HEALTH BRIEFING: Panel prepares bipartisan mental health bill

A key House of Representatives committee will vote on a bipartisan mental health bill package that would expand requirements for health insurers to cover mental health care.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee will vote next week on a bill introduced on Friday that would reauthorize several federal health programs and mandate self-funded non-federal government plans to comply with laws that provide the same coverage for mental health care as other species prescribe medical care.

The measure presented by Reps. Frank Pallone (DN.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the Democratic and Republican chairs of the Energy and Commerce Committees, represents a legislative effort to address the rising number of drug overdose deaths and suicides in the United States. Annual overdose deaths hit 100,000 last year, an all-time high. The US suicide rate has fluctuated in recent years but is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Americans rely on Congress to ensure the care and treatment programs they rely on are available,” Pallone said in a statement Friday. “This bipartisan, comprehensive legislation will help restore hope by strengthening programs that provide the essential support and care millions of Americans need now.” If approved by the subcommittee, their legislation would also need the approval of the whole committee before the heads of state and government schedule them to vote in the House of Representatives, reports Alex Ruoff.

Happened on the hill

Hearings this week:

  • The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Education Subcommittee scheduled a hearing on Wednesday for the National Institutes of Health’s fiscal 2023 budget proposal. NIH Acting Director Lawrence Tabak and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci are among the participants.
  • The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Education Subcommittee also called a hearing on “maximizing” the well-being of older people. Robert Blancato, director of the Elder Justice Coalition, and Patricia Lyons, CEO of Senior Citizens Inc. are among the witnesses.
  • The Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Border Protection of the House of Representatives plans to hold a hearing Thursday examining the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to combat the national opioid epidemic.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to mark bipartisan action Thursday (p. 3846) to reauthorize the Justice and Mental Health Cooperation Program, which provides grants to mental health courts, crisis intervention teams and other programs to help law enforcement identify people with mental disorders to help diseases.
  • The Home Energy and Commercial Health Subcommittee will vote this week on a bill introduced Friday that would reauthorize several federal health programs and require self-funded, non-state plans to comply with laws requiring the same coverage for mental health care as other types of medical care, Alex Ruoff reports .
  • The Subcommittee on Energy and Trade Health may respond to legislation to reauthorize royalty agreements between the Food and Drug Administration and the healthcare industry. Chairs of the full committee tabled a bipartisan proposal last week that would allow the FDA to withdraw any drugs that have received accelerated approval if they do not show clinical benefit, Celine Castronuovo and Jeannie Baumann reported.
  • Follow the BGOVs Nominations and voting tracker here, and click here for a full list of this week’s Hill hearings and awards.

Abortion fight in focus

Biden dismisses the party’s abortion rage as a midterms loom: White House officials are seizing the political opportunity amid the Democrats’ doomsday scenario, the end of nationwide abortion rights, to try to salvage a midterm election believed to be all but lost for the president’s party. An anticipated Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade being overturned next month will give Biden a chance to convince abortion-rights advocates that voting is the best way to channel their frustration, an adviser said. It’s a message the White House believes will resonate with suburban women, minorities and young voters, the adviser said.

Senior Biden advisers say they’ve seen a surge in engagement, anger and enthusiasm from their base voters since the court’s draft Roe decision was leaked. Polls have previously shown that Republicans are more eager to vote in November after attacks on Biden and his party over inflation, immigration, crime and the pandemic. But with new polls showing widespread support for abortion rights among women and young people, the bill could be “a jolt of complacency and uneasiness” for key segments of the electorate, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

  • About 100 demonstrators took up the fight for abortion rights into the homes of two conservative US Supreme Court Justices on Saturday night. Holding signs and slogans, the group marched from Brett Kavanaugh’s home in Chevy Chase, Md., to the home of Chief Justice John Roberts, half a mile away. The protesters then returned to Kavanaugh before police ordered them to disperse. It was not clear if the judge’s family was at home. Read more from Greg Stohr.
  • A broad majority of Americans support abortion in a new poll should be legal if the mother’s health is at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape — a potential risk for Republicans, who invariably support bans. According to a Pew Research Center poll released Friday, 73% of adults support an exception to the abortion ban for the sake of maternal life and health, and 69% support a rape exception. Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.
  • Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has vetoed abortion laws three times out of the GOP-controlled legislature — and vowed to defend abortion rights while in office. The window closes quickly. He is stepping down in January, and the battle to succeed him is one of the most competitive of the 36 governor races this November. Pennsylvania is one of 12 states where control is split between the two parties. Read more from Elise Young, Gregory Korte and Kelsey Butler.

Military could lose female troops to Roe Rollback: US troops could severely restrict access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns the landmark reproductive rights ruling, potentially hurting military recruitment and the retention of women. As employees of the federal government, doctors on military bases are already prohibited from performing abortions – so soldiers’ wives and women soldiers have to try to perform the procedure themselves. That would be even more difficult if the Supreme Court overthrew Roe. Read more from Roxana Tiron.

What else should you know today?

Hepatitis cases in children under the CDC probe are growing: Twenty-five states and territories have reported cases of childhood hepatitis with no known cause, bringing the total number of cases investigated to 109, health officials said Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said five deaths have been reported among such cases so far and 14% of the patients required a liver transplant. About half of the suspected hepatitis cases were linked to adenovirus, which tops the list of viruses of interest, according to the agency. Read more from Madison Muller.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at the [email protected]; Michaela Ross at the [email protected]

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