HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden Readies $30 Billion Covid-19 Request

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Biden administration officials told lawmakers yesterday that they plan to seek $30 billion in new spending to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in conjunction with a $1.5 trillion government funding package lawmakers want to complete by March 11.

Department of Health and Human Services officials made the informal pitch to lawmakers, with a formal White House request expected at a later date.

Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the health appropriations subcommittee, said he talked to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about the request yesterday. “I think they are going to be proposing a $30 billion supplemental,” Blunt said, indicating he could support it. “In the categories they are asking for money, the other money has all been spent or committed to other purposes.”

Health and Human Services is seeking $18 billion for medical countermeasures like antivirals and vaccines, according to people familiar with the conversations. The department also wants $5 billion for testing, $3 billion to treat the uninsured and $4 billion to prepare for future variants. Another $500 million could be targeted for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operations.

Not included so far are funds for global vaccine distribution. Progressive Democratic lawmakers have sought $17 billion for that.

“While we continue to have sufficient funds to respond to the current omicron surge in the coming weeks, our goal has always been to ensure that we are well-prepared to stay ahead of the virus,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday. “So we’ve been in these ongoing conversations about what those needs might look like and this was a part of that effort.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told reporters yesterday he wasn’t interested in dealing with the request as part of the omnibus spending package and would rather move it as a separate bill. Read more from Erik Wasson and Josh Wingrove.

Happening on the Hill

Biden’s FDA Chief Confirmed by Senate With Republicans’ Help: Robert Califf will lead the Food and Drug Administration once again after senators voted 50-46 yesterday to confirm him, defeating opposition from some lawmakers over his industry ties and the agency’s past actions on an abortion-inducing drug. Califf will be tasked with managing the FDA as it weighs clearing Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot for kids under 5, as well as other vaccines and treatments for the virus. He’ll also be charged with rebuilding public trust after the FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug and quick Covid-related emergency authorizations.

His margin of victory was much smaller this time than when he was first confirmed to lead the FDA in 2016 in an 89-4 vote. Califf promised Democratic holdouts he would improve the FDA’s accelerated approval pathway that attracted scrutiny after Biogen’s Aduhelm came to market. He also agreed to not work for a drug or medical device company or accept money from them for four years after leaving the agency’s top role. Read more from Celine Castronuovo.

Teen’s Mental-Health Warning Spurs Senators’ Vow to Act: The Senate Finance Committee, as part of a series of hearings focused on the U.S. mental health care system, yesterday focused on the barriers adolescents face when seeking care. Adequate mental health services can cost thousands of dollars for families without insurance. Financial barriers coupled with severe staffing shortages and dwindling community mental health centers have caused the surge in emergency room admissions, panelists said.

Calling the system “totally out of whack,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee chairman, said the mental-health hearings are “one of the most important initiatives the Finance Committee has been a part of.” Read more from Madison Muller.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. Vaccines Sent Overseas Turned Away Amid Logistics Trouble: The Biden administration says some foreign countries haven’t been able to accept their full allocation of vaccine donations from the U.S., as they increasingly grapple with logistical barriers and vaccine hesitancy. “There have been moments, yes, where countries are not able to receive the doses that we’re able to provide,” Psaki said at a briefing yesterday. She didn’t identify the countries. The U.S. has donated and shipped 437 million doses abroad so far, more than any other nation, and pledged a total of at least 1.2 billion. Josh Wingrove has more.

Vaccinated Mothers’ Antibodies Offer Protection for Babies: Covid-19 shots administered during pregnancy may keep infants six months or younger out of the hospital, in a study a CDC official says offers the first real-world evidence that antibodies passed onto the baby offer protection. The study marks the latest findings to underscore the benefits of vaccination during pregnancy. It found that infants were 61% less likely to require hospitalization from Covid-19 if their mother had received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines. Jeannie Baumann has more.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know

Florida, Arizona Seek Abortion Limits Before Supreme Court Rules: Florida could be next to enact abortion restrictions as legislators try to position their states to curtail the procedure if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. If Florida’s effort is successful, two of the nation’s three most populous states—along with 19 or more smaller states—would be able to automatically implement new restrictions.

Lawmakers in Arizona took an initial vote yesterday, and Florida’s on track to do the same today as activists across the U.S. push to get new abortion laws on the books or in position for voter referenda before the high court acts. Already, an abortion-rights measure is certified for the ballot in Vermont. Read more from Jennifer Kay, Brenna Goth, Stephen Joyce and Joyce E. Cutler.

Block on S.D. Abortion Four-Visit Rule Appealed by State: South Dakota is appealing a decision blocking it from enforcing a rule requiring people seeking pill-induced abortions to make four visits to the state’s only abortion clinic, it told a federal court yesterday. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) and other officials put the case in the hands of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which has deferred ruling on at least one other abortion lawsuit pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in a case that could redefine abortion rights in the U.S. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

Suit Over Missed Cancer Diagnosis Timely Filed: The estate of a Vietnam veteran who died in 2014 of a misdiagnosed cancer can proceed with a 2021 lawsuit against the U.S. due to the delay in discovering the alleged malpractice, a federal court said. An Arkansas law requiring that medical malpractice suits be brought within two years of a claim’s accrual is a statute of limitations, not a statute of repose that would stop it, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas said. David Phillips’ family learned in 2019 that Robert Levy misdiagnosed his condition in 2013, the court said. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

More Headlines:

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

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