeline is.

FCC Announces new COVID-19 Telehealth Program

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has developed and approved a $200 million program to fund telehealth services and devices for medical providers. Hospitals and other health centers will be able to apply for up to $1 million to cover the cost of new devices, services and personnel. Republican Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposed the initiative using funds from the CARES Act. It would also allow the FCC to move forward with a Connected Care telehealth pilot program for veterans and low-income individuals using existing FCC subsidy mechanisms.

Krishnamoorthi Pushes for Stronger E-Cig Enforcement Citing COVID-19 Concerns

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, is urging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prioritize clearing the market of e-cigarette products and to immediately suspend all approvals of Premarket Tobacco Product Applications. In his letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Rep. Krishnamoorthi argues that allowing e-cigarettes to remain on the market will only exacerbate the coronavirus crisis. Evidence indicates that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to suffer severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Senators Ask FDA to Expand Availability of Distillery-Produced Hand Sanitizer

A bipartisan group of senators is asking the FDA to lift federal guidance that effectively limits distillers to the use of non-food-grade alcohol in the production of hand sanitizer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized the use of food-grade alcohol as an acceptable hand sanitizer ingredient. The lawmakers argue that the move would allow distillers to help meet the increased demand for such products in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The letter was signed by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

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