HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Democrats Aim to Double Gun Research Funds

Democrats are seeking to double the federal government’s portfolio of firearm violence research next year and get that research into the hands of key policymakers.

The fiscal 2022 budget President Joe Biden proposed to Congress Friday would increase to $50 million federal funds going to firearm violence research each year. That spending target matches what congressional Democrats pushed for in fiscal 2021, but it was cut to $25 million in the final agreement with Republicans.

Democrats say the increase should be coupled with a direction to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that this research must be aimed at improving anti-violence programs and helping policymakers reduce gun crimes — not simply circulated among academics.

“Just doing the research isn’t good enough,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “They actually then have to tell people and the people they have to tell aren’t the same people that are normally on their email list.”

“These are mayors that are deciding how to spend money to try to reduce this upsurge in gun violence,” he said. “The NIH research could be really helpful to them, but mayor’s are not normally on the receiving end of NIH.”

The move for more money and better data reflects Congress’ recent shift away from its unwillingness to fund NIH and other federal agencies’ research into gun violence. That long-standing policy explicitly kept research agencies from advocating for gun control and in practice dried up funds to study why almost 40,000 people in the U.S. die from firearm-related injuries each year, more than half of them from suicide. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Health Spending Boosted 23%: Health spending would increase by almost a quarter of its current funding level as the White House aims to build a new health research agency, eliminate racial and socioeconomic disparities, and beef up the nation’s public health preparedness. Biden’s request includes $133.7 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services. That amount represents a 23.4% increase from the fiscal 2021 enacted level of $108.6 billion.

About a quarter of the $25 billion increase, or $6.5 billion, would build the Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA-H, a new effort housed within the National Institutes of Health to speed up the availability of medical advances. The White House also wants to work on drug pricing and expanding the Affordable Care Act. Read more from Jeannie Baumann, Jacquie Lee and Shira Stein.

Hyde Amendment: The budget proposal does not include Hyde amendment language, a longstanding appropriations measure that has blocked federal funding for abortions, except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman, Jack Fitzpatrick reports. Republicans broadly support the Hyde amendment. Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) praised the decision to exclude it. “I’m working every single day to keep building support in the Senate and to ensure that everyone can exercise their right to abortion—no matter who they are, where they come from, or how they get their insurance,” Murray said in a statement.

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The Coronavirus Pandemic

Republicans Push for Covid-19 Origins Probe: House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) led more than 200 House Republicans in a letter urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to direct committee chairs to investigate the origins of Covid-19. Biden on Wednesday called for a deeper U.S. intelligence investigation into the origins of Covid-19 amid claims that the coronavirus escaped a Chinese lab.

Find Coronavirus Origin or Face Another Pandemic, U.S. Experts Warn: The world needs the cooperation of the Chinese government to trace the origins of Covid-19 and prevent future pandemic threats, two leading U.S. disease experts said Sunday. Information to support the theory that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, has increased, said Scott Gottlieb, a commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Trump administration who now sits on the board of Pfizer.

China hasn’t provided evidence to disprove that theory, while the search for signs that the virus emerged from wildlife hasn’t yielded results, Gottlieb said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” Read more from John Tozzi.

U.S. Weighing Vaccine ‘Passports’ for Travel: The U.S. is taking a close look at vaccine “passports” for international travel, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday, opening the door to voluntary measures to prove vaccination status abroad. Mayorkas, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America” ahead of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, was asked about creating the document for flights into and out of the U.S. “We’re taking a very close look at that,” he said. “One of our principles that has guided us throughout the pandemic is the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, and making sure that any passport we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised, and so we’re taking a very close look at that. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

CDC Updates Mask Guidance for Camps: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has loosened its guidance for those attending U.S. summer camps, announcing Friday that fully vaccinated campers will no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing for the upcoming season. For those who are not fully vaccinated for Covid-19, mask wearing is especially important indoors and in crowded outdoor settings, where physical distancing cannot be maintained, the guidance says. Although vaccinated campers do not need to wear masks, the agency urges day and overnight camp programs to be supportive of those who opt to mask up. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

Employers Can Offer Vaccine Incentives to Workers: Employers can offer bonuses and other incentives to encourage employees to get the Covid-19 vaccine, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in updated guidance addressing a legal gray area during the pandemic. “Federal EEO laws do not prevent or limit employers from offering incentives to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation of vaccination obtained from a third party (not the employer) in the community, such as a pharmacy, personal health care provider, or public clinic,” the agency said Friday. However, employers that administer vaccines to their employees must ensure the incentives aren’t coercive, it said. Read more from Paige Smith.

Covid-19 Vaccine Uptake Rising but Less Adults Eager to Get the Jab: More than 60% of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and overall rates could reach 70% in the next couple of months, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Vaccine uptake was 62% in May, up from 56% in April, the KFF found in a report released Friday. Read more from Lesley Torres.

Biden Taps Turner for Labor IG Overseeing Covid-19 Probes: Biden plans to nominate Larry Turner to head the U.S. Labor Department’s independent watchdog office, the White House said today. A career official, Turner has led the department’s Office of Inspector General on an acting basis since Scott Dahl retired from the Senate-confirmed role in June 2020. The DOL watchdog has been the primary official reviewing the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, using funding from Congress to boost its capacity to conduct oversight. Read more from Ben Penn.

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What Else to Know

Limits of Woodcock’s Role Highlight Need for Permanent FDA Head: Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock is a big proponent of modernizing the clinical trial system, but focusing on such a long-term project will be difficult without a permanent spot as agency leader, FDA advocates say. There’s a 210-day statutory limit for how long an acting commissioner can work in a Senate-confirmed role. That means the 35-year veteran could only remain in her role until mid-to-late August unless Biden nominates her or someone else to the spot beforehand, according to the nonprofit Alliance for a Stronger FDA. Read more from Jacquie Lee and Jeannie Baumann.

FDA to Crack Down on Some Stem Cell Clinics: Hundreds of U.S. stem cell clinics selling experimental therapies without an FDA permit can expect to face the agency’s enforcement arm and potential action from the federal government. The Food and Drug Administration ended a three-and-a-half year grace period yesterday designed to allow these clinics to come into compliance with its 2017 regenerative medicine policy. The agency has worked with federal law enforcement agencies to shut down the most egregious cases, including one that made several women blind. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@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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