HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Senate Gets Deal on $10 Billion Covid Bill

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Senate Democrats and Republicans have struck a deal to provide $10 billion for Covid vaccines and therapeutics after Democrats dropped a last-minute attempt to include global vaccination funds in the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who had been leading negotiations on the package, announced the agreement on Monday. It meets GOP demands that any new Covid funds be paid for with unspent money from earlier pandemic relief packages.

The bill would provide far less money than the $22.5 billion the Biden administration sought early last month, though lawmakers widely expect another infusion of funding will be needed in the coming months, especially if a new variant of the disease spreads.

Schumer in a statement said he is committed to trying to win approval of the global aid in the coming months. “While we were unable to reach an agreement on international aid in this new agreement, many Democrats and Republicans are committed to pursuing a second supplemental later this spring,” Schumer said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also said Democrats would have to accept a partial victory on Covid funding. Hoyer added he wants to move a second package focused on global funding and lawmakers “absolutely ought to be spending money overseas as well.”

At least some Republicans are interested in providing international vaccine aid, but it would also need to be offset, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said yesterday.

“Sooner or later we’re just better off if the entire world is vaccinated,” Cole said. “A lot of people can’t afford it. We can, and we should help them.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he’s hoping to get bipartisan support for an additional package—including international aid for food assistance and global vaccine funds—in the coming weeks. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agreed money is needed to bolster the World Food Programme, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations.

“Ukraine is the breadbasket for the Middle East and Africa and we have a huge developing hunger crisis as food prices skyrocket,” Coons said. Such a package would likely come together after the upcoming two-week recess, Coons said, Alex Ruoff reports.

The White House backed the agreement and urged its quick passage. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration would work to build support for more money for global pandemic aid.

The agreement would give the Biden administration $5 billion to buy Covid-19 therapeutics and antivirals and another $4.75 billion that could be used for a wider range of purchases, such as Covid tests and vaccines. It would also provide $750 million for research projects for future Covid vaccines and therapeutics.

Some House Democrats said they would oppose any deal that doesn’t include the global aid. “My position has not changed: if the Senate cuts global vaccine funding from the COVID supplemental bill, we will have a big problem in the House,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) tweeted Monday. Leaders in the Senate and House may attempt to hold votes on the package by the end of this week, before Congress embarks on a two-week holiday recess. Erik Wasson and Alex Ruoff have more.

Read more: BGOV Bill Summary: Senate Bipartisan Covid Aid Deal

Biden to Expand Health Insurance Subsidy, Solve ‘Family Glitch’

The Biden administration plans to adjust how the Treasury Department determines who is eligible for a health insurance subsidy through the Affordable Care Act, addressing a longtime issue for millions of families.

This problem, known as the “family glitch,” happens when a worker has employer-based coverage that is deemed “affordable” by the Treasury Department where they pay less than 9.83% of household income. However, that determination doesn’t take into consideration if the cost would increase beyond that by adding family members to the plan. This leads to some families who would have to pay more than what is deemed affordable, but who are unable to be eligible for Affordable Care Act-based subsidies.

The Treasury Department will put out a proposed rule Tuesday that determines affordability of coverage for the entire family—not just the sole worker, a senior administration official told reporters. The Biden administration estimates 200,000 uninsured people would gain coverage and about 1 million more would see lower premiums under this regulation, the official said.

President Joe Biden will officially announce the regulation and a related executive order Tuesday at an event with former President Barack Obama. Read more from Shira Stein and Josh Wingrove.

Also Happening on the Hill

Tillis Wants Proof of I.P. Role in Drug Costs: Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) is upping a call for the Food and Drug Administration to investigate claims that pharmaceutical corporations’ intellectual property rights are a culprit behind the high costs for blockbuster drugs. The White House, Democratic lawmakers and activists have all taken shots at the American IP system for fueling those costs. But many stakeholders are doubtful that patents are to blame, with some taking issue with data used to bolster such claims. Read more from Ian Lopez.

Wyden Presses Merck Over Overseas Profits: Merck’s finances came under Washington scrutiny as Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pressed the drugmaker on how it booked profits overseas last year while its effective tax rate dropped. Merck paid an effective tax rate of 11% in 2021 and reported just 14% of its pretax income in the U.S., even though the country accounts for nearly half the company’s sales, according to a letter Wyden sent to Merck Chief Executive Officer Rob Davis. Read more from John Tozzi.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

CDC Head Plans to Review Agency After Covid Response Criticism: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to conduct a review after facing a wave of criticism for its response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In an agency-wide message to her leadership team and staff on Monday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky shared her plans to review the agency’s structure, saying that “never in its 75 years history has CDC had to make decisions so quickly, based on often limited, real-time, and evolving science.” She said that an external senior federal health official was hired for an evaluation of CDC’s structure, systems and processes, according to an earlier report published by the Washington Post. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

HHS Set to Reopen Covid Aid Reporting After Threats: The Health Resources and Services Administration plans to reopen the reporting period for pandemic assistance funding after thousands of recipients were asked to return the cash for missing the deadline. Providers who didn’t finish a report “as a result of specific extenuating circumstances” will be given another chance to do so, a spokesperson for the agency said. HRSA didn’t provide more detail on what those circumstances are or when the portal will open again. Read more from Allie Reed.

GOP Weigh In With States Against Covid Aid Restrictions: Republican lawmakers, other states, and business and taxpayer groups threw their weight behind West Virginia and 12 other states fighting the U.S. Treasury’s appeal of a ruling that barred the government from enforcing federal restrictions on $195 billion in pandemic relief. Treasury is asking the Eleventh Circuit to overturn a permanent injunction on its enforcement of the American Rescue Plan Act’s (Public Law 117-2) offset provision, which the trial court called “unconstitutionally ambiguous.” Read more from Perry Cooper.

Medicare Expands Access, Coverage for Home Tests: More than 59 million people with Medicare Part B outpatient coverage are now eligible for up to eight free over-the-counter Covid-19 tests every month, the Biden administration said. Beneficiaries enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans that provide program benefits can also get the tests for free. This first-ever Medicare coverage of store-bought home tests is a new initiative that makes direct payments to eligible pharmacies and other health-care providers. Tony Pugh has more.

Trump Helped Boost Vaccinations After Endorsement: An online ad campaign featuring former President Donald Trump increased vaccination rates in U.S. counties where vaccine uptake was lowest, according to a report published Monday. In a campaign directed at over 1,000 counties, researchers created an ad using a Trump appearance on Fox News urging people to get vaccinated, and then in October ran the ad on YouTube for regions with lower vaccination rates. Where the ad was shown, about 103 more vaccinations were given on average. Drew Armstong has more.

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What Else to Know Today

National Cancer Institute Chief Steps Down: Ned Sharpless, one of the last presidential appointees from the Trump administration to be held over by the Biden White House, will step down as director of the National Cancer Institute at the end of the month, the NCI said Monday. The announcement comes two months after the president announced he plans to revive the Cancer Moonshot, setting out what Sharpless called a bold plan to cut in half cancer death rates by 25 years. But Biden’s 2023 budget request proposed a $199 million cut to the NCI. Jeannie Baumann has more.

Gun Victims’ Care Costs $2.5 Billion a Year: Costs of caring for U.S. gunshot survivors come to about $2.5 billion in the first year after their injuries, according to a Harvard study of a topic on which research was long relatively silent because of federal funding restrictions. Monthly, direct medical costs for the gun-wounded increased from the year before the injury by almost $2,500, researchers at Harvard Medical School found. Costs for people with severe harm like brain injuries might last for years to come, one researcher said. Read more from Angel Adegbesan.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Alex Ruoff and Emily Wilkins

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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