Health Care — Romney says he’s making progress on COVID aid
Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here.
Mark your calendars: The House is poised to vote on a marijuana legalization bill as soon as next week. With the support of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), advocates hope this year it will advance through the Senate.
There’s still no agreement on further funding the COVID-19 response in Congress, though Mitt Romney says he’s making some progress on a new compromise.
Let’s get started.
Romney working on GOP counteroffer for funding
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Thursday that he is working with GOP leadership on a COVID-19 funding counterproposal after receiving a new offer from Democrats.
“I got a proposal from them, and we’ve got a counterproposal we’re working on with our leadership,” Romney told The Hill.
He said the proposals contain new ways to pay for the pandemic funding, and that Democrats proposed one set of pay-fors and Republicans will counter with a different set. He did not detail what the possible offsets are.
“I think we’re making progress,” Romney said.
A $1.5 trillion government funding bill signed into law earlier this month was going to include $15.6 billion in COVID-19 spending, but it was stripped out after a group of House Democrats objected to one of the offsets, namely using a portion of state aid from a previous relief bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said earlier in the week that he was “working with Senator Romney and other Republicans in good faith to find some pay-fors that are acceptable to Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate.”
The White House has been sounding the alarm that the funding is urgently needed and calling on Congress to act.
HOUSE CHAIR PRESSES FDA ON CONTAMINATED BABY FORMULA
The chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee on Thursday opened an inquiry into why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had what he said was a “delayed response” in responding to contaminated infant formula now linked to five hospitalizations and two deaths.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf pressing for answers on the agency’s oversight of infant formula from the company Abbott that was in some cases linked to the bacterial infection Cronobacter sakazakii.
Krishnamoorthi pointed to reports that the FDA learned of contamination at the Abbott facility in Sturgis, Mich., in September 2021, and found unsanitary conditions in an inspection, but did not issue a public warning until February 2022.
“FDA is tasked with protecting all Americans from life-threatening foodborne illness outbreaks, but fell short in protecting vulnerable infants from contaminated formula,” Krishnamoorthi wrote. “FDA must do more to ensure no lives are lost, or babies sickened, due to delayed inspections and late consumer warnings.”
The letter requests a range of documents and presses the FDA for answers on why it did not act sooner.
NYC exempts athletes, performers from vaccine mandate
New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced Thursday he would lift COVID-19 vaccine mandates for New York-based performers, venues and athletes.
Adams’ office cited low virus case counts and a high vaccination rate as reasons for lifting the requirement. His office said the move would “kickstart the full spectrum of the city’s nightlife economy.”
The mayor framed the move as an expansion of a previous exemption from the city’s vaccine mandate for private businesses.
“Today we take another step in our city’s economic recovery — leveling the playing field for New Yorkers and supporting local businesses and performance venues across the city,” Adams said in a statement.
High-profile implications: Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving publicly refused to get vaccinated in order to play last year. Irving maintained that his decision was not politically motivated, but had more to do with bodily autonomy.
The Nets suspended Irving in October, saying he would remain suspended until he was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In January, Irving returned to team practices.
With the change announced Thursday, Irving will now be allowed to play in home games again. The change will also allow Yankees superstar Aaron Judge, who is believed to be unvaccinated, to play at home when the baseball season begins.
GOOGLE USERS ABLE TO BOOK HEALTH CARE APPOINTMENTS
Google announced on Thursday it is partnering with providers such as CVS Pharmacy to allow people to schedule health care appointments through its search engine.
The new feature will allow Google users to search for appointment availabilities at some health care providers in their area.
“While we’re still in the early stages of rolling this feature out, we’re working with partners, including MinuteClinic at CVS and other scheduling solution providers. We hope to expand features, functionality and our network of partners so we can make it easier for people to get the care they need,” Google said in a blog post.
This is not the only tech-related venture that CVS Pharmacy has embarked on in recent weeks. Last month, CVS filed a trademark to sell virtual goods and provide health care services through the metaverse.
As CNBC reported, CVS is seeking to trademark its logo, provide an online store and offer downloadable goods including “prescription drugs, health, wellness, beauty and personal care products.”
WHO: Omicron BA.2 sub variant now prevalent globally
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that Omicron sub variant BA.2 is the predominant COVID-19 variant driving infections around the world.
The WHO said in its weekly epidemiological report that “in the last 30 days, BA.2 has become the predominant variant, with 251 645 sequences reported.”
It added that it made up about 85.9 percent of cases reported to the WHO in the last month. During the last update on March 8, the WHO said that BA.1.1 was the dominant sub variant and that BA.2 made up 34 percent of new cases.
Regions of concern: This trend is most pronounced in the Southeast Asia region, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean, African, Western Pacific and European Regions. The sub variant BA.2 is currently dominant in the Region of the Americas as well.
This comes as U.S. infections are at an eight-month low, but administration officials have warned that the new sub variant could cause an uptick in cases.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- NIH’s identity crisis: The pandemic and the search for a new leader leave the agency at a crossroads (Stat)
- Vulnerable Americans are desperate to find this Covid-19 drug. Thousands of boxes are sitting around unused (CNN)
- Pressured by patients, FDA reviews ALS drug with modest data (AP)
STATE BY STATE
- Covid vaccination rates lag for N.Y.C. kids. Will shots at school help? (New York Times)
- Wolf administration expands Naloxone order to combat opioid crisis (WHTM)
- Arizona House votes to ban abortion after 15 weeks (Arizona Public Media)
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Friday.
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