NACo conference outlines federal health priorities

House, Senate committee staffers review federal health care actions, goals

By Shiloh Perry

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge the physical and mental health of Americans like never before, attendees of the 2021 National Association of Counties' (NACo) Legislative Conference were brought up to date about congressional efforts on health policy.

Several congressional staff members involved in federal legislative policy development and implementation took part in the conference’s meetings, trainings and discussions on issues of importance to counties and local governments.

The annual conference, which helps NACo develop its federal policy agenda, was held virtually this year from March 8-26. “This year, NACo’s Legislative Conference is focused on empowering county officials with the relationships and tools necessary to respond and rebuild from the COVID era,” NACo Executive Director Matt Chase said. “We are engaging with the new Biden administration and congressional leaders, sharing the county story and pursuing county policy priorities.”

Some of the congressional personnel who are focused on public health participated in the second half of the conference’s health policy steering committee meeting after NACo adopted its interim health-related policy resolutions for the year. Legal counsel and policy staffers from the health subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions outlined what the committees have done and will be working on this year.

“We were recently involved in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan,” said Laurel Sakai, senior counsel for the Senate committee. “Looking forward, we’re looking for ways to have some bipartisan action as well.”

The Senate committee’s work is currently focused on substance abuse and mental health, oral health and health care disparities.

“Surprise billings and maintaining health care costs are a focus this year and how related requirements are implemented,” said Colin Goldfinch, senior health policy adviser for the Senate committee. “Agencies only have a year to implement the surprise billing law, and protections will become real for folks so they don’t get surprise medical bills.”

The House Ways and Means subcommittee on health made progress for nursing homes and elder justice.

“We were able to secure funding for states for nursing homes through nursing home strike teams and Medicare’s quality improvement organization,” said Rachel Dolin, a staff member for the House subcommittee. “An additional influx in total of $750 million for nursing homes across our [the committee’s] provisions and another from [the] Energy and Commerce [Committee] marked up for Medicaid-only nursing facilities.”

December’s Elder Justice Act authorizes $100 million to prevent elder abuse and help reduce the isolation many elderly Americans face, made worse by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan Act authorizes an additional $276 million, Dolin said.

Beyond its recent accomplishments through the American Rescue Plan Act, the House subcommittee is also focused on health care payments, health care delivery systems, and health programs and research under the Social Security Act, Dolin said.

Conference attendees were urged to share any related issues their communities are experiencing with federal lawmakers.

“It is helpful for members [of Congress] to keep hearing what you all are experiencing on the ground,” Sakai said. “It is really important right now that money is flexible so that folks can respond as needed.”

For more on NACo’s health policy priorities and legislative accomplishments, visit www.naco.org/topics/health.

Check out TAC's American Rescue Plan information & resources hub for counties.