Here’s What You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

HHS

— by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS Secretary

If you’ve read the headlines over the past few months, you’ve probably heard about the Zika virus. You might wonder how serious the virus is and what steps you can take to help protect yourself and your family.

HHS is committed to giving the American people the tools they need to live healthy and productive lives. And information can often be one of the best tools. So I want to share with you some of the things we have learned about this virus, and what you should know.

mosquito-580pxWhat is Zika?


Zika is a virus
that is primarily spread by mosquitoes, though it can also be sexually transmitted. As of July 20, there have been 5,200 cases of Zika in the United States and its territories.

The biggest risk of Zika is to pregnant women or women of childbearing age. Zika virus can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, as well as other severe fetal brain defects.

Zika can cause symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. An illness from Zika is usually mild, and the symptoms typically will only last several days to a week. Based on previous outbreaks, approximately 80 percent of people who have Zika will not have any symptoms.

How Do I Prevent Getting Zika?

Our colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have laid out helpful prevention guidance, which you can find right here. This is particularly important if you travel to an area with active Zika transmission. It is important to remember to follow the guidance not only when you are in an area with active Zika transmission, but also for three weeks after you return.

Pregnant women should not travel to areas with active Zika transmission. If you’re pregnant and you have traveled to an area with Zika, you should visit your doctor or other health care provider as soon as possible, even if you don’t feel sick. This checklist offers some topics and questions you should bring up.

Another way you can prevent Zika is by preventing the most common way Zika spreads – mosquito bites. You can reduce your risk of being bitten by:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when outside.
  • Using EPA-registered insect repellents.
  • Installing screens on your windows and doors.
  • Emptying containers that collect water, or notifying the proper authorities if you see places where water has collected. The most common type of mosquito that spreads Zika can reproduce in as little water as a bottle cap.

CDC’s Response to Zika. Prevent Zika. (1) Cover up and use insect repellent. (2) Remove standing water. (3) Keep mosquitoes out of your home. (4) Use condoms. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/zika.

What Is All This Talk About Funding?

Back in February, the Obama Administration asked Congress for $1.9 billion to fight Zika and protect pregnant women. It was a request based on the advice of our most experienced public health experts.

These funds would be used to protect pregnant women in the United States by better controlling the mosquitoes that spread Zika, by developing new tools like vaccines and better diagnostics, and by conducting crucial research so we can better understand the effects of Zika, especially on infants and children.

Congress recently left Washington without providing these additional funds. At HHS, we’re going to do everything we can to prevent, detect and respond to this virus here in the United States, and especially in hard-hit places like Puerto Rico, but hope there is action on this necessary funding as soon as the Congress returns.

How Can I Help?

We are always stronger against public health threats when we work together. So the best thing you can do right now is to make sure more people get more information on the Zika virus.

Help us reach others by sharing this blog post on Facebook and Twitter. Click the “Share” button in the top right corner of this post, or click the “Tweet This” button at the bottom.

And share this information with your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Make sure that everyone knows the risks, and how to stay safe.

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The Irony of Ironies via Republican Poison Pills

H.R. 2577 is a conglomeration of a number of bills (Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017) that  the Senate needs to take action on failed a super-majority vote (60 votes) for cloture (the ability to be considered and voted for/against on the Senate floor).  One version of that bill was passed by the House and a different version of that/those bills passed the Senate.  Thus, it’s now gone to conference committee to work out the wrinkles between the two versions.

This conference agreement now includes the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, the Zika Response and Preparedness Appropriations Act, 2016, the Zika Vector Control Act, and an unacceptable ‘division’ on funds to be rescinded from programs the Republicans don’t particularly like.  That’s what came to the floor for a cloture vote, and it failed miserably — 52-48.

Really, Senator McConnell?  It’s too difficult for the general public to understand?  I don’t think so.

It’s one thing for Republicans to short-change President Obama’s funding request.  It’s another thing to start attaching ‘poison pills’ to the proposed legislation that limit or outright prohibit women’s choices.  When you introduce a funding proposal that limits the distribution of contraceptives and that prevents family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood from participating in the effort to help women in Zika-affected areas delay pregnancy, from a disease that not just contracted from a mosquito bite, but from sexual activity with an infected male partner, did you really think that Senate Democrats would just roll over and vote for that?

When you start gutting provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, did you honestly believe that Democrats would just roll over and just vote for that?

SEC. 2. MOSQUITO CONTROL WAIVER.
Notwithstanding section 402 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1342), during the 180 day period following the date of enactment of this Act the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (or a State, in the case of a permit program approved under subsection (b)) shall not require a permit for a discharge from the application by an entity authorized under State or local law, such as a vector control district, of a pesticide in compliance with all relevant requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 U.S.C. 136 et seq.) to control mosquitos or mosquito larvae for the prevention or control of the Zika virus.

When you start stripping funding for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), did you really expect Democrats to just roll over, see the light and vote your way?  Or, when you decide to fund your bill by stripping balances  from the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, did you really expect Democrats to go “oh yeah, that’s a great idea” and vote in favor of your bill?  Or better yet, given that we already know that you stripped a bunch of funding from the State Department for Embassy security that might have made the outcome in Benghazi drastically different, did you really expect the Senate Democrats to let you strip even more funding for the State Department and other Foreign Operations?

Are you nuts?  They certainly weren’t and neither am I.  It took me hours to sort through all the links on Congress.gov, but here’s what I found:

DIVISION D–RESCISSIONS OF FUNDS

Sec. 101.
(a) $543,000,000 of the unobligated amounts made available under section 1323(c)(1) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C. 18043(c)(1)) is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act.

Sec. 1323. Community health insurance option. Requires the Secretary to offer a Community Health Insurance Option as a qualified health plan through Exchanges. Allows States to enact a law to opt out of offering the option. Requires the option to cover only essential health benefits; States may require additional benefits, but must defray their cost. Requires the Secretary to set geographically adjusted premium rates that cover expected costs. Requires the Secretary to negotiate provider reimbursement rates, but they must not be higher than average rates paid by private qualified health plans. Subjects the option to State and Federal solvency standards and to State consumer protection laws. Establishes a Start-Up Fund to provide loans for initial operations, to be repaid with interest within 10 years. Authorizes the Secretary to contract with nonprofits for the administration of the option.

(b) $100,000,000 of the unobligated balances available in the Nonrecurring expenses fund established in section 223 of division G of Public Law 110-161 (42 U.S.C. 3514a) from any fiscal year is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act.

DIVISION G–DEPARTMENTS OF LABOR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, AND EDUCATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008
Title I–Department of Labor
Title II–Department of Health and Human Services
Title III–Department of Education
Title IV–Related Agencies
Title V–General Provisions
Title VI–National Commission on Children and Disasters

(c) $107,000,000 of the unobligated balances of appropriations made available under the heading Bilateral Economic Assistance, Funds Appropriated to the President, Economic Support Fund in title IX of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2015 (division J of Public Law 113-235) is rescinded immediately upon enactment of this Act: Provided, That such amounts are designated by the Congress as an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

Personally, I side with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid who declared, “It is unbelievable that somebody would have the audacity to come to the floor and say it’s Democrats’ fault. A significant amount of American women, especially young women, go to Planned Parenthood, and the Republicans want to say, ‘you can’t do that.’” Why indeed would Democrats not just prohibit Planned Parenthood from providing any services, but gut the EPA’s ability to assure clean water and harm HHS’s ability to manage health insurance options for not just Puerto Ricans, but millions of American families across our nation?  Apparently Sen. McConnell completely missed the irony of claiming to improve women’s health by prohibiting and defunding health opportunities for women altogether.


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New FAQ’s on Birth Control Coverage

birth-control-pillsThis week the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and Treasury issued frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help insurance companies better understand the scope of coverage that is required (including contraceptive care) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to help people better the ACA and benefit from it as intended.

This guidance follows recent Kaiser Family Foundation  and research that reported variation in how the ACA contraceptive coverage provisions were being interpreted and implemented by health plans.

Some main points of interest:

  • All non-grandfathered plans and insurers must cover, without cost sharing, at least one form of contraception within each of the 18 methods of contraception that the FDA has identified for women.
  • If an item or service is not covered but is determined medically necessary by the woman’s attending provider, there must be an easily accessible process for the woman to get that item or service;
  • If an insurer covers dependent children, recommended preventive services for women (such as preconception and prenatal care) must be covered for the dependent children as well (i.e., not just the parent(s) on the plan); and

Clarifies that insurance companies may still use reasonable medical management techniques within each of the methods of contraception (there are currently 18 identified by the FDA for women). For example, a plan can discourage the use of brand name over generic pharmacy items through cost sharing.

Press Release re: ACA and 2014 Tax Season

Statements by Secretary Lew and Secretary Burwell on preparing for the upcoming tax season

In preparation for the 2015 tax filing season, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department are putting in place resources to provide tax filers with the information and resources they need to get their questions answered.

Millions of Americans who get their health insurance through work are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act, and millions of others have signed up for the Health Insurance Marketplaces and received financial assistance to lower their monthly premiums.

Starting this year, consumers will see some changes to their tax returns.  While the vast majority of tax filers – over three quarters – will just need to check a box on their tax return indicating they had health coverage in 2014, people who have coverage through the Marketplaces, or decided not to enroll in coverage, should be aware of some additional steps that will be a part of the tax filing process starting this year.

Consumers will have questions about this new process and the Administration is committed to providing the information and tools tax filers need to understand the new requirements. In the coming weeks, the Administration will launch additional resources to help consumers prepare for tax filing season, including online tools to help individuals connect with local tax preparation services and determine if they are eligible for an exemption.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell released the following statements today providing an overview of the consumer support and guidance their agencies will provide:

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew:

“For the vast majority of Americans, tax filing under the Affordable Care Act will be as simple as checking a box to show they had health coverage all year.  A fraction of taxpayers will take different steps, like claiming an exemption if they could not afford insurance or ensuring they received the correct amount of financial assistance. A smaller fraction of taxpayers will pay a fee if they made a choice to not obtain coverage they could afford.  We are working to ensure that whatever their experience, consumers can easily access clear information since this is the first year they will see certain changes to their tax returns.”

HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell:

“Last year, millions of Americans purchased quality, affordable health coverage through the Marketplace, and the vast majority received tax credits that cut their monthly premiums.  This benefit, which in many cases helped make the cost of health care less than the cost of a cell phone or cable bill, enabled these consumers to enjoy the benefits of coverage throughout the year.  In the coming weeks, HHS will work with other agencies, tax preparers and community organizations to arm these consumers with the information they need to know as they prepare to file their taxes.   We will also be providing helpful tools so that the millions of taxpayers who qualify for an exemption can receive one.”

While including health insurance information will become a routine step in filing taxes, this is the first time families will be asked to answer basic questions regarding their health insurance on their tax returns.  Most consumers – over three quarters – just need to check a box to indicate they have coverage.  Those with Marketplace coverage will receive a new form in the mail from the Marketplace – Form 1095-A – that they will use to reconcile their upfront financial assistance.  While those who can afford to buy health insurance and choose not to will have to pay a fee, individuals who cannot afford coverage or meet other conditions can receive an exemption.

In the coming weeks, consumer-friendly tools and resources will be made available for those tax filers who have health coverage through the Marketplaces, those seeking an exemption, and those looking for information about the fee for those who could afford to purchase health coverage but chose not to.  General resources can be found at www.IRS.gov/ACA or https://www.healthcare.gov/taxes/.  A sampling of some of resources already available, include:

To reach consumers with the information they need to prepare for the upcoming tax season, the Administration will employ a variety outreach strategies.  Outreach and consumer education efforts will include:

  • Direct outreach to Marketplace enrollees. Through email, phone, and text messages the Administration will reach out to people who got coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace with personalized information that is most relevant to their tax status.  We will focus on providing targeted messaging to consumers who benefited from an advanced premium tax credit last year to help them offset the cost of their Marketplace premiums.
  • Community-based outreach and in-person assistance. Working with community organizations on the ground, nonprofit organizations, Marketplace navigators and other in-person assisters, we will provide guidance and resources to consumers looking for answers.
  • Partnerships with top tax preparers. The Administration will continue to work with top tax preparers to provide consumers with the information they need to prepare for tax season.

5 Steps to Staying Covered

Did you know that if you bought a health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you can renew your current plan or enroll in a different plan for 2015? 

This fall, you’ll get two important 2015 health care plan notices about your health coverage. One will come from your health insurance company to explain any changes to premiums and benefits for the coming year. Another will come from the Marketplace with important deadlines and information about Open Enrollment, which starts on November 15, 2014. These notices help you understand your choices for 2015.

To stay covered through the Marketplace for 2015, make sure to follow these 5 Steps during Open Enrollment:

5 Steps to Staying Covered