Top 10 health policy issues for 2022 

There are many pieces of healthcare policy on the legislative agenda this year addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of health equity, and more, according to a report from law firm McDermott, Will & Emery published in the The National Law Review on Jan. 13

Here are the top 10 health issues that will continue to define 2022 and beyond: 

1. COVID-19

With the omicron variant causing record numbers of COVID-19 cases, the pandemic is far from over. It will continue to drive policy decisions, from vaccination mandates to access to testing.

2. Telehealth waivers

Earlier in the pandemic, Congress granted flexibilities to allow providers to deliver services to Medicare beneficiaries via telehealth. Whether these flexibilities will be extended by legislators is unclear.

3. Build Back Better

Key provisions of the bill, which faces an uphill battle in Congress, include a proposed extension of the Affordable Care Act and prescription drug pricing reforms. It is not yet known if the bill will be revised to increase its chances of getting through the Senate.

4. Drug pricing

Along with reforms proposed in the Build Back Better bill, this year the 340B program, which allows limited access to lower-cost prescription drugs, will be considered by the courts. 

5. Surprise billing

The No Surprises Act, enacted in December 2020, took effect Jan. 1, 2022, and healthcare providers and payers scrambled to implement it. Some lawmakers are thought to be primed to press their colleagues in Congress for changes.

6. Mental health policy 

The high level of stress the pandemic puts on front-line workers, including healthcare professionals, is being further recognized. In July 2022, a new national suicide hotline is set to launch, and lawmakers are working on passing the Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act, named after a physician who died by suicide.

7. Physician payment

The prospect of a 3.75 percent cut in Medicare payments to physicians set for 2022 prompted Congress to pass the Protecting Medicare and American Farmers from Sequester Cuts Act at the end of 2021, though the action Congress took is considered a stopgap measure rather than a permanent solution. 

8. User fee reauthorization legislation

Every five years, the FDA must negotiate user fee agreements with industries it regulates. These fees pay for about 80 percent of the agency's personnel costs. These agreements have already been finalized and sent to Congress, but lawmakers could add CMS policy to these agreements. 

9. Value-based care

According to the law firm, Biden's 2021 CMS strategy was notably devoid of any detailed discussion of specialty care models and financial risk. This may suggest support for CMS' direct contracting model; however, pushback from Democrats could mean there are potential changes to the model being discussed. 

10. Health equity

The Biden administration has put particular focus on health equity: One of President Joe Biden's first actions in office was the signing of a health equity executive order. According to the report, more health equity initiatives could be expected in 2022.

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