HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Cuts Covid Money Ask to $15 Billion

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The White House has lowered its initial emergency funding request for Covid-19 response to $15 billion from $22.5 billion that it sought previously, a key Republican appropriator in the Senate said yesterday.

Key lawmakers expect a $1.5 trillion omnibus government funding package to be finished today—along with spending bills with Ukraine aid and Covid-19 resources—in time for a Wednesday House vote.

Biden’s new coronavirus response request includes $10 billion for the Health and Human Services Department and $5 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s global efforts to combat the coronavirus, said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s health panel.

The administration’s previous figure of $22.5 billion sought investment in testing, anti-viral treatments and improved vaccines in anticipation of a possible new variant and subsequent wave of infections, with funding also meant for international vaccine efforts. The push for additional Covid funds saw pushback from Republicans, who said any new spending should be paid for by re-purposing unspent money from last year’s economic rescue plan.

Biden’s requests come amid negotiations over how to fund the government. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) expects a vote “no later than Wednesday,” he told reporters yesterday. The House Rules Committee will likely meet on the measure today, he said. Blunt and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), both senior appropriators, also said they thought the bill could be released today.

Without congressional action, key federal agencies will run out of money on March 11 and could struggle to respond adequately to the pandemic, Jack Fitzpatrick and Emily Wilkins report.

Happening on the Hill

Bill Strengthens FDA’s Power Over Fast Drug Approvals: The FDA could more easily pull drugs that show no clinical benefit off the market under a bill that aims to revamp the approval process used for Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug. The legislation, introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) would make changes to the accelerated approval process, a Food and Drug Administration regulatory mechanism designed to speed access to game-changing medicines for patients with unmet medical needs. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Democrats Press White House on Public Option in ACA: Four Sentate Democrats called on President Biden, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Office of Management and Budget acting Director Shalanda Young to “include a proposal to add a publicly administered health insurance option” to the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces in the White House’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal. The senators including Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) say despite the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the ACA, “31.1 million Americans are still uninsured.” Read their letter here.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Loses Row Over Covid Immigration Rules: More asylum seekers, immigrant families, and unaccompanied minors likely will be stopped at the U.S. border following a decision blocking Biden administration rules that except children from a denial-of-entry and rapid removal process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not engage in “reasoned decisionmaking” when it adopted rules in July and August 2021 that lifted the “Title 42 process” for unaccompanied alien children at the Mexican and Canadian borders, the Northern District of Texas said. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

SCOTUS Rejects N.Y. School Workers on Vaccine: The full U.S. Supreme Court rejected a group of New York City school workers who were seeking to stop the city from firing them for not getting vaccinated against Covid-19, denying a renewed request by 15 people turned away last month by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The workers resubmitted their bid with Justice Neil Gorsuch after the group was rebuffed by Sotomayor, the justice assigned to tackle emergency issues from New York. Gorsuch referred the request to the full nine-member court, which then rejected the workers. Read more from Greg Stohr.

  • Also yesterday, the administration asked the court to intervene on an emergency basis in a clash with 35 Navy special operations forces who are refusing on religious grounds to get vaccinated for Covid. The White House is seeking to skirt a federal judge’s order that requires the Navy to deploy sailors without regard to their unvaccinated status. The judge also blocked the Navy from enforcing its vaccine mandate against the group, but the administration isn’t asking the Supreme Court to immediately lift that part of the order. Greg Stohr has more.

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What Else to Know Today

Appeals Court Rejects Hospitals Over Medicare Pay: A change in Medicare reimbursement policy under the Affordable Care Act for teaching hospitals’ costs of training residents didn’t apply to costs incurred before the ACA became law, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled yesterday. The lawsuit filed by three teaching hospitals challenged the Department of Health and Human Services’ denial of reimbursement for their shared costs of training residents at community clinics and off-site locations from 2001 to 2006. Read more from Christopher Brown.

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With assistance from Emily Wilkins and Alex Ruoff

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

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

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