TOP LINKS FOR THE WEEK ENDING 6.19.2020
New Postmaster General Outlines USPS ‘Trajectory for Success’ Amid Financial Challenges: a new postmaster general took office on Monday and outlined his plans for the Postal Service to address their financial shortcomings, which have been highlighted during COVID-19.
Why Virtual Care Will Outlast the Pandemic: Pressure is rising to maintain flexibilities allowing increased access to telehealth. Access to telehealth has led to large increases of its use in Medicare populations and some practices are reporting fewer missed appointments for low-income patients. The Senate health committee held a related hearing on Wednesday, June 17.
Bipartisan Senators Look to Make Telehealth Changes Permanent. In a letter to Senate leadership on Monday, a group of bipartisan senators called for provisions from previous COVID-19 legislation to be extended after the public health emergency is over.
House Coronavirus Taskforce Launches Probe into Nursing Homes. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who chairs the House coronavirus panel, sent letters to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as well as the five largest for-profit nursing home companies, demanding information about whether the agency properly managed the outbreak in nursing homes, ensuring that enough testing and supplies were available. The panel is probing a wide range of issues, from the scale of the outbreak in the facilities to potential shortages of protective equipment for patients and staff. This is the latest inquiry from Democrats, who have repeatedly blamed the Trump administration for its inadequate response to the coronavirus.
First Drug Proves Able to Improve Survival from COVID-19: An inexpensive, widely available steroid called dexamethasone has reduced deaths from COVID-19 by up to one third in severely ill hospital patients, a recent study finds. The study randomly assigned over 200 patients to get the drug and compared them to over 4,000 patients receiving the usual care.
COVID-19 Crisis Highlights Health Plans’ Increased Need for Expanded Analytics and Insights: The author argues that advanced analytical tools are needed to stratify members based on risk, connect members to social services, understand hospital capacity for routing members, and review utilization.
Almost One in Four Adult Workers is Vulnerable to Severe Illness from COVID-19: Using data from the National Health Information Survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released a report indicating that as many as 90 million adults are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions or age. A separate KFF analysis highlights gaps in the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Law, which allows health care providers to exempt their workers. The HEROES Act, which has passed in the House, would remove many of these allowable exemptions.
Racism is a Public Health crisis, says cities and counties: Recent research indicates that Black Americans of all socio-economic status have worse health outcomes than white Americans. In response, more than 20 cities and counties and at least 3 states either have or are working towards declaring racism a public health crisis.
HHS Releases Final Rule Regarding Non-Discrimination in Health Care: The long anticipated Section 1557 final rule was released on Friday, June 12, 2020. Under the Obama Administration, rules were promulgated and interpreted the meaning of discrimination “on the basis of sex” to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy status. Further, the Obama Administration rules provided expansive protections for individuals with limited English proficiency. The new rule removes the definition of “on the basis of sex” thereby eliminating the expansion of non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity and pregnancy status. The rule also repeals the notice and tagline requirements, which previously required all covered entities to provide non-discrimination notices and language access taglines in at least 15 languages with all significant communications. Interpretation services are still required under the rule, though additional flexibilities are provided. Additional information can be found in the HHS Fact Sheet. America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a statement indicating their commitment to non-discrimination in healthcare as did BCBSA.
On a related note, the Supreme Court ruled in two cases on Monday, June 15, indicating that the definition of “because of sex” in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does indeed protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination by their employer. While these are separate issues, it is clear that the landscape for LGBTQ individuals and what protections they should be afforded is still evolving. Katie Keith provides analysis of how the 1557 rule and the recent Court decision are interconnected.
House, Senate Advance Police Reform Bills. Both the House and Senate have introduced police reform bills in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police with the shared goal of stopping police violence. But the House bill—which would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, as well as narrow the grounds for qualified immunity—is more far-reaching than the Senate version—which mostly relies on providing incentives for adopting best practices and collecting data on police violence. These key differences may stall efforts to negotiate and reach common ground between the two chambers.
Highmark Blue Cross in Deal With New York’s HealthNow Plan: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield will expand into parts of New York state as part of an “affiliation agreement” between the plan and HealthNow (also a BCBS) plan. Financial terms for the deal haven’t been released, and state and federal approvals are not finalized.
Depression and Anxiety Spiked among Black Americans after George Floyd’s Death: Rates for all Americans, regardless of race, are higher than normal due to COVID-19, but the impact has been especially pronounced for Black Americans. These numbers jumped again within a week of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis when rates of symptoms of depression and anxiety among Black Americans spiked to 41%. Asian Americans also saw a significant jump to 35%. Levels for white Americans remained relatively steady.