By Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan - 02/23/16 05:39 PM EST
Federal health officials acknowledged Tuesday that the virus may be transmitted more commonly through sex than previously thought, creating a new wrinkle in the global fight against the disease.
The CDC said as many as 14 people in the U.S. could have contracted Zika through sex. Several of the women are pregnant, which puts their babies at risk for a potentially life-threatening birth defect that scientists believe is caused by the virus.
"We do think this is a critical situation," Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director for the CDC, told The Hill when asked about the funding on Tuesday.
Federal health officials also doubled down on warnings for women who are or may become pregnant, telling them to avoid unprotected sex if they have a male sex partner possibly exposed to the virus. Some women may want to avoid sex altogether to make certain they are not at risk, the agency said.
The still-evolving science of the Zika virus underscores uncertainty among even top government researchers.
"These new reports suggest sexual transmission may be a more likely means of transmission for Zika virus than previously considered," the CDC wrote in a statement Tuesday. Read more here. http://bit.ly/21dEhXo
LAWMAKERS AT IMPASSE OVER ZIKA FUNDING: Democrats are not happy with Republican calls to use existing Ebola money for Zika, instead of a new emergency appropriation.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, said Tuesday the continuing threat posed by Ebola means Congress should allocate separate funds to combat Zika.
"The Republican suggestion is very short-sighted. Ebola has not disappeared," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.
"We need to handle both the containment of Ebola -- and not take our eye off the Ebola ball so we don't have people threatened by Ebola -- while at the same time addressing the Zika problem separately." Read more here. http://bit.ly/1oFA1iq
WATCHDOG OFFERS DAMNING LOOK AT HEALTHCARE.GOV FAILURES: In the latest deep-dive into the HealthCare.gov failures, HHS Inspector General said that officials received 18 "documented warnings" of problems with the site's construction between July 2011 and July 2013. Those warnings were either not communicated across the agency or ignored, the report says.
One lower-level agency worker told the IG investigators: "[CMS senior officials] would sit in meetings across from me and not know there is an enormous fire burning behind them." Read more here. http://bit.ly/1QBDlXV
DELAWARE AS A MODEL FOR CONTRACEPTIVE USE? Delaware is seeking to drastically reduce unwanted pregnancies through a new program to provide long-lasting contraceptives to women.
Gov. Jack Markell (D) spoke to The Hill about the new program, called Delaware CAN (Contraceptive Access Now). The program is a public-private partnership with a non-profit called Upstream to increase the usage of intrauterine devices and implants for contraception. The initiative trains healthcare providers on the methods, as well as on coding and billing practices, and also includes a public awareness campaign.
Markell said the program can increase opportunity for women by helping them have babies when they want to, as well as save the state money by avoiding paying for unplanned births.
"When Delaware proves it and other states see it, this is really going to become a national model," he said.
ON TAP TOMORROW
HHS Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mathews BurwellOvernight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Insurance executives ask for changes to ObamaCare Obama meets with insurance CEOs on health law MORE testifies at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
A subcommittee within the House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on the Zika virus.
WHAT WE'RE READING:
Clinton's 'Public Option' Could Work but Isn't Politically Viable (Morning Consult)
High Deductible plans pose problem for hospitals (Bloomberg)
The most important abortion case at the Supreme Court in a generation focuses on women, not fetuses (Washington Post)
Senators looking beyond Flint on lead pipe replacement (Huffington Post)
IN THE STATES:
A look at Ohio's law to defund Planned Parenthood (Cleveland.com)
Kentucky nonprofit attacks Beshear's 'sad Obamacare move' (AP)
ICYMI FROM THE HILL:
TurboTax: Most uninsured escaped ObamaCare penalty http://bit.ly/1p1UFZP
Michigan lawmakers approve $30M for Flint water bills http://bit.ly/1ozM0gG
White House presses GOP for nearly $2B to fight Zika http://bit.ly/1VAbaGV