HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Abortion Divisions Muddle Health Fund Bump

Senate Democratic leaders are making the case to end the decades-old restriction on federal funding for abortions, setting up a battle over health agency funding this year.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate panel responsible for the bulk of federal health spending, said ending the funding restriction, called the Hyde amendment, would be a “critical step” toward opening up abortion services for people of color and those unable to pay for health services on their own.

“For too long, Hyde has made abortion accessible only to those with means—while women of color, and women who are paid low incomes, struggle to get care,” she said yesterday.

The Hyde amendment bars federal funds for abortions except in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the woman. When asked if she’ll introduce a spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services that omits it, Murray said she needs to consult with members of her appropriations subcommittee.

Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has said she will keep the Hyde amendment out of the her chamber’s HHS spending plan in fiscal 2022.

Roy Blunt (Mo.), the head Republican on the Senate health appropriations panel, said there aren’t enough votes to clear spending legislation without the Hyde language. Republicans widely support Hyde and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who sits on Murray’s subcommittee, has been a longtime supporter of the restriction. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Happening on the Hill

Walsh Says OSHA Covid-19 Rule Coming: OSHA’s emergency rule to protect workers from Covid-19 will be released today, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told the House Education and Labor Committee yesterday. The emergency temporary standards will focus on the health-care industry, Walsh said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will issue guidance for other sectors, he added. Read more from Courtney Rozen and Bruce Rolfsen.

Bipartisan Support for Stockpile in Budget: There appears to be some bipartisan support for aspects of President Joe Biden’s budget request, including increased funding for health agencies and the Strategic National Stockpile, Jacquie Lee reports.

“We may have some questions about different parts of it, but we’re not going to quibble over the overall numbers,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee said yesterday.

Cole also called the proposal to create a new government agency dedicated to breakthrough health research “appealing” as long as it doesn’t pull funding from other programs. That program would be called ARPA-H and would operate within the National Institutes of Health. Biden asked for $6.5 billion in his budget request to Congress to launch the project.

“Let’s just make sure we don’t overfund this at the beginning,” Cole said. Congress might “start a little bit lower and build the protocols and make sure this works and pans out.”

Hearings on the Hill:

  • Children at the Border: The House Homeland Security Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations plans a hearing to discuss the federal response to address unaccompanied children at the U.S. southern border.
  • HELP Markup: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to mark upS. 1927, to amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.
  • FDA Budget: The Senate Appropriations Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee holds a hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget for the Food and Drug Administration. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock will testify.
  • HHS Budget: The Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing on the fiscal 2022 budget for the Health and Human Services Department. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will testify.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden to Buy 500 Million Pfizer Shots for Poorer Nations: The Biden administration intends to buy 500 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to share internationally, as the U.S. turns its attention to combating the pandemic globally, a person familiar with the matter said. The government will buy about 200 million doses this year to distribute through “Covax,” the World Health Organization-backed initiative aimed at securing an equitable global distribution of the vaccine, and roughly 300 million doses in the first half of next year, the person said.

The vaccines will go to 92 lower-income countries and the African Union, the person said. Biden will announce the plan today in remarks before the Group of Seven summit in the U.K. The pace of the U.S. domestic vaccination campaign has slowed by two-thirds since April, and Biden has come under rising pressure internationally to share his government’s vaccine stockpile with low-income nations still hard-hit by the pandemic. Read more from Justin Sink.

CDC Advances Development of Reusable Masks: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is moving ahead in the development of a respirator designed for health-care workers that can be repeatedly disinfected and reused, which could help address any future shortages of personal protective equipment in hospitals across the country. The goal is to create a reusable respirator to “mitigate the effect of depleting stocks of disposable masks during times of high demand such as a pandemic,” a General Services Administration statement says. Read more from Shira Stein.

Vaccine Status Should Be Vital Sign, Doctors Say: Doctors should ask patients if they’ve gotten a Covid-19 vaccine as a routine practice and use easy-to-understand, nonpolitical messaging about why they should get the shot, industry professionals say. “I would encourage every physician to make it a vital sign,” Brian C. Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, said at an American Medical Association webinar on debunking vaccine misinformation. Read more from Lesley Torres.

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What Else to Know Today

Surprise Medical Billing Regulation Under Review: The first rule implementing a 2020 law limiting medical bills in emergencies and in other situations beyond patients’ control is under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. How the Biden administration interprets the No Surprises Act, passed as part of appropriations legislation late in 2020, will likely be crucial to controlling costs of medical bills. The law takes effect in 2022. Read more from Sara Hansard and Alex Ruoff.

FDA to Require Cancer Drugmakers to Probe Toxicity: Drug companies must do more front-end work to pinpoint the right dose for their cancer drugs before moving to the pivotal studies used to approve those therapies, the FDA’s head of cancer said. “We’re going to start making it more of a requirement to look at this,” Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA Oncology Center of Excellence, said yesterday. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

More Headlines:

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With assistance from Jacquie Lee

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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