HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Facebook’s Biden Defense Lacks Key Data

When President Joe Biden said Friday that social networks like Facebook are “killing people” with the viral spread of Covid-19 misinformation, the company tried to defend itself. In a strongly-worded blog post, an executive attempted to redirect people to more positive data, on the ways Facebook has spread good information.

But that didn’t address the critique. While it’s impossible to say whether misinformation on Facebook is actually “killing people,” and Biden walked back his comments on Monday, the problem Biden was flagging is real: Covid-19 misinformation is a big issue on Facebook, and one that hasn’t been fixed. Only Facebook knows how big. The company says it has labeled (but not removed) 167 million posts containing Covid-19 misinformation since the pandemic began, and outside research from Avaaz, a non-profit group that has studied misinformation on the service, found internet users are still finding and engaging with Covid-19 disinformation on Facebook more than anywhere else.

Facebook’s blog post, entitled “Moving Past the Finger Pointing,” argued Biden couldn’t back up his claims with facts. The company even took a shot at the President’s lofty but failed goal to get 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4, pointing out its own data that shows Facebook users are increasingly interested in getting the vaccine. “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the U.S. have been or want to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity, wrote. “Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

While Facebook has done a lot to try and combat pandemic misinformation, it hasn’t done enough to convince Biden — or a lot of other critics — that its positive efforts have outweighed the negative force of its algorithm, and its potential to spread lies and sensational claims. Facebook’s defense failed to include the one statistic that might actually remove the target off its back: Just how many people are exposed to vaccine misinformation on the service? And is the problem getting any better? Read more from Kurt Wagner.

Democrats Can’t Make Facebook Help Win the Covid Information War: Defeating Covid-19 in the U.S. is now mired in a partisan information war, a fight that Biden and Democrats in Congress are ill-equipped to win.

Biden’s struggle to control the coronavirus and vaccine misinformation online was evident in his broadside Friday that companies like Facebook. were “killing people.” He begged social media platforms to change and pleaded with the American people not to believe everything they read.

Alphabet’s Google said yesterday its YouTube video service will start labeling health videos with information on how authoritative the source is and Twitter says it’s working with public health authorities and will “continue to take enforcement action on content that violates our Covid-19 misleading information policy.”

Biden’s comments came after months of meetings with social media companies to address misinformation on their platforms, according to an administration official. Discussions with Facebook grew increasingly unproductive in recent months and the administration was unsatisfied with the company’s responses to requests for more details about its response to inaccuracies and unscientific speculation, the official said. Still, there wasn’t much the White House could do but complain.

Imran Ahmed, head of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said that Biden’s plea reflects his frustration with the spread of vaccine inaccuracies online — and his powerlessness to fix it.

“It’s not just a morally devastating line from the president, it’s also a sign of the weakness that government has when it comes to dealing with the platforms,” Ahmed said in a telephone interview. “We’re seeing the limitations of the tools that government has right now.” Read more from Anna Edgerton.

Happening on the Hill

Health Bills on Tap: The House is scheduled today to consider several health-care measures under suspension of the rules—which bars amendments, limits debate, and requires a two-thirds majority for passage:

  • International Vaccine Initiative: The U.S. would be authorized to participate in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an international partnership on vaccine development, under H.R. 2118. The Foreign Affairs Committee approved the measure on March 25. Read the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • TSA Response to Epidemics: The Transportation Security Administration would have to survey its workforce on efforts to curb the transmission of Covid-19 and would create a plan to address future disease outbreaks under H.R. 1893. The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on March 18. Read the BGOV Bill Summary by Michael Smallberg.
  • TSA and Health Threats: The TSA would have to evaluate whether the U.S. transportation security system is prepared for public health threats and brief Congress on how to fight and prepare for future health threats under H.R. 1895. The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on March 18. Read the BGOV Bill Summary by Christina Banoub.
  • TSA Covid-19 Plan: The TSA would submit a plan to Congress under H.R. 1877 to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 at airport checkpoints. The plan would describe best practices and changes to screening operations. It be due to Congress within 90 days of the bill’s enactment. The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on March 18.
  • DHS Medical Countermeasures: The Homeland Security Department would have to establish a medical countermeasures program to protect employees and working animals in an attack, disease outbreak or pandemic under H.R. 3263. The House Homeland Security Committee approved the bill on May 18. Read the BGOV Bill Summary by Michael Smallberg.

House E&C Sets Markup for Health Bills: The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a markup tomorrow for several health bills, including:

  • H.R. 4369, the “National Centers of Excellence in Advanced and Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Act”;
  • H.R. 654, the “Drug-Free Communities Pandemic Relief Act”;
  • H.R. 2051, the “Methamphetamine Response Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 2379, the “State Opioid Response Grant Authorization Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 2364, the “Synthetic Opioid Danger Awareness Act”;
  • H.R. 2355, the “Opioid Prescription Verification Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 4026, the “Social Determinants of Health Data Analysis Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 3743, the “Supporting the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the Reagan-Udall Foundation for the Food and Drug Administration Act”;
  • H.R. 550, the “Immunization Infrastructure Modernization Act”;
  • H.R. 1550, the “Promoting Resources to Expand Vaccination, Education and New Treatments for HPV Cancers Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 951, the “Maternal Vaccination Act”;
  • H.R. 4387, the “Maternal Health Quality Improvement Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 3742, the “Vaccine Information for Nursing Facility Operators Act”;
  • H.R. 2347, the “Strengthening the Vaccines for Children Act of 2021”;
  • H.R. 3894, the “Collecting and Analyzing Resources Integral and Necessary for Guidance for Social Determinants Act of 2021″; and
  • H.R. 4406, the “Supporting Medicaid in the U.S. Territories Act.”

More Hearings on the Hill:

  • Federal Virus Response: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing on the federal response to Covid-19.
  • Care Workforce: The House Education and Labor subcommittees on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions; and Higher Education and Workforce Investment meet for a joint hearing on the direct care workforce.

H.R. 3 Aids Mallinckrodt Drug Users Most, Analysis Says: Americans taking Mallinckrodt’s multiple sclerosis treatment Acthar and Celgene’s immunomodulatory drug Revlimid would benefit the most under H.R. 3, Democrats’ signature drug pricing legislation, according to an analysis to be released today by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. If the bill became law, Americans and insurers would save $100,000 for 30 days of Acthar and over $8,000 for 30 days Revlimid, the analysis found.

CAP analyzed 22 medicines expected to be subjected to federal government pricing negotiation under the measure. Nine of the 22 drugs are either insulin or other diabetes medications. People with diabetes would save between $28 and $176 per month under the legislation, according to the CAP analysis.

The government drug pricing negotiation legislation reintroduced this year by leaders of the House’s three health committees would direct the government to negotiate the maximum prices for at least 25 single-source, brand-name drugs that lack some generics and account for the greatest Medicare spending. CAP looked at the likeliest drugs to be on that list and estimated what Americans might actually save.

The amount anyone would save out-of-pocket if H.R. 3 were to become law depends on their insurance coverage, said Emily Gee, a senior economist for health policy at CAP, in an interview. Still, the price of medicine often hits people in high deductible plans and impacts insurance premiums, she said. “Even if we don’t see it at the pharmacy counter, we who are insured would see this savings because it changes our premiums,” Gee said, Alex Ruoff reports.

Senate Caucus on Caregivers Is Revived: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) announced today the reformation of the Assisting Caregivers Today Caucus. The revived caucus will “provide education about the challenges family caregivers face and advocate for policies that support them,” according to a statement. The lawmakers revived the caucus in partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

Lawmaker Tests Positive Despite Vaccination: Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) says he has tested positive for Covid-19 in spite of being fully vaccinated this year. The top Republican on the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee said in a statement he’s experiencing mild flu-like symptoms and is quarantining. “I look forward to returning to work as soon as possible,” Buchanan, 70, said from Florida, which is one of several states where infections have been surging. Read more from Billy House.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. ‘Pleading’ Americans to Get Shot, Fauci Says: Top U.S. infectious-disease expert Anthony Fauci said the delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a significant increase in infections and the Biden administration is “practically pleading” with people to get vaccinated. Delta is much more capable of spreading from person to person than earlier variants, Fauci told Bloomberg, stressing that vaccines can protect people from clinically significant disease. Read more from Robert Langreth.

Full Pfizer Vaccine Approval Possible by Fall: Full approval of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine might happen as early as the end of the summer, months ahead of the January 2022 target date, NIH Director Francis Collins said. His remark follows the pharmaceutical giant’s announcement last week that it’s received priority review and that the FDA would decide if it will approve Pfizer’s vaccine for people 16 and older by early next year. Read more from Jeannie Baumann.

Judge Says College Vaccine Mandate Likely Lawful: Indiana University’s requirement that students be vaccinated against Covid-19 before returning to classes in the fall are likely lawful so they won’t be halted while a suit challenging the policies goes forward, a federal court in that state held. The eight students who filed the suit haven’t shown they are likely to prevail on their due process claim, or that the possible harms merit a preliminary injunction, the Northern District of Illinois said. Read more from Peter Hayes.

U.S. Raises Warning for Travelers to U.K.: Americans should avoid travel to the U.K. if possible due to a surge in that country’s spread of Covid-19, U.S. health officials said in raising their warning to its highest level. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel warning to “Very High,” citing a case surge that puts even vaccinated travelers at risk for contracting and spreading variants of Covid-19. Read more from Kevin Miller.

More on Travel:

More Headlines:

What Else to Know Today

U.S. Seeks Fines for Hospitals Hiding Prices: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed increasing penalties for hospitals that refuse to comply with a mandate to disclose their costs for certain services. The maximum penalty for a full year of noncompliance could reach $2 million per hospital, CMS said. CMS said consumers have reported that hospitals aren’t complying with rule to make pricing available online, Fawn Johnson reports.

Medicare Moves to Hike Payments, Penalties for Hospitals: Medicare wants to pay acute care hospitals 2.3%—or nearly $10.8 billion—more for outpatient services next year, the Biden administration announced yesterday. The proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would also increase the penalty for hospitals that don’t comply with the hospital price transparency final rule. Read more from Tony Pugh.

HHS Enforcer OKs Barred Kickbacks in Insurer-Hospital Deal: Federal health inspectors green-lit a financial arrangement that will allow a company selling insurance plans that supplement Medicare to offer policyholders incentives for being treated at certain hospitals. In an advisory yesterday, the HHS inspector general said a licensed offeror of Medicare Supplemental Health Insurance and a preferred hospital organization can prod policyholders to seek inpatient care from a hospital in the organization’s network. Read more from Lydia Wheeler.

Advocates Push for Telehealth Access in Rule: Medicare beneficiaries would see increased access to telehealth for mental health treatment under a Biden administration proposed rule, a positive step that advocates say is limited by a law requiring occasional in-person visits. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated rates of anxiety and depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts, according to a 2020 study from the CDC. Read more from Allie Reed.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporters on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at [email protected]; Alex Ruoff in Washington at [email protected]

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