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.


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 PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry 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 AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate Dem: Republicans have 'predetermined' outcome of Kavanaugh hearing Sunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Overnight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal 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 WhitehouseKavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week Dem vows to probe 'why the FBI stood down' on Kavanaugh Senate Democrats increase pressure for FBI investigation of Kavanaugh MORE (D-R.I.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment 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 WaldenHouse GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill GOP turns its fire on Google Hillicon Valley: Twitter chief faces GOP anger over bias | DOJ convenes meeting on bias claims | Rubio clashes with Alex Jones | DHS chief urges lawmakers to pass cyber bill | Sanders bill takes aim at Amazon MORE (R-Ore.) wants to see the chamber pass opioid legislation by Memorial Day weekend.

Alexander and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKavanaugh accuser set to testify Thursday McConnell told Trump criticism of Kavanaugh accuser isn't helpful: report Dems see Kavanaugh saga as playing to their advantage 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.



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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