HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Baby Formula Shortage Rate Jumps to 70%

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The baby formula shortage took a dramatic turn for the worse, according to data on 130,000 stores across the US. Out-of-stock rates spiked to 70% nationally for the week ending on May 21, up from 45% the prior week, based on data from the retail-tracking firm Datasembly.

In many cities and states, the situation was far more dire. More than two-thirds of states had shortage rates over 70%, with California, Missouri, Minnesota, Nevada, Montana, Louisiana, Arizona and Utah over 80%, and Utah hit hardest at 89%, up from 49% the week prior.

Federal and local regulators have been taking steps to try to increase supply. The administration has invoked emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to speed production of formula, and the president ordered the use of government planes to import ingredients and formula, which he said would be faster than normal shipping routes. The Food and Drug Administration also announced that it would ease import rules. At the local level, some cities and states are enacting provisions to prevent price gouging. Read more from Martine Paris.

  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure that Cargill can deliver the raw materials needed to maximize infant formula production, the department said Friday. To address marketplace shortages, DPA authorities will allow Cargill to place certain orders for infant formula manufacturers ahead of unrated orders, HHS says. Read more.
  • Formula maker Bubs Australia struck a deal to ship its product to the US to ease the shortage. The Food and Drug Administration said that the company would provide the US with at least 1.25 million cans of formula, Jackie Edwards reports.
  • The Federal Trade Commission’s study of competition questions around the national baby formula shortage highlights the severity and reach of the crisis. The commission has said it will review mergers and acquisitions in the market and whether “regulatory barriers” prevented any foreign companies from entering it, among other issues. Read more from Dan Papscun.

Also Happening on the Hill

GOP Push Mental Health Claim for Gun Violence: Republican politicians from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have been quick to blame mental illness following a deadly school shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 children and two teachers. The problem with that thinking is that the evidence doesn’t support it—even if common sense suggests a mass shooting, especially of children, is not the act of a person who is mentally well.

While reporting from Texas following the May 24 shooting makes clear the gunman was a deeply troubled man, state officials have said he had no documented mental health issues. Research shows that only a very small percentage of violent behavior is tied to mental disorders. “If we magically cured all these serious mental illnesses tomorrow, which would be wonderful—imagine the alleviation of suffering—our violence problem would go down by about 4%,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. Read more from Emma Court.

Senators Urge App Stores to Hide Abortion Data: Five senators are pushing Google and Apple to prohibit apps on their platforms from using data-mining practices that could put women seeking abortions at risk. In two letters sent Friday, the lawmakers addressed the chief executive officers of Apple and Alphabet’s Google, the latest effort by key Democrats to combat abortion-related data collection and distribution. Alicia Diaz has more.

Fast Drug Approvals Would Get Revamp in Senate Bill: The FDA would have more power to push for post-market studies of drugs cleared through its accelerated approval pathway in a Senate package unveiled Friday to reauthorize the fees that help fund the agency. The accelerated approval changes in the proposal by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, were among the provisions added to their draft. Read more from Celine Castronuovo.

What Else to Know Today

Training Rules Loom Over Shortage of Nursing Home Aides: Temporary nursing aides, who must meet reinstated federal training requirements to continue working in nursing homes beyond Oct. 7, remain in the industry’s most in-demand and hard-to-fill position even though the shortage of workers may be easing. Twenty-five percent of nursing homes reported a shortage of nursing aides as of May 8, down from a pandemic high of 29.8% in January during the omicron surge, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care found. Tony Pugh has more.

Aduhelm Savings Spurns Medicare Call for Lower Premiums: The Biden administration says the Medicare “Part B” outpatient premium for 2023 should be reduced to reflect “lower-than-expected” spending on Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug. A report Friday by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recommended the premium rate adjustment for Part B coverage. Read more from Tony Pugh.

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