What Happened, What You Missed: March 13-17, 2023


VA to Cover Controversial New Alzheimer’s Drug

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to cover new Alzheimer’s disease drug Leqembi for patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s, making the VA the first and largest health program in the nation to cover the drug.  Developed by Biogen and Esai, the monoclonal antibody treatment is considered controversial because around one-fifth of patients who participated in a clinical trial experienced brain bleeding or brain swelling.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially approved the drug in January and has since updated its warning label to encourage physicians to warn patients of the side effects.  It appears the VA will remain the only health program to cover the drug, as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has communicated that it wants more evidence about the effectiveness of the Leqembi before making a coverage decision.

JAMA: Mortality Rates for Kids, Teens on the Rise

Following years of progress against pediatric deaths, the all-cause mortality rate for people ages one to 19 years increased by about 10% each year between 2019 and 2021, according to a new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, and they account for nearly half of the increase in all-cause mortality in 2020.  Drug overdoses and automobiles were the second and third leading causes of death.  To turn the tide, the study calls for the enactment of sensible firearm safety laws as well as new efforts to address social inequities, segregation, and structural racism.

Maternal Mortality Rates Rose in 2021

The deaths of pregnant women in the US rose last year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as deaths of pregnant women reached a six-decade high. The report found that 1,205 people died of maternal causes in the U.S. in 2021, which represents a 40% increase from the previous year.  The report also found significant racial disparities in the maternal death rate. In 2021, the rate for Black women was 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is over two-and-a-half times the rate for White women, at 26.6 per 100,000.

FDA Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Booster for Kids under 5

The FDA authorized Pfizer’s Omicron booster shot for children under five years of age who were previously vaccinated with the company’s initial three-dose vaccine regimen.  Since December, children under five who completed two doses of Pfizer’s original vaccine have been eligible to receive the Omicron booster as their third shot, or last dose in their initial vaccination series. The FDA noted that children who received the Omicron shot as their third dose aren’t eligible for the bivalent booster right now, but they should still be protected against severe complications from COVID-19.

KFF: Non-Profit Hospitals Had Estimated $28M Tax Exemption in 2020

Non-profit hospitals received $28 million in tax subsidies but only provided $16 billion in charity care, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).  The findings come amid questions from lawmakers over whether nonprofit hospitals provide enough benefits to their communities to justify their federal, state, and local tax exemptions.  Some non-profit hospitals have also come under scrutiny for taking aggressive steps to collect unpaid medical bills, such as suing patients over unpaid medical debt.  According to the analysis, the nearly $28 billion tax exemption is equivalent to about 43% of net income generated by nonprofit hospitals in 2020.

ICYMI: White House Welcomes Special Visitors for St. Patrick’s Day

Irish pubs in Washington, DC aren’t the only institutions making special plans for St. Patrick’s Day.  Today, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet with President Joe Biden to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, a peace agreement that saw the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  Additionally, Irish singer and former One Director member Niall Horn will appear in a special performance at the White House today.

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