Health Care — The latest omicron subvariant to dominate the US

Imagine being invited to the Masters Tournament in an instant. Georgia’s Scott Stallings, a non-professional player with the same name, found out this week when he was invited to play this April.

Welcome to Monday’s Health Care roundup, where we follow the chaos among House Republicans trying to vote for the Speaker. But on health-specific issues, we’re also seeing an increase in the COVID variant.

On The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Register here or in the box below.

XBB.1.5 variant now accounts for 40 percent of US cases: CDC

Much of the US is in the midst of an increase in winter cases of COVID-19, as cases are poised to eclipse summer’s peak, driven by new diversity, waning immunity and holiday gatherings.

Last week, the country passed the number of 100 million cases since the beginning of the epidemic, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although the real number is much higher due to people who have not been tested or those who are tested. good at home and never reported the result.

The omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 has spread rapidly to become the leading mutation of COVID-19 in the US and is likely one of the reasons for the increase in cases. It accounts for at least 40 percent of new cases in the US and about 75 percent of cases in the Northeast.

It has pushed out BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 subvariants from their previous positions as the most detected variants of the coronavirus, according to monitoring by the CDC.

  • The XBB subvariant, from which XBB.1.5 descends, is a combination of two subvariants that descend from the BA.2 omicron subvariant. That means it carries the genetic data from two versions of the coronavirus that originated from the BA.2 subvariant.
  • It comes as more than a third of Americans age 65 and older — those most at risk of side effects — have received the improved vaccine.
  • The omicron subvariants XBB and XBB.1 were identified for the first time in India. Some scientists, including Scripps Research Institute professor of molecular medicine Eric Topol, have put forward the possibility that XBB.1.5 may evolve in New York.
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Although the data on XBB.1.5 is limited at the moment, the researchers believe that it may be more able to avoid our immunity than other omicron seedlings, even among those who had received a bivalent booster dose.

But, experts still say the vaccines will keep you out of the hospital and reduce the risk of prolonged COVID.

Read more here.

Watchdog says Medicare lost millions in savings

A federal watchdog found that Medicare lost out on millions in potential savings because of an apparent oversight of the average retail price of drugs, which affects how much Medicare Part B beneficiaries pay for care.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires drug manufacturers to submit quarterly average selling prices, or ASPs, for drugs, which are determined by dividing the dollar amount of sales by the volume of the drug sold.

This information, along with additional drug data that must be submitted, affects where Medicare Part B payments are set. If this data is incomplete, then CMS uses the total cost of acquisition for a particular drug, which is the price set by the manufacturer for direct sale without rebates, discounts or other price reduction.

  • The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services found in two reports released on Tuesday that while CMS has an established process to oversee data on drug sales prices, the agency does not have a process to review the manual analysis.
  • Invalid or missing ASP data caused CMS to be unable to determine payment amounts for 8 percent of products between 2016 and 2020.

“CMS has not done everything right to reduce prices, which is an important tool to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Gaps in CMS’ oversight processes prevented the program and enrollees from realizing millions in savings,” the OIG said.

These misused reductions resulted in a loss of $2.8 million in savings, according to the OIG. The agency came to this conclusion after reviewing drug payment data from the first quarter of 2016 to the last quarter of 2020.

Read more here.


Chinese officials have called out other countries for their COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers from China, threatening to impose countermeasures.

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Speaking at a daily briefing on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning called the virus testing requirements imposed by other countries “extreme” and “unacceptable” and said they “have no scientific basis.”

  • “We believe that the entry restrictions adopted by other countries targeting China have no scientific basis, and some extreme practices are even more unacceptable,” Mao said.
  • “We firmly oppose attempts to manipulate the ways of the COVID-19 for political purposes and will take measures based on the principle of reconciliation,” Mao added.

Several countries including the US, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, India and Japan have announced stricter measures for COVID-19 on passengers from China amid growing concerns about the lack of daily disease data in the country and the spread of new strains.

Read more here.


New research shows that older adults who stay hydrated appear to be healthier, enjoy a lower risk of chronic diseases and live longer compared to their dehydrated peers.

That’s according to an NIH study published in eBioMedicine.

Data from more than 11,000 participants collected over 25 years revealed high serum sodium levels — which increase when fluid intake is reduced — were associated with a 39 percent increased risk of chronic conditions such as heart failure, stroke and dementia, compared to and adults had levels in the middle range.

“The results suggest that proper hydration can slow aging and increase disease-free life,” study author Natalia Dmitrieva said in the release. Dmitrieva is a researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Most people can safely improve their fluid intake by drinking fluids or eating vegetables or fruits that are high in water, the researchers said. However, some patients with underlying health conditions may need to seek medical guidance as certain medications can lead to dehydration.

Read more here.

Ways to make mental health a priority in the new year

For many people, the start of a new year can mean a fresh start or a new commitment to improving their lives. But it also comes at a time of year when feelings of anxiety and depression are often heightened by winter’s cold and darkness, and when the excitement of the holidays begins to wane.

  • Aside from seasonal mood swings, recent years have also seen a decline in the mental health of Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • One survey released this month found that the proportion of Americans who rate their mental health as “very good” or “good” is the lowest ever.
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Psychiatrist Ravi Shah of Columbia University offers some advice on how to make mental health a priority as 2023 begins:

Review the past year — but don’t be too bad: As the end of the year approaches, Shah notes that people may find themselves reflecting on their lives over the past 12 months and figuring out where they want to go.

“Thinking about that with a therapist can be a very helpful and wonderful thing to do,” adds Shah. In fact, it is common for interest in therapy to increase in the first few months of the year.

Put less stress on New Year’s resolutions: Not being able to keep a resolution can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, which may not be helpful, says Shah. “Decisions feel tight and tight,” he says. “And I think they’re set up for all kinds of challenges.”

Instead, he suggests setting goals. Goals can be broad, such as aiming to eat healthy. Then specific goals can be set for that goal, says Shah. For example, you can try to eat vegetables three times a week. Later, you can check how well you worked towards the goal by counting how many weeks you managed to achieve each goal.

Read more here.


  • Winter Covid surge poised to surpass summer peak (Stat)
  • Looking for a clue on health care costs in advance? New tools in action (Kaiser Health News)
  • More women are incarcerated as members of prisons near pre-COVID levels (19 News)


  • Legal use of hallucinogenic mushrooms begins in Oregon (The New York Times)
  • Mississippi health care faces ‘looming crisis,’ medical group warns lawmakers (Mississippi Free Press)
  • In county jails, guards use pepper spray, stun guns to subdue mentally ill people (NPR)

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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