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Various programs and initiatives in health care and medicine will get a much-needed “shot in the arm” as a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. At the end of 2022, President Biden signed the Act that includes $1.7 trillion in discretionary government spending. 

Over $800 billion of the total bill will go toward non-defense spending. A significant portion will bolster prevention initiatives, extend provisions of several public health programs, and address health disparities. 

Summary of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 

The Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2023 became reality on December 29, 2022, with President Biden’s signing. The Senate introduced the omnibus bill on December 20, 2022, which the House passed on December 23. 

The $800 billion non-defense portion reflects a $68 billion or 9.3% increase from the previous year. The funding will initiate or expand several domestic programs, including those related to public health and healthcare provision. In particular, the CAA includes several revisions that expand or affect Medicare, Medicaid, telehealth, substance abuse treatment, behavioral health, and other aspects of public health infrastructure. 

Telehealth Expansions 

The CAA extends COVID-related Medicare allowances for telehealth coverage and payment for two years through December 31, 2024. This extension allows providers to adapt to new regulations emerging that will govern telemedicine in the near future. 

The CAA expands the definition of “originating site” and “practitioner” through December 31, 2024, to make telehealth more accessible. However, patients needing prescriptions for controlled substances will still need to make in-person doctor’s visits. 

Acute Hospital Care at Home 

In November 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) established the Acute Hospital Care at Home Program to allow providers to care for patients in their homes during the COVID pandemic. The Act extends this program for two years through December 31, 2024. 

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What You Need to Know About the New XBB.1.5 COVID-19 Variant

It’s almost difficult to remember what the world was like three years ago before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the virus has eclipsed its third birthday, it has spawned numerous variants, some of which have been more contagious than their predecessors and have eventually spread to become the dominant strain. 

Such is the case with the latest COVID-19 variant, XBB.1.5, dubbed “the Kraken” due to its virulence. The XBB.1.5 variant is crowding out former COVID-19 variants because it has mutated to become more contagious. In fact, this variant is the most contagious strain of any COVID-19 variant so far. It also has characteristics that allow it to evade an immune response more easily. 

Here’s what you need to know about the new XBB.1.5 variant, including infection data, emerging new symptoms, and how to protect yourself. 

What Is the New XBB.1.5 Variant? 

The XBB.1.5 variant was first identified in October 2022 in New York. It is still considered to be part of the Omicron variant family, as it originated from the omicron variant BA.2. Experts note that though the Omicron variant is a parent of XBB.1.5, it is still possible to get reinfected with XBB.1.5 even if you’ve had an Omicron infection. This is partly because your immunity wanes over time, and it’s also because the XBB.1.5 variant appears to be particularly capable of escaping your immune system’s lines of defense. 

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Why Declaring Racism a Public Health Emergency Matters 

Individual and systemic racism affects virtually every aspect of public life. It is especially pervasive in medicine and public health. Being Black, indigenous, or a person of color (BIPOC) can be harmful to your health. 

The U.S. Congress and several local and state governments have declared racism a public health crisis. While these declarations are not legally binding, they convey that racial and cultural justice is necessary to safeguard all citizens’ health. Racism at individual and societal levels negatively impacts vulnerable populations’ mental and physical health. It also prevents members of marginalized groups from receiving equitable and adequate healthcare. 

Understanding why racism is a public health emergency can shed light on the health-related harms of racism and bigotry. It also stimulates efforts to remedy the injustices and improve the general health of all Americans. 

Why Is Racism a Public Health Emergency? 

A public health emergency occurs when the effects or consequences of a public health threat are pervasive enough to overwhelm the organizations and facilities responsible for responding to it. In most cases, policymakers and community leaders cannot legally enforce emergency declarations. Nevertheless, they serve as a call to action to review and revise current policies and practices that allow the emergency to permeate. 

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