HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Covid Strategy Shift Eludes Congress

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Members of Congress and their staff have unsuccessfully pushed the White House to make public its plan for winding down its role in the distribution of Covid vaccines and therapies.

All parties involved admit that at some point, vaccinating for Covid will stop being a breakneck public health emergency, with the federal government rushing to buy up vaccine supplies directly from drugmakers, then distributing them to states, hospitals, and clinics nationwide, and paying for all of it. Instead, Covid vaccines will become like those for influenza—sold by drugmakers to hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, and doctors, and largely paid for by private insurers.

What should be a coordinated process between the administration, drugmakers, and Congress, they say, has instead become a siloed waiting game that could lead to delays in this transition, which could take six to nine months. “We should be shifting now,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees a range of federal health programs.

In public, Biden’s administration since March has been asking for more than $20 billion in new pandemic funds, warning that without the money it may not be able to order enough vaccines and protective equipment if a surge in cases develops later this year. Still, Congress shows little interest in meeting this request any time soon. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Biden Urges Covid Shots for Kids: Meanwhile, Biden pressed parents to vaccinate young children against Covid, while blasting unnamed Republican politicians he accused of slowing access to the shots. That remark came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has said state agencies won’t help distribute vaccines. Akayla Gardner and Jennifer Jacobs have more.

Covid Failures Show Cracks in Public Health, Report Says: The US needs more public health representation in the top levels of the administration and reliable funding for local health departments to respond to crises like Covid-19, according to a bipartisan group of health experts. Better sharing of data and targeted efforts to fight misinformation are also needed after the “splintered” Covid response, the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a National Public Health System said. Madison Muller has more.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radars

Bipartisan Lawmakers Introduce Insulin Bill: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) today will introduce their legislation aimed at reducing what Americans pay for insulin. The bill would prohibit insurers and pharmaceutical benefit managers from collecting rebates on insulin products kept at their 2021 Medicare Part D net price—effectively allowing drugmakers to keep a larger share of revenue. The legislation also requires insurers to limit cost-sharing on insulin to $35 per month, Alex Ruoff reports. Read the text here.

Wednesday’s House Hearings:

  • The Senate Commerce Committee plans a Wednesday markup to weigh S. 2510, which would target the health risks of heat by creating the “National Integrated Heat Health Information System Program” at NOAA.
  • The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee plans a Wednesday hearing on six measures pertaining to veterans’ health care, including reproductive health and insurance copays. Find a list of the legislation here.
  • BGOV Calendar: See the full week of events.

Wednesday’s House Action: Legislation to create a new biomedical accelerator independent of the NIH will move to a full House vote Wednesday after approval from the panel that sets up floor debate. The House Rules Committee Tuesday voted 9 to 4 to approve H.R. 5585 along with two other bills, allowing it to move to a floor vote, Jeannie Baumann reports.

A mental health and addiction package (H.R. 7666) is also coming to the floor Wednesday. The measure would modify rules for mental health insurance coverage and opioid treatment prescriptions while reauthorizing mental health and substance use disorder block grants and related programs. For many lawmakers, the vote on the legislation will be personal. Emily Wilkins and Alex Ruoff interviewed lawmakers about how mental health issues have touched their families and friends.

Read about the slate of health-related bills planned for floor action Wednesday in BGOV’s House Agenda for the Week of June 20.

From the Supreme Court

Court Kidney Care Ruling Creates Loophole for Health Plans: The Supreme Court has given health plans a potential road map to avoid paying the high costs of treating end-stage kidney disease. The court sided with an Ohio hospital’s employee health plan Tuesday in a fight over low reimbursement rates for outpatient dialysis treatments. DaVita sued the hospital for treating dialysis providers as “out-of-network” and reimbursing them at the lowest level rate. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

SCOTUS Rejects Bayer in Roundup Bid: A ruling rejected a multibillion-dollar appeal from Bayer, refusing to shield the company from potentially tens of thousands of claims that its top-selling Roundup weedkiller causes cancer. Read more from Greg Stohr and Jef Feeley.

Court Agrees to Clarify DOJ Whistle-Blower Power: The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will review whether a False Claims Act whistle-blower’s suit alleging that Executive Health Resources defrauded Medicare by falsely designating patient admissions should have proceeded despite the Justice Department’s opposition. Read more from Daniel Seiden.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Biden’s New Regulatory Playbook Targets Opioids: Biden released his third regulatory to-do list Tuesday, which includes a proposal to be published in September that would let doctors use virtual visits to prescribe treatment for patients with an opioid addiction. The Food and Drug administration also plans to propose limits by May of next year to the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. Read more from Courtney Rozen.

  • On the nicotine plan, the administration said “because tobacco-related harms primarily result from addiction to products that repeatedly expose users to toxins, FDA would take this action to reduce addictiveness to certain tobacco products, thus giving addicted users a greater ability to quit.” Issuing the rule will be a lengthy process that will be contested by the tobacco industry. Read more from Jonathan Roeder.

Mental-Health Hotline Faces Shaky Rollout Next Month: A 2020 law creating a national mental-health hotline, 988, was hailed as a milestone in making crisis services more accessible. But with just weeks to go before its July 16 launch, state and local agencies appear unprepared for its rollout. Read more from Amy Yee.

Biden Taps Prabhakar for Science Post: Biden selected a former Department of Defense innovation official, Arati Prabhakar, to serve as the next White House science adviser and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy as his administration undertakes an effort to accelerate biomedical research. She will replace Eric Lander, who resigned in February. Read more from Jeannie Baumann and Jennifer Jacobs.

Transgender Advocates Worry Texas ‘Abuse’ Policy May Spread: State policies that define gender-affirming health care as child abuse have faced early setbacks in the courts, leaving advocates watching to see what other states will do. A directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to investigate care for transgender kids as a potential form of child abuse has been temporarily enjoined. But other states could look to adapt the governor’s action into legislation as gender-affirming care sees increased prominence as a wedge issue for political candidates. Read more from Shira Stein.

Dialysis Centers to Get $8.2 Billion Under Medicare Proposal: Freestanding dialysis centers would get a 3.1% payment bump in fiscal 2023 under a proposal the Biden administration released Tuesday. Hospital-based facilities would get a 3.7% boost. Read more from Allie Reed.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Alex Ruoff

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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