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The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

HHS says it's out of coronavirus funding

The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

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Hello, good morning. The World Health Organization has confirmed at least 14 attacks on Ukraine's health facilities as the country's health system undergoes “an unimaginable stress test."

Meanwhile, in Washington: Would Republicans want to relive their failed effort to repeal Obamacare? And the Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to restore its authority over the deployment of unvaccinated Navy SEALs. But first …

On tap this week: a fight over more coronavirus funding

The Department of Health and Human Services says it has tapped out all its coronavirus funding, as some congressional Republicans raise their eyebrows at the Biden administration's request for more dollars.

HHS recently sent Congress tables, obtained by The Health 202, showing that none of the dollars Congress previously provided the agency for coronavirus aid remain unallocated. That goes for all the spending categories, such as money for vaccines, therapeutics and testing.

Some Republicans have said they wanted a fuller accounting of how the federal government has spent roughly $6 trillion in coronavirus aid before approving new funds. Some have looked to ensure the latest dollars are financed in full, potentially through repurposing money Congress had set aside for cities and states, our colleague Tony Romm reports this morning.

"Before we would consider supporting an additional $30 billion” in covid-19 relief, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and dozens of other GOP lawmakers wrote last week, “Congress must receive a full accounting of how the government has already spent the first $6 trillion.”

The debate is bubbling up around a long-term spending package that congressional negotiators could release as soon as today.

The big question centers on how much money Congress will put toward new coronavirus aid. That number could be roughly $15 billion — down from the Biden administration’s $22.5 billion request Thursday — though negotiations were still fluid as of last night. 

It's also likely Democrats will lose their Hyde Amendment fight. A top Republican said the long-standing policy — which bars using federal funds for abortions in most circumstances — would be included in the funding bill. Other senators in both parties said that was their expectation as well.

The stakes are high. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are attempting to hash out a long-term deal to fund the government — an effort that’s eluded them for months. Congress must pass the measure by midnight Friday to stave off a government shutdown, and is also hoping to tuck billions of aid to Ukraine into the deal. 

The timing is tight. Lawmakers hope to unveil legislation as soon as today, and the House is slated to be out for Democrats’ legislative retreat in the latter half of the week. 

  • “It’s my expectation that we’ll meet the deadlines,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, told The Health 202.

Emily Wilkins, Bloomberg Government:

Coronavirus aid

Here’s the latest: Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations health and labor subcommittee, told reporters there could be roughly $15 billion in the package for coronavirus aid, including $5 billion for the global pandemic response.

  • A Senate aide also told The Health 202 that the figure could be around $15 billion.
  • The caveat: It’s not done until there’s a bill.

Last Thursday, the administration laid out a $22.5 billion request to cover immediate needs for tests, treatments, vaccines and more. That included nearly $5 billion to help with pandemic assistance overseas. Blunt suggested the White House had since lowered its request, but an administration official said the ask remains at $22.5 billion, per the letter sent to the Hill last week. 

  • The request is “urgent,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday. By May, the current supply of monoclonal antibodies — a coronavirus treatment — will be out of stock. And within weeks, the testing capacity could drop without more investments soon.
Hiding Hyde

Democrats ran on repealing the Hyde Amendment if they gained control of Congress and the White House. But that’s not likely to happen. 

Blunt said the decades-old policy rider will be included in the legislation, though DeLauro declined to specify, saying instead that “we’re working on all the issues.”

  • “All the language that has been in at least the Labor [HHS] bill for the last 10 years … that will all be in there,” Blunt said.

Key context: A spending deal without the abortion funding restriction almost certainly wouldn't fly in the Senate, where 10 GOP votes are needed to pass the package. Republicans are adamantly opposed to repealing the Hyde Amendment — a position shared by several Democrats. 

  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told The Health 202 that he still supports the Hyde Amendment. So did a spokesperson for Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has also consistently supported the policy, though his office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Abortion rights advocates have been pushing a repeal on the restriction. But they also point to two, albeit smaller, victories in the past year: President Biden’s budget omitted Hyde Amendment language. And House Democrats passed their own long-term funding package that also excluded the policy rider.

  • “We're clear-eyed about barriers in the Senate,” said Morgan Hopkins, interim executive director of campaigns and strategies for All* Above All, an abortion rights group. “What's most important is the history that has been made this appropriations cycle.”

On the Hill

Obamacare repeal …. again?

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) seemingly suggested he wants to see Republicans repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act if they regain control of Congress and the White House in 2024, The Post’s Amy B. Wang reports. 

But it's unlikely that the party will want to renew its fight against Obamacare — which has increased in popularity since President Biden took office and now covers a record number of Americans. 

  • “The Affordable Care Act is now embedded in our health-care system,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of three Republicans to vote against the failed 2017 repeal effort, told The Health 202. “I think there are many improvements that can be made, but I do not foresee Congress repealing it altogether even if [Republicans] take control of the Congress.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been adamant that the Senate GOP not release a platform ahead of the midterm elections. On the other side of the Capitol, the House GOP has a task force to create Republican health reforms. One co-chair, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) said the group hasn’t discussed repealing Obamacare, and it's focused on creating priorities for 2023.

Johnson later claimed to The Health 202 that his comments on Breitbart News Radio were taken out of context. The GOP lawmaker said that he was using repealing Obamacare as an example of Republicans not having a plan ready to act on their campaign pledges when they won control of Washington. 

  • “I used that as an example of how we weren’t ready to [repeal and replace] when we finally got the power to do it,” said Johnson. “We weren’t prepared. I’m saying we need to be prepared on what we set as a priority.”

In the courts

White House asks Supreme Court to drop order allowing deployment of unvaccinated Navy SEALs

The Biden administration filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to reinstate its authority over the deployment of service members who refuse to comply with the military’s coronavirus vaccination mandate. 

Key context: In January, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Defense Department from enforcing the requirement for unvaccinated Navy SEALs on the grounds of religious freedom, and prohibited commanders from making changes to military assignments based on vaccination status. Last month, an appeals court refused to temporarily suspend the compliance order.

Since the lower court's ruling, the Navy has been forced to send an unvaccinated SEAL on a mission to Hawaii on a submarine “against its military judgment,” according to the emergency request. 

  • “The Navy has an extraordinarily compelling interest in ensuring that the service members who perform those missions are as physically and medically prepared as possible,” according to the court filing. “That includes vaccinating them against covid-19, which is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest.”

In other health news

First in The Health 202: Patients' rights group presses Congress on hospital transparency

The nonprofit Patient Rights Advocate is urging Congress to pass legislating strengthening rules around price transparency and restrict federal funding for noncompliant hospitals. The ask comes in a letter sent to congressional leaders today and shared with The Health 202.

The backstory: Biden instructed HHS to enforce Trump-era price transparency rules and hiked penalties for not complying with federal regulations up to $2 million per year for larger hospitals. 

But yet … just over 14 percent of hospitals are in compliance with the rules requiring facilities post the prices they charge cash-paying customers and the secretive rates they negotiate with insurers, according to a February report by Patient Rights Advocate. 

Here's what else you need to know:

  • Grim milestone: The worldwide toll of known covid-19 deaths eclipsed 6 million Monday, just two years after the highly contagious virus began spreading globally, The Post’s Salvador Rizzo and Fenit Nirappil report.
  • State Scan: In a move that goes against guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Florida Department of Health will soon recommend against coronavirus vaccinations for healthy children, the state’s surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, said. Experts condemned the announcement as “reckless” and “dangerous.”
  • Global vaccine update: Moderna reached a preliminary deal to set up a manufacturing facility in Kenya, its first in Africa. Company officials said the facility could supply up to 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines, like the coronavirus shot, to the continent each year, the Associated Press reports.
  • Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Ted Budd (R-N.C.) introduced bipartisan legislation that would permanently classify all current and future fentanyl-related substances — the potent synthetic opioid — as Schedule 1 drugs.

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, on Ladapo’s announcement:

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.

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