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House committee sets up for budget fight

UPDATE: Late on Monday night, House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger indefinitely postponed markup of this FDA budget bill, citing the ongoing debt ceiling talks.


Even with the debt ceiling deadline around the corner, the show (markups of multibillion-dollar budget bills) must go on. The GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee meets Wednesday to debate a proposed $6.6 billion FDA budget that would hamstring the agency on a number of Biden administration priorities, and the hearing could be a doozy.

The legislation would reverse the FDA’s January change that allowed registered pharmacists to dispense the abortion pill mifepristone. It would also bar the agency from other changes to make the pill more accessible, right in the thick of an ongoing lawsuit over whether it should be on the market or available through mail. Democrats are sure to oppose those provisions.

The bill would also prevent the FDA from banning menthol cigarettes or implementing a nicotine cap. And it would ban the FDA from funding anything related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab at the center of unproven theories about the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the FDA hasn’t funded Wuhan before — that’d be grants from NIH — the wording could be a window into future plans. Also: No more chicken from China in public schools.


Prisons’ Covid response ‘worse than we thought’

Incarcerated people at Federal Medical Center Devens — one of the nation’s few facilities equipped for prisoners with serious medical conditions like kidney disease — should have been one of the first prisons to administer Covid-19 vaccines under a national plan to vaccinate vulnerable populations first. Instead, it was one of the last, Nick Florko reports.

Eight men at Devens died of Covid-19 complications during the wait, according to 1,500 pages of new data that shed more light on a fractured federal prison response. While a Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesperson said the agency followed protocol, vaccinating staff first, the data show a range of gaps across different facilities, like testing just a fraction of prisoners during the height of the pandemic.

The slow response played out in booster vaccinations as well, though the BOP spokesperson said vaccine hesitancy played a role there. Dive into the data with Nick here.

Help wanted: BIO edition

BIO is taking steps toward finding its next leader after a messy separation from former CEO Michelle McMurry-Heath last fall, my co-author Rachel Cohrs reports.

The trade group hired the search firm Korn Ferry a few weeks ago, three sources familiar with the matter said. The firm is now in the process of doing due diligence within the organization by interviewing senior executives and holding an all-staff town hall meeting.

It’s unclear whether interim CEO Rachel King is a candidate for the position permanently, but she’s expected to stay on at least until a new CEO is found, one source said. The organization has been without a permanent leader since October, and is preparing for its biggest conference of the year next month.

Alzheimer’s groups try new tack with Democrats

Advocacy groups for people with Alzheimer’s disease have rallied for months to broaden access to new therapies like Aduhelm, showing up in droves to budget and research hearings. Biden health officials haven’t budged on Medicare coverage requirements. Now, in new polling shared first with D.C. Diagnosis, advocates argue this could cost Democratic candidates in upcoming elections.

More than two-thirds of likely 2024 voters, regardless of party affiliation, age, gender, and region, strongly favor requiring Medicare to cover FDA-approved drugs that could slow Alzheimer’s disease progression, according to an early May poll by Lake Research Strategies (a top pollster for Biden’s 2020 campaign) and Public Opinion Strategies. Three-quarters of the 1,000 respondents also strongly agree that Congress should intervene if Medicare doesn’t broaden coverage for those drugs (and 80% agree overall).

The poll’s commissioners — Alzheimer’s disease groups like Alliance for Aging Research and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s — are sending a clear message to President Biden: They’re primed to make this a 2024 election issue. Half of respondents said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported Medicare coverage requirements; one-third said they’d be “much more likely.” Pollsters also intentionally over-sampled in swing states like Arizona, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Biden’s top doctor aims at teens’ social media use

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy this morning issued an advisory on youth mental health and social media usage, more formally drawing attention to a link he has underscored for months amid a crisis in children’s mental wellbeing.

“Parents are asking ‘Is social media safe for my kids?’ Based on our review of the data, there isn’t enough evidence that it is safe for our kids,” he told STAT’s Ryan Fitzgerald ahead of the advisory, which calls for policymakers to establish age restrictions and safety standards and tech companies to more transparently share their data.

The advisory comes on the heels of an American Psychological Association report on depression and anxiety among children bullied online. Lawmakers have also tried to step into the social media arena, most recently with a bipartisan bill barring tech companies from using algorithms to target teens with certain content. Read more from Ryan’s conversation with Murthy.

What we’re reading

Opinion: Cancer patients shouldn’t be responsible for out-of-pocket costs, STAT

This scientist tracked bats for decades and solved a mystery about a deadly disease, ProPublica

‘A textbook case of environmental racism’: The battle over the Brookhaven Landfill, STAT

A more aggressive FTC is starting to target drug mergers and industry middlemen, KFF Health News

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