HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Democrats Target Ban on Abortions Funds

Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to end the long-time prohibition on federal funds to support abortion services, setting up a fight with Republicans and a key member of their own party over fiscal year 2022 spending.

The head of the Senate Appropriations Committee unveiled a $220.8 billion Labor-HHS-Education funding bill that nixes the Hyde and Weldon amendments, which keep people on programs like Medicaid from accessing abortion services via safety net programs.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Senate appropriations panel responsible for health funding, said in a statement that funding bills “for too long have interfered with millions of peoples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.”

Most Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) support maintaining the Hyde Amendment, making any hopes of passage of this proposed spending bill unlikely.

The bill would increase the Labor-HHS-Education budget by $46.7 billion over fiscal 2021 levels. The legislation would provide $47.9 billion to the National Institutes of Health, a $5 billion increase over 2021. Nearly half that increase would go to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, President Joe Biden’s proposed new biomedical research agency, Alex Ruoff reports.

Happening on the Hill

House Floor: The House is scheduled to consider several health-related bills under expedited procedure, including:

  • Pharmaceutical Centers: The Food and Drug Administration would solicit applications from higher education institutions to be designated as National Centers of Excellence in Advanced and Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing under H.R. 4369. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • State Opioid Response Grants: The State Opioid Response grant program would be authorized to receive $1.75 billion annually through fiscal 2027 under H.R. 2379. The program provides funding to states and tribes for the treatment and recovery of substance use disorders, including medication-assisted treatment. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • Strategic Stockpile Grants: Funding for state strategic stockpiles and changes to the Strategic National Stockpile would be authorized by H.R. 3635. The measure would authorize funding for grants to states to expand or maintain strategic stockpiles and additional funding for a supply chain manufacturing flexibility pilot program. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) introduced the measure on May 28. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Brittney Washington.
  • Drug-Free Community Grants: Matching requirements for Drug-Free Communities Support Program grantees could be waived under H.R. 654 if the recipient couldn’t raise sufficient funds due to Covid-19. For more, see the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub

Lawmakers to Speak at Medicare Advantage Summit: Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) are scheduled to speak tomorrow at the Medicare Advantage Summit hosted by the Better Medicare Alliance advocacy group.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Vaccine Mix-and-Match Poised to Get FDA Clearance: The Food and Drug Administration is poised to clear the use of a Covid-19 booster from a different manufacturer than the one that supplied a patient’s original inoculation, according to people familiar with the matter. The FDA is still considering the scope of the measure, including whether to allow the widespread mixing and matching of vaccines or whether to narrow the parameters of use, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity before any announcement. Read more from Josh Wingrove.

  • U.S. vaccine regulators have broad authority to allow mix-and-match Covid-19 vaccine boosters under its emergency powers, even if Johnson & Johnson and other companies don’t apply for it. Still, it’s not clear what regulatory pathway the FDA will take to make heterologous boosting—or mixing and matching boosters—available. The emergency use authorizations for Covid-19 vaccines so far have stemmed from submissions from the companies themselves. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Schools Begin to Lift Mask Mandates as Spread Slows: Some U.S. schools are starting to lift mask mandates as the latest Covid-19 wave fades, and case trends suggest others may soon follow. At least a half dozen school districts across the U.S. have recently lifted their mandates, the first such swing away from the face coverings, according to Burbio, which tracks the developments and runs a dashboard on schools. As of Oct. 15, 78% of the 500 largest districts still required masks, it found. Jonathan Levin has more.

Courts Clash Over Vaccine Religious Exemptions: Conflicting court decisions over coronavirus vaccine mandates for health-care workers in Maine and New York could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its stance on what freedom of religion means for employees. A federal judge in Maine let the state move forward without offering employees any exemptions, while a district judge in New York extended an order that temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the rules for workers with religious exemptions.

Vaccine mandates from employers and governments have been challenged in federal courts almost 40 times this year, but so far, they have largely passed legal muster. “The battleground now is the question of how broad are the exemptions going to be,” said Brian Abramson, who teaches vaccine law at Florida International University College of Law. Read more from Allie Reed.

  • If and when federal OSHA enacts its national Covid-19 shot-or-test requirement, some state governments opposing that mandate could stave off for months the enforcement of its requirements. That’s because the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows the governments of 26 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands to adopt and enforce their own workplace safety and health rules for private-industry or state and local government workers. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

DOJ Asks SCOTUS to Ease Texas’ Abortion Ban: The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to lift Texas’s ban on abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, setting up a new high court showdown over the most restrictive ban that’s currently in force in the U.S. In papers filed yesterday, acting U.S. Solicitor General Brian Fletcher pressed justices to intervene on an emergency basis to block the law. Fletcher also asked for a definitive ruling, a move that would raise the stakes in what already is a watershed fight.

DOJ said the Texas law violates Supreme Court precedents protecting abortion rights and unconstitutionally seeks to skirt judicial review with a novel mechanism that places enforcement in the hands of private parties. “The fundamental question presented in this case is whether states may nullify disfavored constitutional rights by purporting to disclaim their own enforcement authority and delegating enforcement of unconstitutional laws to private bounty hunters,” Fletcher told the justices. Greg Stohr has more.

White House Unveils Sweeping PFAS Plan: The White House EPA announced plans, ongoing efforts, and research eight agencies have undertaken to reduce PFAS in the nation’s air, water, land, and food. They include the EPA’s Roadmap, a three-year strategy describing specific regulations with deadlines for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that the Environmental Protection Agency will issue and research it will do to understand where additional controls might be necessary. Read more from Pat Rizzuto.

More Headlines:

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

Top