HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Bill Expands Mental-Health Crisis Funding

A bipartisan Senate duo is pushing for legislation to support local governments that expand their ability to deal with mental health-care emergencies, hoping to shift the responsibility away from the police.

The legislation, unveiled by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), would provide funding to expand mental-health services, including to the uninsured.

The pandemic “has exacerbated the mental health challenges so many Americans are facing,” Cortez Masto wrote in an emailed statement. “If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, you should be able to get easy and reliable help, from trained behavioral health providers.”

Their legislation would also create a nationwide set of standards for running crisis hotlines, urgent care facilities, residential centers and mobile units that respond to behavioral crises. It reflects a broader national effort to pivot away from relying on police as the first responders to mental health episodes, with the current approach often criticized as time-consuming—and possibly deadly.

“I’ve heard from both law enforcement and civil rights leaders that we can’t rely on the same old system,” Cortez Masto said.

New York City is running a pilot program to send emergency medical and mental health care workers instead of police in some instances. Los Angeles, Denver, San Francisco, and Chicago and are trying out programs of their own.

The efforts are modeled in part after a 30-year-old program in Oregon that routes calls involving non-violent substance abuse, homelessness or mental health issues to a team of one EMS officer and one social worker. And such teams typically work alone, only calling police for backup in 1% of cases. Read more from Fola Akinnibi.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

CDC Talks Up Smell Training After Covid-19: Regular sniffing of lemon, clove and other spices won’t help everyone regain their sense of smell after Covid-19, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “smell training” is a route people should absolutely try. John Brooks, the CDC’s chief medical officer for the agency’s pandemic emergency response, first talked up its use at an April 28 congressional hearing, claiming it’s a treatment that “really works.”

But some doctors and scientists worry that may be giving people a false sense of hope about the effectiveness of olfactory, or smell, training. “It’s perfectly safe to try, but I don’t think it’s responsible for us as scientists or physicians to say it will work in all instances,” said Steven Munger, head of the Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

Moderna Seeks Full FDA Approval: Moderna said it is seeking a full approval for its Covid-19 vaccine, a decision that could make its shot cleared on an emergency basis during the pandemic into a stable source of revenue for years to come. The company said in a statement yesterday it will provide data to the Food and Drug Administration on a rolling basis to support the application. Pfizer applied for the FDA’s approval last month. Read more from Tim Annett.

  • Separately, two new studies confirm that mRNA vaccines available in the U.S., including Pfizer and Moderna, “appear to be completely safe for pregnant women,” National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins wrote in a blog post, Erin McClam reports.
  • Meanwhile, Israel health officials have found a probable link between Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine and dozens of cases of heart inflammation in young men following the second dose of the vaccine, the Health Ministry said late yesterday. According to a study by health officials, there were 275 cases of myocarditis identified between December 2020, when the vaccination drive began, and May 2021, including 148 cases within a month after vaccination. Read more from Alisa Odenheimer.

WHO, World Bank Back IMF Call for $50 Billion to Fight Virus: The World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, and World Bank backed the International Monetary Fund’s call to invest $50 billion to defeat the coronavirus by making and delivering vaccines and treatments. “Governments must act without further delay or risk continued waves and explosive outbreaks,” the four organizations said in a joint statement. Eric Martin has more.

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What Else to Know Today

NY Bill Eases Vet Healthcare Access: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation yesterday that would make it easier for veterans to access healthcare after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, or disclosure of military sexual trauma, Keshia Clukey reports. The new law allows them to access state benefits after being diagnosed by any person licensed to provide health care in the state. Previously veterans had to be diagnosed by a provider at the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Sanofi Loses Bid to Halt HHS Drug Discount Order: Sanofi and Novo Nordisk lost a legal bid to delay a deadline to respond to a Biden administration order that they resume drug discounts to health providers for lower-income people while lawsuits against the U.S. government play out. The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey yesterday rejected motions for administrative stays filed by the drugmakers over an HHS advisory opinion mandating steep discounts under the government’s 340B program. Read more from Ian Lopez.

NIH Starts Trials of Universal Flu Vaccine Prospects: A first-in-human, Phase 1 trial assessing the safety of an investigational influenza vaccine designed to provide long-lasting protection against multiple flu virus strains has begun at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. Scientists from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases developed FluMos-v1 to stimulate antibodies against multiple influenza virus strains. Read more from Hari Govind.

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With assistance from Keshia Clukey

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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