You may have heard of the face on Mars, now get ready for the bear on Mars! Last month, a NASA orbiter made out what appears to be the face of a cartoon-ish bear on the surface of the red planet.
Today in health, the Biden administration took another step to improve access to contraception, proposing to eliminate certain exemptions enacted by the Trump White House.
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.
White House moves to ease access to contraception
The Biden administration is proposing an expansion of contraceptive coverage, including removing moral exemptions finalized under the Trump administration that made it easier for private health plans and insurers to exclude coverage of birth control.
The proposal, released Monday by the departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Treasury and Labor, would remove the moral exemption but retain the existing religious exemption. Under the Trump administration rules issued in 2018, entities that have “sincerely held religious beliefs” against providing contraceptives are not required to do so.
Employers are not required to notify HHS if they have a moral objection. The agency said far more employers have invoked religious objections than moral; about 18 employers have claimed that exemption, and around 15 employees are affected.
It would also establish a new independent pathway for individuals enrolled in plans or coverage offered by religious employers to obtain contraceptive services at no cost directly from a willing provider or facility that furnishes contraceptive services.
HHS strategy: Speaking to reporters on Monday, Becerra emphasized the Biden administration was taking actions that worked within the “confines of the law.”
“The actions we took are consistent with the law, to try to make sure that we are protecting the rights of all Americans to access the health care they need. At the same time, protecting religious freedoms,” Becerra said.
“If you can show that you went through this in a very studied, methodical way to make sure you got it right — and so here there are many interests that are impacted and we wanted to make sure we did this in a way that was not just compliant with the law, but that people of reasonable mind would look at this and say it makes sense,” Becerra said regarding the timing of this rule.
Read more here.
Biden to end COVID public health emergency in May
The Biden administration on Monday announced that the COVID-19 public health emergency, which has been in place since January 2020, is set to end on May 11.
“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020. They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.
Since it was first declared on Jan. 31, 2020 by former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the national PHE has been renewed 12 times under two different administrations. The most recent renewal was declared on Jan. 11.
Read more here.
RNC urges candidates to ‘go on offense’ on anti-abortion
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is doubling down on its anti-abortion stance by urging all GOP candidates and lawmakers to “go on offense” in the 2024 election cycle and pass the strictest anti-abortion legislation possible.
In a resolution passed Friday during its winter meeting, the committee called on Republicans to pass laws “that acknowledge the beating hearts and experiences of pain in the unborn.” Such language has been used to pass “heartbeat” bills that would ban abortions at six weeks, before many people know they are pregnant.
Campaign fodder: Following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June, Democrats made abortion a key issue in the midterm elections, leading to a larger majority in the Senate and a slim GOP majority in the House.
While the GOP largely focused on the three-pronged message of combating rising inflation, crime and the flow of migrants over the southern border, exit polls showed that abortion was a top priority for voters at the ballot box.
The RNC resolution, passed just after Ronna McDaniel won her fourth term as chairwoman, accused Republican candidates of failing to capitalize on the Supreme Court’s decision and alluded to a well-funded opposition “concealing their extremism while mischaracterizing and vilifying pro-life Republican candidates.”
“Polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans support national, state, and local limits on abortion, with just a fringe minority supporting the Democratic position of no limits by gestational age, suspect classification, or other neutral characteristic,” the resolution stated.
Read more here.
SURGEON GENERAL: 13-YEAR-OLDS TOO YOUNG TO JOIN SOCIAL MEDIA
SurgeonGeneral Vivek Murthy on Sunday cautioned that, despite many app guidelines, 13-year-olds are too young to join social media.
“What is the right age for a child to start using social media? I worry that right now — if you look at the guidelines from the platforms — that age 13 is when kids are technically allowed to use social media. But there are two concerns I have about that. One is: I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early,” Murthy said on CNN’s “Newsroom.”
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other top social media platforms allow users age 13 and older to join, create their own profiles and share and consume content.
“It’s a time, you know, early adolescence, where kids are developing their identity, their sense of self. It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children,” the surgeon general argued.
Read more here.
COVID AMONG TOP 10 CAUSES OF DEATH IN CHILDREN IN US: STUDY
COVID-19 was the eighth leading cause of death among U.S. children and young people between August 2021 and July 2022, new research shows, accounting for 2 percent of deaths among people between the ages of 0 and 19.
Throughout the same period, COVID-19 was the top cause of death from an infectious or respiratory disease among children, while deaths were the highest in this age group during the delta and omicron waves.
Findings are based on information gleaned from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database.
“Many of the 82 million American children and young people were infected during the big Delta and Omicron waves, and as a result more than 1,300 children and young people have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, most in the last two years,” said lead study author Seth Flaxman, an associate professor in the department of computer science at the University of Oxford.
Read more here.
WHO keeps COVID alert status but sees ‘transition point’
The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the COVID-19 pandemic remains a “public health emergency of international concern” while acknowledging the outbreak has reached a “transition point.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday relayed the findings from a recent report made by the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee.
“The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the Committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and determines that the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC),” a statement from WHO read.
“The Director-General acknowledges the Committee’s views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the Committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences.”
Three years on: As was noted in the WHO statement, this assessment was made in the week marking the third anniversary since the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared a public health emergency by the organization.
Under IHR standards first adopted in 2005, a PHEIC is declared by the WHO when two out of four set criteria are met: if the emergency has a serious impact on public health, if it is unusual or unexpected, if there is a risk of significant international spread and if there is a risk of restrictions being placed on international trade and travel.
Read more here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
‘Everybody has blood on their hands’: A decade-long battle over Medicare Advantage audits is coming to a head (Stat)
A baby spent 36 days in an in-network NICU. Why did the hospital next door send a bill? (Kaiser Health News)
Rep. Nancy Mace warns her party to adopt a more ‘centrist’ abortion agenda or lose women voters (The 19th News)
STATE BY STATE
Utah bans gender-affirming care for trans minors (Axios)
Hearing set on suit brought by former vaccine chief against Tennessee Department of Health (Tennessee Lookout)
Growing number of Wisconsinites say health care is not affordable (TMJ4)
THE HILL OP-ED
Getting vaccinated at pharmacies works: It could soon disappear
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.