HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden prepares $30 billion Covid-19 request

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Biden administration officials told lawmakers yesterday they plan to seek $30 billion in new spending to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in conjunction with a $1.5 trillion government funding package that lawmakers want to finish by March 11.

Department of Health and Human Services officials made the informal presentation to lawmakers, with a formal request from the White House expected at a later date.

Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the health appropriations subcommittee, said he spoke to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra yesterday about the request. “I think they’re going to come up with an extra $30 billion,” Blunt said, indicating he could support it. “In the categories they are requesting money for, the other funds have all been spent or committed for other purposes.”

Health and human services are seeking $18 billion for medical countermeasures like antivirals and vaccines, according to people familiar with the conversations. The department also wants $5 billion for testing, $3 billion to treat the uninsured and $4 billion to prepare for future variants. An additional $500 million could be targeted for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operations.

So far, funds for global vaccine distribution are not included. Progressive Democratic lawmakers have asked for $17 billion for it.

“While we continue to have sufficient funds to respond to the current omicron surge in the coming weeks, our focus has always been to ensure we are well prepared to stay ahead of the virus,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. . “So we were part of these ongoing conversations about what those needs might look like and that was part of that effort.”

Chairman of Senate Appropriations Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters yesterday that he was not interested in processing the request as part of the omnibus spending package and would rather propose it as a separate bill. Learn more about Erik Wasson and Josh Wingrove.

It’s happening on the Hill

Biden’s FDA chief confirmed by Senate with help from Republicans: Robert Califf will lead the Food and Drug Administration again after senators voted 50 to 46 yesterday to confirm him, beating opposition from some lawmakers over his ties to industry and the agency’s past actions on a provocative drug abortion. Califf will be tasked with managing the FDA as it weighs the elimination of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children under 5, as well as other vaccines and treatments for the virus. He will also be tasked with restoring public confidence after the controversial FDA approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug and rapid Covid-related emergency clearances.

His margin of victory was much smaller this time than when he was first confirmed to lead the FDA in 2016 in an 89-4 vote. Califf promised Democrats he would improve the FDA’s fast-track approval pathway that drew intense scrutiny after Biogen’s Aduhelm was brought to market. He also agreed not to work for a drug or medical device company or accept money from them for four years after leaving the agency’s leadership position. Read more from Céline Castronuovo.

Teen’s mental health warning prompts senators to act: The Senate Finance Committee, as part of a series of hearings focusing on the mental health care system in the United States, yesterday focused on the barriers that adolescents face when seeking care. Adequate mental health services can cost families thousands of dollars without insurance. Financial barriers coupled with severe staffing shortages and dwindling community mental health centers have caused an increase in emergency room admissions, panelists said.

Calling the system “totally out of whack”, the senator. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee’s chair, said the mental health hearings are “one of the most significant initiatives the finance committee has been involved in.” Read more from Madison Muller.

The coronavirus pandemic

US vaccines sent overseas have been refused due to logistical issues: The Biden administration says some foreign countries have been unable to accept their full allocation of vaccine donations from the United States as they increasingly grapple with logistical barriers and hesitation over vaccines. “There have been times, yes, where countries are unable to receive the doses that we are able to provide,” Psaki said during a briefing yesterday. She did not identify the countries. The United States has donated and shipped 437 million doses overseas so far, more than any other country, and pledged a total of at least 1.2 billion. Josh Wingrove has more.

Antibodies from vaccinated mothers offer protection to babies: Covid-19 shots given during pregnancy can keep infants six months or younger out of hospital, in a study a CDC official says offers the first concrete evidence that antibodies passed to the baby offer protection. The study marks the latest findings to highlight the benefits of vaccination during pregnancy. It found infants were 61% less likely to require hospitalization with Covid-19 if their mother had received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Jeannie Baumann has more.

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What else to know

Florida and Arizona seek abortion limits ahead of Supreme Court rules: Florida could be next to adopt abortion restrictions as lawmakers try to position their states to reduce the procedure if the United States Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. If Florida’s efforts are successful, two of the nation’s three most populous states, along with 19 or more smaller states, could automatically implement new restrictions.

Arizona lawmakers took their first vote yesterday, and Florida is on track to do the same today as activists across the US push for new abortion laws or to set them up for referendums of voters before the acts of the High Court. Already, an abortion right measure has been certified for the Vermont ballot. Learn more about Jennifer Kay, Brenna Goth, Stephen Joyce and Joyce E. Cutler.

Blocking the four-visit rule on SD abortion being appealed by the state: South Dakota is appealing a ruling preventing it from enforcing a rule requiring people seeking abortion on the pill to make four visits to the state’s only abortion clinic, it said. said yesterday in federal court. Governor Kristi Noem (right) and other officials referred the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which deferred its decision on at least one more abortion lawsuit pending the opinion of the United States Supreme Court in a case that could redefine abortion rights in the United States Read more by Mary Anne Pazanowski.

Suit for missed cancer diagnosis filed in a timely manner: The estate of a Vietnam veteran who died in 2014 of misdiagnosed cancer can file a lawsuit in 2021 against the United States over the delay in uncovering alleged malpractice, a federal court has heard. An Arkansas law requiring medical malpractice suits to be filed within two years of a claim accumulating is a statute of limitations, not a statute of rest that would stop it, the court said. U.S. District of the Western District of Arkansas. David Phillips’ family learned in 2019 that Robert Levy had misdiagnosed his condition in 2013, the court heard. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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