Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Zika Update

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico, saying that the Zika virus poses a significant threat to public health on the island. This step will allow Puerto Rico to apply for additional funding for the purpose of Zika prevention and education. More than 10,000 Puerto Ricans have been diagnosed with the virus, including at least 1,035 pregnant women. The White House projects that 25 percent of the territory’s residents will contract the virus this year. The number of Florida residents who have contracted Zika also continues to rise, with latest
totals at 461 travel-rated cases, 33 local transmissions, and 63 cases involving pregnant women. A number of new cases have also been discovered in Miami Beach, which has spurred a debate about whether public health officials should declare the tourist destination an active transmission site. Governor Rick Scott has already announced the provision of additional resources for the tourism industry to improve Zika awareness, including offering educational materials and mosquito spraying to businesses like hotels, attractions, and restaurants. Florida has increased the number of individuals being tested for the virus by tenfold. On average, the rest of the nation has doubled testing rates over the course of the summer. The additional testing will likely result in a sharp increase in the number of confirmed Zika cases. A new study published last week concludes that the virus may actually affect adult brain cells, in addition to fetal brain cells. The study, which was conducted in mice, affected adult brain cells linked to learning and memory. This new finding indicates the need for further research about both the short-term and long-term impacts of the virus, and raises new concerns that getting infected by Zika as an adult may not be as harmless as formerly thought. Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in an interview last week that Zika vaccine development efforts are on track for at least the next three or four months, though funding will be drained by the end of the year. He stressed that additional funding will be needed to continue vaccine development through calendar year 2017. The
total number of confirmed Zika cases across the United States and its territories has risen to 10,295, a 145
percent increase since Congress adjourned for recess in mid-July.

Lawmakers Request CDC Guidelines on Opioids and Acute Pain

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) have written a letter to the President requesting that the administration develop and publish guidelines on the prescribing of opioids for acute pain treatment. “Prevention of overprescribing or inappropriate prescribing of opioids is a key component to combating the opioid epidemic. By developing and publishing a comprehensive guideline for prescribing opioids for the treatment of acute pain, we can minimize the initial exposure to opioid medications and further limit diversion of opioid prescriptions, which can have positive downstream effects on combatting opioid abuse,” the Senators write. The lawmakers explain that not all individuals with opioid use disorders began misusing opioids after receiving a prescription for chronic pain, and argue that the overprescribing of opioids for acute pain is particularly problematic because of the heightened risk of abuse for patients who have not had previous exposure to illicit substances, as well as the research indicating that these prescriptions are frequently diverted to others. Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a guideline on pain killer prescribing for the treatment of chronic pain.

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