💡 If you’re scared of the dark, this might be the perfect place for you. One Massachusetts high school hasn’t been able to turn off its lights for over a year.
Today in health, for-profit nursing homes saw extremely high rates of COVID-19 infections.
But first, a watchdog said HHS needs to have stronger oversight of so-called gain of function research, saying the requirements are too vague.
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?
HHS policy for virus research unclear, GAO says
A congressional watchdog agency has determined that the oversight carried out by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for research involving highly transmissible viruses such as the coronavirus lacks clarity and is recommending that the department develop new standards for assessing risk.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of its own looking into federal monitoring of gain-of-function research. This inquiry was prompted by a provision included the CARES Act that tasked the agency with looking into ongoing efforts to prepare for, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gain-of-function research, which has come under heightened congressional scrutiny throughout the pandemic, is a process in which pathogens are altered in a way that improves their ability to cause disease. This form of research is often conducted to assess the potential dangers of infectious diseases and can be used to inform public health preparedness.
HHS developed a framework in 2017 for gain-of-function research, requiring agencies to submit to additional review when they identified research proposals involving “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens” being considered for federal funding.
The GAO said in its report that the oversight carried out under the 2017 framework “does not fully meet key elements of effective oversight.”
The framework fell short in terms of transparency and performing reviews, according to the watchdog.
Read more here.
USDA tightens organic food label rules
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its regulations on foods labeled “organic” on Thursday, as part of an effort to close loopholes and increase confidence in the agency’s organic seal.
The USDA touted the new rule, which aims to increase oversight and enforcement of products labeled organic, as the “biggest update to organic regulations” since 1990.
The new rule requires more businesses in the supply chain to be certified as organic and mandates that all organic products entering the U.S. have an import certificate from the USDA’s National Organic Program.
It also requires that nonretail containers used to ship and store organic products be labeled as such to “reduce the mishandling of organic products” and “support traceability” and calls for the use of standardized certificates and uniform training and qualifications for certifying agents.
“This success is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand,” Jenny Lester Moffitt, the agency’s under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement.
In the news: Two Minnesota farmers were charged last week with conspiring to defraud buyers of more than $46 million by falsely labeling grain as organic, and several individuals from Turkey and two entities from Dubai were charged earlier this month for shipping nonorganic soybeans and corn from Eastern Europe to the U.S. labeled as organic.
Read more here.
SURVEY: LESS THAN HALF RATE US HEALTH CARE AS EXCELLENT, GOOD
Less than half of respondents in a new Gallup survey have favorable opinions of the U.S. health care system, with a majority saying it is only fair or poor.
It is the first time since 2001, when the survey giant started recording feedback on health care in the U.S., that less than half of respondents (48 percent) said the system was excellent or good. It continues a worrying trend of declining faith in health care in the country, pollsters noted.
Downward trajectory: Views on health care in the U.S. have degraded since their peak in 2012, when 62 percent of respondents had praise for the system. Since then, these positive views have hovered around 55 percent, dipping to 50 percent last year and falling below the threshold of half of respondents this year.
The new survey found that one of the key reasons that attitudes toward health care have been on a downward trend is that the faith of Republicans in the system has deteriorated since former President Trump left office.
In 2019, 75 percent of Republicans held a positive view of health care — now only 56 percent share the viewpoint. Democrats have always had a generally lower level of satisfaction, sitting currently at 44 percent.
Read more here.
MOST LGBTQ YOUTH SAY SOME STATE LAWS AFFECT MENTAL HEALTH
More than 70 percent of LGBTQ youth said their mental health had taken a hit because of state laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQ young people.
In 2022 alone, more than 200 bills considered by state and federal lawmakers sought to restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans — particularly those of young transgender people.
Roughly 86 percent of transgender 13- to 24-year-olds in a new Trevor Project survey said those efforts had harmed their mental well-being, with 55 percent reporting their mental health had been impacted “very negatively.”
More than 80 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth say recent debates over state bills to restrict gender-affirming health care, ban transgender athletes from sport and limit how LGBTQ identities may be talked about in schools have negatively impacted their mental health.
“We must consider the negative toll of these ugly public debates on youth mental health and well-being,” Kasey Suffredini, the Trevor Project’s vice president of advocacy and government affairs, said Thursday in a statement.
“LGBTQ young people are watching, and internalizing the anti-LGBTQ messages they see in the media and from their elected officials. And so are those that would do our community harm.”
Read more here.
1,300+ nursing homes had high COVID rates
More than 1,300 nursing homes in the U.S., most of them for-profit facilities, experienced extremely high COVID-19 infection rates in 2020, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services.
For the OIG’s study, the agency took Medicare claims data to find nursing homes with beneficiaries who tested positive for COVID-19. The study looked at 15,086 nursing homes across the country.
“Nursing homes had a surge of COVID-19 cases during the spring of 2020 and a greater surge during the fall, well after they were known to be vulnerable. More than 1,300 nursing homes had extremely high infection rates — 75 percent or more of their Medicare beneficiaries — during these surges,” the OIG said.
The report noted demographic differences across the two surges that were observed. During the first surge in cases, urban nursing homes were more likely to have a high number of cases, while rural ones were likely to have a high rate of cases in the second surge.
In both surges that the OIG analyzed, for-profit nursing homes accounted for a “disproportionate” number of locations with extreme infection rates.
Read more here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
‘Will we keep marching?’ On Roe’s 50th anniversary, abortion opponents reach a crossroads (New York Times)
In a post-Dobbs world, pathologists who study pregnancy loss walk a thin line between medicine and the law (Stat)
NIH missing top leadership at start of a divided Congress (Roll Call)
STATE BY STATE
Massachusetts detects troubling new strain of gonorrhea (Boston Globe)
Bill would expand mental health screening for Montana students (Montana Public Radio)
States with abortion bans are also ‘economically disempowering’ people, report says (The 19th News)
THE HILL OP-EDS
We have tools to protect the immunocompromised from COVID-19 — time to use them
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.