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Health Care — GOP-led House hones in on COVID investigations

Ben Affleck was seen working at a Dunkin’ Donuts today in the Boston area. No, he’s not dazed and confused, he’s reportedly filming a commercial for the company.

Today in health, we look at the House Republicans’ focus on investigating the COVID-19 pandemic, its origins and how the federal government responded.

Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care roundup, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. We’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Someone forward you this newsletter?

House GOP looking at virus origins, pandemic funds

Republicans have significantly retooled the focus of the House panel investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that aligns with the new majority’s oversight focus.

As part of the rules package that passed the House 220-213 on Monday night, the 12-member Select Committee on the Coronavirus Response will be charged with examining the origins of the pandemic, including federal funding of gain-of-function research.

The panel’s focus is a major change from how it operated under the Democratic-controlled House. Former Chairman James Clyburn (DS.C.) prioritized looking into the early response and shortcomings from the Trump administration, as well as the former president’s political interference.

  • The examination of gain-of-function research is central to the common GOP position that the virus originated from a lab in Wuhan, China, and was potentially backed by funding from the US government. Late last year, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee released a report concluding the pandemic began with a virus that escaped from the Wuhan lab.
  • The coronavirus committee will also investigate trillions of dollars in aid doled out to address the pandemic, federal COVID-19-related mandates, and the impact of school closures.

Read more here.

Sanders: Moderna planned vax price hike is ‘greed’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is calling on Moderna not to quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Tuesday the plan amounts to “unacceptable corporate greed.”

In a Tuesday letter sent to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, Sanders urged the company to reconsider its decision and refrain from any price increase “in light of the role the federal government has played in the development of the vaccine.”

  • Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said the company’s decision to charge up to $130 a dose once the shots move to the commercial marketplace is “outrageous” and will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
  • “As you know, the federal government, over the years, has supported Moderna every step of the way going back to 2013 when your company reportedly only had three employees. Now, in the midst of a continuing public health crisis and a growing federal deficit, is not the time for Moderna to be quadrupling the price of this vaccine,” he wrote. “Now is not the time for unacceptable corporate greed.”

Bancel told The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Moderna is considering charging between $110 to $130 per dose in the US when the government’s contract ends and the vaccine shifts to commercial distribution.

Read more here.

CANNABIS-RELATED ER VISITS AMONG SENIORS ON THE RISE IN CALIF.

The number of seniors visiting emergency rooms in California for cannabis-related issues is growing, according to new research.

Cannabis is currently legal for both medicinal and recreational use in California. The state became the first in the country to legalize medical marijuana in 1996while the substance was not approved for recreational use there until November 2016.

  • From 2005 to 2019, the state’s emergency departments saw a 1,808 percent relative increase in the rate of cannabis-related trips among those aged 65 and older.
  • The study found that cannabis-related emergency department visits in California rose sharply among seniors from 2013 to 2017, but leveled off after 2017 following implementation of the state’s legalization program. Based on those findings, researchers noted legalization of recreational marijuana does not appear to correlate with higher emergency department visits among elderly adults.

Data from the Department of Healthcare Access and Information shows the number of emergency department visits by seniors in California related to cannabis use rose from 20.7 per 100,000 visits in 2005 to 395 per 100,000 visits in 2019.

Read more here.

100 DEATHS NOW LINKED TO RECALLED FISHER-PRICE INFANT SLEEPERS

At least 100 deaths have been linked to Fisher-Price’s now-recalled Rock ‘n Play Sleepers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Monday, a figure that more than triples the initially reported fatalities.

A note to consumers on the commission’s website says they “should stop using the Rock ‘n Play immediately and contact Fisher-Price for a refund or voucher.“

”It is illegal to sell or distribute the recalled sleepers,” the commission added.

  • A recall was issued by the child’s toy production giant in April 2019. At the time, more than 30 deaths had been linked to the product. The commission said the deaths had occurred after “infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances.”
  • Since the initial recall, about 70 more deaths have been linked to the product. At least eight of those deaths were reported to have occurred after the initial recall announcement.

Read more here.

Officials turn Medicare, Social Security talks against GOP

The White House is turning the tables on House Republican lawmakers when it comes to conservative-led spending proposals that Democrats warn could mean cuts to crucial programs like Medicare and Social Security.

The Biden administration is already building on a strategy it deployed during the midterm election season in which it highlighted talk from multiple GOP congressional lawmakers about how they plan to use their new House majority to consider cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Strategists and White House officials believe a possibility of Republicans holding the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for spending cuts is both economically dangerous and a political loser for the GOP.

When it came to the speakership battle, seven hardline Republicans included requests to cap spending as part of their many demands last month of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

  • But some Republicans are adamant that Medicare and Social Security will not be touched, just as many conservatives distanced themselves from a proposal by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) last year to put funding for those programs up for a vote every five years.
  • House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said on Sunday that while Republicans want to balance the budget and make spending cuts, that includes “every area of ​​state government except Social Security and Medicare.”

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • For new GOP house majority, a focus on abortion messaging (roll call)
  • An FDA pathway to clear medical devices is putting patients at risk, research suggests (Status)
  • Hospitals’ use of volunteer staff runs risk of skirting labor laws, experts say (Kaiser Health News)

STATE BY STATE

  • Nurses extend strike to second day at 2 major New York City hospitals (New York Times)
  • California Senate’s new health chair to prioritize mental health and homelessness (Los Angeles Times)
  • Lawsuit challenges use of old lethal injection drugs as Texas prepares to execute Robert Fratta (Texas Grandstand)

OP-ED IN THE HILL

Nurses deserve better, but strikes aren’t the answer

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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