FTC moves to block New Jersey hospital acquisition

  • The Federal Trade Commission is suing to block New Jersey’s largest health system, Hackensack Meridian Health, from acquiring a close competitor, Englewood Health. That system operates Englewood Hospital, an independent hospital and one of the last in the area, according to the Star-Ledger.   
  • After the tie-up, Hackensack would control three of the six acute care hospitals in Bergen County, the most populated county in the state.
  • The loss of competition between the two would leave insurers with few options and would allow Hackensack to obtain higher prices from insurers, leading to higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs for consumers, the FTC alleged in a statement Thursday.

In each case, the FTC has argued the deals would eliminate close competitors and lead to higher costs and lower quality of care.

Hackensack Meridian Health announced the intent to merge in October 2019.

At the time, Hackensack said Englewood would become a tertiary hub for Hackensack with a focus on a slew of services lines including cardiovascular care, neurosciences and oncology. Englewood said it would also benefit from the affiliations Hackensack enjoyed with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

As part of the announcement, Hackensack committed to invest $400 million in Englewood Health.

Hackensack operates its flagship hospital, Hackensack University Medical Center, and partially owns Pascack Valley Medical Center, which are both within 10 miles of Englewood Hospital, according to the FTC.

November jobs report: US economy adds 245,000 jobs, unemployment rate falls to 6.7%

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/november-2020-jobs-report-labor-market-coronavirus-pandemic-unemployment-183714326.html

The 245,000 new jobs added last month is smallest since U.S. recovery began  in May - MarketWatch

The U.S. economy added back the smallest number of jobs in seven months in November, as the labor market endured mounting pressure from the coronavirus pandemic while businesses wait for a vaccine to be distributed next year.

The U.S. Department of Labor released its monthly jobs report Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET. Here were the main results from the report, compared to Bloomberg consensus data as of Friday morning:

  • Change in non-farm payrolls: +245,000 vs. +460,000 expected and a revised +610,000 in October
  • Unemployment rate: 6.7% vs. 6.7% expected and 6.9% in October
  • Average Hourly Earnings month-over-month: 0.3% vs. +0.1% expected and +0.1% in October
  • Average Hourly Earnings year-over-year: 4.4% vs. +4.2% expected and a revised +4.4% in October

During November, a plethora of new stay-in-place measures and curfews swept the nation as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths swelled to record levels. These renewed restrictions weighed on the rate of the recovery in the labor market, which had already been slowing after a record surge in rehiring followed the initial wave of lockdowns in the spring.

To that end, job gains in November sharply missed expectations. Non-farm payrolls grew by just 245,000 during the month for the smallest number since April’s record, virus-induced decline. October’s payroll gain was downwardly revised to 610,000 from the 638,000 reported earlier, while September’s gain was raised to 711,000 from 672,000.

A third straight month of declining government employment served as a drag on the headline payrolls figure, as another 93,000 temporary workers hired for the 2020 Census were let go.

In the private sector, retail trade industries shed nearly 35,000 jobs following a gain of 95,000 in October. Leisure and hospitality employers added just 31,000 jobs during November, declining by nearly 90% from October. And in goods-producing industries, manufacturing jobs rose by only 27,000 for the month, falling short of the 40,000 expected.

But a handful of other industries added more jobs in November from October: Transportation and warehousing jobs grew by 145,000 to more than double October’s advance, and growth in wholesale trade positions also doubled to 10,400.

November’s unemployment rate also improved just marginally to 6.7% from the 6.9% reported in October. While down from a pandemic-era high of 14.7% in April, the jobless rate remains nearly double that from before the pandemic.

Other employment reports this week underscored the decelerating trend. Private-sector hiring fell to the lowest level in four months in November, according to data tracked by ADP. New weekly jobless claims began rising again around the 12th of the month, when the Labor Department conducts its surveys for its monthly jobs report. And in the Federal Reserve’s November Beige Book, the central bank noted that nearly all districts reported rising employment, “but for most, the pace was slow, at best, and the recovery remained incomplete.”

The U.S. economy still has a ways to go before fully making up for the drop in payrolls induced by the pandemic. Even with a seventh straight month of net job gains, the economy remains about 9.8 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level in February. The U.S. economy lost more than 22 million jobs between March and April.

And worryingly, the number of the long-term unemployed has kept climbing. Those classified as “permanent job losers” totaled 3.7 million in November, eclipsing the number of individuals on temporary layoff for the second time since the start of the pandemic. Permanent job losers have increased by 2.5 million since February, before the pandemic meaningfully hit the U.S. economy.

In Washington, congressional lawmakers have for months been at a stalemate over the size and scope of another stimulus package, which could help provide funds for businesses to help keep workers employed, and offer extended unemployment benefits for those the pandemic has kept out of work. Federal unemployment programs authorized under the CARES Act in the spring are poised to expire at the end of the month. These include the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance programs, which together provide benefits for more than 13 million Americans.

“The only thing that matters about today’s NFP [non-farm payrolls] report is whether it increases the likelihood of a stimulus deal getting done during the lame duck session,” Peter Tchir, head of macro strategy for Academy Securities, said in an email Friday morning. “While the unemployment rate shrunk and wages ticked up nicely, the headline number dropped significantly, was well below average expectations, and included some downward revisions to last month (and upward revisions to 2 months ago)all of which point to a less robust job market.”

U.S. exceeds 100,000 COVID-related hospitalizations

https://www.axios.com/us-100000-covid-19-hospitalizations-first-time-6c7a6544-1d18-4d63-9f0e-499a44c3f444.html

eople wait outside the Emergency room of the Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park, California on December 1.

More than 100,200 Americans were hospitalized as of Wednesday due to the coronavirus for the first time since the outbreak began in early 2020, per the COVID Tracking Project.

The big picture: The milestone comes as health officials anticipated cases to surge due to holiday travel and gatherings. The impact of the holiday remains notable, as many states across the country are only reporting partial data.

Flashback: The daily rate of new coronavirus infections rose by about 10% in week leading up to Thanksgiving, continuing a dismal trend that may get even worse in the weeks to come.

  • Before the Thanksgiving holiday, the COVID Tracking Project warned of a “double-weekend pattern.
  • “Far fewer people will be tested on Thanksgiving Day, and perhaps on the day after as well, and then the usual weekend pattern will begin,” it said.
  • “Death reporting, too, will slow down for an unknown number of days.”

What to watch: That backlog is expected to clear sometime this week, resulting in a potentially confusing surge on all metrics in the meantime.

By the numbers: The U.S. reported 13.7 million cases (confirmed and probable), 1.4 million tests, 196,000 cases and 2,733 deaths on Wednesday.

  • To date, 264,522 people in the country have died from the virus.
  • California confirmed more than 20,000 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday — the highest daily case count for any state so far during the pandemic.
  • Wednesday’s death count is the second highest on record since May 7, and marks the first time deaths have topped 5,000 over a two-day stretch.

Coronavirus hospitalizations top 100,000 for the first time

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-hospitalizations-pandemic-cases-outbreak-bad-1ce7ea5e-15a6-43d2-addd-92cb5eee534f.html

U.S. Covid hospitalizations top 100,000, an 'unfathomable' milestone

More than 100,000 Americans are now in the hospital with coronavirus infections — a new record, an indication that the pandemic is continuing to get worse and a reminder that the virus is still very dangerous.

Why it matters: Hospitalizations are a way to measure severe illnesses — and severe illnesses are on the rise across the U.S. In some areas, health systems and health care workers are already overwhelmed, and outbreaks are only getting worse.

By the numbers: For weeks, every available data point has said the same thing — that the pandemic is as bad as it’s ever been in the U.S.

  • Yesterday’s grim new milestone represents an 11% increase in hospitalizations over the past week, and a 26% jump over the past two weeks.
  • Hospitalizations are rising in 38 states, in some cases reaching unsustainable levels.

A staggering 29% of all the hospital beds in Nevada are occupied by coronavirus patients, the highest rate in the country.

  • That represents an enormous influx of new patients, on top of all the other people who are in the hospital for other reasons — which puts a serious strain on hospitals’ overall capacity, and on the doctors and nurses who staff them.
  • Fueled by that surge in coronavirus patients, 77% of Nevada’s inpatient beds and 80% of its intensive-care beds are now in use, according to federal data. And coronavirus infections are continuing to rise, so many more beds will soon be full.

Between the lines: Many rural areas already have more patients than they can handle, prompting local hospitals to send their coronavirus patients to the nearest city with some capacity left to spare. But as cases keep rising, everyone’s capacity shrinks.

  • In New Mexico, for example, coronavirus patients are using 27% of hospital beds. To put that number in perspective: It’s a surge that has left the entire state with just 16 ICU beds left to spare.

Coronavirus patients are also filling 20% of the hospital beds in Colorado and Arizona. And in 32 more states, at least 10% of all hospital beds have a coronavirus patient in them.

How it works: Each week, Axios has been tracking the change in new coronavirus cases. But the Thanksgiving holiday disrupted states’ reporting of those numbers, and we’re afraid that could paint a distorted picture this week.

  • The holiday led to some significant reporting delays, which would make the number of new cases seem artificially low — and then when states report that backlog of data all at once, the spike in cases could be artificially high.
  • Hospitalization data is not subject to the same reporting issues, so we’re using that this week as a more reliable measure of where the pandemic stands.

Cartoon – Greatest Covid Symptom

Michael Ramirez: In Denial - The Virginian-Pilot - The Virginian-Pilot

Biden Closes In on Top Health Leaders as Pandemic Ravages U.S.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-02/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.

Biden’s health team will assume office with the U.S. still suffering from the pandemic, as virus cases and hospitalizations soared over the past month. His health secretary is expected to have input on filling other top health posts, such as FDA commissioner and the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the people said, so those appointments may not be announced until later.

The Health and Human Services secretary will have the tough task of rebuilding Obamacare, which Biden has promised to expand. That will be a difficult undertaking with a Republican-led Senate.

Murthy or Jeff Zients, who led the Obama administration effort to repair healthcare.gov, the faulty Obamacare website, may be named to a leadership role on the pandemic, according to the people familiar with the matter — a “Covid-19 czar.”

Mandy Cohen, the North Carolina state health secretary, is a favorite for CMS, the people said. Biden’s choices to lead the Food and Drug Administration appear narrowed down to David Kessler, a former commissioner of the agency who is another co-chair of his coronavirus advisory board, and Joshua Sharfstein, a former FDA official who is a vice dean at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Biden announced his economic team on Tuesday, a group led by Treasury Secretary-designate Janet Yellen whose top priority will be restoring jobs eliminated by the pandemic. An announcement on some of his health team could come as soon as Monday, the people said.

The people familiar with the matter asked not to be identified because talks are still ongoing and no final decision has been made. It’s not clear how many people will be announced at once, or which positions would later be filled by the health secretary once the Biden administration is in place.

Biden’s transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. recorded 158,000 new coronavirus infections on Monday and a record 205,000 cases three days earlier. Biden will take office as distribution of coronavirus vaccines ramps up, and he has warned that any delay in the transition to his administration could slow or complicate that endeavor.

Lujan Grisham is seen as having an easier path to confirmation than Murthy, who has spoken out against gun violence as a public health threat and may draw strong opposition from Senate Republicans as a result, the people familiar with the matter said.

If he isn’t nominated to lead HHS, Murthy is under consideration as Covid-19 czar or another role, including a second stint as surgeon general, the people said. Murthy talks to Biden almost every day as co-chair of his advisory board and is seen as having influential supporters.

Murthy and Zients have also represented Biden’s transition team on calls with current HHS officials, two of the people said.

Biden’s team is still discussing what the White House coronavirus task force and Operation Warp Speed — the Trump administration’s effort to fast-track vaccines — will look like under the new administration.

If Biden announces his health team next week, he may be just days ahead of the first emergency FDA approval of a coronavirus vaccine. President Donald Trump is planning a vaccine summit next week at the White House, while an FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss the shots.