HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Anti-Vaccine Amendments Signal GOP Divides

Several House Republicans attempted to add Covid-related provisions to a must-pass federal spending bill that contrast with party leaders’ recent efforts to encourage vaccinations.

The roughly dozen measures proposed to be included in a seven-bill spending package (H.R. 4502) for fiscal 2022 set for consideration today include bans on federal funds for schools with a vaccine mandate, vaccine lotteries, and door-to-door efforts to provide information about the Covid-19 vaccine, among other things. They also included ending funding for the World Health Organization.

The amendments were rejected by the House Rules Committee, before the bill even came to the floor. But the messaging runs counter to the recent vocal encouragement of vaccines by some of their colleagues. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called vaccines safe and effective last week after getting his first dose. He also appeared with Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and the House GOP Doctors Caucus to promote the vaccine.

Many of the lawmakers offering the amendments are members of the House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) offered four amendments on vaccines, including blocking any federal funds from going to vaccine passports and banning a requirement for members of the Armed Services to receive the vaccine.

Other amendments offered include one from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) would prevent requiring lawmakers and staff to wear masks “in public gatherings or meetings.” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) proposed ensuring that proof of vaccination isn’t needed to access federal services. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Spending Bill Heads to Floor: The House will begin consideration of the spending package today. The rule governing floor consideration makes in order 229 amendments and allows for amendments to be offered en bloc. A full list of amendments can be found here. For more on the underlying spending measures, read the BGOV Bill Summary.

GOP Lawmaker Says He’s Tested Positive: Meanwhile, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said he has Covid-19, making him the second House member in a week to announce a positive test. Higgins, his wife, and his son are infected, he wrote on Facebook yesterday, just days after Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) said he had tested positive. Higgins said it’s the second time he and his wife have had Covid-19. Several congressional staffers have also tested positive in recent days. Billy House has more.

More on the Pandemic

DOJ Says Vaccines’ Emergency Status Doesn’t Bar Mandates: Covid-19 vaccines’ status as an emergency product—which has fueled lawsuits against vaccination mandates—doesn’t ban employers, universities, or other entities from requiring inoculations, the Justice Department said. The language in federal drug approval law cited by legal challengers only states certain information should be given to potential vaccine recipients, it wrote in a memo seen by Bloomberg, Robert Iafolla and Courtney Rozen report.

  • The memo comes as New York City and California required their government workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine or submit to weekly coronavirus tests and wear masks indoors. In New York, city workers have until Sept. 13 to get vaccinated. Those who resist the new rules risk dismissal without pay. Read more from Henry Goldman.
  • Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday federal health-care providers might look at Covid-19 vaccine requirements. These actions “are meant to keep patients and employees safe, and in fact, I expect our own federal health care providers may look at similar requirements as they do with other vaccines,” she said, Brody Ford reports.
  • Earlier yesterday, over 50 prominent medical organizations called for all health-care employers and long-term care facilities to require Covid-19 vaccines for their entire staffs. Tony Pugh has more.
  • Read more: Vaccine Pressure Grows as Patience Runs Thin for U.S. Employers

Covid Delivers an Unsettling Reality Check: Just a few weeks ago, much of the world seemed poised to leave Covid-19 behind. Biden declared the U.S. close to independence from the virus. Britons hit the dance floor to celebrate “Freedom Day.” Singapore’s legendarily strict government signaled it would begin to loosen its zero-cases approach and make life and travel more manageable. But if those places were ready to be done with Covid, Covid wasn’t done with them. James Paton and Robert Langreth look at the state of Covid-19 around the world.

U.S. to Maintain Rules on Travel Amid Delta Surge: The Biden administration is keeping foreign travel restrictions in place amid concern about rising Covid-19 case levels as the delta strain spreads, a White House official said yesterday. The administration has faced calls from foreign governments, airlines and some members of Congress to ease the limits on foreign nationals entering the country, but the official insisted the U.S. position will be guided by public health. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Vaccine Reporting Called Taxing for Nursing Homes: Nursing homes are pushing back on recent coronavirus vaccine reporting requirements that they say are confusing to follow and overwhelming for their already limited staff as they struggle to thwart new outbreaks. A Biden administration rule requires some facilities to report vaccination status of their residents and staff on a weekly basis, creating a conflict for facilities facing financial troubles but are key to stemming the virus. Lesley Torres has more.

Model Says Up to 60% of U.S. Cases Unreported: As many as 60% of coronavirus cases in the U.S. have gone unreported and the coronavirus has infected nearly 1 in 5 Americans, according to a new model out of the University of Washington. The model, which aims to mitigate biases in data capture, estimates 65 million people—20% of U.S. residents—have been infected as of March 7. The findings indicate the U.S. is unlikely to hit community level protection without a big vaccination boost. Jeannie Baumann has more.

Long-Haulers Get Disability Civil Rights Protections: Covid-19 survivors with lingering symptoms, known as “long haulers,” can be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to guidance yesterday by the Justice Department and the Health and Human Services Department. Those with “Long-Covid” can have symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty breathing, muscle and joint pain, headaches, depression or anxiety, and difficulty thinking, the CDC said. Read more from Shira Stein.

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What Else to Know Today

‘Telehealth Cliff’ Threatens Medicare Patients, Advocates Say: Hundreds of health and technology groups urge Congress to extend telehealth flexibility for Medicare beneficiaries past the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year’s CARES Act let the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services temporarily waive certain restrictions on how providers can deliver remote care. A Biden administration proposed rule would extend temporary Medicare coverage of some telehealth services through Dec. 31, 2023, but the 430 groups said in a letter to congressional leaders that they don’t think the proposal goes far enough. They want telehealth to become a permanent fixture of the health-care system. Read more from Allie Reed.

Huge Barriers Seen Barring Employers From Reporting Drug Costs: Employer health plan sponsors and health insurers aren’t able to comply with a requirement that they report detailed drug pricing information to the government later this year. Three prominent industry groups across the private health insurance sector told the Labor Department that they don’t have all the data needed to report information about prescription drug prices, rebates, and other things that affect consumer and employee premiums and out-of-pocket drug costs. The comments, due July 23, showcase monumental barriers to complying with a requirement in December 2020’s government spending bill. Read more from Sara Hansard.

IRS Says Free Health Benefits for Workers on Long Leave: Employees eligible to continue company-sponsored health insurance for reasons like disability can still get six months of free coverage even if they opted out initially, the Internal Revenue Service said. The free health coverage extends from April 1 through Sept. 30 under the American Rescue Plan, a provision enacted to offer help to workers who lost jobs or hours due to the pandemic. Read more from Sara Hansard.

Biden Asks For $1 Billion to Relocate Afghans: The Biden administration has asked Congress for $1 billion to bring Afghans who helped American forces during the two-decade war in their country to the U.S., and there is bipartisan support to provide the money, according to people familiar with the matter. The $1 billion would be divided between the Defense Department and the State Department, with $25 million going to the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. Read more from Erik Wasson and Daniel Flatley.

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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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