The outlook for a bill to reauthorize anti-pandemic and other health emergency programs looks good as lawmakers seek to clear unfinished health business from the last Congress.
On January 8, the House passed a bill (H.R. 269), 401-17, to renew $7 billion in emergency pandemic-prevention programs, modify the regulatory framework for nonprescription drugs, and establish user fees for drugmakers.
The legislation is a new version of a bill (H.R. 7328) the House passed in December but the Senate never acted on.
Most of the emergency health programs covered by the bill expired September 30 and were set to temporarily renew under a short-term spending bill that Congress never cleared because lawmakers are at odds over funding for a wall along the southern border.
Lawmakers have been uneasy about leaving these programs unapproved, despite the fact that funds were appropriated for them in 2018, a House staffer said.
Two major provisions of the pandemic reauthorization bill were being considered as separate bills last year but both pieces of legislation were stalled by two senators who were at odds over one of them.
One of them, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the lead sponsor of the over-the-counter regulatory reform measures, is supportive of the new, combined bill, a spokeswoman for Isakson. His support likely means the legislation can clear the Senate.
Since late 2018, Isakson and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) were thwarting passage of each other’s legislation. Burr blocked Isakson’s over-the-counter drug bill because of frustration about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed regulation to ban most electronic cigarette flavors, and Isakson blocked Burr’s pandemic bill in response.
The House also passed on a voice vote a separate measure (H.R. 259) to keep rules that let married couples protect some of their assets while applying for Medicaid coverage for home and community-based services and permit state Medicaid programs to move people with chronic illnesses back into their communities. Both were also part of the spending bill that failed to reach the president’s desk before funding for several agencies expired almost three weeks ago.