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Lawmakers ask HHS chief over drug prices and mask warrants

WASHINGTON – The shortage of school nurses, high prescription drug prices, mask warrants and youth suicide were among the topics Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra met during the ‘a Hearing of the House of Commons Committee on Education and Labor Wednesday on HHS budget request for fiscal year 2022.

“We have a police officer in every school; we’ve tried to do it across the country,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.). “With what happened during this pandemic, do you agree that instead of having police officers in every school, we should focus on having a health professional in every school? ? “

“You and I probably remember when we were in elementary school – we knew there would be a nurse there for us,” Becerra said. “What a sin that we do not do this for our children today, especially in our schools which need access to a nurse the most.” Becerra took the opportunity to advocate for the American Families Plan – the latest pandemic relief bill, which is still before Congress. “If you help us embrace America’s Family Plan, I guarantee you, we’ll see many more nurses in our schools providing care to our kids who really need it as we empower our school districts.” locals to do it, “he said.

Biosimilars for insulin

Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.) Asked Becerra if he would be willing to support legislation which would allow the legalization of biosimilars for insulin. “Hundreds of thousands of families currently have to pay, for example – depending on the quality of their insurance – some are doing relatively cheaply but others are paying $ 800 or $ 900 per month,” he said. he declares. “Would you be prepared to defend the legalization of biosimilars if it resulted in cheaper substitute insulin products?” “

“I think everyone agrees that the price of insulin has just been outrageous, the way it has gone up,” Becerra replied. “We have to do something… I have my team here; they took notes so we will be eager to hear from you or contact you to follow up. “

Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-Tenn.) Asked about a regulation prohibiting the federal government from intervening in private drug price negotiations and establishing a single national formulary in the Medicare Part D drug program. “The evidence has been very clear that this approach of establishing a competitive market-based system in Part D has succeeded in balancing cost containment with strong access to beneficiaries, but nonetheless the political discourse is only about the need to ( …) government negotiation ”of Part D drug prices and the elimination of the no-interference rule, she said. “Can you clarify for me whether or not there is an ongoing negotiation in Medicare Part D, and if so, who is leading that negotiation?” “

Becerra did not respond directly. “We are now in court on a number of these issues, but what I’m going to tell you is that President Biden is committed to lowering prescription drug prices,” he said. . “We are looking for the best way to do it; we know that there are a number of proposals, different ways that other countries have found to do it … We will do everything we can, within our power, but we hope that by working with you we can get more power to bring down prescription drug prices. ”

Fate of the HHS Religious Freedom Office

Representative Elise Stefanik (RN.Y.) asked if Becerra plans to eliminate the HHS Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which was launched under the Trump administration to protect the rights of healthcare providers who refuse to perform particular procedures or serve certain patients because of their ethical or religious beliefs. “We will continue the work it takes to protect the rights of all Americans, including the rights to religious freedom, we will do everything we can to be as aggressive as possible,” Becerra said, adding that this work would be done under the HHS Office for Civil Rights, where the Religious Freedom Division resides.

This did not satisfy Stefanik. “It’s a simple question, is it a ‘yes or no’ that you are considering eliminating the division of conscious and religious freedom?” she said. Becerra began to answer. “We won’t do anything that -” Stefanik interrupted. “You won’t eliminate him. Great,” she said.

Committee chair Bobby Scott (D-Va.) Addressed the same issue in a different way a little later. “You were in Congress when the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act was passed and it was, I believe, abused in a number of ways, including allowing discrimination in federal contracts which I believe never was. anticipated, ”Scott told Becerra, who has served more than 20 years as a California congressman. “Some groups have obtained exemptions and are discriminating not only in employment but also in services. Do you take a look at the contracts that allow a federal contractor with federal money to say, “We’re not hiring Catholics, we’re not going to provide services to those of the Jewish faith?”

“We are against any form of discrimination,” Becerra said. “We want to protect people’s rights, including religious freedom rights, but we also want to make sure people don’t discriminate, so we’re going to take a close look, and if you know anything in particular, please. let us know, but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we’re following the law. ”

Regulate suicide-related social media posts

Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) Asked about the regulation of social media companies that allow posting of information about suicide; it was flanked by a poster saying “How to tie a noose”, with a drawing of a noose on it. “This is a screenshot from YouTube that shows the start of a video on how to tie a noose,” she said. “We’ve been in contact with YouTube. I’ve been pushing YouTube for months to remove instructional videos” like this one, which received 1.3 million views. “Young people too often look for answers on sites like YouTube… Are you ready to set up a meeting with YouTube and suicide prevention experts and work this out? ” she asked.

“Please count us in any efforts you seek to make to try to help solve this problem,” Becerra said, adding that the government was “far behind” in its efforts to launch a national suicide prevention hotline. ” 988 “. “It’s going to be difficult to scale the service to make sure the 988 is available to anyone who needs to call.”

Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Wisc.) Wanted to know where HHS was on a mask warrant in the event of a COVID resurgence. “We’re going to let science guide our best practices,” Becerra said. “We will try to make sure that we are there with our state and local partners and never give up on these partners, but what we are going to do is work with them because any decision is up to the state and local government leaders. , how to proceed.

Several Republicans on the committee complained that the meeting was being held at a distance when it should have been held in person. “There is absolutely no reason why this event should not take place in person in the committee’s courtroom,” said Virginia Foxx (RN.C.). Vaccines have been taken, advice on masks has changed. But Wilson objected. “I want everyone to remember why we are keeping this hearing at bay,” she said. “Our country has lost 600,000 people; They are dead. My neighborhood is still an epicenter and people are still dying. Members of Congress will continue to fall ill and die until all members of Congress are vaccinated. “

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

  • Joyce Frieden oversees the coverage of MedPage Today in Washington, including articles on Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, health professional associations and federal agencies. She has 35 years of experience in health policy. To pursue

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