Posts tagged with "HHS"

Southern comfort: Biden Administration taps private sector to invest in Central America

May 28, 2021

On May 27, Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to unveil the agreements of 12 companies and organizations–among them, MasterCard and Microsoft—to invest in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as part of the Administration’s efforts to deal with a surge of migrants from Central America at the U.S. southern border, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Administration believes that aid to Central America will bolster economies south of the border—and that better conditions in that area will discourage surges in immigration to the USA.

Among the companies involved:

  • Microsoft  has agreed to expand Internet access to as many as three million people in the region by July 2022, as well as to establish community centers to provide digital skills to women and youths;
  • Mastercard will seek to bring five million people in the region who currently lack banking services into the financial system, and to give one million micro and small businesses access to electronic banking.
  • Chobani has agreed to bring its incubator program for local entrepreneurs to Guatemala; and
  • Nespresso, a unit of Nestlé SA, plans to begin buying some of its coffee from El Salvador and Honduras with a minimum regional investment of $150 million by 2025.

Democratic and Republican administrations have struggled to find long-term solutions to handling surges in migrants from Central America, many of whom say they are driven by poverty and violence in their home countries. The region was hit hard last year by two disastrous hurricanes.

According to the Journal, Biden Administration officials have said the aim in part is for greater private-sector involvement to outlast shifts in policy and government aid between administrations— reducing over time the motivations for migrants to make the often dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

The total number of illegal border crossings this year is on pace to hit a two-decade high; and a record number of unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally in March, followed by a slight decline in April.

President Joe. Biden has delegated to Vice President Harris diplomatic efforts with Mexico and the three countries known as the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. She is scheduled to make her first foreign trip to Mexico and Guatemala next month.

Republicans have criticized Harris over the Administration’s overall handling of immigration and have chided her for not yet visiting the border. White House officials have said her role is limited to diplomatic efforts, with departments such as Homeland Security and Health and Human Services in charge of dealing with migrants crossing into the United States.

While leading a recent GOP delegation to visit the border, Representative James Comer (R-Kentucky) said more government investments in the region wouldn’t deter migrants from making the journey to the U.S. “We’ve been giving foreign aid to a lot of those countries for decades, and it’s only gotten worse,” he said.

However, Harris has said that private-sector investment along with help from nonprofits and the United Nations could speed up progress in the Northern Triangle. “We must think beyond government,” she said in a speech earlier this month to the Council of the Americas, a business group that focuses on economic and social development in the Western Hemisphere.

She was expected to call on other companies and organizations on Thursday to invest in public health access, food security, financial inclusion, clean energy, education, and workforce development in the region, working through the State Department.

Research contact: @WSJ

Biden raises limit on number of refugees allowed into the U.S.A.

May 5, 2021

President Joe Biden on Monday, May 3, offered a chance at the American dream to more than four times as many immigrants as he had offered to admit previously—exceeding former President Donald Trump’s limit of 15,000 refugees to allow as many as 62,500 refugees to enter the United States during the next six months, The New York Times reported.

The action comes about two weeks after Biden announced that he was leaving Trump’s limit of 15,000 refugees in place—which drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and refugee advocates,  who accused the president of reneging on a campaign promise to welcome those in need.

According to the Times report, Biden quickly backtracked, promising only hours later that he intended to increase refugee admissions. With Monday’s announcement, the president formally bowed to the pressure.

“This erases the historically low number set by the previous administration of 15,000, which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House.

His sharp reversal underscored the difficulty he has had on issues involving immigration since taking office. The president has struggled to unwind what he calls Trump’s “racist” immigration policies while also managing a surge of migrant children at the southwestern border, according to the Times. His initial hesitation to allow tens of thousands of additional refugees into the country was a recognition that he was already being criticized for failing to stem the flow of illegal immigration from Central America.

Over the past four years, efforts by Trump to limit the entry of refugees were among the most potent symbols of the United States’ decision to turn away from its decades-long role as the leading destination for displaced people around the globe.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to restore the country’s reputation for welcoming those seeking safety, saying he would allow as many as 125,000 refugees to enter in his first full year in office. He took a step toward that goal in February, promising to allow as many as 62,500 refugees into the United States for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends September 30.

So an announcement on April 16 that he was keeping the Trump-era limits in place for the time being was all the more baffling for those expecting a significant increase.

White House officials have insisted that ,Biden’s intentions in mid-April were misunderstood. The president says he always intended to raise the refugee cap, “should the pre-existing level be reached and the emergency refugee situation persist.” The Biden administration has resettled roughly 2,360 refugees out of the initial mandate of 15,000, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency.

Administration officials also argued that increasing refugee admissions could overwhelm the Department of Health and Human Services, which also is responding to thousands of young asylum seekers crossing the border.

That logic, which was also adopted by the Trump Administration to sharply cut refugee numbers, drew criticism from refugee advocates, who accused Biden of conflating two different immigration systems.

While the Department of Health and Human Services does provide shelter to minors who cross the border, it plays a smaller role in processing refugees compared with the Departments of State and Homeland Security. The Department of Health and Human Services does eventually provide financial assistance to refugees after they arrive in the United States.

In his statement on Monday, Biden appeared to acknowledge that he had fumbled his handling of the issue by sending the wrong signal to the world, noting, “The United States Refugee Admissions Program embodies America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world,” he said. “It’s a statement about who we are, and who we want to be.”

Still, Mr. Biden acknowledged that the government was unlikely to reach the limit of 62,500 refugees—blaming budget and staffing cuts during the Trump administration. But he said the decision to raise the limit was necessary “to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world” that the United States would help them.

“The sad truth is that we will not achieve 62,500 admissions this year,” the president said. “We are working quickly to undo the damage of the last four years. It will take some time, but that work is already underway.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Biden signs law that makes sesame the ninth major food allergen

April 29, 2021

President Joe Biden has signed into law a new measure that designates sesame as the ninth major food allergy and ramps up allergy research—enacting a bipartisan attempt to address marked growth in certain deadly allergies, The Washington Post reports.

The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (Faster) Act (H.R. 2117) passed the Senate in March and the House of Representatives this month.

According to the Post, the need is clear: In the past two decades, life-threatening childhood food allergies have risen steadily, growing by about 4% per year to afflict 32 million Americans, according to research by Northwestern University, McKinsey & Company, and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), a nonprofit.

Studies estimate that the costs borne by American families—for medical bills, buying special foods, or forgoing full-time employment to care for a child with a food allergy — total $24.8 billion annually.

There are several strong theories to explain the uptick, Jonathan Spergel, chief of the Allergies Department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells the post—but one stands out: In 2000, a small study suggested that if parents delayed the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, kids were less likely to develop those allergies.

That guidance was wrong, with subsequent studies revealing the exact opposite: Early, careful introduction of these foods lessens the risk of serious allergy. But the damage was done, as the American Academy of Pediatrics, parenting magazines; and parents, themselves, advocated for postponing the introduction of these potentially dangerous foods.

Even in the face of strong new evidence, a 2020 survey of pediatricians found that only 29% were implementing early introduction of allergens.

The new law attempts to change that. According to Lisa Gable, chief executive of FARE, 1.6 million Americans have sesame allergies. This law will require foods containing sesame to be clearly labeled by January 2023.

But perhaps more significant, the Globe reports, the legislation says the Department of Health and Human Services must prioritize regular reviews of promising food allergy treatments and research.

And this research will, for the first time, have an outlet for wide dissemination via the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department have issued the dietary guidelines every five years since 1980, but about babies and toddlers they’ve been mum until 2020. The guidelines are the road map for how the government administers school lunches and food assistance programs, and they often influence how food manufacturers formulate their products so they can participate in those programs, which buy $100 billion worth of food a year.

The 2020 guidelines contained three paragraphs about introducing infants to potentially allergenic foods — babies at high risk of peanut allergy should be introduced at 4 to 6 months; cow’s milk as a beverage by one year—and stated that “there is no evidence that delaying introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy.”

Previous dietary guidelines did not contain suggestions for the introduction of allergenic foods.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Schumer urges Republicans not to block anti-Asian hate crimes measure

April 14, 2021

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Tuesday that he plans to bring a bill targeting anti-Asian hate crimes to the floor this week—and urged Republicans not to block it, NBC News reports.

“Combating hate in the Asian American community can and should be bipartisan,” Schumer said at a press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Asian American lawmakers.

According to NBC, Schumer noted he needs 60 senators to vote to proceed to the legislation—which means that, even if all 50 Democratic members were to vote in favor of taking up the bill, they would still need support from 10 Republicans.

“I hope it’ll be many more than 60. Who would oppose this very simple, but necessary legislation?” Schumer asked.

The legislation, which Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) introduced in March, would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes reported to law enforcement agencies and help them establish ways to report such incidents online and perform public outreach.

The bill also would direct the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practices guidance on how to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic.

If the bill advances to debate, Schumer said he intends to hold a vote on a bipartisan amendment from Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), stemming from their own anti-hate crime proposal. Their bill would streamline the national reporting systems used by law enforcement agencies and train them in investigating hate crimes. It would also create a hate crimes hotline, establish programs to rehabilitate offenders, and expand assistance and resources for victims.

Pelosi, meanwhile, said a similar measure proposed by Representative Grace Meng (D-New York) will be marked up in committee in the House in the next week and will get passed immediately on the floor.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Biden Administration works with industry to develop COVID-19 vaccination ‘passports’

March 30, 2021

Along with private technology and travel companies, the Biden Administration is working to develop credentials—referred to as passports, health certificates or travel passes—showing proof of vaccination as individuals and businesses emerge from lockdown, The Washington Post reports.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Joe Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer; and with a growing number of companies—from cruise lines to sports teams—saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

The Administration’s initiative has been driven largely by efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The White House this month took on a bigger role managing government agencies involved in the work, led by Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients, with a goal of announcing updates in coming days, said one official.

 “Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” Zients said at a March 12 briefing.

According to the Post, the passports offer a glimpse of a future after months of COVID-19 restrictions. Officials say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world. But it also raises concerns about dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access—creating ethical and logistical issues for decision-makers around the world.

“A chaotic and ineffective vaccine credential approach could hamper our pandemic response by undercutting health safety measures, slowing economic recovery, and undermining public trust and confidence,” reads one slide at a March 2  conference prepared by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

There are several private-sector initiatives creating passports. Among them is the trade group for global airlines, the International Air Transport Association, which is testing a version it calls Travel Pass.

It is not clear, however, whether any of the passports under development will be accepted broadly around the world, and the result could be confusion among travelers and disappointment for the travel industry.

Vaccine passports will be most common on international flights. Some countries already require proof of vaccination for diseases such as yellow fever, and the United States now requires a negative test for COVID-19 to enter the country.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against travel even as the agency has relaxed other guidelines for people who have been vaccinated.

The Vaccination Credential Initiative is a coalition trying to standardize tracking data of vaccination records in an attempt to speed up a return to normal, Fox News reports.

“The busboy, the janitor, the waiter that works at a restaurant, [want] to be surrounded by employees that are going back to work safely—and [want] to have the patrons ideally be safe as well,” said Brian Anderson, a physician at Mitre, a company helping lead the initiative. “Creating an environment for those vulnerable populations to get back to work safely—and to know that the people coming back to their business are ‘safe,’ and vaccinated— would be a great scenario.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Trump moves to manipulate COVID-19 case data; tells hospitals to bypass CDC and report to HHS

July 16, 2020

The Trump Administration—which has been anything but happy about the rising COVID-19 case numbers nationwide—now is positioning itself to manipulate the data on cases, recoveries, and deaths by having hospitals send it to a third party instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hospitals will begin sending coronavirus-related information directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—not the CDC—under new instructions from Trump. The move will take effect on Wednesday, July 15, according to a new guidance and FAQ document for hospitals and clinical labs quietly posted on the HHS website, according to a report by The Hill.

Previously, hospitals reported to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network, which the agency describes as the nation’s most widely used health care-associated infection tracking system. 

In addition to the number of COVID-19 cases, the CDC tracked such vital information as how many hospital ICU beds are open and the number of ventilators available.

According to HHS, the goal is to streamline data collection, which will be used to inform decisions at the federal level such as allocation of supplies, treatments and other resources, The Hill says.

But the move comes amid concerns that the White House has been sidelining the CDC and after Trump administration officials attacked Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump Administration cuts off funding to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites in five states

June 25, 2020

The Trump Administration is doing its level best to close—or at the very least, slow down—coronavirus testing nationwide by cutting off support to 13 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites on June 30; and leaving operation and funding of those sites to the states—even as cases spike in several parts of the country, Politico reports.

This is not the first time that the Administration has tried to offload control of the drive-thru sites to the states—but the last effort was suspended in April when governors in the states affected objected strongly.

The 13 sites—in Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Texas—are the last federally run sites out of 41 originally established across the country. Seven sites are in hard-hit Texas, where cases are climbing.

Taking the offensive on Thursday, June 24, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told Roll Call that the sites were always meant to be a temporary solution as the country worked to ramp up testing capacity in traditional health care settings.

What he didn’t mention was that, with a looming election challenge, Trump has seen the pandemic as a drag on the economy that he simply wants to go away.

Indeed, in early March, the president transferred responsibility for flattening the line on the coronavirus pandemic to the states—and, specifically, to the governors. He will neither wear a mask nor recommend one; and he has been unwilling to release nearly $14B in Congressional funding for testing and tracing efforts to combat COVID-19. However, he continues to brag that his pandemic effort is the best ever executed.

Already protesters are piling on: Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, tells Politico that it’s not the right time to shift responsibility for the sites to the states—especially those near emerging hot spots in Texas

“The federally supported testing sites remain critically needed, and in some place like Houston and Harris County, TX and in other hotspots, are needed now more than ever,” Becker said in an email. “This is not the time for the federal government to walk back prior commitments on testing.”

Even Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is critical of the plan, noting,. “It’s pretty clear to me, and I think it’s clear to all of us, that with the uptick of cases, now is not the time to retreat from our vigilance in testing,” he said. “I believe that they need to extend that federal support in Texas, at least until we get this most recent uptick in cases addressed.”

So what will be the outcome? HHS says there is no going back: Gigroir recommends that the state governors can use CARES Act funding to maintain operations at the current federally supported testing sites.

Research contact: @politico

Lilly to offer insulin at 50% lower price in U.S. pharmacies

March 5, 2019

About 1.25 million Americans suffer from Type 1 diabetes—a serious condition in which the body fails to properly regulate blood sugar—and for them, buying insulin is a “do or die” decision.

Thus, when the price of prescription insulin at U.S. pharmacies began to rise rapidly within the past few years—more than tripling from $300 for a 90-day prescription to $1,000 or more today—they and their families began having to choose between other necessities and the price of the life-saving hormone.

N o generic version of the drug existed, and three manufacturers—Eli Lilly (Indianapolis), Sanofi (Paris), and Novo Nordisk (Bagsværd, Denmark)—control 99% of the market

Now, Eli Lilly has announced that it will step up to help patients nationwide-offering a 50% lower-priced generic version of Humalog (insulin lispro injection 100 units/mL) at pharmacies in the United States.

“We’ve engaged in discussions about the price of insulin with many different stakeholders in America’s health care system: people living with diabetes, caregivers, advocacy groups, health care professionals, payers, wholesalers, lawmakers, and leading health care scholars,” said Lilly’s CEO David A. Ricksin a company release, adding, “Solutions that lower the cost of insulin at the pharmacy have been introduced in recent months, but more people need help. We’re eager to bring forward a low-priced rapid-acting insulin.

“The significant rebates we pay on insulins do not directly benefit all patients. This needs to change,” Ricks said. “There are numerous ideas, including the rebate reform proposal from HHS. For people with diabetes, a lower-priced insulin can serve as a bridge that addresses gaps in the system until a more sustainable model is achieved.”

The lower-priced version will be called Insulin Lispro—the same molecule as Humalog—and will be available in vial and pen options. The list price of a single vial will be $137.35. The list price of a five-pack of KwikPens will be $265.20.

Vials and pens of the lower-priced insulin have been manufactured, and Lilly will now work with supply chain partners to make them available in pharmacies as quickly as possible. It will be made available as an authorized generic through a Lilly subsidiary, ImClone Systems.

Humalog also will remain available for people who want to continue accessing it through their current insurance plans. Introducing an alternative insulin option allows Lilly to provide a lower-priced insulin more quickly while providing payers time to renegotiate downstream contracts and adjust to new system economics.

“While this change is a step in the right direction, all of us in the health care community must do more to fix the problem of high out-of-pocket costs for Americans living with chronic conditions,” Ricks said. “We hope our announcement is a catalyst for positive change across the U.S. healthcare system.”

Lilly’s Insulin Lispro is one of many initiatives the company has introduced to deliver lower out-of-pocket options to people living with diabetes. After exploring the logistics and feasibility of an authorized generic, Lilly began preparing manufacturing, labeling, and shipping plans last year for the possibility of Lilly’s Insulin Lispro. People should call the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center at (833) 808-1234 to learn whether Lilly’s Insulin Lispro, or another option, is the best financial choice for them.

Humalog and Insulin Lispro are available by prescription only.

Research contact: @LillyPad