With Alice Miranda Ollstein and Rachel Roubein
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— Rapper Juvenile is just one of a slew of celebrities, influencers and icons now trying to jumpstart America’s coronavirus vaccination effort.
— A new bill aimed at restructuring Part D divorces a popular measure from more controversial drug pricing packages.
— Congress is set to hold its first hearing on the hotly debated question of Covid-19’s origins.
WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY PULSE. There are many good things about Covid-19 vaccination, including the return of reality shows: Love Island U.K. is back in full swing and Survivor just announced a September premiere. Your authors have high-brow hobbies. Send tips and TV gossip to [email protected] and [email protected].
VAX THAT THANG UP — More than two decades after his hit song “Back that Thang Up” made him a rap icon, Juvenile is back in the limelight. Only this time, it’s as the star of the latest in a series of creative efforts to get more people vaccinated, POLITICO’s Eugene Daniels reports.
The rapper has rewritten his 1999 hit as a vaccine anthem, in a video that immediately set the internet ablaze, and that Juvenile said he hopes will help others get over the vaccine fears that he had when the Covid-19 shots first came out.
In an interview, Juvenile detailed his fear of needles and initial concerns about the speed at which the vaccines were developed. But he eventually embraced the Covid vaccination – and is now part of a broader effort to get through to the remaining 30 percent of American adults who have yet to get the shot.
“I just thought it was time for somebody to step out like me, someone from the hip hop field to just step out there in the front and encourage people,” he said.
Juvenile didn’t get involved at the White House’s behest. But it fits with the administration’s effort to recruit a growing number of musicians, influencers and others who might be able to make headway with younger Americans and other holdouts.
Teen singer/songwriter Olivia Rodrigo will meet with Biden today to promote the vaccine, and officials have coordinated videos of late with TikTok creators and Instagram moms.
The question is how much of a difference the effort will make. Polling shows unvaccinated people trust their doctors and family members, not influencers. But with tens of millions still yet to get a shot and Covid-19 cases rising again, the administration is eager to make any progress it can – in whatever way it can.
SENATE DEMOCRATS RELEASE BUDGET PLAN — Senators late Tuesday announced a $3.5 trillion plan to enact the full array of President Joe Biden’s social welfare and family aid promises without Republican votes.
If the Senate plan can clear both chambers with lockstep party support, it would release billions of dollars in medical preparedness and public health aid (and unleash the power to circumvent a GOP filibuster using budget reconciliation, our Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes write). Formal text of the Senate’s budget resolution has yet to be released.
FIRST IN PULSE: SENATORS INTRODUCE STANDALONE PART D BILL — New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy will today reintroduce a bill they put forward in the last Congress aimed at restructuring Medicare Part D so that patients pay less out-of-pocket for pricey medicines.
The bill would cap seniors; costs at $3,100 a year and allow patients to pay in monthly installments rather than a lump sum, Alice Miranda Ollstein writes. It would also reduce coinsurance from 25 to 20 percent in the donut hole by channeling more of the costs to insurers and drugmakers.
The legislation, while a popular measure included in other drug proposals, lacks the big system savings that many Democrats are pushing for in legislation like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3 or a draft in the works from Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden.
Menendez’ office told Alice that his bill is not necessarily in competition with Wyden’s and that the senator “looks forward to seeing more details on legislative proposals by colleagues in the Senate Finance Committee.”
TODAY: CONGRESS’ FIRST HEARING ON COVID’s ORIGINS — The House Science Committee is holding the first congressional hearing on the virus’ origins — a session that comes amid an increasingly bitter political battle over the possibility it escaped from a Chinese lab.
The hearing will focus on broader scientific questions, House aides told POLITICO’s Alice Miranda Ollstein, such as how infectious diseases typically emerge and ways to trace outbreaks to their source. Four health experts are slated to testify, giving lawmakers an opportunity to publicly examine what is and isn’t known about Covid-19’s beginnings.
— But the panel won’t include Biden officials. That means the hearing is unlikely to satisfy Republicans who have demanded that the administration have chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and other top health officials testify about the lab leak theory and past U.S. funding of research in Wuhan, China.
And GOP members are unlikely to be satisfied. Committee ranking member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) will press for a bigger probe, saying “this is not an investigation,” according to prepared remarks.
ATUL GAWANDE NOMINATED TO JOIN USAID — The prominent writer and surgeonis in line to join the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he would be its assistant administrator for the bureau of global health.
Gawande served on the Biden transition’s Covid-19 advisory board, and had co-founded a company during the pandemic that offers Covid testing and vaccinations. He was also the CEO of Haven, the high-profile joint venture among Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan that flamed out earlier this year after failing to disrupt the U.S. health system.
If confirmed, Gawande would be the fifth of the 16-member Covid-19 advisory board to go into the administration.
— Biden also made his ONDCP pick official. Rahul Gupta, a former West Virginia public health commissioner, is the nominee for the administration’s top drug policy post. He would become the nation’s drug czar as the drug overdose rate hits a crisis point, POLITICO’s Dan Goldberg, Rachel Roubein and Sarah report.
Forthcoming CDC data is likely to show that 2020 was the worst year for drug overdose deaths on record, fueled by fentanyl and methamphetamine as well as the social and economic hardships created by the pandemic.
Currently the chief medical officer at the March of Dimes, Gupta would be the first physician to run the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. But his nomination is sure to disappoint critics on the left who believe he should have done more to stop Charleston, W. Va., from closing a syringe exchange program in 2018.
CMS PITCHES TEMPORARILY KEEPING SOME TELEHEALTH BENEFITS — The agency proposes continuing to cover some telehealth benefits until the end of 2023 to give it time to decide whether those services should become permanent, Rachel reports. The proposal, tucked into the annual Medicare’s physician fee rule, also would require some in-person mental health visits to complement telemental visits.
This comes amid an ongoing telehealth boom — and ongoing questions about the best way to regulate and reimburse the sector going forward, POLITICO’s Darius Tahir reports.
— Also in the rule: The agency is soliciting comment on how it can better collect and analyze data on disparities in health care, such as potentially creating confidential reports to let providers see data related to race, ethnicity, geography, disabilities and more.
ALZHEIMER’s DRUG COST COULD HIT MEDICAID HARD — While most of the concern over Biogen’s $56,00-a-year Aduhelm has been trained on Medicare, the government program for millions of seniors, Medicaid could also shoulder millions of dollars in payments for the new therapy according to aKaiser Family Foundation analysis by Rachel Dolan and Elizabeth Williams.
Medicaid’s structure means it is assured fixed rebates and best prices from drug companies. But even with those assumptions factored in, Dolan and Williams project that Aduhelm will be roughly $13,800 per year on a state level, with federal spending at about $29,200 per patient.
Why it matters: Medicaid pays for expensive medicines all the time, especially effective Hepatitis C and HIV drugs. “… But Aduhelm stands out in that it is a high-cost maintenance drug without a verified clinical benefit that could potentially be widely-prescribed,” write Dolan and Williams.
Michael Barnard is joining Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, leaving his post as Johnson & Johnson’s director of federal affairs. Barnard previously spent six years as a health advisor for Sen. Menendez.
Amanda Thayer joins Global Strategy Group as vice president of communications. She previously led political and national communications for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Tennessee health authorities are stopping all teen vaccine outreach — for Covid-19 shots and others like HPV inoculations — amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers, according to internal health department emails reviewed by The Tennessean’s Brett Kelman.
In a Medium essay, journalist Stacie Sherman details why she delayed getting her autistic daughter a Covid-19 vaccine — and what convinced her to go through with it.
Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are exploring whether modifications to their respective vaccines could cut down the risk of developing severe blood clots, The Wall Street Journal’s Jenny Strasburg and Parmy Olson report.