Quick Takes

— MNUCHIN, PELOSI REPORT PROGRESS ON NATIONAL COVID-19 TESTING PLAN. Speaker Pelosi reported that the White House has agreed to Democrats' request for a national strategic testing plan so long as there are slight modifications to the language. 
— 2020 ELECTION STATE OF PLAY. There are 18 days until the Nov. 3 election. 
— WHAT WE'RE HEARING: 'MOST FAVORED NATIONS' RULEMAKING COULD COME POST-ELECTION. TRP has learned that formal rulemaking on the Trump administration's proposed "most favored nations" (MFN) policy for Medicare Parts B and D is expected to come sometime after the election. 
— FCC CHAIRMAN SAYS HE WILL MOVE TO 'CLARIFY' SECTION 230, THREATENING TECH'S LEGAL SHIELD. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday he plans to move forward with rulemaking to “clarify” the scope of Section 230.
Capitol Hill Update
— MNUCHIN, PELOSI REPORT PROGRESS ON NATIONAL COVID-19 TESTING PLAN. As President Donald Trump continues to push for a "go big or go home" strategy on the next round of COVID-19 relief aid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued their negotiations on a bipartisan deal yesterday. In a "Dear Colleague" letter to Members late last night, the Speaker reported that the White House has agreed to Democrats' request on a national strategic testing plan so long as there are slight modifications to the proposed language. However, Speaker Pelosi cautioned that the two sides are still quite far apart on key issues that have bogged down the negotiations thus far — namely unemployment insurance, state and local aid, liability provisions, and tax credits. Meanwhile, the Senate is set to vote on a roughly $500 billion targeted pandemic relief bill next week, as there is next to no appetite within the GOP conference for taking up another trillion dollar stimulus.
Washington Insider: What We're Reading
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday he plans to move forward with rulemaking to “clarify” the scope of Section 230, an important legal shield for tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter. Section 230 protects tech platforms from being held liable for their users’ posts. It also allows them to moderate content in good faith without repercussions. The law was passed in the early days of the internet in the 1990s as part of the Communications Decency Act, but lawmakers across the political spectrum have since called for it to be revised as the tech companies have grown to massive scale and influence.
Controversial Trump administration policies on the census, asylum seekers and the border wall, held illegal by lower courts, are on the Supreme Court’s agenda Friday. The most pressing case before the justices when they meet privately, and by telephone because of the coronavirus pandemic, involves the census. They are considering the Trump administration’s appeal to be allowed to exclude people living in the U.S. illegally from the population count that will be used to allocate seats in the House of Representatives — and by extension the Electoral College — among the states for the next 10 years.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) office said the Trump administration rejected the state’s request for a disaster declaration following six wildfires that tore through the state earlier this year, including the largest single blaze in the state’s history. "The request for a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires has been denied by the federal administration," Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, told CNN.
Retail sales rose 1.9 percent in September, according to data released Friday by the Census Bureau, beating expectations and rebounding after four consecutive months of slowing gains. Seasonally adjusted U.S. retail and food services sales for September totaled $549.3 billion, rising nearly 2 percent from August’s total of $539.0 billion and 5.4 percent from September 2019. September’s climb in retail sales also outpaced a 0.6 percent increase in August and 0.9 percent rise in July.
 COVID-19: What We're Hearing
— 'MOST FAVORED NATIONS' RULEMAKING COULD COME POST-ELECTION. In conversations with sources in the administration, on Capitol Hill, and beyond, TRP has learned that formal rulemaking on the Trump administration's proposed "most favored nations" (MFN) policy for prescription drugs under Medicare Parts B is not expected to come until sometime after the election. While rumors had circulated recently that publication of an interim final rule on the Part B portion of the MFN rulemaking might be imminent, more recent intel suggests that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has stepped in to block the idea of jumping straight to an interim final rule — so instead, a proposed rule is the anticipated next step.
The delay comes as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is prioritizing the implementation of a demonstration to distribute $200 “discount cards” to be used to offset prescription drug copays. TRP’s sources and various press reports have indicated the timing of that project is being driven by the upcoming presidential election. Meanwhile, separate rulemaking on MFN for Part D is expected to take even longer for the agency to produce. For more on the MFN executive order (EO), read TRP's summary of the order as well as our special report on how the MFN EO could be implemented. 
— HOUSE DEMS PASS NEW HEROES ACT. House lawmakers passed the Democrats' newly revamped HEROES Act last week. The $2.2 trillion draft bill largely reflects many of the same policies that were presented in the original version, including: (1) another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and $600 per week unemployment benefits; (2) support for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and health care providers; (3) emergency paid family and medical leave; and (4) support for child care services, among other provisions. Key changes to the new HEROES Act include:
  • State and Local Aid. The bill would offer $436 billion for state and local governments impacted by the pandemic, down from the nearly $1 trillion offered in the original version. The bill also retains a temporary lift $10,000 cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, but for one year instead of two.
  • PPP. The bill would repurpose $146 billion in unspent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding for other small business programs contained in the bill.
  • Health Providers. The bill includes roughly $50 billion less for hospitals and other health care providers. It also does away with a $190 billion hazard pay program for health care workers and first responders.
  • Restaurant Aid. The bill would establish a $120 billion program through the Treasury Department aimed at providing restaurants and other food service entities with grant funding to offset payroll costs and eligible expenses.
  • Mental Health. The bill would provide $8.5 billion in funding to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an increase from the $3 billion provision in the original version.
  • Airlines. The bill would extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP) for airlines, authorizing $25 billion for the program through Mar. 31, 2021.
  • Postal Service. The bill includes $10 billion less for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) compared to the original version. This amount could eventually be available to USPS if the borrowing restrictions contained in the CARES Act are repealed.
PROBLEM SOLVERS ROLL OUT COVID-19 PROPOSAL. The bipartisan Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus outlined their roughly $2 trillion proposal for the next round of pandemic relief aid amid mounting concerns from rank-and-file lawmakers about the lack of progress on leadership-level negotiations. The proposal reflects an effort to find a bipartisan compromise on several emerging and existing needs related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including state and local aid, health care, liability protections, unemployment insurance, and child care. It also includes provisions on small business relief, broadband funding, agriculture aid, and postal service support. Click here to read TRP's analysis of this proposal.
— HEALS Act. Senate Republicans officially introduced their opening offer for the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation following days of intraparty negotiations between GOP Senators and White House officials. The legislative package was officially released as multiple pieces of legislation, with six total sections:
Click here to view TRP's side-by-side of the Senate GOP HEALS Act and the House Democratic HEROES Act.
COVID-19 Legislative & Regulatory Trackers
— CMS ADJUSTS MEDICARE PAYMENT TO SUPPORT FASTER COVID-19 TESTING CMS announced new actions to pay for faster COVID-19 test results.
  • Starting January 1, 2021, Medicare will pay $100 only to laboratories that complete high throughput COVID-19 diagnostic tests within two calendar days of the specimen being collected.
  • Also effective January 1, 2021, for laboratories that take longer than two days to complete these tests, Medicare will pay a rate of $75. 
— CMS EXPANDS LIST OF MEDICARE-COVERED TELEHEALTH SERVICES. CMS expanded the list of telehealth services that Medicare Fee-For-Service will pay for during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE). The list of these newly added services can be accessed here. CMS also released new data on telehealth utilization in the Medicaid program during the PHE. 
— NIH LAUNCHES NEW STUDY ON COVID-19 TREATMENTS FOR LARGER CLINICAL TRIALS. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a study designed to determine whether certain approved therapies or investigational drugs in late-stage clinical development show promise against COVID-19 and merit advancement into larger clinical trials.
— HHS AWARDS NEW CONTRACTS FOR FAST POC COVID-19 TEST AND COMPONENTS OF VACCINE. The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Defense (DoD) awarded a $481 million contract to Cue Health, Inc. aimed at bolstering production capacity for its point-of-care (POC) COVID-19 molecular test.
  • HHS and DoD also announced a $31 million contract with Cytiva to expand the company’s manufacturing capacity for products that are essential in producing COVID-19 vaccines, including liquid and dry powder cell culture media, cell culture buffers, mixer bags, and XDR bioreactors.
— TRP MEMO: THE PROVIDER RELIEF FUND AND ITS DISTRIBUTIONS. TRP has updated its comprehensive memo on the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. This includes the distributions to date under the $175 billion funds, the distribution that is ongoing, and what is on the table for future funding. Click here to read the updated memo.
— TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ANNOUNCES NEW 'WARP SPEED' INVESTMENT INTO COVID-19 ANTIBODY TREATMENT. The Trump administration announced a new Operation Warp Speed agreement with AstraZeneca for late-stage development and large-scale manufacturing of the company's COVID-19 antibody treatment.
— SBA ANNOUNCES SIMPLIFIED PPP LOAN FORGIVENESS FOR SMALLER LOANS. The Small Business Administration (SBA) and Treasury Department released a simplified forgiveness application for Paycheck protection Program (PPP) loan recipients. The new form applies to loans worth $50,000 or less.
  • Click here to view the simpler loan forgiveness application.
  • Click here to view the instructions for completing the simpler loan forgiveness application.
  • Click here to view the Interim Final Rule on the simpler forgiveness process for loans of $50,000 or less.
— CMS DETAILS REPAYMENT CHANGES FOR PROVIDER LOAN PROGRAM DURING COVID CRISIS. CMS announced amended terms for payments issued under the Accelerated and Advance Payment (AAP) Program during the COVID crisis. CMS issued $106 billion in payments to providers and suppliers in order to alleviate the financial burden healthcare providers faced while experiencing cash flow issues in the early stages of combating the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
  • Repayment will now begin one year from the issuance date of each provider or supplier’s accelerated or advance payment, as required by Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act. 
— SBA ANNOUNCES PPP LOAN FORGIVENESS PAYMENTS, ISSUES NEW FAQS. SBA announced that it has begun remitting PPP loan forgiveness payments to lenders. The Paycheck Protection Forgiveness Platform can be accessed here.
  • SBA also issued an updated list of frequently asked questions on the PPP, adding a new question on the deferral period for borrower payments of principal, interest, and fees on PPP loans.
— HHS ANNOUNCES NEW PROVIDER RELIEF FUNDING TRANCHE. HHS announced a $20 billion funding opportunity for health care providers though the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund. The application period is Oct. 5 through Nov. 6. Updated FAQs can be accessed here.  HHS will hold a webcast for providers on Oct. 15. Register here.
  • HHS expanded this funding opportunity to additional groups of behavioral health providers and providers who began practicing in 2020.
  • Providers that already received payments of 2 percent of their revenue may apply for an “add-on payment.”
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