HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Biden’s Covid Team Warns on Lack of Funds

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President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 team warned that a lack of funding could leave the U.S. unprepared to administer fourth doses of vaccine as administration officials prepared to meet with Senate Democrats on the issue Wednesday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, budget director Shalanda Young and Biden’s coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients were expected to attend the meeting, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to give details that aren’t public.

The push comes after the administration failed to secure around $15 billion in additional funding as part of an omnibus spending bill Biden signed earlier this month. Republicans demanded that new coronavirus funds be offset by canceling spending in other areas, while House Democrats scuttled a bipartisan proposal to repurpose aid to states. That led to the proposal being stripped from the fiscal 2022 spending package enacted last week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he is negotiating with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and other Republicans on ways to offset some of the cost. Romney told reporters he expected to receive a new Democratic proposal on how to pay for the aid later Wednesday. The White House has said $22.5 billion is needed to continue operations and that the costs should not be offset because of the emergency.

“Further congressional inaction will set us back, leave us less prepared, and cost more lives,” Zients said Wednesday on a press call. “There’s no time to waste.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday that the White House still has not provided a full accounting of previous spending, and called for “guardrails” on any additional funds to make sure they aren’t diverted. The administration is starting to provide spending details, “but they have been really slow,” she said.

The White House has repeatedly offered briefings and documents to Congress explaining both how American Rescue Plan funding was spent or committed, and what new funding would be used for, Zients said on the call. Earlier this week, the administration publicly distributed documents detailing their spending and requests. Read more from Justin Sink.

  • Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association wrote to congressional leaders pressing for immediate passage of more funding for Covid-19 response to support hospitals and health systems. The group also urged Congress to prevent the automatic reduction of Medicare payments that’s set to take effect in April under a December law (Public Law 117-71), calling for a delay of the sequestration requirement until the end of the pandemic or Dec. 31, whichever is later.

Happening on the Hill

Health Agency Preparing for Lapse in Extra Obamacare Subsidies: The Affordable Care Act marks its 12th anniversary Wednesday, and despite a record 14.5 million enrollees, the Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that millions could lose coverage next year. The $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package (Public Law 117-2), signed March 2021, reduced Obamacare premiums to no more than 8.5% of income for eligible households and expanded premium subsidies to households earning more than 400% of the federal poverty level. The rescue plan also provided additional subsidies to help with out-of-pocket costs for low-income people. As a result, 2.8 million more consumers are receiving tax credits in 2022 compared to 2021. But without congressional action, the subsidies — and the marketplace enrollment spikes they ushered in — could be lost in 2023. Read more from Tony Pugh.


  • Finance to Hold Mental Health Parity Hearing: The Senate Finance Committee March 30 has scheduled a hearing entitled “Behavioral Health Care When Americans Need It: Ensuring Parity and Care Integration,” according to a press release.
  • FDA User Fee Reauthorization Hearing: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee announced a hearing for March 30 on the reauthorization of the Medical Device User Fee Act, according to a press release.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Moderna’s Covid Shot Raises Immune Response in Kids Under 6: Moderna said its Covid-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in children under age 6 in initial results from a large final-stage trial that showed modest effectiveness in reducing omicron infections.

Based on the positive results and the need for Covid shots for young children, Moderna will submit the data to regulators in the U.S. and overseas as soon as possible, according to a statement. The company also said it would also apply for U.S. clearance of its vaccine in 6- to 11-year-olds, after consultation with regulators. A two-dose formulation from partners Pfizer and BioNTech was slowed last month after it showed insufficient signs of effectiveness. Read more from Robert Langreth.

Pfizer Covid Pill Targeted in Bid for Biden to Spur Drug Access: The Biden administration is facing mounting pressure to take a direct hand in lowering drug prices and increasing access, with Pfizer‘s Covid pill and an AstraZeneca asthma drug among the targets of an advocacy group’s petition. Advocates behind the Make Meds Affordable campaign want the Health and Human Services Department to use existing levers to take down “patent monopolies” and make drugs more affordable, according to a Thursday petition lodged with the agency. The petition is billed as a workaround while Congress hammers out drug pricing legislation. Read more from Ian Lopez.

Hospital Worker Vaccination Rate Data Coming in ‘Near Future’: The CDC will publish data on hospital staff vaccination rates “in the near future,” the agency said, after Bloomberg Law reported that the data wouldn’t be available until October.

The data will detail national Covid-19 vaccination rates for staff at Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services-certified acute care hospitals, including booster rates, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Healthcare Safety Network team said. These facilities have had to collect vaccination data since Oct. 1, 2021, but the data for the first reporting period, ending Dec. 31, isn’t due until May 16. The CMS launched a similar dashboard for nursing home data in June 2021. Read more from Allie Reed.

Illinois Nursing Home Loses Bid for Immunity in Covid-19 Deaths: An Illinois nursing home failed to show it’s immune from liability for residents’ deaths from Covid-19, because the PREP Act doesn’t apply in cases alleging that health-care facilities took no action to protect residents, a federal court in the state said. Additionally, more evidence is needed before a decision can be made on whether an Illinois executive order giving immunity to health-care facilities helping the state to fight the public health emergency applies here, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois said. Read more from Mary Anne Pazanowski.

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What Else to Know:

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at

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