Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
July 1, 2022
This Week in Congress
House Appropriations Committee Increases STD Funding: On June 30, by a vote of 32 to 24, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY’23 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies bill. The legislation includes $179.3 million for STD funding at the CDC, an increase of $15,000,000 over the FY’22 funding level. This is an historic increase for the STD program. The report accompanying the bill includes several language provisions requested by NCSD that will benefit the STD community. The language provisions are as follows:
Directs the CDC to extend the PCHD grant year by one month each year for the next three years. This important provision will make grant applications less burdensome and allow for a more efficient expenditure of funds;
Encourages the CDC to hold harmless PCHD funding so that no grantee receives less than the amount received in FY’22;
Encourages the CDC to work with other agencies to develop innovative approaches, including telehealth and at-home specimen collection to increase screening, treatment, and education to curb the spread of STIs;
Urges HRSA to expand efforts to increase multiple prenatal screening and testing for congenital syphilis (CS) throughout pregnancies to detect and treat CS as early as possible stages; and
Urges CMS to collaborate with DSTDP to develop a screening, treatment, and education initiative under Medicaid.
The House funding recommendations are the first step in the FY’23 appropriations process. House floor action on the LHHS bill is expected in July. The Senate has not set a time to begin making their funding recommendations. Due to the November elections, final action on appropriations bills will most likely not occur until sometime in December. However, if there is a change in control in either the House or the Senate, the FY’23 bills could be delayed until February or March of calendar year 2023.
A summary of the bill the LHHS bill can be found here.
On June 25, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The package represents the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994 — though it fails to ban any weapons. The legislation includes $750 million to help states implement and run crisis intervention programs; implement and manage red flag programs — which through court orders can temporarily prevent individuals in crisis from accessing firearms; other crisis intervention programs like mental health courts, drug courts and veterans court; closes a loophole in domestic violence law – the so-called “boyfriend loophole” — which barred individuals who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes from having guns; encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with grants as well as implements a new protocol for checking those records; goes after individuals who sell guns as primary sources of income but have previously evaded registering as federally licensed firearms dealers; and includes funding increases for mental health programs and school security.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
On June 30, Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Jackson was sworn in during a private ceremony with Breyer and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. administering the oaths. New justices typically take their oaths and join the court soon after Senate confirmation. The Senate confirmed Jackson by a vote of 53-47 vote in April. She joins Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — bringing the number of women on the court to a historic four.
Statistics: The WHO said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in more than 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency. In a statement issued this week, the WHO emergency committee said many aspects of the outbreak were “unusual” and acknowledged that monkeypox — which is endemic in some African countries — has been neglected for years. In the US there are currently 396 cases with new cases reported in New York City, Michigan, Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Virginia. Data reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the WHO shows the monkeypox outbreak in Europe has grown to 4,177 cases in less than 2 months, with the UK reporting 25 percent of those cases. Democratic Republic of Congo researchers say that the virus, which has been reported in the Central African nation since 1970, is being found in provinces where it had never been seen before. So far, they don’t know why.
Enhanced Vaccine Strategy: This week, the Biden administration announced an “enhanced nationwide vaccination strategy” to curb the spread of monkeypox in the U.S. Top federal health officials, including CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, laid out the Administration’s plan to expand the availability of a vaccine for monkeypox. The Department of Health and Human Services will make 296,000 doses available in the coming weeks, of which 56,000 doses will be made available immediately, and expects a total of 1.6 million doses to be available in the U.S. by the end of the year. The vaccine being distributed is the JYNNEOS vaccine, which is administered in two doses given 28 days apart. The White House fact sheet can be found here.
NCSD’s Executive Director David Harvey was critical of the government’s announcement and stated: “We have more questions than ever about how this vaccine will make it to those most at-risk in an equitable way and how the U.S. will ramp up testing and provide access to the best therapeutics.” Harvey also argued that the US is already fighting a losing battle. “We’ve already lost control of this outbreak – we think there’s many more cases, and we need to act now to get control of this outbreak.”
Emergency Operations Center: The CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This action stands up the CDC’s command center for monitoring and coordinating the emergency response to monkeypox, and mobilizing additional CDC personnel and resources. More information can be found here:
Trigger Laws: After the Supreme Court ruling that ended the national right to abortion, abortion bans began to take effect across the country. Trigger laws were to take effect in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. But judges in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Utah temporarily blocked statewide abortion bans. Abortion providers in Idaho sued the states to invalidate total bans on abortion that allegedly violate the states’ constitutions, including provisions for the right to privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Texas Attorney General and other officials to block enforcement of the ban on most abortions in the state. A California ballot proposal approved this week will ask voters to enshrine reproductive rights in the state’s constitution, one of many abortion protection measures advancing in state legislatures around the country.
HHS Website: In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, HHS Secretary Becerra announced that his department has launched a website to help people find contraceptives and abortion services. The website lays out patients’ rights to contraception and shares links to abortion options. Secretary Becerra also said that he’s directing the Office for Civil Rights to ensure patient privacy for those seeking reproductive health care. The website can be found here.
Mifepristone: GenBioPro, a manufacturer of the abortion medication mifepristone, plans to challenge state restrictions that would ban its use, saying that the FDA’s approval should trump any efforts to limit the drug’s access. Some legal scholars say the FDA should assert that its drug-approval decisions preempt actions by states to limit or ban use of mifepristone. The notion of preemption, which derives from the Constitution’s supremacy clause, says that federal law overrides state law when the two conflict. The company is currently challenging a Mississippi law that requires patients to have an in-person appointment with a physician in order to obtain a prescription to the drug, despite the FDA ending the requirement that it be personally doled out last year.
New Booster Shot: This week the FDA’s independent vaccine advisers recommended that the agency authorize Covid-19 booster formulations that target the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna recently presented data suggesting their Omicron-targeting boosters elicit promising antibody responses of varying degrees, depending on dose level and whether the shot targets Omicron alone or that variant plus the ancestral virus strain. They also said the delivery timelines for manufacturing booster formulations targeting BA.4 and BA.5 would be delayed compared with shorter timelines for producing BA.1 strain-specific recipes.