Week ahead: Health officials to testify on flu season response

Week ahead: Health officials to testify on flu season response
© Greg Nash

A House panel in the coming week will turn its attention to the U.S. public health response to this year's deadly flu season.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hear from top public health officials, including Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Lawmakers want answers on what steps officials took to prepare for the season and what they are doing to handle the ongoing flu epidemic.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday said that the flu season has peaked, with the worst over. But the CDC added they expect high levels of activity in the coming weeks.

Federal officials aren’t exactly sure why this season has been so severe, but most of the country has been hit by the flu at the same time, which experts said was unusual.

Federal officials said Friday that 114 children have been killed by the flu this season.

It will be a busy week in Washington, with both the House and the Senate in session.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will also be making a series of public speeches in the week ahead to key industry groups.

Azar will address the Federation of American Hospitals on Monday and speak to America’s Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry's largest trade group, on Wednesday.

The speeches are a notable departure from his predecessor Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE, who did not speak to either group during his brief tenure as head of the agency.

The health community will be watching his speeches closely. Azar is likely to discuss a series of new rules the administration has proposed this year that critics say weaken ObamaCare.

One rule is intended to expand access to cheaper, short-term health insurance plans. Another would expand “association health plans,” allowing small businesses or self-employed individuals to band together to buy coverage.

Azar is also in the spotlight as states move to circumvent ObamaCare's rules.

Idaho has proposed allowing insurers to sell plans that don't meet ObamaCare requirements. Supporters of the proposal say it will help people find more affordable plans. But Democrats oppose such moves, saying the state is ignoring the law and trying to undercut ObamaCare.

Idaho officials said they met with Azar recently but that he didn't tip his hand on whether he will block their plans.

Lawmakers are also looking to make progress on the fight against opioids.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing Thursday as part of its ongoing investigation into the crisis. The focus of the latest hearing will be on state leadership, and the committee will hear testimony from a bipartisan group of governors, on how they are addressing opioids.

In December, Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix Supreme Court vacancy throws Senate battle into chaos Overnight Health Care: Anti-abortion groups see chance to overturn Roe v. Wade with Kennedy retirement | HHS watchdog to probe detention center conditions | VA pick vows to oppose privatization MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayJane Fonda: Kavanaugh confirmation would be a 'catastrophe' Dems rip Trump DOJ nominee who represented Russian bank Dems grasp for way to stop Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (D-Wash.) sent a letter to every governor and every state insurance commissioner in the country asking how the federal government can best partner with states on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

Combating the opioid epidemic has been a rare, bright spot of bipartisanship in the past, and lawmakers have continued that trend.

On Tuesday, Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseWho is Andrew Wheeler, EPA's new acting chief? Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act Trump nominee vows to restore 'trust' in IRS MORE (D-R.I.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh Sens introduce bipartisan bill matching Zinke proposed maintenance backlog fix On The Money: Trump backs off investment restrictions on China | McConnell opens door to tariff legislation | Supreme Court deals blow to public-sector unions, ruling against 'fair-share' fees MORE (R-Ohio) released a follow-up bill to opioid legislation signed in 2016. The new bill, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act 2.0, would establish a three-day limit on prescribing opioids and let states waive restrictions on how often physicians can prescribe medicines to treat opioid addition, among other changes. It also includes more funding for treatment.

On the House side, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHammond pardons raise fears of emboldened anti-government extremists Oregon ranchers pardoned by Trump fly home on Pence donor's private jet Overnight Energy: Trump pardons ranchers whose case sparked standoff | EPA takes step to replace Obama climate rule | Pruitt's lead spokesman out at EPA MORE (R-Ore.) wants to see the chamber pass opioid legislation by Memorial Day weekend.

Alexander and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts MORE (R-Maine) are also continuing their talks on legislation aimed at stabilizing the ObamaCare insurance markets. Several lawmakers are working to tack it on to a broader government spending package that must be passed by March 23 to avoid a shutdown.

 

Hearings:

Thursday: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing "examining U.S. public health preparedness for and response efforts to seasonal influenza."

Thursday: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing entitled "The Opioid Crisis: Leadership and Innovation in the states."

 

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