Did anyone have “Balloon causes international diplomatic crisis” on their 2023 bingo card?
In health news, seasonal flu levels continue to fall nationwide as the early season surge fades. But first, Senate Democrats are trying to push ahead on marijuana banking reforms.
Welcome to The Hill’s Overnight Health Care roundup, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. We’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi.
Senate Dems look for way forward on marijuana bill
Senate Democrats are giving marijuana banking legislation another look only weeks after it hit a wall with Republicans and was not attached to a year-end spending package.
A handful of Senate Democrats met with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday to “ponder the path” to passage this Congress, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said, despite what seems to be a dead end across the Capitol with Republicans now in charge of the House.
The legislation would allow banks to offer services to cannabis businesses in states where it has been legalized.
“We’re trying to find the formulation of Safe Banking Plus that can allow us to end this cash economy that’s doing so much to hurt so many across the country,” Merkley, a leading backer of Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking reform, told The Hill ahead of Wednesday’s meeting in Schumer’s office. “Hopefully we can find a formulation and have bipartisan support and get it done.”
Dubious prospects: While the group is hopeful, they realize the climb to advancing the bill through the GOP-led House is a steep one.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said in December that he is personally opposed to SAFE Banking, but would not stand in the bill’s way if the caucus as a whole wanted it passed. It does not, however, appear to be atop House Republicans’ to-do list.
Read more here.
Flu season continues to decline
Seasonal flu activity continues to decline across much of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most states were experiencing “minimal” or “low” flu activity in the past week, according to the latest data published by the CDC on Friday. Only New Mexico and Oklahoma saw “high” or “very high” levels of influenza activity.
The weeks immediately after the holidays saw a high level of activity, as both flu and RSV hit much earlier than in years past. But the continued downward trend shows the season appears to have peaked for now, and the “tripledemic” of COVID, flu and RSV was not as bad as many feared.
The number and weekly rate of flu hospital admissions decreased compared to the previous week, CDC said.
Hospitals reported 2,671 influenza hospitalizations to the Department of Health and Human Services during the week ending Jan. 28, compared to 4,028 reported the week prior.
Only 2 percent of cases tested by clinical labs were positive, CDC said, and 2.6 percent of everyone who visited a health care provider last week had respiratory virus symptoms, including fever plus a cough or sore throat.
BIDEN, HARRIS ANNOUNCE FUNDING FOR LEAD PIPE REMOVAL IN PHILLY
President Biden and Vice President Harris on Friday announced $500 million in federal funding for Philadelphia to upgrade its water system as part of a broader government effort to remove and replace lead pipes.
Biden and Harris visited the Belmont Water Treatment Plant to detail the new investments. They announced that $160 million will be allocated from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law to upgrade water facilities and replace 20 miles of lead service lines, with an additional $340 million coming through a loan from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the city to upgrade its water system.
Harris hosted a summit at the White House last week that focused on lead pipe replacement, where she announced a partnership made up of more than 100 state and local officials, labor unions, water utilities and other organizations to help accelerate the administration’s efforts.
The Philadelphia trip is the third time this week Biden is hitting the road to tout projects that will benefit from the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, underscoring how the White House is hoping to elevate the tangible benefits Americans will see from the president’s legislative accomplishments.
Read more here.
FORMER INSURANCE CUSTOMERS SURPRISED BY RANDOM CLAIMS
Many former customers of Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) health plans woke up on Friday to discover they had been notified of insurance claims despite not being covered by the provider for some time, causing concerns that a security breach could have leaked customer information.
Several people on social media on Friday reported receiving insurance claim notifications from Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), the licensee for BCBS in five states: Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Some expressed concerns that these erroneous emails were phishing attempts while others were simply confused by the sudden notification so long after they had been covered by BCBS.
“Starting on Feb. 2, we sent claims notification emails to some current and former members in error. Those emails generated high traffic into Customer Service and our member-facing site and app, which has created longer hold times and sluggish service,” an HCSC spokesperson told The Hill.
“We have completed our review, and we have no evidence that these system issues are due to malicious cyber threat activity. We are also not aware of any improper disclosure of personal health information,” they added. “Members do not need to take any action.”
Read more here.
RECALLED ECZEMA CREAM HAS TWICE AS MUCH LEAD AS LEAD PAINT
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the recall involves 10-gram tubes of Diep Bao Cream sold by Shop Me Ca. The cream was sold nationwide through the company’s Facebook page and Vietnamese Moms’ Facebook groups not associated with the company.
The recall was initiated because the cream has the potential to be contaminated with lead. The issue was discovered after the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) found high levels of lead in two samples of the product.
The organization started its investigation after two Portland, Oregon-area children were found to have elevated blood lead levels. The parents of both children reported using the product.
The FDA said one case was identified after an initial post on a Vietnamese moms’ Facebook group page in December 2022 to alert customers about the product. The second case was reported by the Oregon Health Authority in January 2023.
The company selling the product initially posted on its Facebook page in December 2022 that the products tested positive for lead.
While testing the product, the OHA said they discovered one of the tubes contained 9,670 parts per million (ppm) of lead while the other sample contained 7,370 ppm.
While there is no FDA limit on lead in medications, for cosmetics it is 10 ppm. The organization said this means the creams contained nearly 1,000 times the maximum allowable amount of lead in cosmetics.
Read the full story here.
WHAT WE’RE READING
A public health success story: How the mpox crisis was controlled within 6 months (ABC)
Republicans aim to decimate abortion access in post-Roe haven states (Washington Post)
‘I’ve been in that room’: How HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ resonated for a survivor of the AIDS crisis (The 19th News)
STATE BY STATE
What is Valley fever? Fungal infection from the Southwest may spread with climate change. (USA Today)
Wisconsin toughens chickenpox vaccine rules (WISN)
Montana lawmakers seek more information about governor’s HEART fund (Kaiser Health News)
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you next week when we debut our new look!