HEALTH BRIEFING: Senators Weigh Mental Health Beyond Gun Talks

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Senate Democrats are pushing for billions of dollars to bolster federal mental health programs as part of a pending bipartisan gun violence package.

Senators from both sides of the aisle who are involved in the talks say they want the deal to include some funding aimed at curbing suicide rates among children and expanding access to mental health care. They say these measures will stem the overall number of firearm deaths, which came into focus after mass shootings just 10 days apart in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.

Democrats say any mental health measure must be expansive, funneling billions of dollars toward training mental health professionals and getting counseling services in schools across the country.

“It has to be more than just window dressing or fig leafs,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a brief interview Monday. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Happening on the Hill

Democrat Bill Would Bolster Birth Control as SCOTUS Weighs Roe: Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced legislation Tuesday requiring insurance companies to cover birth control and to make the medicine available without a prescription, Alex Ruoff reports.

The bill (S. 4247), unveiled by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), would also prohibit any retailer that stocks oral contraception from interfering with its purchase.

The measure is largely meant to head off any attempt to restrict access to birth control, which Democrats warn could follow success in overturning federal protections to abortion access.

“Republican lawmakers here in Congress and in states across the country are not going to stop at abortion,” Murray said. “They are coming after your birth control, too.”

Currently, the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a range of contraceptive measures. A dozen states allow insurers to require a prescription to obtain a contraceptive, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some states permit certain, generally religious, organizations to refuse to comply with the ACA’s contraceptive requirement.

Covid Test Requirement in the Hot Seat: The US’s predeparture Covid-19 test requirement drew scrutiny at a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Mia McCarthy reports. Ending the testing requirement would help bring international travel back to pre-pandemic levels and boost the tourism sector of the economy, witnesses said. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), subcommittee chair, urged President Joe Biden to remove the requirement in a letter with other legislators last month.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Mask Ruling Appeal Gets Backing From Former CDC Directors: Six former CDC directors have thrown their support behind an Eleventh Circuit appeal to maintain masking requirements on planes and other mass transit in a court filing that argues weakening the agency’s authority will prove dangerous.

More than 200 public health advocates and officials, including nearly all living former agency heads, signed a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday in support of the Department of Justice’s appeal. The DOJ wants to undo an April lower court decision that lifted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s requirement, which was in effect since early 2021. Jeannie Baumann has more.

Novavax Covid Shot Gets Backing From FDA Advisory Panel: Novavax ’s coronavirus vaccine won the support of a panel of US government advisers, paving the way for authorization of another tool to fight the coronavirus.

Experts advising the Food and Drug Administration voted 21-0, with one abstention, that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed its risks in adults 18 and older. The FDA doesn’t have to follow the recommendations of its advisory panels, but it usually does. Fiona Rutherford has the details.

Pandemic Rift Seen Widening Mortality Gap Between US Parties: Republican-leaning counties in the US experienced higher rates of premature death even before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, a study found, and researchers fear politically polarized responses to the virus could widen the gap.

Democratic-voting counties had an overall 15% lower death rate than Republican counties in 2019, up from a 3% difference in 2001, researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston said Tuesday in a study. Read more from Madison Muller.

What Else to Know

FTC to Probe Pharmacy Benefit Managers’ Role in Drug Costs: The US Federal Trade Commission will probe pharmacy benefit managers including units of CVS, Cigna and UnitedHealth that oversee prescription drug plans, the agency said in a news release Tuesday.

The move signals more aggressive scrutiny for the drug market, widely considered one of health-care’s most opaque sectors, under the regulatory body’s new Democratic majority. A third Democratic commissioner was confirmed for the five-person panel last month. John Tozzi has the latest.

Bluebird’s Blood Disease Therapy Gets FDA Staff’s Support: Bluebird Bio’s application for approval of a treatment for a blood disorder got support from the US Food and Drug Administration staff, although agency scientists said more data are needed on the company’s gene therapy for a rare brain-wasting disease in boys. Read more from Angelica Peebles and Fiona Rutherford.

To contact the reporter on this story: Giuseppe Macri in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Small at

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