HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Sanders Looks to Tackle Doctor Shortages

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is using his new perch as head of a key health panel to expand the number of federally supported medical residency positions.

Sanders announced yesterday he’ll introduce legislation that adds 14,000 Medicare graduate medical education slots over seven years, potentially training thousands of new doctors each year. Public health groups argue the U.S. faces a shortage of at least 54,000 primary care and specialty doctors over the next decade.

“This is a solvable program,” Sanders, who heads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s health panel, said during a hearing yesterday. “This is the wealthiest country on earth. We can have enough doctors and nurses in the places where we need them.”

Public health groups say the U.S. faces a shortage of at least 54,000 primary care and specialty doctors over the next decade. Sanders said his legislation would reserve half of the new slots to train new primary care doctors.

David J. Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said his group asked for 3,000 slots to be added each year to Medicare’s graduate education program. That program, along with others, pays hospitals to train medical school graduates to become doctors. Boosting Medicare funding for this program could allow hospitals to train additional physicians, Skorton said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Happening on the Hill

Biden CMS Pick to Get Monday Vote: President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could garner confirmation next week, after Senate leaders yesterday scheduled the initial vote on Chiquita Brooks-LaSure’s nomination for next Monday, Nancy Ognanovich reports. The chamber will have to vote twice on her nomination to confirm her to the post.

Brooks-LaSure’s nomination for CMS has been widely opposed by Republicans over the Biden administration’s decision to rescind a 10-year extension for Texas’s Medicaid waiver. And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday that he’s made little headway in negotiations with Health and Human Services Department officials, and he’ll continue opposing her nomination. Brooks-LaSure appears to have enough support for the Senate to confirm her to the job. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) joined Democrats earlier this month in supporting her nomination, Alex Ruoff reports.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Moderna Starts Shipping Vaccine From U.S.: Moderna has begun exporting U.S.-produced Covid-19 vaccines to other countries, a major step as U.S. vaccine supply starts to be shipped abroad. The company’s early U.S. production was gobbled up by a single buyer—the federal government—as the Trump and Biden administrations invoked wartime powers to prioritize its orders and make sure it was at the front of the line for vaccine supply for Americans. Josh Wingrove and Robert Langreth have more.

Full Approval for Covid-19 Shots Will Take Months: Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers will have to wait several months before the FDA decides whether to grant full approval, as opposed to the weeks it took to review data for an emergency use authorization. “We’ll move as fast as we can, but we have to do the job correctly,” Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, said yesterday at a conference for FDA attorneys. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

  • Protection from the coronavirus vaccines is expected to wane, but no one knows when. It could be as soon as this fall for the first wave of people vaccinated last winter, and many predict that boosters will soon join annual flu shots. Ideally, anyone worried about fading vaccine protection could get tested for antibodies, the primary defense against the virus. But as the immunocompromised are learning, it’s not so simple, Carey Goldberg reports.

Fauci Laments Confusion Over CDC Mask Guidance: Public health leaders’ move to relax nationwide rules over masks for vaccinated people has spurred “understandable confusion” that needs to be cleared up, said Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease doctor. Fully vaccinated people can shed masks in most places, including indoors, the CDC said last Thursday. But many people interpreted it “as a signal that you don’t need masks anymore, which absolutely is not the case,” Fauci said. Riley Griffin has more.

More U.S. Headlines:

G-7 to Discuss Ways to Recognize Vaccine Certificates: The Group of Seven nations will next month discuss ways to recognize Covid-19 vaccination certifications internationally, according to a person familiar with the matter. The group of top economies aims to support the creation of a global framework for mutual recognition of documents showing proof of inoculation, said the person, who asked not to be identified. Read more from Alberto Nardelli.

AstraZeneca Provides 90% Protection From Symptoms: Two doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine provide roughly 85% to 90% protection against symptomatic disease, according to statistics released by Public Health England yesterday. The health body estimated that 13,000 deaths have been prevented in England as of May 9 in people 60 and older. It also suggested that vaccinations have stopped almost 40,000 hospitalizations among the elderly. Read more from Todd Gillespie.

More Global Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

Medicare Payments Case Challenges Agency Deference: A fight over $600 million in cuts to Medicare reimbursements for hospitals could limit the use of a decades-old principle directing courts to defer to a U.S. agency’s interpretation when laws are unclear. The American Hospital Association and various hospitals have asked the Supreme Court to hear a case questioning if that principle, the Chevron deference, should apply when the law being interpreted precludes a court’s ability to decide on an agency action’s lawfulness. Lydia Wheeler has more.

  • In a separate case, a Washington health system said justices should deny review of a decision that vacated a 2005 rule that changed how HHS calculates additional Medicare payments for hospitals serving a large number of poor patients. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rightly found that HHS’s treatment of people “entitled to” Medicare and supplemental Social Security benefits and people “eligible for” Medicaid as equal is a violation of the Medicare Act, the group said. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich and Alex Ruoff

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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