HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Baby Formula Shortage Prompts House Action

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President Joe Biden said he expects increased imports of baby formula to relieve a US shortage “in a matter of weeks or less,” as pressure mounts from parents and lawmakers to tackle the growing problem. “I think we’re going to be, in a matter of weeks or less, getting significantly more formula on shelves,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday.

White House officials have been hesitant to put a timeline on when formula stocks will return to normal. The president defended his administration’s response to the problem, which was exacerbated in February after Abbott Laboratories recalled some brands of formula linked to rare bacterial infections in four children.

“If we’d been better mind-readers, I guess we could have,” he said in response to a question about why his administration didn’t act faster. “But we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us. And we have to move with caution as well as speed.”

The administration has raced to show it’s trying to ease shortages that left shelves empty in stores across the country. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to Abbott CEO Robert Ford on Friday urging the company to take steps to allow low-income families to use federal assistance to purchase other formula brands at least through the end of August. Josh Wingrove and Jordan Fabian have more.

On Capitol Hill:

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote this week on two bills to get more baby formula on shelves. One would grant emergency authority for the Women, Infants, and Children program to allow relaxing certain non-safety regulations around formula. Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill will be considered under an expedited process.
  • The other measure is a supplemental appropriation that Pelosi said House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will bring to the floor to address the shortage. The details of that legislation are being worked out.
  • Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf will also be grilled on the formula shortage when he testifies Thursday before the House Appropriations Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee.

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Also Happening on the Hill

Drugs at Border to Get Hearing: Senior officials from the Homeland Security Department will testify Wednesday on the agency’s effort to stop the flow of opioids into the country, a problem that has alarmed lawmakers from both parties as opioids drive most overdose deaths across the US. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus stressed during a hearing last week that illegal drugs generally come across the border in vehicles at ports of entry. Read a statement on the hearing here.

Other Hearings This Week:

  • The Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on the National Institutes of Health’s fiscal 2023 budget request. Acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci are among those scheduled to testify.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee scheduled a markup Tuesday for legislation including H.R. 7180, which authorize the National Science Foundation to award grants to support research on the disruption of regular cognitive processes associated with Covid-19.
  • The House Appropriations Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on electronic health record modernization at the Veterans Affairs Department.
  • The House Oversight Coronavirus Crisis Subcommittee holds a Tuesday hearing on the Covid pandemic’s effects on the nation’s workforce of low-wage women.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a Wednesday hearing on cybersecurity in the health-care industry.
  • The House Appropriations Agriculture-FDA Subcommittee holds a Thursday hearing on the FDA’s fiscal 2023 budget request. Commissioner Robert Califf is scheduled to testify.
  • BGOV Calendar: See the full list of hearings this week.

Bills Set for Passage: The House plans to vote on a slew of measures under suspension of the rules—which requires a two-third majority—this week related to health care issues pertaining to military veterans. Among them are:

  • H.R. 7500, which would authorize major medical facility projects for the Veterans Affairs Department. The bill would authorize $3.4 billion in fiscal 2022 to restore or construct 12 VA medical facilities. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hasn’t considered the bill. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • H.R. 5754, which would require the VA’s Office of Patient Advocacy would have to create an online system for veterans to file and track complaints about VA health-care services. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved the bill by voice vote on April 6. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • S. 2102, which would require the Veterans Affairs Department to provide mammograms to veterans who served in locations associated with exposure to burn pits. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote on March 24. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Naoreen Chowdhury.
  • Read more: House Agenda for the Week of May 16

What Else to Know Today

Abortion Misinformation Surges on Facebook, Twitter: Conspiracy theorists have latched onto the debate over abortion rights on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok, leading to a spike in misinformation around what is already one of the most politically-charged topics online—and signaling the complex decision-making that’ll lie ahead for social media corporations if the procedure becomes illegal in some states. Read more from Davey Alba.

  • An anti-abortion group told the US Supreme Court that Medicaid recipients have no right to sue states to force them to pay patients’ chosen providers, including those who perform abortions, . Americans United for Life joined South Carolina in pushing the court to review a decision by the Fourth Circuit confirming that Planned Parenthood South Atlantic may hold onto its Medicaid provider status in the state. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.
  • New York told a federal court it’s appealing an order blocking the enforcement of a law that requires employers to notify employees that they can’t be discriminated against based on their reproductive health-care choices. Faith-based employers have previously told the Northern District of New York that they’ll appeal its dismissal of claims its that the law violates their First Amendment freedom of association and religion, Pazanowski has more.

FTC Pharmacy Agent Probe Cleared With New Member: Democrats on the Federal Trade Commission, with the confirmation of Alvaro Bedoya, now wield the necessary majority to approve an investigation into entities that run prescription drug benefits, but antitrust attorneys say that Chair Lina Khan will still try to build broad consensus before moving ahead. Bedoya could push a PBM study plan past the finish line after the agency’s previous effort failed in a 2-2 deadlocked vote. Celine Castronuovo has more.

HIV Test Access to Get FDA Boost: Manufacturers of certain HIV tests will face less stringent premarket requirements under a final FDA order issued Friday reclassifying these devices. The order permits makers of nucleic acid, antigen, and antibody tests used for the detection of HIV to submit applications through one of the more commonly used pathways for devices: premarket notification, or 510(k), pathway. Read more from Celine Castronuovo.

Abuse Probes of Trans Kids’ Parents Cleared in Texas: Texas’ top appeals court lifted a statewide injunction against Gov. Greg Abbott’s crackdown on gender-affirming care for trans minors, with a catch. Abbott ordered child welfare officials to investigate gender care for minors as potential child abuse. In Friday’s ruling, Texas’ Supreme Court permitted the probes, but said officials must get a judge’s sign-off before acting on the results of any investigation. Erik Larson and Laurel Calkins have more.

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With assistance from Ellen M. Gilmer and Emily Wilkins

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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