HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Manchin Blocks Party’s Push to Repeal Hyde

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a moderate Democrat, effectively closed the door yesterday to ending the long-time ban on federal funds for abortion services, announcing he’ll support the existing policy “in every way possible.”

Manchin, a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee responsible for most spending on federal health programs, said he opposes ending the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions except in the case of rape or incest, or to save the life of the woman.

Manchin’s decision to side with Republicans could block Democrats from advancing a spending bill through the Appropriations Committee unless it includes the longstanding ban, due to the panel’s even division between the two parties. A bill without the Hyde amendment would face even longer odds on the Senate floor, where 60 votes are necessary to end debate.

“I’m going to support Hyde in every way possible,” Manchin said yesterday. “Hyde’s been there and needs to stay there.” All eight Republicans on the subcommittee with Manchin have supported including the Hyde amendment in spending bills in the past.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on Wednesday that she wants to end the ban. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has said she will keep the Hyde amendment out of the her chamber’s Health and Human Services spending plan in fiscal 2022.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the head Republican of the Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said he doesn’t think a majority of the full committee would support a spending bill without the Hyde amendment. “I couldn’t imagine the circumstances where we’d have a bill that would come out of full committee without the Hyde amendment,” he said. Read more from Alex Ruoff and Jack Fitzpatrick.

Also on Lawmakers’ Radars

Grassley to Meet Democrats on Drug-Pricing Bill: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) plans to meet next week with House Democrats who’ve objected to their party’s signature drug-pricing proposal, he told reporters yesterday. Grassley said he’ll meet with some of the 10 House Democrats who wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in May with concerns about her bill (H.R. 3) to empower the government to negotiate with drugmakers.

Grassley opposes the drug-pricing negotiation bills, but in the 116th Congress, he pushed a drug pricing package that included trying to cap price increases for some medicines for Medicare beneficiaries and limiting what seniors pay for medicine with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who’s now the Senate Finance Committee chairman. Grassley says he’s not getting support for his plan from Democrats anymore, but hopes to build bridges now for a future bipartisan deal.

“I won’t get traction with Democrats until they realize that anything that they’re talking about won’t get 60 votes,” Grassley said, referring to the 60 votes need to advance legislation to the Senate floor. Wyden said yesterday that he wants to build on the package he negotiated with Grassley, but wants to empower the government to negotiate with drugmakers, Alex Ruoff reports.

Grassley, Klobuchar Push Rural Hospital Relief: The Biden administration must prioritize and make use of a new measure to aid struggling rural hospitals before more close, Sens. Grassley and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. The pair sent a letter yesterday to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services asking the agency to prioritize implementation of a new Rural Emergency Hospital designation. Read more from Lauren Coleman-Lochner.

Warren Questions Pfizer CEO on Vaccine Price: Pfizer is facing questions from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) about potential future price hikes for its vaccine against Covid-19. “We have a responsibility to keep vaccines accessible and reasonably priced,” Warren said in a letter to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla that was released by her office. Warren cited comments made by Pfizer on its February earnings call, Brody Ford reports.

CRFP Says Budget Would Extend Medicare Solvency: The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit think tank, said President Joe Biden’s budget, if enacted, would extend Medicare solvency. Much of this improvement comes from diverting existing revenue sources to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance trust fund. But including only new revenue and savings, the Biden budget would close only 30% of the 30-year solvency gap, the think tank says, Ruoff reports. Find the CRFP’s analysis here.

Woodcock Details FDA Budget Proposal: The FDA would step up efforts to intercept illicit fentanyl in mail facilities across the U.S. leveraging the $38 million in additional funds for opioid-related issues in Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock told Senate appropriators at a hearing yesterday, Jacquie Lee reports.

The $100 million the agency wants in user fees from companies making electronic nicotine devices would fund staff who have to review market applications companies provide to sell those products, Woodcock said. It would also allow the agency to keep up enforcement of age purchase requirements, she said.

Regarding inspections of domestic drug manufacturers, Woodcock said the agency is “committed to getting our inspection program running fully by the summer to the extent we can.” Still the schedule for foreign facilities will depend on the territory and the pandemic’s progress, she said.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Says Donated Pfizer Shots to Ship in August: Biden announced the U.S. will start shipping a half-billion donated doses of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines to countries in “dire need” in August, making good on a promise to lead the global campaign against the pandemic. Biden said yesterday the U.S. purchase and donation of Pfizer’s shots would be the largest of a single nation so far, and that the vaccines would come “with no strings attached.” Read more from Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs.

OSHA Limits Long-Awaited Virus Rule to Health Care: The first nationwide emergency workplace safety rule, requiring health-care employers to protect workers against on-the-job Covid-19 infection, has been published on OSHA’s website. The emergency temporary standard unveiled yesterday applies only in the health-care industry and will be supplemented by voluntary guidance for other sectors. The rule will take effect once published in the Federal Register. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.

Covid-19 Shot Injury Payment Targeted in House Bill: Covid-19 shots could find their way into a decades-old injury compensation program intended mostly for children’s vaccines under bipartisan legislation announced by House lawmakers yesterday. Adding new vaccines to the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) requires either an act of Congress, or a notice and rulemaking process—which can often be lengthy. A bill by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) would make that process easier by giving the Department of Health and Human Services authority to add to the list of eligible shots. Read more from Ian Lopez.

CDC Panel to Meet on Vaccine-Inflammation Link: U.S. public health advisers will meet to weigh a possible link between Covid-19 shots that use mRNA technology and heart inflammation after some vaccinated people experienced myocarditis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will gather on June 18 to discuss an increase in reported cases of the rare condition. Read more from Riley Griffin.

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What Else to Know

Harvard Expert Quits FDA Panel as Biogen Drug Furor Grows: A prominent Harvard Medical School professor has resigned from aFood and Drug Administration advisory panel in protest over the agency’s decision to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm. The doctor, Aaron Kesselheim, announced his departure in a letter to FDA acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock. He is the third committee member to quit in the wake of the highly controversial approval. The clearance “was probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history,” Kesselheim said in the letter. Read more from Robert Langreth.

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With assistance from Jacquie Lee

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com; Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@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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