Sat. Feb 4th, 2023

“What I do have are a very particular set of skills”…. Dog-nappings are unfortunately on the rise, but one Virginia family was lucky enough to receive the aid of a former Marine Corps intelligence operator in getting their pooch back. 

Today in health news, childhood vaccination rates fell for the third straight year. But first, House Republicans are divided on whether they will try to cut Medicare and Social Security spending

Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care roundup, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. We’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter?

GOP divisions over cuts suggest tough fights ahead

House Republicans are divided over cuts to Medicare and Social Security, setting up what could be a fierce internal clash over the future of the nation’s top safety net programs when Congress delves into budget fights later in the year.   

Entitlements have long been a political third rail, but some in the GOP say everything is on the table and are eager to use upcoming debt ceiling negotiations to extract promises to reduce government spending, including entitlement funding. 

That could pit the GOP’s staunchest deficit hawks against other conservatives who insist Medicare and Social Security will be left alone and the cuts will come from elsewhere.  

  • “The one thing I will tell you as Republicans, we will always protect Medicare and Social Security. We will protect it for the next generation going forward,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said on Thursday. 
  • Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), one of the conservative leaders who extracted a promise from McCarthy to limit new discretionary spending, has also insisted entitlements are safe. 
  • “It took approximately .2 seconds for everybody to be saying, ‘You’re gonna slaughter defense … You’re gonna hurt Social Security and Medicare.’ Everybody calm down,” Roy said in an interview with conservative radio host Jesse Kelly.  

Yet other Republicans are concerned that excluding the entitlements from the debate creates a greater threat to defense programs, which conservatives are vowing to protect.  

The official rules package Republicans passed earlier this week calls for equal or greater cuts to offset any new spending, but it did not specify where those cuts needed to come from.  

Members are also walking a fine line by calling for reforms in the name of keeping entitlement programs solvent, without actually labeling them “cuts.” 

  • Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) said Republicans should “absolutely” make entitlement changes a condition of raising the debt ceiling later in the year. But the goal should be to “secure” those programs, he said, not get rid of them. 
  • “Do you realize that Medicaid and Medicare will be insolvent by 2026? That Social Security will be insolvent by 2033? That’s why we’ve got to act,” he said Wednesday. “But our goal, our charge, should be to save and stabilize, not to cut.” 

Read more here. 

Childhood vax rates dip again, alarming experts

The percentage of kindergarten students who have not received routine childhood vaccination rose again during the 2021-22 school year, federal health officials said Thursday. 

Overall vaccination rates among kindergartners remain high, but coverage has dropped 2 percentage points from 95 percent in the pre-pandemic 2019-20 school year to 93 percent in 2021-22, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

For example: Coverage for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine during both the 2020–21 and 2021–22 school years was the lowest in a decade.  

  • But there were declines in other routine childhood vaccines as well, such as diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio and chickenpox. 
  • “While this might not sound significant, it means nearly 250,000 kindergarteners are potentially not protected against measles alone,” said Georgina Peacock, director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division. 

Why? It’s at least partly due to pandemic-related disruptions. Parents missed or skipped visits to the pediatrician and are still trying to catch up. 

There were also disparity issues. According to a second CDC report released Thursday, children who are poor, who live in rural areas, who lack health insurance or who are Black or Hispanic are more likely to be unvaccinated by the time they are 2 years old. 

But also: The controversy and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine has spilled over to routine childhood shots. 

“We have seen some hesitancy in vaccines during the pandemic related mostly, I think to the COVID vaccine. This could in some cases have translated over to routine vaccinations and that’s something that we’re watching very closely,” said CDC’s Peacock. 

Read more here. 

TENTATIVE DEAL REACHED IN NEW YORK NURSES STRIKE 

On Monday, 7,000 nurses went on strike from Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx after negotiations for a new contract between the management of those two hospitals and the nurses’ labor union, the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), failed.  

The union has emphasized staffing levels as one of the nurses’ top concerns, saying that they have been stretched thin because of many open positions, forcing them to work overtime, take on double the number of patients they should have and skip meals and bathroom breaks.  

Terms: The union said the hospitals established concrete staffing ratios as part of the deal, and Montefiore also agreed to create partnerships between nurses and students to recruit local nurses in the area.  

  • It said nurses were expected to return to their jobs on Thursday. They need to vote to approve the deal before it is officially in effect. 
  • “Today, we can return to work with our heads held high, knowing that our victory means safer care for our patients and more sustainable jobs for our profession,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans.  

Read more here. 

STUDY: YOUTH ASTHMA RATES INCREASE IN STATES WITH LEGAL RECREATIONAL CANNABIS  

Legalization of recreational cannabis may contribute to increased rates of teen and childhood asthma, new research suggests.  

Investigators compared asthma rates in states with recreational programs with rates in states where the substance was illegal from 2011 through 2019.  

  • Although the overall incidence of childhood asthma decreased within this time frame, the prevalence of asthma increased slightly among teens aged 12 to 17, and among children in some minority racial and ethnic groups in states with recreational use laws, relative to states where cannabis is fully illegal.  
  • Hispanic youth saw the greatest increase in pediatric asthma rates in states with recreational laws, data showed.  

Writing in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers said the evidence indicates legalizing and commercializing adult cannabis use may lead to downstream impacts on children’s respiratory health.  

Read more here. 

Long COVID symptoms may ease within a year: research

Long COVID, a condition with a wide range of persisting symptoms that occur following a COVID-19 infection, is still not well understood, but Israeli researchers have recently completed a study indicating the ailment may resolve relatively quickly. 

The study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The BMJ looked at the health outcomes of nearly 2 million COVID-19 patients who developed mild illness after being infected. These patients tested positive for COVID-19 between March of 2020 and October of 2021 and included both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 

  • Common health conditions that the researchers found associated with COVID-19 cases included the well-documented loss of smell; breathing issues; and impacts on concentration and memory. 
  • The majority of the reported health conditions, such as hair loss, heart palpitations, chest pain and memory impairment, resolved or fell back to baseline levels within a year. 

“Although the long covid phenomenon has been feared and discussed since the beginning of the pandemic, we observed that most health outcomes arising after a mild disease course remained for several months and returned to normal within the first year,” wrote the researchers. 

Symptoms that kept on: However, some other conditions were noted to persist more than one year after a patient’s initial coronavirus diagnosis. Loss of smell and changes in the patients’ abilities to taste were found to still be significantly higher than in uninfected people a year after the patients tested positive for COVID-19. 

Read more here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Addiction treatments in pharmacies could help combat the opioid crisis (NPR) 
  • How medical schools are missing the mark on artificial intelligence (Stat) 
  • People with diabetes struggle to find Ozempic as it soars in popularity as a weight loss aid (NBC News) 

STATE BY STATE

  • Despite doctors’ concerns, University of California renews ties with religious affiliates (Kaiser Health News) 
  • Syphilis cases in Missouri have jumped 259% in the last few years. Here’s what to know (KCUR) 
  • Connecticut health care advocates rally to expand HUSKY coverage for undocumented immigrants (WSHU) 

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.



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