Imagine being invited to the Masters Tournament out of the blue. Well, Scott Stallings of Georgia, who is not the professional top-ranked player of the same name, found out this week when he was invited out to play this April.
Welcome to Monday’s Health Care roundup, where we’re following the chaos among House Republicans trying to vote for Speaker. But in health-specific news, we’re also watching the rise of a new COVID variant.
For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here or in the box below.
Variant XBB.1.5 now 40 percent of US cases: CDC
Much of the U.S. is in the middle of a winter surge of COVID-19 infections, as cases are poised to eclipse the summer peak, driven by new variants, waning immunity and holiday gatherings.
Last week, the nation surpassed 100 million total cases since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), though the actual totals are likely much higher because of people who never tested or those who tested positive at home and never reported the result.
The omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 has rapidly spread to become the dominant COVID-19 mutation in the U.S. and is likely one of the reasons for the increase in cases. It accounts for at least 40 percent of new cases in the U.S. and about 75 percent of cases in the Northeast.
It has pushed out the BQ.1 and the BQ.1.1 subvariants from their previous positions as the most detected coronavirus mutations, according to surveillance conducted by the CDC.
The XBB subvariant, from which XBB.1.5 descends, is a recombinant of two subvariants that descended from the BA.2 omicron subvariant. That means it carries genetic data from two versions of the coronavirus that originated from the BA.2 subvariant.
It comes as more than a third of Americans 65 and older — those at most risk for severe outcomes — have gotten the updated booster shot.
The omicron subvariants XBB and XBB.1 were first identified in India. Some scientists, including Scripps Research Institute professor of molecular medicine Eric Topol, have put forward the possibility that XBB.1.5 could have mutated in New York.
While data on XBB.1.5 is currently limited, researchers believe it might be more able to evade our immunity than other omicron offshoots, even among those who had received the bivalent booster dose.
But, experts still say the vaccines will likely keep you out of the hospital and reduce the risk of long COVID.
Read more here.
Watchdog says Medicare lost millions in savings
A federal watchdog has found that Medicare lost out on millions of potential savings due to spotty oversight of the average sales price of medications, impacting how much Medicare Part B beneficiaries pay for coverage.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires drug manufacturers to submit quarterly average sales price, or ASPs, for medications, which is determined by dividing the amount of sales dollars by the volume of medication sold.
This information, along with additional drug data that must be submitted, affects where Medicare Part B payments are set. If this data in incomplete, then CMS uses the wholesale acquisition cost for the specific drug, which is the price set by the manufacturer for direct sales without rebates, discounts or other reductions in price.
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services found in two reports released Tuesday that while CMS has an established procedure to oversee data on average sales price of medications, the agency lacks a process to review the manual analysis.
Invalid or missing ASP data resulted in CMS being unable to determine payment amounts for 8 percent of products between 2016 and 2020.
“CMS did not accurately implement all price reductions, which are an important tool to lower prescription drug costs. Gaps in CMS’s oversight processes prevented the program and its enrollees from realizing millions in savings,” the OIG said.
These incorrectly implemented reductions resulted in a loss of $2.8 million in savings, according to the OIG. The agency came to this conclusion after reviewing drug payment data from the first quarter of 2016 to the last quarter of 2020.
Read more here.
CHINA THREATENS RESPONSE TO TRAVELER TESTING REQUIREMENTS
Chinese officials have called out other countries for their COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers coming from China, threatening to impose countermeasures in response.
Speaking at a daily briefing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning called the virus testing requirements imposed by other countries “excessive” and “unacceptable” and said they “lack scientific basis.”
“We believe that the entry restrictions adopted by some countries targeting China lack scientific basis, and some excessive practices are even more unacceptable,” Mao said.
“We are firmly opposed to attempts to manipulate the COVID measures for political purposes and will take countermeasures based on the principle of reciprocity,” Mao added.
Several countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and Japan have announced strict COVID-19 measures toward passengers coming from China amid growing concerns of the lack of data on daily infections in the country and the spread of new variants.
Read more here.
GOOD HYDRATION TIED TO LOWER RISK OF CHRONIC DISEASE: STUDY
New research shows adults who stay well-hydrated appear to be healthier, enjoy a lower risk of developing chronic diseases and may live longer overall compared with their less-hydrated peers.
That’s according to an NIH study published in eBioMedicine.
Data from more than 11,000 participants collected over 25 years revealed higher serum sodium levels — which rise when fluid intake decreases — were associated with a 39 percent increased likelihood of developing chronic conditions like heart failure, stroke and dementia, compared with adults who had levels in the medium range.
“The results suggest that proper hydration may slow down aging and prolong a disease-free life,” said study author Natalia Dmitrieva in a release. Dmitrieva is a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Most individuals can safely improve fluid intake by drinking fluids or eating vegetables or fruits with high water content, researchers said. However, some patients with underlying health conditions may need to seek medical guidance as certain medications can lead to fluid loss.
Read more here.
Ways to make mental health a priority in new year
For many people, the start of a new year can signify a new beginning or a new commitment to improving their lives. But it also comes at a time of year when feelings of anxiety and depression are often amplified by winter cold and darkness, and when the excitement of the holidays is beginning to ebb.
Beyond seasonal mood changes, recent years have also seen a decline in Americans’ mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One poll released this month found that the share of Americans who consider their mental health to be “excellent” or “good” is at its lowest point ever.
Psychiatrist Ravi Shah at Columbia University gives some advice on how to make mental health a priority as 2023 begins:
Review the past year — but don’t get too negative: As the end of the year approaches, Shah notes that people may find themselves reflecting on their lives over the past 12 months and whether they’re heading in the direction they want to be.
“Thinking through that with a therapist can be super helpful and wonderful thing to do,” Shah adds. In fact, it is common for interest in therapy to increase in the first few months of the year.
Put less pressure on New Year’s resolutions: Not being able to keep a resolution may lead to feelings of shame and guilt, which may not be helpful, says Shah. “Resolutions feel absolutist and rigid,” he says. “And I think they’re set up for all sorts of challenges.”
Instead, he suggests setting goals. Goals can be broad, like aiming to eat healthier. Then specific objectives can be set within that goal, Shah says. For example, you can try to eat vegetarian meals three times a week. Later, you can assess how well you worked towards a goal by counting how many weeks you were able to achieve each objective.
Read more here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Covid’s winter surge is poised to exceed summer peak (Stat)
Want a clue on health care costs in advance? New tools take a crack at it (Kaiser Health News)
More women are being detained as jail populations near pre-COVID levels (The 19th News)
STATE BY STATE
Legal use of hallucinogenic mushrooms begins in Oregon (The New York Times)
Mississippi health care faces ‘looming disaster,’ medical group warns lawmakers (Mississippi Free Press)
In county jails, guards use pepper spray, stun guns to subdue people in mental crisis (NPR)
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.