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Health Care — HHS allows those living with hep B, HIV to join public service

The Hill
The Hill
 2022-12-02
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Do you have a “swashbuckling attitude”? A “general aura of badassery”? Then you may be the right fit to be NYC’s new “rat czar.”

Today in health, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) marked World AIDS Day by changing its eligibility policy to include people with hepatitis B and HIV.

Welcome to Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here or in the box below.

US Public Health Service expands applicant eligibility

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday announced it will be expanding eligibility for the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps to include people who have chronic hepatitis B and HIV.

  • Individuals with these conditions have previously been disqualified. The agency cited medical advancements that have made chronic hepatitis B and HIV manageable conditions comparable to hypertension.
  • This change in application standards goes into effect beginning on Dec. 1.

“The U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, a uniformed service of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), publicly announced today that it is changing its medical standards to accept future applicants living with chronic hepatitis B and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV),” HHS said in a statement.

The change was announced on World AIDS Day.

“As we recognize World AIDS Day and the progress made, I am honored to be a part of a change much bigger than our service,” said HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine. “By changing our medical accession standards to reflect the latest evidence, we show the world that we are putting science first.”

The USPHS Commissioned Corps is a branch of more than 6,000 uniformed service members who specialize in public health and national safety. Commissioned USPHS officers include physicians, nurses, dentists, dietitians and therapists.

Under USPHS policy, potential service members must be ready for deployment and meet medical standards. Applicants are deemed ineligible if they have a medical condition which “prevents him/her from being deployed to an austere and/or stressful environment, or if the condition prevents the officer from engaging in the physical activities associated with deployments to austere and/or stressful environments.”

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Senate Democrat tests positive for COVID-19

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday as lawmakers head into the home stretch of the current Congress.

“Argh. … I tested positive. I’m asymptomatic and feel totally fine. Downside: I will follow CDC rules and isolate. Upside: maybe now I can finally finish shingling the backyard shed,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

Diplomatically detected: The senator said he had taken the COVID-19 test per protocol for a State Department lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron during his state visit.

The positive test takes the senator off Capitol Hill for at least part of this year’s lame-duck session, after the midterms but before the next Congress convenes in 2023.

Democrats are working in overdrive to push legislation forward before Republicans take over the House in January, since President Biden will face more of an uphill battle without his party holding the majority in both chambers.

Senators voted Thursday to advance legislation to avoid a rail strike after Biden pressed Congress to intervene.

They’re also negotiating a bipartisan deal to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year before running into the Dec. 16 shutdown deadline.

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PHYSICIAN GROUPS ASK COURT TO UPHOLD OBAMACARE SERVICES

A coalition of leading physician groups urged a federal judge in Texas to preserve ObamaCare’s coverage of preventive services, arguing that gutting the requirements would be disastrous for patient care.

In a friend of the court brief led by the American Medical Association, the groups asked Judge Reed O’Connor to exercise discretion and refrain from issuing a nationwide injunction that would invalidate every significant recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

  • “If the Court were to vacate and/or enjoin the Task Force’s recommendations and any efforts to implement them on a nationwide basis, preventive care would be in grave jeopardy for tens of millions of Americans,” the groups wrote.
  • They urged O’Connor to only restrain the provision’s enforcement against a single employer challenging the mandate.

Flashback: O’Connor in September ruled that ObamaCare’s process for determining what kinds of preventive care must be fully covered by private health insurance is unconstitutional.

O’Connor — who previously struck down the entire ObamaCare law before it was upheld by the Supreme Court — said the USPSTF violated the Constitution because its members are not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate, yet its recommendations are binding.

MINNESOTA NURSES SET STRIKE DEADLINE

As many as 15,000 nurses in Minnesota are set to strike on Dec. 11 if no agreement is reached with hospital executives on a fair labor contract, the Minnesota Nurses Association said Thursday.

“At the same time hospital CEOs tell nurses and patients there is no money to retain staff and prioritize care, executives are taking million-dollar raises and pursuing corporate expansions that put community access to affordable care at risk,” first vice president of the nurses’ union Chris Rubesch said in a statement.

The Minnesota Nurses Association on Thursday announced that it had voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize the strike set the deadline for what would be it second massive walk-out this year, affecting 16 hospitals in Minneapolis-St. Paul and throughout the state.

The nurses’ union says workers have been negotiating with hospital executives for eight months and have been working without contracts since the summer.

Hospital executives are getting boosts to their own salaries, but have offered nurses low wage increases, the union says, and issues with short staffing and poor nurse retention are exacerbating working conditions.

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Deaths from drugs, alcohol climb among seniors

Drug overdoses and alcohol-induced deaths are on the rise among Americans aged 65 and older, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

Drug overdose death rates within the age group more than tripled between 2000 and 2020, and alcohol-induced death rates went up 18 percent between 2019 and 2020 alone, according to the data.

Among older Americans, non-Hispanic Black people experience the highest drug overdose death rates — with fentanyl and other synthetic opioid use on the rise.

  • American Indian or Alaska Native people experience the highest alcohol-induced death rates among those aged 65 and older, going up 46.5 percent between 2019 and 2020.
  • The CDC notes that alcohol-induced death rates are higher overall among men of that age bracket than women, with men seeing figures four times higher when the age group is narrowed to 75 and older.

Research indicates alcohol-induced deaths also surged during the pandemic and are climbing as a leading cause of preventable death.

The Biden administration earlier this year announced $1.5 billion to help states, territories and tribal lands deal with opioid overdoses and combat the country’s growing opioid epidemic.

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WHAT WE’RE READING

  • FDA approves first fecal microbiome drug, setting stage for others (Stat)
  • Millions of families face fertility challenges. A bipartisan House caucus aims to expand access to treatments. (The 19th News)
  • Georgia Senate runoff tests the staying power of abortion in American elections (NBC)

STATE BY STATE

  • NYC Mayor Adams faces backlash for move to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people (NPR)
  • Michigan to begin testing wastewater for polio (Detroit Free Press)
  • Addiction treatment proponents urge rural clinicians to pitch in by prescribing medication (Kaiser Health News)

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

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.

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