- Kaiser Health News Original Stories 2
- As Hospitals Fill With COVID Patients, Medical Reinforcements Are Hard to Find
- Lost on the Frontline: Explore the Database
- Political Cartoon: 'Good News?'
- Vaccines 3
- UK Approves A Coronavirus Vaccine, The First Western Nation To Do So
- CDC Advises Health Care Workers, Then Nursing Homes Get First Shots
- What Side Effects Should You Expect From The COVID Shot?
- COVID-19 Crisis 3
- CDC To Adjust 14-Day Quarantine Guidelines To 10 For COVID Exposure
- Tragic Trio: Florida Hits 1M COVID Cases, Joining California And Texas
- Hackers And Fraudsters Target COVID Vaccines, Treatments
- Administration News 2
- Trump Pressures FDA To Speed Up Vaccine Approval Reviews
- Trump Assailed Over Tweet About 'Fake' COVID Ward In Nevada
- Prescription Drug Watch 2
- Biden Might Find Common Ground With GOP On Drug Pricing
- Perspectives: Time For Bipartisanship; Amazon Pharmacy Will Expand Options; Why Do We Have PBMs?
From Kaiser Health News - Latest Stories:
More than 93,000 COVID patients are hospitalized across the country. But beds and space aren't the main concern for hospital administrators — It's the health care workforce. (Blake Farmer, Nashville Public Radio and Carrie Feibel, 12/2)
As of Wednesday, the ongoing KHN-Guardian project is investigating 3,176 deaths of U.S. health workers in the fight against covid-19. Today we add nine profiles, including a Navajo nurse who refused to stop working, a school psychologist who nurtured the children "society did not care for" and an aide at an addiction treatment unit who mentored young girls. Our interactive database investigates the question: Did they have to die? (The Staffs of KHN and The Guardian, 1/13)
Kaiser Health News provides a fresh take on health policy developments with "Political Cartoon: 'Good News?'" by khnalessandrab.
Here's today's health policy haiku:
GOODBYE, SCOTT ATLAS
"We're in good shape here,"
he said in June. But more died:
If you have a health policy haiku to share, please Contact Us and let us know if you want us to include your name. Keep in mind that we give extra points if you link back to a KHN original story.
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Summaries Of The News:
Britain authorized emergency use for the COVID-19 shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The New York Times:
U.K. Approves Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine, A First In The West
Britain gave emergency authorization on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, leaping ahead of the United States to become the first Western country to allow mass inoculations against a disease that has killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide. The decision kicked off a vaccination campaign with little precedent in modern medicine, encompassing not only ultracold dry ice and trays of glass vials but also a crusade against anti-vaccine misinformation. (Mueller, 12/2)
Pfizer Vaccine: UK Becomes First Western Country To Approve Covid 19 Vaccine For General Use
"Help is on the way," Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Wednesday morning, after UK regulators granted emergency authorization for a vaccine made by US pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. (Reynolds and Isaac, ... Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the news as "fantastic" in a tweet, adding that "it's the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again." (Reynolds and Isaac, 12/2)
U.K. Approves Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine, Putting Pressure On FDA
The vaccine is also the first to run the gauntlet of clinical studies normally required for approval. Russia and China have authorized vaccines without Phase 3 clinical trial data. The fact that the U.K. approved a vaccine developed by an American company — in partnership with a German one — before the United States could pour fuel on the already tense relationship between President Trump and the FDA, which has taken a more deliberative process in reviewing vaccine data. (Herper, 12/2)
UK Authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine For Emergency Use
Two doses, three weeks apart, are required for protection and one of the distribution challenges is that the vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. The U.K. government said frontline health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older adults, will be prioritized for vaccination. (Hjelmgaard, 12/2)
The Wall Street Journal:
Pfizer And BioNTech’s Covid-19 Vaccine Wins U.K. Authorization
The U.K. has ordered 40 million doses, enough to vaccinate 20 million people. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday the country is expecting an initial 800,000 doses to arrive in Britain next week. He said the speed at which vaccinations will take place will depend on how quickly the shot can be manufactured at a plant in Belgium, but the government is expecting “many millions” of doses by the end of the year. (Pancevski, Strasburg and Hopkins, 12/2)
In related news about the COVID vaccine in the United Kingdom and European Union —
The U.K. Has Approved a Vaccine. Here’s What Happens Next
Now that Britain has become the first western country to approve a Covid-19 shot, the spotlight shifts to the high-stakes rollout. Vaccinating the country’s roughly 67 million people won’t happen overnight. The U.K. has ordered enough doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to immunize 20 million people. Who will get the vaccine first? The government will prioritize as it begins to deploy the vaccine, starting with residents and staff in care homes, then moving to people over 80 years old and health-care workers, documents show. (Paton and Kresge, 12/2)
EU Eyes Dec 29 Approval For 1st Virus Vaccine, Later Than US
The European Union drug agency said Tuesday it may need four more weeks to approve its first coronavirus vaccine, even as authorities in the United States and Britain continue to aim for a green light before Christmas. The European Medicines Agency plans to convene a meeting by Dec. 29 to decide if there is enough safety and efficacy data about the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for it to be approved. The regulator also said it could decide as early as Jan. 12 whether to approve a rival shot by American pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc, which submitted its request to U.S. and European regulators this week. (Jordans, Cheng and Petrequin, 12/1)
The Wall Street Journal:
How A Couple’s Quest To Cure Cancer Led To The West’s First Covid-19 Vaccine
For BioNTech’s founders, Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci, the husband-and-wife team behind the successful endeavor, it was the outcome of three decades of work, starting long before the coronavirus first appeared in humans last winter. When the pandemic broke out, Dr. Sahin had spent years studying mRNA, genetic instructions that can be delivered into the body to help it defend itself against viruses and other threats. In January, days before the illness was first diagnosed in Europe, he used this knowledge to design a version of the vaccine on his home computer. (Pancevski, 12/2)
CDC Director Robert Redfield must still accept the recommendations, which were approved in a 13-1 vote Tuesday. States aren’t required to follow the guidance.
Health Workers, Long-Term Care Facilities Should Get Covid-19 Vaccine First, CDC Advisory Panel Says
A committee that advises the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to recommend that health care providers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities be at the front of the line for Covid-19 vaccine. The recommendation must still be accepted by CDC Director Robert Redfield. (Branswell, 12/1)
The New York Times:
Long-Term-Care Residents And Health Workers Should Get Vaccine First, C.D.C. Panel Says
The panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, voted 13 to 1 during an emergency meeting to make the recommendation. The director of the C.D.C., Dr. Robert R. Redfield, is expected to decide by Wednesday whether to accept it as the agency’s formal guidance to states as they prepare to start giving people the shots as soon as two weeks from now. “We are acting none too soon,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a panel member and global health expert at the University of Washington, noting that Covid-19 would kill about 120 Americans during the meeting alone. (Goodnough, 12/2)
The Washington Post:
Health-Care Workers And Nursing Homes Should Get Covid Vaccine First
The recommendations for the highest-priority groups, known as Phase 1a, will be sent to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, who also informs Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. If the recommendations are approved, they will become official CDC recommendations on immunization in the United States and provide guidance to state officials, who are scrambling to meet a Friday deadline for vaccine distribution planning. (Sun and Stanley-Becker, 12/1)
Health Care Workers, Nursing Home Residents To Be Prioritized For COVID-19 Vaccine
The CDC estimates that most people in these high-priority groups could be fully vaccinated by early next year if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes a vaccine by mid-December, as is currently anticipated. But because supplies will be short in the first few weeks after that authorization, individual health care and long-term care facilities will likely need to determine their own priority schedules for vaccination once they've obtained the vaccine. Long-term care facilities include nursing homes, assisted living and other residential facilities. (Huang, 12/1)
CDC Panel Says First Covid-19 Vaccine Doses Should Go To Health Workers, Long-Term Care Residents
The lone dissenter: Helen Keipp Talbot, an associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was the only panel member to vote against the recommendation. She raised concerns that long-term care facilities do not have enough experience with using the government's system for reporting adverse events from vaccination, and that there is not enough data on the performance of Covid-19 vaccines in elderly populations. (Lim, 12/1)
In related news —
Hospitals Mixed On Imposing Staff COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has no plans to make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory for staff in the next year, according to Dr. John Segreti, a hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection control and prevention at Rush. He said the provider's decision stems from supply and delivery uncertainties, as well as questions about potential adverse reactions from the vaccines. "I think the healthcare industry will strongly encourage their (healthcare personnel) to get vaccinated — I doubt many will mandate it this year," he said. (Ross Johnson, 12/1)
Before Americans Can Get Their Covid-19 Vaccines, Some Pharmacies Need Big Upgrades
In the fight against Covid-19, the US government is enlisting pharmacies to administer vaccines to hundreds of millions of Americans — an endeavor with unprecedented scale that presents a host of challenges for companies big and small across the United States. Although some companies are ready to store and administer the Covid-19 vaccine, others aren't. (Benveniste, 12/1)
Fauci Says US Could Have Herd Immunity By End Of Summer 2021
The nation’s top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the U.S could have “herd immunity” to COVID-19 by the end of the summer in 2021 if Americans across the country get vaccinated against the disease. In a Tuesday news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D), Fauci predicted that high-risk groups of Americans, as well as health care workers and some others, could begin to be vaccinated this month, with inoculations continuing through March. (Pitofsky, 12/1)
Operation Warp Speed chief Dr. Moncef Slaoui says 10% to 15% of vaccine volunteers reported side effects that were “significantly noticeable.” Those side effects included pain at the injection site, fatigue and aching muscles and joints for a day or two.
Trump Covid Vaccine Czar: Side Effects 'Significantly Noticeable' In Up To 15% Of Recipients
President Donald Trump’s coronavirus vaccine czar said Tuesday that Pfizer’s and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines are safe, with only 10% to 15% of volunteers reporting side effects that were “significantly noticeable.” The side effects, which come from the vaccine shots, can last up to a day and a half, said Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the Trump administration’s Covid-19 vaccine program Operation Warp Speed. The people who’ve suffered from side effects have reported redness and pain at the injection site as well as fever, chills, muscle aches and headaches, he said, adding most people have no noticeable side effects. (Lovelace Jr., 12/1)
What Side Effects Could You Get From A COVID Vaccine? Companies Report Fatigue, Fever
A coronavirus vaccine could be approved for distribution in priority groups as early as this month, according to health officials, but the desperately needed vaccine does not come without side effects. Moderna and Pfizer are the only two companies that have submitted data for their mRNA vaccine candidates to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization. Below are the side effects reported by trial participants, according to the companies. (Cohan, 12/1)
Will There Be Side Effects From A COVID-19 Vaccine? When Can You Get It? We Answer Your Vaccine Questions.
Most people who get a COVID-19 vaccine will endure side effects, particularly after a second dose. All three candidate vaccines reported mild or moderate side effects, mostly pain at the injection site, fatigue, and aching muscles and joints for a day or two. "A sore arm and feeling crummy for a day or two is a lot better than COVID," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of health policy and of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. (Rodriguez and Hauck, 12/2)
In other vaccine news —
Health Groups Pledge Transparency About COVID-19 Vaccine Plans
Top health groups on Tuesday pledged to be open and transparent about their plans for vaccinating communities across the country against the coronavirus. In an open letter to the American public, the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association said they are committed to establishing and sharing safe and effective processes for administering a COVID-19 vaccine. (Weixel, 12/1)
How To Get The Most Of Covid-19 Vaccines — And Not Squander Our Chance
It appears science may have found the Covid-19 pandemic’s off-ramp. Two vaccines developed with stunning speed — and showing remarkable initial efficacy — are poised to be approved for emergency use in the United States in December. A number of other vaccines are expected to follow. (Branswell, 12/2)
How Nanotechnology Helps MRNA Covid-19 Vaccines Work
While the first two Covid-19 vaccines relying on messenger RNA technology speed toward regulatory approval in the U.S., it’s worth remembering the vehicle that gets them where they need to go in the body. Lipid nanoparticles are the fatty molecular envelopes that help strands of mRNA — the genetic messenger for making DNA code into proteins — evade the body’s biological gatekeepers and reach their target cell without being degraded. They are enabling some of the most advanced technologies being used in vaccines and drugs. (Cooney, 12/1)
Deliver A Safe, Effective COVID-19 Vaccine In Less Than A Year? Impossible. Meet Moncef Slaoui.
In 2009, a flu pandemic was racing across the world when a venture capital firm that backs health care companies held its annual retreat. The meeting was a who's who of pharmaceutical and biotechnology executives – the top leaders of the top companies in the world. One man pulled together a group of his peers and issued a directive: "We are going to work together to make something happen here." (Weintraub, 12/1)
The CDC's updated recommendations, expected to be released soon, are based on the latest studies regarding the coronavirus' incubation period. Quarantine guidance for people who get tested will be lowered even further, to seven days.
CDC To Shorten COVID-19 Quarantine To 10 Days, 7 With Test
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to shorten the recommended length of quarantine after exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19, as the virus rages across the nation. According to a senior administration official, the new guidelines, which are set to be released as soon as Tuesday evening, will allow people who have come in contact to someone infected with the virus to resume normal activity after 10 days, or 7 days if they receive a negative test result. That’s down from the 14-day period recommended since the onset of the pandemic. (Miller, 12/2)
The Wall Street Journal:
CDC Plans To Recommend Shorter Quarantine For People Exposed To Covid-19
The 14-day quarantine period, which had been widely recommended, was based on the time researchers believe it takes for infection to lead to symptoms. But some public-health experts say 14 days is too long in certain cases, citing evidence about how long someone is infectious, combined with the latest strategies for testing for the virus. (Restuccia, 12/1)
New CDC COVID-19 Guidelines A Positive Step For College Athletics
You may not have heard any boom or roar or applause. There weren’t any celebratory social media posts or joyous statements released to the public. But on Tuesday night, high-ranking members in college athletics rejoiced over emerging medical news. The CDC plans to shorten by half its mandatory quarantine time for those who come into close contact with a COVID-19 positive, according to a report from The Associated Press. High-risk contacts who are asymptomatic can now return to normal activity after 10 days or leave quarantine after the seventh day with a negative test. (Dellenger, 12/1)
The United States reported its second-highest day of COVID-19 deaths Tuesday. The only day to top it was April 15.
Florida Becomes The Third State To Cross 1 Million COVID-19 Cases
Florida on Tuesday became the third state to hit a total of 1 million coronavirus cases as the nation grapples with an alarming spike in infections. The Florida Department of Health tallied 1,008,166 cases for the state after over 8,800 new infections were added to the total Tuesday. Over 18,600 people in the Sunshine State have died. Florida has recorded at least 6,000 new cases every day since Nov. 16, according to the state’s Department of Health. (Axelrod, 12/1)
Los Angeles Times:
California COVID-19 Cases Break Daily Record Again
Los Angeles County recorded a dramatic one-day rise in coronavirus cases Tuesday, shattering the single-day record and confirming some of the most dire forecasts about infections spreading ferociously as the holiday season gets underway. The surge in cases renewed worries about how the healthcare system will handle a crush of new patients, with some hospitals already approaching capacity. The numbers put more pressure on state and local officials to enact a tougher stay-at-home order in hopes of slowing the spread. Officials feared the Thanksgiving holiday period would bring a flood of new cases, and there are growing concerns the spike is far from over. (Money, Lin II and Oreskes, 12/1)
Daily Coronavirus Deaths Near 2,600 — Their Highest Since April — And Are Expected To Get Worse
The US reported the second highest day of Covid-19 deaths Tuesday, as rising hospitalizations signal even more deaths in the coming weeks. There were 2,597 new deaths reported across the US, bringing the total death toll to 270,642 in a pandemic that has infected more than 13.7 million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The only day to top it was April 15, when six more deaths were recorded. (Holcombe, 12/2)
In updates from Mississippi, Maine, New York, Michigan and Oklahoma —
COVID-19 Cases Stressing Mississippi Health Care System
The state's hospitals are hitting a peak in hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19 in Mississippi, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Tuesday at a news conference. "We are stressing out the health care system," he warned. "Hospitalizations are hitting their peak. We have 12 major hospitals (that) have zero ICU beds." (Beveridge, 12/1)
COVID Surge Reaches Maine, Which Reports 20 New Deaths
The surge in COVID-19 cases sweeping the country also has reached Maine, where state officials Tuesday reported 20 new deaths, the largest increase in coronavirus-related fatalities since the pandemic began in March. Although the deaths represent the most in any single update by the state, nearly all the fatalities occurred over a week-long span dating to Nov. 23. They had not been reported until Tuesday because of delays connected to the long holiday weekend, state officials said. (MacQuarrie, 12/1)
New York City Urges Adults Over 65 To Stay At Home Amid Surge In COVID-19 Cases
New York City’s Health Department recommended in a Tuesday advisory that residents 65 and over avoid public spaces and gatherings and limit nonessential activities amid the ongoing coronavirus surge. “To protect yourself, your household members and your communities against the spread of COVID-19, you are hereby advised to limit activities outside your home, except leaving home to travel to work or school, or for essential purposes including medical care, grocery shopping or pharmacy necessities,” the department said. (Budryk, 12/1)
Detroit Free Press:
Doctors Plea To Restaurants: Don't Rush To Reopen Indoor Dining
A group of Michigan doctors are urging restaurants not to rush to reopen dining rooms as COVID-19 infections continue to surge across the state. The plea from the advocacy group Committee to Protect Medicare specifically targeted a letter from Joe and Rosalie Vicari, owners of Andiamo and other metro Detroit restaurants, that became public this week. The letter urged fellow restaurant owners and vendors across Michigan to band together and reopen on Dec. 9 if a three-week "pause" on indoor dining is extended. (Selasky, 12/2)
Oklahoma Governor Declares Day Of Prayer As Virus Surges
As the coronavirus surges in Oklahoma, nearing 200,000 total cases on Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared Thursday a day of prayer and fasting in the state. “I believe we must continue to ask God to heal those who are sick, comfort those who are hurting and provide renewed strength and wisdom to all who are managing the effects of COVID-19,” the Republican governor said in a Monday statement. (Miller, 12/2)
As Hospitals Fill With COVID Patients, Medical Reinforcements Are Hard To Find
Hospitals in much of the country are trying to cope with unprecedented numbers of COVID-19 patients. As of Monday, 96,039 were hospitalized, an alarming record that far exceeds the two previous peaks in April and July of just under 60,000 inpatients. But beds and space aren’t the main concern. It’s the workforce. Hospitals are worried staffing levels won’t be able to keep up with demand as doctors, nurses and specialists such as respiratory therapists become exhausted or, worse, infected and sick themselves. (Farmer and Feibel, 12/2)
Bangor Daily News:
She Got COVID-19, Recovered, Then Died. She’s Among The Victims, But Not In The Official Tally
While the official COVID-19 death toll numbers more than a quarter million Americans, the pandemic’s true death toll is likely much higher than because the official count doesn’t include fatalities that are indirectly related to the virus. In October, federal researchers said as many as 100,000 fatalities could indirectly be attributed to the coronavirus. (Curtis, 12/2)
Arizona Coronavirus Patient's Story Goes Viral: 'I'm 23 Years Old And I Just Had A Stroke'
An Arizona coronavirus patient’s story went viral this week after the 23-year-old experienced a mini-stroke due to COVID-19. Riley Behrens, of Tempe, Ariz., tweeted a thread Sunday evening detailing his medical experience, including his diagnosis that he suffered from a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), and encouraging young people to follow public health guidelines. (Coleman, 12/1)
The Wall Street Journal reports on one scheme in which North Korean hackers launched a cyberattack on at least six pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea. Meanwhile, law enforcement warns about potential for fake coronavirus vaccine sales.
The Wall Street Journal:
North Korean Hackers Are Said To Have Targeted Companies Working On Covid-19 Vaccines
North Korean hackers have targeted at least six pharmaceutical companies in the U.S., the U.K. and South Korea working on Covid-19 treatments, according to people familiar with the matter, as the regime seeks sensitive information it could sell or weaponize. The firms include previously unreported targets in the U.S.: Johnson & Johnson and Maryland-based Novavax Inc., which are both working on experimental vaccines, the people said. The list also includes three South Korean companies with Covid-19 drugs in earlier clinical trials, Genexine Inc., Shin Poong Pharmaceutical Co. and Celltrion Inc., they added. (Jeong, 12/2)
Interpol Warns That COVID-19 Vaccines Could Be Targeted By Criminals
The Interpol global police co-ordination agency warned on Wednesday that organised criminal networks could be targeting COVID-19 vaccines, and could look to sell fake shots. Interpol, which is headquartered in France, said it had issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194 member countries, warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online. (12/2)
The Washington Post:
With Covid-19 Vaccines Coming, Federal Investigators Grow Wary Of Fraud
Investigators at the Department of Homeland Security are bracing for a new wave of fraud attempts by criminal groups that officials expect will try to take advantage of the extraordinary demand for doses of the coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna, the two drug companies that applied for emergency vaccine approval this week, have said they will produce enough doses for about 20 million people this month. Health-care employees, law enforcement personnel and other front-line workers are expected to be first in line. (Miroff, 12/1)
In related news —
Social Media Must Prepare For Flood Of Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation
Nearly two years ago, public health experts blamed social media platforms for contributing to a measles outbreak by allowing false claims about the risks of vaccines to spread. Facebook pledged to take tougher action on anti-vaccine misinformation, including making it less prominent in the news feed and not recommending related groups. But shortly after, Facebook-owned Instagram continued to serve up posts from anti-vaccine accounts and hashtags to anyone searching for the word "vaccines." Despite actions against anti-vaccine content since then — some as recent as last month -- Facebook has failed to totally quash the movement on its platforms. (Yurieff, 12/1)
'Fake News' About A Covid-19 Vaccine Has Become A Second Pandemic, Red Cross Chief Says
Covid-19 vaccines are fast approaching, but a second pandemic might impede efforts to recover from the first, according to the president of a global humanitarian aid group. That second pandemic: "fake news" about those very vaccines. Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said in a virtual briefing to the UN Correspondents Association on Monday that governments and institutions needed to implement measures to combat growing mistrust and misinformation. (Kaur and Thomas, 12/1)
Despite behind-the-scenes fuming from the White House, FDA chief Stephen Hahn says that agency is working quickly but that it will take the time it needs because “we absolutely have to do this the right way.”
Trump To FDA: Why Is Europe Beating Us On Vaccine?
A president who preached "America First" is demanding to know why the United States could end up third, or worse, in the global vaccine race. President Donald Trump and his deputies are privately admonishing Food and Drug Administration officials for not moving faster to authorize promising coronavirus vaccines — a push partially motivated by Trump’s desire to claim credit for record-fast vaccine development, four officials said. (Diamond, Cancryn and Owermohle, 12/1)
Pushed To Rush, FDA Head Says Feds Will Get Vaccine 'right'
The head of the agency responsible for authorizing COVID-19 vaccines said Tuesday that it would take the time needed to “get this right,” despite increasing pressure from President Donald Trump to speed up the process. “No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done,” Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, told ABC in an interview on Instagram Live. “But we absolutely have to do this the right way.” (Lemire, Colvin, Perrone and Miller, 12/2)
Dry Ice Rules For Massive Covid-19 Vaccine Airlift Approved
Rules allowing the rapid shipment of Covid-19 vaccines by cargo aircraft have been approved by U.S. transportation regulators. The Transportation Department established safety requirements for carrying the potentially dangerous dry ice needed to keep some vaccines stable, the agency said in a press release Tuesday. It also set standards for carrying flammable batteries needed in the airlift and eased restrictions on how long flight crews involved in the effort can work. (Levin, 12/1)
In other COVID news from the Trump administration —
White House To Host Covid-19 Vaccine Summit, As Trump Seeks To Burnish Record
The Trump administration has invited leading vaccine manufacturers, drug distributors, and government officials to a “Covid-19 Vaccine Summit” next week, just two days before a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meeting to consider the first U.S. application for a Covid-19 vaccine. (Facher, 12/1)
Hahn Downplays White House Meeting On Vaccines
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn downplayed a meeting Tuesday with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, saying he was merely updating the administration on the COVID-19 vaccine authorization process. Axios reported Monday that Meadows summoned Hahn to the West Wing for a morning meeting to explain why emergency use authorization (EUA) for Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine has not been approved faster. (Deese, 12/1)
GAO Calls For COVID-19 Medical Supplies, Testing Guidance
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) yesterday published a report calling for actions such as increasing transparency in COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development and meeting states' needs for scarce medical supplies. In its fourth report on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the GAO also recommended improved COVID-19 testing guidance, more accurate estimates of the number of people relying on unemployment benefits, better oversight of Veterans Affairs nursing homes, and more information on the status of economic impact payments to individuals. (Van Beusekom, 12/1)
The president retweeted a lie accusing an ICU physician of tweeting a fake photo of beds set up in the parking lot at Renown Health in Reno. The governor of Nevada, the CEO of the hospital and the physician himself immediately clapped back, saying, "It is very real."
Nevada Governor: 'Unconscionable' For Trump To Suggest Reno's COVID-19 Surge Unit 'Fake'
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) on Tuesday issued a scathing statement after President Trump suggested in a tweet that a Reno hospital’s overflow coronavirus unit in a parking garage was “fake.” Trump retweeted an account called NetworkinVegas.com, which claimed that the picture of a doctor inside the hospital setup was “fake” because patients were not visible and unused beds were in the background. (Gstalter, 12/1)
Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Reno Doctor Refutes Trump Claim That Photo Of COVID Unit Was Fake
A Reno critical-care physician on Tuesday refuted President Donald Trump’s claim that a photograph the doctor tweeted and remarks he made about treating dying coronavirus patients were “fake.” “It is not fake. It is very real,” ICU doctor Jacob Keeperman said of the photograph of himself wearing a surgical gown and mask after working his first week in the COVID ICU. The photo showed him standing in a parking garage that Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno converted into a medical unit for COVID-19 patients in mid-November because of rising coronavirus caseloads. (Saunders, 12/1)
Renown Health CEO Responds To Trump Tweet Questioning COVID-19 Surge
The CEO of Reno-based Renown Health is speaking out against a tweet President Donald Trump posted Tuesday claiming the COVID-19 surge the health system is experiencing is exaggerated. Trump shared a tweet from an events website called Network in Vegas claiming that a parking garage Renown Health has transformed to an alternative care site for COVID-19 patients is "fake" and isn't treating any patients. Trump retweeted the caption with the comment: "Fake election results in Nevada, also." The tweet occurred as Nevada and the city of Reno experience a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations. According to the state, for the week of Nov. 20, COVID-19 cases grew at a rate of 1.5%, or 1,854 new cases per day. The positivity rate over the 14-day period was 15.8%. (Castellucci, 12/1)
Reno Gazette Journal:
Renown Says It Has 42 COVID Patients In Garage After Trump Retweets Lie About Hospital
Renown Health confirmed on Tuesday morning that it is providing care to COVID-19 patients at its alternative care site inside a parking garage just hours after President Donald Trump shared a tweet that called the deployable medical structure “a scam.” A Renown representative told the Reno Gazette Journal that it has 42 patients receiving care at the parking garage site. The patients are recovering and do not require critical care. (Hidalgo, 12/1)
In related news —
Parscale Says Trump Should Have Been More Empathetic On Coronavirus
Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale says that President Trump’s biggest policy error ahead of the 2020 election was showing a lack of public empathy about the novel coronavirus. “People were scared,” Parscale said in an interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum that aired Tuesday evening. “I think if he would have been publicly empathetic, he would have won by a landslide there. He could have leaned into it instead of run away from it.” (Chalfant, 12/1)
Atlas Departure From White House Cheered By Public Health Officials
The exit of Scott Atlas from the White House coronavirus response task force comes at the pandemic’s worst point, with 170,000 new cases reported every day and deaths and hospitalizations increasing with no signs of stopping. It’s a departure being cheered by many in the public health world, who saw Atlas’s advice to the president as dangerous and anti-science. (Samuels and Hellmann, 12/1)
The New York Times:
It’s Holiday Party Season At The White House. Masks Are Encouraged, But Not Required.
The red and gold party invitations make no mention of the coronavirus, nor do they acknowledge the holiday message that public health officials have been trying to emphasize to Americans: Stay home. Instead, the invitations are the latest example of how President Trump is spending his final weeks in office operating in an alternative universe, denying the realities of life during the pandemic. (Karni, 12/1)
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy are reported to be the final candidates for Department of Health and Human Services secretary.
Biden Closes In On Top Health Leaders As Pandemic Ravages U.S.
President-elect Joe Biden’s front-runner for secretary of Health and Human Services is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and he may announce several of his administration’s health leaders as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the matter. The position of HHS secretary is down to two possibilities, the people said, between Lujan Grisham and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a co-chair of the coronavirus advisory board Biden appointed shortly after he was elected. (Wingrove, Stein and Ruoff, 12/2)
Hispanic Lawmakers Urge Biden To Pick Lujan Grisham For HHS
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have sent a letter to President-elect Joe Biden's transition team lobbying for New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to be nominated for the role of health and human services secretary. The letter, signed by 32 members of Congress, including Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, commends Biden for selecting Cuban-born Alejandro Mayorkas, the first Latino and first immigrant to be nominated for Homeland Security secretary, calling it a "good start" for Latino representation. (Mucha, Fox and Rogers, 12/2)
Biden Adviser Says Race Central To Virus Fight
Addressing racial disparities in the U.S. coronavirus crisis cannot be an afterthought, a top adviser to President-elect Joe Biden on the COVID-19 pandemic response said Tuesday. That means when testing and vaccination programs are designed and implemented, for example, they must consider fairness and equity along with efficiency in order to be truly effective, said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an expert on health care inequality at Yale University, in an interview with The Associated Press. (Johnson, 12/2)
The New York Times:
Biden Shows Off A New Accessory: A Walking Boot
The president-elect of the United States clomped across a flag-studded stage on Tuesday, intending to introduce the economic team that, he hopes, will steer the nation through turmoil. In the process, he introduced the country to a less welcome companion: his walking boot. (Glueck, 12/1)
Lawmakers are negotiating after months of stalled progress. The leading $908-billion package was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators. In chilly New Hampshire, lawmakers meet outside.
The Washington Post:
Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Announces $908 Billion Stimulus Plan, Aiming To Break Logjam
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a coronavirus aid proposal worth about $908 billion on Tuesday, aiming to break a months-long partisan impasse over emergency federal relief for the U.S. economy amid the ongoing pandemic. The new plan came amid a flurry of congressional jostling about the shape of economic relief, with House Democrats assembling a new proposal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) creating a new plan and President-elect Joe Biden calling for a massive government response. The growing calls for action have not led to a unified approach, prompting political leaders to forge ahead in different directions. (Min Kim, Stein and DeBonis, 12/1)
McConnell Offering New Coronavirus Relief Bill After Talks With Mnuchin, Meadows
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday circulated a new coronavirus relief proposal that could garner support from the White House among Senate Republicans on Tuesday. McConnell, during a weekly press conference on Tuesday, said he had been speaking with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about what President Trump could sign. (Carney, 12/1)
In related news about COVID-relief legislation —
Rare Mnuchin-Powell Spat Takes Center Stage At COVID-19 Hearing
A rare public break between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell took center stage during a Senate hearing Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats sparred over the expiration of coronavirus relief. Democrats were eager to exploit the fallout from Mnuchin’s recent decision to close $454 billion in Fed emergency lending facilities set up through the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, a move that elicited public criticism from Powell. (Lane, 12/1)
Coronavirus Urgency Grips Divided Capitol
After months of stalemate, there’s finally a flurry of congressional activity as the coronavirus crisis worsens. But with lawmakers proposing dueling measures and Hill leaders divided over the best path forward, a major relief package approved in December remains elusive. A bipartisan congressional group struck a broad coronavirus compromise on Tuesday, a significant breakthrough after months of failed negotiations. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi restarted her talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after they fell apart before the November election. (Everett and Caygle, 12/1)
Iowa Governor Not Planning State Funds Use For Virus Relief
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday called for Congress to approve money for businesses and families struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic, but she said there are no plans to use available state funds as officials elsewhere have done. Some legislatures are considering allocating state funds as a stopgap measure until Congress agrees to additional federal relief. Asked Tuesday whether she was considering calling lawmakers back into session to approve such a move, she said no. (Pitt, 12/1)
Group Launches Ads Opposing Bipartisan Fix To 'Surprise' Medical Bills
A fiscally conservative group is putting six figures behind new digital ads aimed at sinking a measure to ban the “surprise” medical bills patients get from hospitals and services that aren’t covered by insurance. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance will launch a new ad on Wednesday accusing big insurance companies of trying to push a bill through the lame duck Congress that aims to ban surprise medical bills through “benchmarking,” which sets prices based on the average for a provided service. (Easley, 12/1)
The Washington Post:
Safety Concerns Mean That New Hampshire Lawmakers Are ‘Bundling Up’ And Starting Their Session Outdoors
At the warmest point of the day on Wednesday, the temperature in Concord, N.H., will be just 10 degrees above freezing. But sun is in the forecast — which should come as a relief to members of the New Hampshire lawmakers, who plan to kick off the new legislative session outdoors. “People will be bundling up,” Steve Shurtleff, a Democratic state representative, told the Associated Press. “I think we could relax our dress codes so people can dress appropriately.” (Farzan, 12/2)
How The Coronavirus Has Affected Individual Members Of Congress
The coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the daily work of Congress, which has seen a series of outbreaks. By November, more than 25 members of Congress and at least 150 workers have tested positive, or were presumed so, for the coronavirus. And a Florida member's aide died this summer from COVID-19. As a result, both chambers of Congress have recessed multiple times throughout the year as the Capitol has largely gone without a widespread testing program. (Grisales and Carlsen, 12/1)
Health care organizations aren't required to use a specific format when collecting patient addresses. "As mundane as [addresses] may seem, it is often one of the key elements used for the purposes of patient matching and linking records," said one of the officials coordinating the effort.
ONC To Create Industry Data Standard For Patient Addresses
HHS' Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology on Tuesday unveiled plans to develop an industrywide data standard for documenting addresses in healthcare. The project, dubbed Project US@, will launch early next year. ONC plans to issue the standard for documenting patient addresses in 2021. "This a completable project within the year," Steve Posnack, ONC's deputy national coordinator for health IT, said at a virtual event spotlighting application programming interface projects Tuesday, where the agency announced the new project. (Kim Cohen, 12/1)
In other health industry news —
With New Program, Temple Health Helps Doctors And Nurses Cut Their Massive Student Loan Burdens
So many employees were stressed out about student loans that Temple University Health System this fall offered a new benefit — a concierge service to help them qualify for a much-touted federal program that can massively cut their debt. Trouble is, help from the program, known as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) venture, has been notoriously difficult to get. Meant to assist new doctors, nurses, teachers, soldiers, firefighters and others in public-service jobs, the program has so far been largely a flop. (Arvedlund, 12/2)
CCEMS, Military Partnership Forges Forward With Firsts, Unique Approaches
When the United States Army expanded their EMS Fellowship partnership to include Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services more than a year ago, no one could have expected the extent of the benefit to both entities, but the rare union has explored techniques and uncommon practices that have resulted in lifesaving rescues that have brought headlines for both. (Taylor, 12/1)
UnitedHealth Expects $2 Billion Covid Earnings Hit Next Year
UnitedHealth Group Inc. expects the pandemic to carve $2 billion out of its profits next year, with Covid-19 testing and treatment costs remaining steady even as more Americans return to their doctors’ offices for routine care. Executives said costs for virus testing and treatment won’t be offset by widespread deferrals in care in 2021, as they were in 2020 when U.S. medical providers shut down most non-urgent in-person care for weeks during the spring. (Tozzi, 12/1)
Des Moines Register:
UnityPoint Health Hires New CEO Clay Holderman From New Mexico
UnityPoint Health, one of Iowa's biggest hospital and clinic systems, has hired a New Mexico hospital executive as its new chief executive officer. Clay Holderman is expected to take the reins in February 2021, the West Des Moines company announced Tuesday. Holderman currently is executive vice president and chief operating officer for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in New Mexico. (Leys, 12/1)
Tenet Names New CEO Of Revenue Cycle Subsidiary Conifer
Tenet Healthcare Corp. named J. Roger Davis as CEO of its revenue cycle management subsidiary Conifer Health Solutions, the Dallas-based hospital chain announced Tuesday. Davis replaced Joseph Eazor, who stepped down in August for personal reasons, marking the third leadership change in about a year. Tenet had planned to sell Conifer, but instead decided to pursue a tax-free spinoff that would create an independent, publicly traded company. (Kacik, 12/1)
Researchers said the asthma study was done on inpatients, and results might be different for outpatients.
People With Asthma Less Likely To Contract COVID-19: Study
People with asthma may be at reduced risk of contracting the coronavirus, according to research published last week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Israeli researchers tested 37,469 subjects, 6 percent of whom were positive for the virus. Of the subjects positive for the virus, 6.75 percent had asthma, compared to 9.62 percent of those who were negative for COVID-19, according to the study results. (Budryk, 12/1)
A Sedentary Covid-19 Lockdown Can Impact Health In Just 2 Weeks
As the world digs in for the second wave of Covid-19, flu season and winter, people also face a serious risk from reduced physical activity — especially older adults. Developing a plan to be physically active now will help you to stay strong and healthy through the long winter ahead. (McKendry, 12/2)
In mental health news —
Tennessee Expands COVID-19 Mental Health Hotline To Teachers
Tennessee officials have expanded a mental health hotline during COVID-19 times to extend support to teachers. The state Department of Education says the hotline provides free and confidential support from trained volunteer mental health professionals to people experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to the pandemic. (12/2)
The Washington Post:
How To Talk To Loved Ones About Their Mental Health
The year 2020 has exacted a psychological toll on Americans. Levels of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed alongside increases in drug overdoses and alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contained an alarming statistic: When young adults were asked if they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days, about 25 percent said they had. “The collective way a lot of people in the United States might be feeling right now is probably indicative of mental fatigue,” said Stephen O’Connor, a clinical psychologist and chief of the Suicide Prevention Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health. (Chiu, 12/1)
Psychologist Says Tailored Messaging Is Key For Effective Public Health Policy
For public health leaders, understanding different communication styles and preferences — and how people respond to them — is key to reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Humans often don't behave logically. Their decisions don't always follow the evidence. Those are among the ideas that Gaurav Suri considers in his work studying decision-making and motivation. He's an experimental psychologist and a computational neuroscientist at San Francisco State University. (Cornish, 12/1)
Starbucks Gives Healthcare Workers Free Coffee As COVID-19 Cases Rise
Starbucks is bringing back its free coffee giveaway for first responders and health care workers as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. The Seattle-based coffee giant announced Tuesday that through Dec. 31 "any customer who identifies as a front-line responder to the COVID-19 outbreak" will receive a free tall brewed coffee, hot or iced. (Tyko, 12/1)
'Changed Our Lives': Tennessee Baby Born From 27-Year-Old Frozen Embryo Breaks Record
Tina and Ben Gibson spent years praying for a baby — but infertility stood in the way. Now, the couple has two babies thanks to ground-breaking medical science. The Gibsons' most recent child was born on Oct. 26, thanks to an embryo adoption that's put little Molly Everette Gibson into the world record books. Molly breaks the record of her older sister, Emma Wren Gibson, who was born in 2017 after a similar process of transferring a thawed then 24-year-old donated embryo for Tina to carry. (Grantham-Philips, 12/1)
Choose Anti-Inflammatory Foods To Lower Heart Disease And Stroke Risk, Study Says
A variety of food containing large amounts of antioxidants and vitamins -- such as leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, whole grains, fruits, nuts, fatty fish and olive oil -- can support a healthy inflammatory response and reduce cardiovascular risk. Eating red meat and highly processed foods, however, contributes to chronic inflammation in the body, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (LaMotte, 12/2)
The New York Times:
Elliot Page, Oscar-Nominated ‘Juno’ Star, Announces He Is Transgender
Elliot Page, the Oscar-nominated star of “Juno,” announced on Tuesday that he is transgender. “Hi friends, I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot,” Page, who as Ellen Page starred in several critically acclaimed films, wrote in a statement that he posted on Twitter and Instagram. “I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived at this place in my life.” (Salam, 12/1)
Other names in the news: Agios Pharmaceuticals, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and CarepathRx.
Ovid’s Treatment For A Rare, Untreatable Disease Fails In A Key Trial
Ovid Therapeutics’ experimental drug for a devastating rare disease proved no better than placebo in a pivotal clinical trial, the company said Tuesday, a bitter disappointment for families dealing with the untreatable condition. The study enrolled 97 children with Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes seizures and severe cognitive impairment, and randomized them to receive either Ovid’s drug, OV101, or placebo. (Garde, 12/1)
Agios Drug For Rare Form Of Anemia Achieves Main Goal Of Late-Stage Trial
Agios Pharmaceuticals said Tuesday that its experimental drug mitapivat increased hemoglobin levels in patients with a rare form of anemia — achieving the primary goal of a Phase 3 clinical trial. Mitapivat is the most important and closely followed medicine in Agios’ research pipeline because of its potential to treat a range of rare blood diseases defined by the destruction or malfunction of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. (Feuerstein, 12/1)
UPMC To Sell Part Of Pharmacy Operations For $400 Million
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center plans to sell its pharmacy operations to pharmacy management company CarepathRx for $400 million, the organizations announced Tuesday. The deal rounds out CarepathRx's acquisition strategy, adding the back-office operations of UPMC's Chartwell subsidiary to its portfolio of infusion treatment oversight, specialty drug prescription optimization as well as medication management services for chronically ill patients. The health system will become an investor in CarepathRx when the transaction closes in an estimated 30 to 45 days. (Kacik, 12/1)
Read about the biggest pharmaceutical developments and pricing stories from the past week in KHN's Prescription Drug Watch roundup.
Crain's Chicago Business:
Biden Brings Drug Price Worries For Big Pharma
Divided government in Washington threatens much of President-elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda, but prescription drug pricing is a rare area where he might find common ground with a Republican-controlled Senate. With federal policymakers under immense pressure to rein in rising drug costs, a desire to control the price of medications crosses party lines. But the pharmaceutical industry fiercely opposes such reforms, arguing that lower prices would stifle innovation. That argument carries more weight at a time when drugmakers are winning plaudits for developing desperately needed COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. (Goldberg, 11/23)
Democrats Were United On Top Issues This Congress — But Will It Hold?
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats will enter the next Congress with a slighter majority — and less cushion to absorb defections — as they eye an ambitious legislative agenda featuring a host of hot-button issues, from climate change to immigration. Republicans have already flipped 11 seats this cycle, netting eight with several more expected, according to a tally by The New York Times. That leaves Democrats facing the prospect of controlling just 222 seats in the lower chamber next year — the smallest House majority in decades — and GOP leaders are practically salivating at the chance to block the Democrats' legislative wish list just as President-elect Joe Biden steps into the White House. (lillis, 11/29)
Florida, Companies Wrangle Over Opioid Profits
Cardinal Health, one of the country’s major drug distributors, is fighting Florida’s attempt to glean how much profit the company has made distributing pain medications, as the state tries to recoup money spent combating opioid addiction and overdoses. The wrangling over Cardinal’s profits comes in a lawsuit, filed more than two years ago by the Florida attorney general’s office, seeking unspecified damages against drug manufacturers, retailers and distributors. The case is one of myriad similar legal challenges throughout the country about the devastation wrought by opioids such as oxycodone. (Kam, 12/1)
Tampa Rep. To Hold Pharmacy Benefit Managers Accountable
Tampa Rep. Jackie Toledo says she will soon refile a version of her 2020 proposed legislation that intends to lower prescription drug prices by holding pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) more accountable. PBMs are third party companies that serve as intermediaries between drug companies and insurance companies. They pool money from contracted pharmacies to gain purchasing power, then negotiate rates and rebates with the pharmaceutical companies. Their business agreements have raised questions about pricing transparency and state legislators, like Toledo, have been pushing to regulate PBMs in recent years. (Perry, 11/30)
Fate Of Manufacturer Prescription Drug Discounts Hinges On State Lawmakers
Thousands of Massachusetts residents risk losing access to discounts on vital prescription drugs by the end of this year without action from state lawmakers, a coalition of patient advocacy groups warned Tuesday. The Patients for Prescription Access Coalition urged the six-member fiscal 2021 Budget Conference Committee to extend a law that allows people with chronic conditions to afford medications needed to manage their illnesses. (Szaniszlo, 11/26)
How To Lower Your Prescription Drug Costs
Lowering the cost of your prescription drugs can save you a lot of money. Amazon opened an online pharmacy last week that allows customers to order medication or prescription refills, and have them delivered to their front door in a couple of days. However, there are other ways to cut costs even further. (Ehling, 11/24)
Read recent commentaries about drug-cost issues.
What Better Start For Bipartisanship And Healing Than Lowering Drug Costs?
On November 20, President Donald Trump, who most don't perceive to be the most bipartisan political figure in Washington, released an executive order that could end the lame-duck gridlock currently seen in the nation's capital. The executive order will reduce Medicare drug prices by preventing middlemen (namely, insurers and pharmacy benefit managers) from pocketing cost-savings rather than passing them along to seniors. The widely praised measure will save patients up to 30-percent on their prescription costs. (Lynn Westmoreland, 11/26)
The New York Times:
After 4 Years Of Trump, Medicare And Medicaid Badly Need Attention
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to “marshal the forces of science” in his administration. Undoubtedly he needs to start by bolstering the credibility of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But a third health agency, central to the lives of older Americans, low-income families and the disabled, is sorely in need of his attention. Science has also been under assault at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which provides federal health insurance to more than 130 million Americans at a cost of more than $1 trillion, nearly twice the Pentagon’s budget. (Peter B. Bach, 12/1)
Amazon Pharmacy Empowers Consumers
Amazon Pharmacy’s recently announced advance into the prescription drug distribution arena caused an immediate tumble of the stock prices of pharmacy giants and a major drug price-tracking platform. The reason is that Amazon Pharmacy sells prescription drugs by mail, offers savings for its Amazon Prime members when paying without insurance, and enables user-friendly comparative price-shopping. Unlike the purchase of cars, houses or other merchandise, comparison shopping is generally an alien concept in the purchase of prescription drugs. Third-party payment systems, whereby someone other than the customer pays for drugs, usually limit uninformed patients’ access to the cost of drugs. Highly regressive pricing discrimination known as “soaking the poor” and “the sick subsidizing the healthy” has, unfortunately, became an unspoken money-making tenet for too many health care companies. (Ge Bai, Thomas Cordeiro and Shivaram Rajgopal, 11/24)
What Purpose Do Pharmacy Benefit Managers Serve?
The pharmacy industry represents over $500 billion in annual revenues, the vast majority flowing through the PBMs. Just four PBMs control 80% of U.S. drug spending, and of note, all are owned by or owners of health insurance companies. Eighteen nonprofit state Blues plans established their own PBM in 2019. The for-profit Anthem Blue Cross entity in 14 states expects its new PBM to generate $800 million in first-year profit. Why let Cigna/Express Scripts keep the money? Maybe someone can describe for me the market difference between a nonprofit health insurer and a for-profit insurer. For sure, neither attempts to limit management compensation. (Ron Zoeller, 11/26)
Media reports are from Ohio, Indiana, Maine, Texas and Kentucky.
Which Ohio Long-Term Care Facilities Had COVID-19 Deaths? ODH Doesn't Know
More than 3,700 Ohioans have died from COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, but the Ohio Department of Health now says it does not know the facilities where they died. The health department has for months taken the position that releasing the names of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 deaths would violate state privacy laws. The Enquirer filed a complaint seeking the records in the Ohio Court of Claims in mid-August. (Borchardt, 12/1)
As Indiana Numbers Soar, Floyd County Commissioners Remove COVID-19 Response Leader
Commissioners in a Southern Indiana county voted Tuesday night to remove the doctor heading up their COVID-19 response. Floyd County's commissioners voted 2-1 not to approve the certification for Dr. Tom Harris, the county's leading health officer, for another four years despite the health department's board of directors voting to keep him as health officer. The board makes the initial choice, and the commissioners confirm or reject that choice. (Archie, 12/1)
Maine Gets More Than $3M From FEMA For Protective Gear
Maine is set to receive more than $3.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with the costs of personal protective equipment incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic. FEMA officials said the grant is coming to the state as reimbursement for items including disposable non-sterile isolation gowns and disposable isolation units. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention distributed the items in response to emergency needs in the state. (12/2)
In other news from Texas and Kentucky —
Texas Sees Increase In Number Of Residents Picking Affordable Care Act Plans
Texans are enrolling in health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange at significantly higher rates than last year. The number of Texans choosing plans during the first three full weeks of the open enrollment period that began Nov. 1 jumped 17 percent to about 383,000 from 326,000 during approximately the same period last year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Open enrollment ends Dec. 15. (Wu, 12/1)
Louisville Mayor Declares Racism A Public Health Crisis
Louisville’s mayor, weathering heavy criticism in the wake of the Breonna Taylor shooting, has outlined a series of steps to improve racial disparities in Kentucky’s largest city. Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order Tuesday declaring racism a public health crisis. He said officials “need to do everything we can to repair distrust through action.” (12/1)
Will the global campaign help repair its image? News is also from Japan, Canada and Australia.
China Has Promised Millions Of Coronavirus Vaccines To Countries Around The World. And It Is Ready To Deliver Them
Inside a gray warehouse at the Shenzhen International Airport in southern China, a row of white chambers sits in a cordoned-off corner, each fitted with a display screen showing the customized temperature inside. A security worker in face mask, surgical gown and rubber gloves stands guard. Anyone entering this part of the warehouse has to either complete two weeks of quarantine or wear a head-to-toe hazmat suit. (Culver and Gan, 12/2)
In '76 Days,' A Documentary Portrait Of Lockdown In Wuhan
“Papa!” screams a hospital worker, covered from head to toe in a Hazmat suit and PPE, in the opening moments of the documentary “76 Days.” This is in the early days of the pandemic in Wuhan, back in January and February when the city of 11 million went into a 2 1/2-month lockdown and hospitals were overrun. The health worker’s father has just died, and her agony at not being able to sit by his side is overwhelming. Her colleagues restrain her as she sobs, moaning, “Papa, you’ll stay forever in my heart.” (12/2)
Japan Parliament Passes Bill To Provide Free Covid Vaccinations
Japan’s parliament passed a bill to provide coronavirus vaccinations free of charge with the central government covering the cost, offering a key plan to stem the virus as the country struggles with its worst-yet wave of infections. Wednesday’s passage in the upper house of parliament following approval in the more powerful lower house will bring the law into effect. It also makes local governments responsible for administering the immunizations, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. (Reynolds, 12/2)
Canada Not Ready To Lift Border Restrictions With US As COVID-19 Spikes
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that his country is not ready to loosen border restrictions with the United States given spiking U.S. coronavirus cases, though he said it was "welcome news" that President-elect Joe Biden was taking the situation seriously. “We are incredibly lucky that trade in essential goods, in agricultural products, in pharmaceuticals is flowing back and forth as it always has,” Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., according to The Washington Post. “It’s just not people traveling, which I think is the important thing.” (Budryk, 12/1)
COVID-Free For Days, Australian State Resumes Singing, Dancing, Religious Services
Australia’s most populous state said that from Monday it would remove limits on the number of people at weddings, bars and religious services and end a ban on public venue dancing as a run of coronavirus-free days prompted a broad downgrade of social distancing rules. (Kaye, 12/2)
Opinion writers weigh in on the pressures mounting in hospitals as COVID surges in many areas, as well as other issues.
The Philadelphia Inquirer:
For Health-Care Workers During COVID, The Burnout Is Real, And It’s Getting Worse
COVID-19 continues to spike in Philadelphia. It is exhausting. Winter looms, cold weather, and isolation. The pandemic is frustrating. I am an emergency physician here in Philadelphia, and I share the moments of frustration and exhaustion. The men and women who work in health care, like all Philadelphians, have grit. Grit sustains us. It helps us navigate catastrophes and tragedies. Despite the chaos and the heartache, I am surrounded by people powered by grit. (Anish Agarwal, 12/2)
A Viral COVID-19 Photo Shows The Best Of Humanity In The Worst Of Times
The picture of the doctor and the elderly man offers a glimpse of what is in store if we move too quickly. It signifies that the pandemic fatigue many are experiencing in this second wave of the virus is the equivalent of a minor inconvenience. The photo released by Getty Images captured the poignant moment during a shoot documenting the strain of COVID-19 on doctors and nurses at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. But it could have been any city, any town or any hospital where doctors and nurses are filling the role of comforter in addition to their medical duties. (Dahleen Glanton, 12/2)
The Wall Street Journal:
We Decide How Much Covid
A curious email arrived after Saturday’s column, from a state official overseeing medical care for millions of Medicaid beneficiaries, including nursing-home inmates, in a state whose nursing-home deaths from Covid-19 are nothing to brag about. I will withhold his name, but he said my column was “ill-informed,” “inaccurate” and “unscientific rubbish” without stating any claim that he was disagreeing with. He suggested I had gotten my information from Steve Bannon and Ben Carson, though I mentioned neither man. Apparently because I cited a Senate hearing on treating early-stage Covid with a variety of drugs including hydroxychloroquine, he wrote: “I suggest if infected you pledge to stay home, take hydroxychloroquine, and not go to the hospital for more intensive treatment.” This person is a medical doctor. (Holman W. Jenkins, 12/1)
The Washington Post:
Sweden's Pandemic Experiment Flopped. Now It Faces A Wave Of Pain.
Sweden's initial response to the coronavirus pandemic was mild, keeping younger schoolchildren in class, allowing businesses and restaurants to stay open with distancing, limiting public gatherings to 50 people or fewer and hoping the population would develop immunity to a sufficient level that tighter restrictions would not be needed. Now, Sweden is caught up in a surge of infections and rising deaths, and a needed reconsideration is underway. There are important lessons, including: Don’t try this if you want to save lives. (12/1)
The Washington Post:
Cancel Your Winter Holiday Travel Plans Now
Americans have a hard truth to face, and the sooner we do it the better: We must cancel travel over the winter holidays and find different ways to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s clear what lies ahead. In November, the United States added 4 million new coronavirus infections, while hospitalizations broke records daily for more than two weeks in a row. All projections indicate that December will be worse than November. So there’s no reason to wait to issue a warning. (Leana S. Wen, 12/1)
Let The Littlest State Lead Us On COVID-19
With hospital beds filled and field hospitals scrambling to open, Gov. Gina Raimondo on Monday ordered Rhode Island to begin a two-week pause in an attempt to stop out-of-control coronavirus spread in her state. The governor ordered bars, gyms, movie theaters and the like closed — but she is keeping schools open. Raimondo should be praised for recognizing what too many state and local leaders ignore: Hard data have proven, and America’s scientists have reached consensus, that students in classrooms are not significant spreaders of COVID-19. (Tressa Pankovits, 12/1)
The Washington Post:
Rand Paul Is Wrong. Anthony Fauci Owes No One An Apology.
You might think Sen. Rand Paul would be pleased to hear Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, change his position on whether to keep schools open during the pandemic. A few months ago, this was one of the main issues on which the two sparred: The Kentucky Republican wanted to keep them open; Fauci was more reluctant. Now, with the benefit of data more clearly showing that schools have not been a major source of covid-19 spread, Fauci has become more bullish on in-person education. “Close the bars and keep the schools open,” Fauci said on ABC News on Sunday, before adding that there is no “one size fits all” solution to the problem. (Robert Gebelhoff, 12/1)
In addition to expressing views about pandemic-related issues related, editorial pages look at harmful health policies on display at immigration centers.
Comprehensive Race, Ethnicity Data Are Needed To Fight Covid-19
This year has challenged Americans to confront their understanding of society and to start rewriting the future of equity in many national institutions, including our health care system. As health care executives, we represent public health and medical experts fighting to eliminate health disparities. We are also members of one of the most vulnerable populations — Black Americans — who find themselves at a devastating confluence of risk for Covid-19 and for kidney disease, one of the chronic conditions that portends the worst Covid-19 outcomes. (Oliver T. Brooks and Lavarne A. Burton, 12/2)
The New York Times:
The Line For A Coronavirus Vaccine Is Forming
On Monday, Moderna became the second drugmaker, after Pfizer, to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of its coronavirus vaccine. If the companies get it, Americans could start receiving their first shots as early as next weekend — both vaccines require two, spaced several weeks apart — with enough doses for some 20 million people by January. (Spencer Bokat-Lindell, 12/1)
The Washington Post:
Yes, Coronavirus Testing Works. But Not In The Way You Might Expect.
The White House is planning to host large parties again for the holidays, only this time, officials are apparently not even bothering to test the guests in advance. Presumably the administration has finally, belatedly realized that testing alone won’t protect people from the virus. Unfortunately, officials still haven’t learned what they needed to, which is not “tests don’t work,” but “testing is a powerful tool with some major limitations.” If they’d absorbed that lesson, President Trump might have led on an issue where there’s still a whole lot of confusion. (Megan McArdle, 12/1)
I Jab Myself Daily To Stay Healthy, And People Can't Wear A Mask?
We've got this. That's what I thought when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit the US and experts were just asking Americans to wash our hands -- and then wear masks and avoid each other as best as we could. Those seemed like minor concessions to make for everyone's health and safety. Admittedly, I was looking at the pandemic through the eyes of someone with an incurable disease: Type 1 Diabetes. (Cristina Alesci, 12/1)
COVID-19 Is Causing Health Spending To Go Down
We have never seen a year in which health spending actually goes down. Now the seemingly impossible is happening, but the reason – COVID-19 – makes it both anomalous and more tragic than a cause for celebration. Year-to-date spending on health services is down about 2% from last year. Health spending for the calendar year may end up lower than it was in 2019. Adding spending for drugs, which are less affected by COVID-19 and have not fallen, total health spending is still down by about 0.5% from last year. At its low point in April when the pandemic first really hit, spending on health services had fallen an eye popping 32% on an annualized basis. (Drew Altman, 12/2)
The U.S. Must Support Innovation As Well As Access To Care For All
The deadly spread of Covid-19 around the world has highlighted the importance of innovation and cooperation between the various actors in the U.S. health care system. It has shown what can be achieved in an environment that rewards innovation and promotes scientific advances. But it has also exposed that the system does not work for everyone. (Giovanni Caforio, 12/1)
Los Angeles Times:
Why Are Some Churches So Determined To Hold Indoor Services?
California is arguing strenuously that places of worship have not been singled out for more restrictive rules. There are no limits on the number of people who can worship outdoors. Previously, indoor gatherings were restricted to 100 persons or 25% of building capacity, whichever was lower. But because coronavirus cases are spiking in most California counties, the governor has imposed an outdoor-only rule on large gatherings, including houses of worship. That’s an extreme measure for an extreme moment.The problem here is that worshippers are using the cover of the 1st Amendment to openly flout public health rules. Their behavior says, “I don’t care if I get infected, and I don’t care if you do, either.” This seems especially selfish on the part of the churchgoing folks who like to think they are their brother’s keeper. (Robin Abcarian, 12/1)
The New York Times:
The Supreme Court Was Right To Block Cuomo’s Religious Restrictions
The Supreme Court last week made a major move toward constitutional normalcy: It blocked enforcement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hyper-restrictive rules for in-person religious services in New York until the government provides logical justification for treating worship more harshly than seemingly comparable (or riskier) activities. Unfortunately, the substance of the decision has been drowned out by a single-minded focus on judicial politics — the first evidence that President Trump’s appointments to the court are making a difference. (Michael W. McConnell and Max Raskin, 12/1)
The New York Times:
Why Doesn't The U.S. Give Flu Vaccines To Migrant Children?
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, Americans have another disease to worry about — the flu. Fortunately, there’s already a cheap, effective and readily available influenza vaccine. So why aren’t migrant children in U.S. detention facilities getting it when we know the flu can be deadly? Under the Trump administration, at least three children who were detained have died of the flu. (Mario Mendoza, 12/2)
Advice For The Next CMS Administrator's First 100 Days
This week four years ago, I was working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, helping lead the national Medicaid program. The Affordable Care Act was hitting its stride. The number of uninsured people was at a historic low. The rate of people being readmitted to hospitals soon after being discharged was coming down. But costs were unsustainably rising, health care providers were burning out, and the opioid crisis was spiraling out of control. (Andrey Ostrovsky, 12/2)