Oklahoma votes to expand Medicaid

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/payer-issues/oklahoma-votes-to-expand-medicaid.html?utm_medium=email

Oklahoma voters narrowly approve Medicaid expansion | News Break

Oklahoma voters approved a state question to expand Medicaid to more low-income residents, according to The Oklahoman.

The June 30 vote makes Oklahoma the first state to amend its constitution to expand Medicaid. Adding Medicaid expansion to Oklahoma’s constitution effectively limits the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican governor from rolling back the measure.

The vote narrowly passed, with most of Oklahoma’s counties opposing the expansion. Just seven of the state’s 77 counties, including more populated ones such as Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties, voted in favor.

Oklahoma has until July 1, 2021, to expand Medicaid under the ACA. The expansion is expected to affect about 200,000 Oklahomans and cost about $164 million annually. The cost was a sticking point for Gov. Kevin Stitt, as the state may face a $1 billion shortfall in 2022. The Oklahoma Hospital Association supports the expansion.

 

 

Six months in, coronavirus failures outweigh successes

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/505353-six-months-in-coronavirus-failures-outweigh-successes

Covid-19 news: UK deaths fall below five-year average | New Scientist

In the six months since the World Health Organization (WHO) detected a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases at a hospital in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus pandemic has touched every corner of the globe, carving a trail of death and despair as humankind races to catch up.

At least 10.4 million confirmed cases have been diagnosed worldwide, and the true toll is likely multiples of that figure. In the United States, health officials believe more than 20 million people have likely been infected.

A staggering 500,000 people around the globe have died in just six months. More people have succumbed to the virus in the U.S. — 126,000 — than the number of American troops who died in World War I.

But even after months of painful lockdowns worldwide, the virus is no closer to containment in many countries. Public health officials say the pandemic is getting worse, fueled by new victims in both nations that have robust medical systems and poorer developing countries.

“We all want this to be over. We all want to get on with our lives. But the hard reality is this is not even close to being over,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. “Globally, the pandemic is actually speeding up.”

In the U.S., the fierce urgency of March and April has given way to the complacency of summer, as bars and restaurants teem with young people who appear largely convinced the virus poses no threat to them. New outbreaks, especially among younger Americans, have forced 16 states to pause or roll back their reopening plans.

“This is a really challenging point in time. It’s challenging because people are tired of the restrictions on their activity, people are tired of not being able to socialize, not being able to go to work,” said Richard Besser, a former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who now heads the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“You have people who have reached that point of pandemic fatigue where they just don’t want to hear it anymore, they just want to go back to their life,” he added.

The number of new U.S. cases has risen sharply in recent weeks, led disproportionately by states in the South, the Midwest and the Sun Belt. More than a quarter-million people tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and more than 40,000 tested positive on three consecutive days over the weekend.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

Public health experts now worry that a rising tide of death is about to crest across the United States. Officials in Alabama, Arizona, California, Mississippi and Texas are reporting a surging number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, leading to fears that health systems could soon be overrun.

“If you’re over the hospital capacity, people will start dying faster,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

Already, Arizona has reported more coronavirus deaths per million residents in the last week, at 4.77, than any nation on Earth except Chile and Peru.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic has varied widely, and in some parts of the world, both wealthy and developing nations have brought it under control. In the U.S., some states hit hard early on have wrangled transmission under control.

But even in states that have achieved some measure of success, the spikes in cases stand in stark contrast to countries that have bent the epidemiological curves to manageable levels.

Mass screenings in South Korea crushed the spread, and quick action to identify and isolate contacts in more recent hot spots have meant new outbreaks are quickly contained. South Korea, with a population of 51 million, has reported just 316 new cases in the past week, fewer than the number of new cases reported in Rhode Island, a state with slightly more than 1 million residents.

Germany raced to protect its elderly population and rapidly expanded its hospital capacity. It deployed the world’s most successful diagnostics test, developed at a Berlin hospital, on a massive scale. With a population of 83 million, the country has reported 78 coronavirus deaths in the past week; Mississippi, population 3 million, reported 96 coronavirus-related deaths during the same period.

Vietnam imposed mandatory quarantines on contacts, including international travelers, in government-run centers to stop the spread. Among its 95 million residents, Vietnam has confirmed 355 total cases since the outbreak began. Alabama, population 4.9 million, reported 358 cases on Sunday alone.

Those countries have begun loosening restrictions on their populations and their economies, with few signs of major flare-ups.

The United States has begun to open up too but without bending the curve downward, and the results have been disastrous. The number of daily confirmed cases has more than doubled in nine states over the past two weeks and has increased by more than half in 17 more.

“I have really grave concerns that viral transmission is going to get out of control,” Besser said.

In interviews, public health experts and epidemiologists confess to feelings of depression and disgust over the state of the nation’s response. Some remain exasperated that there is still no coordinated national response from the White House or federal agencies.

President Trump has rarely mentioned the virus in recent weeks, aside from using racial epithets and suggesting his administration would slow testing to reduce the number of confirmed cases. He later said he was joking.

“There should be some sort of federal leadership,” Feigl-Ding said. “Every state’s on its own, for the most part.”

Left to their own devices, some states are trending in the right direction. Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and the District of Columbia have seen their case counts decline for two consecutive weeks or more. New York reported 4,591 new cases in the last week — a startlingly high figure but only a fraction of the 65,000 cases infecting the state during its worst week, in early April.

States with their numbers on the decline have benefited from fast action and strict measures. They’re also viewed as role models for states that are now experiencing surges.

“States who are now on the rapid upslope need to act quickly, take the advice and example of states that have already been through this,” said Abraar Karan, an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “We know what needs to be done to win this in the short run, and we are working on what needs to happen for the longer term.”

If there is a silver lining, it is that the number of tests American states are conducting on a daily basis has grown to about 600,000, on its way toward the millions the nation likely needs to fully control the spread.

But that silver lining frames a darkening cloud: As the virus spreads, even the higher testing capacity has been strained, and state and local governments are hitting their limits and running low on supplies.

The greater number of tests does not account for the speed of the spread, as Trump has suggested. The share of tests that come back positive has averaged almost 7 percent over the last week, according to The Hill’s analysis of national figures; in the first week of June, just 4.6 percent of tests were coming back positive.

If greater testing were responsible for more cases, the percentage coming back positive should decrease rather than increase. The higher positive rates are an indication the virus is spreading more rapidly.

As with so much else in American life, the coronavirus has become a political battleground. The new front is over face masks, which studies show dramatically reduce transmission. States that have mandated wearing masks in public saw the number of new cases decline by a quarter between the first and third weeks of June; states that do not require masks in any setting saw the number of cases rise by 84 percent over that same span.

“From a public health perspective, it’s demoralizing, it’s tragic … because our public health leaders know what to do to get this under control, but we’re in a situation where the CDC is not out front in a leadership role. We’re not hearing from them every day. They’re not explaining and capturing people’s hearts and minds,” said Besser, the former CDC chief. “If we have a vaccine, that will be terrific if it’s safe and effective. But until that point, these are the only tools we have, these tools of public health, and they’re very crude tools.”

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Price of Pandemic Freedom

Editorial cartoon: Rob Rogers (May 16, 2020) | | yakimaherald.com

Cartoon – Current State of the Union

Plain Talk: Refusing to wear a mask isn't patriotic, it's just ...

Cartoon – Where Liberty Ends

Coronavirus recovery, Joe Biden and binge-watching: Top columns

Pre And Post Coronavirus Unemployment Rates By State, Industry, Age Group, And Race

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2020/06/28/pre-and-post-coronavirus-unemployment-rates-by-state-industry-age-group-and-race/#65c42c6555eb

Unemployment by State-May 2019 to May 2020

The coronavirus has decimated the U.S. economy and benched nearly 40 million American workers. In the past several days, the U.S. has logged its highest number of new Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. These combined with other factors, which we will discuss, is jeopardizing the future employment of millions of workers and the viability of thousands of businesses. Here’s how unemployment has increased for every state, industry, age group, and race, and why.

Unemployment by State

The coronavirus and subsequent stay at home orders hit the labor force especially hard. As states attempted to reopen, a resurgence in the virus is causing many businesses to close again, some by choice, others by government mandate.

Nevada has been hit the hardest as the unemployment rate in the Silver State rose from 4.0% in May 2019 to a whopping 25.3% in May 2020. Nevada’s economy is heavily reliant on leisure and hospitality, which had the brunt of the job losses. Hawaii, the second hardest hit state saw unemployment rise from 2.7% in May 2019 to 22.6% in May 2020. Which is the only other state with unemployment above 20% in May 2020? Michigan, where unemployment rose from 4.2% to 21.2% year over year. What state has fared best? Nebraska, which also has one of the most diverse economies of all states. Deriving nearly 50% of its total GDP from five different industries, unemployment in the Cornhusker State rose from 3.1% to a modest 5.2% from May 2019 to May 2020. Unemployment numbers for all states are shown in the following chart.

Unemployment by Industry

As mentioned in the previous section, the states that have fared best either have a more diverse economy or do not rely heavily on industries that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus. The most negatively affected is the leisure and hospitality industry where unemployment rose 618% from a low of 5.0% in May 2019 to a staggering 35.9% in May 2020. At a distant second, but still reeling, is the wholesale and retail trade industry, which saw unemployment rise from 4.2% to 15.1% during the same period. The rest of the industries are listed in the following chart.

Unemployment by Industry-May 2019 to May 2020

Unemployment by Age Group

Businesses need two things to exist: workers and customers. Without customers, there is no need for workers or the business for that matter. Some businesses require highly skilled workers while others operate well using unskilled labor. It is this unskilled labor group that has been hardest hit.

The greatest rise in unemployment is among workers under age 25. This is likely due to three factors. Younger workers typically have fewer marketable skills, less work experience, and less seniority. Many of these workers are in industries that have felt the greatest pain. Unemployment rates by age group are contained in the following chart.

Unemployment by Age Group-May 2019 to May 2020

Unemployment by Race/Ethnicity

Question: Prior to Covid-19, was unemployment among blacks / African Americans at a record low as President Trump has claimed? Using the available data, which extends back to January 1972, the answer is yes. This new record low was achieved in October and November of 2019 when unemployment among black or African American workers fell to 5.1%. The previous record low was 5.2% in December 1973. The current rate is 16.8%, which is less than the highest rate of 20.7% logged in December 1982. The most recent high in unemployment for this group was 19.3% in March 2010. It has been steadily declining since then. Numbers for White, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino and black or African American workers are listed in the following chart.

Unemployment by Race or Ethnicity-May 2019 to May 2020

Businesses need workers, workers need businesses, and both depend on customers. Since the pandemic began, consumer demand has fallen sharply. With the probability that a vaccine will not be available until early 2021 at the soonest, plus a disregard for recommended safety protocols by many individuals, namely wearing masks and social distancing, it is highly unlikely that the economy will return to normal for several years.

Will the president continue to hold rallies? Will he set an example by wearing a mask? Will the protests and violence continue? Will other large gatherings continue? Unless Americans make a collective and conscious choice to mask up and social distance, we will be forced to live in a depressed economy for longer than necessary. The choice is up to us.

 

 

 

 

 

Fauci testifies new coronavirus cases could ‘go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/30/coronavirus-live-updates-us/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most

Coronavirus update: Fauci testifies new U.S. cases could 'go up to ...

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-diseases expert, gave a dire warning Tuesday in a Senate committee hearing held as coronavirus infections surge in many parts of the United States.

“We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned,” Fauci said in response to questioning from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on what the overall U.S. death toll is likely to be.

While the U.S. wrestles with safely reopening, the European Union confirmed Americans will not be allowed to travel to the bloc of 27 countries when it reopens to some foreign travel Wednesday. The United States is leading the world in both officially confirmed infections and fatalities as it continues to see surges in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in many states.

Nearly 10.3 million coronavirus cases have been detected worldwide, with roughly 2.6 million infections reported in the United States. At least 124,000 people have died of covid-19 in the United States, and the global death count is hovering near 505,000.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said during a speech that President Trump ‘failed’ Americans in his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden also released a plan to combat the virus: beefed-up testing and contacting tracing, using the Defense Production Act and organizing a global, coordinated approach for treatment and vaccines.
  • More Republican leaders advocated for the use of face masks in public, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — who encouraged President Trump to don one — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In addition, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the rise in cases can be stopped if Americans wear facial coverings in public, along with practicing social distancing and proper personal hygiene.
  • Social distancing will not be enforced July 3 at the Mount Rushmore fireworks display that Trump will attend, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) said Monday. Noem also said masks will be provided to the 7,500 participants, but they will not be required to wear them.
  • The number of people hospitalized for covid-19 is surging in seven states, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. In Texas, Arizona, Nevada, South Carolina, Montana, Georgia and California, seven-day averages are up at least 25 percent from last week.
  • Chinese researchers announced the discovery of a new strain of swine flu among workers at a slaughterhouse and warned it should be monitored in case human-to-human transmission starts.

 

 

 

Short-term ‘junk’ plans widely discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions, House probe finds

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/short-term-junk-plans-widely-discriminate-against-those-with-pre-existing/580556/

U.S. Rep. Castor's Statement Following a Federal Judge's Ruling on ...

Dive Brief:

  • A yearlong probe by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce into bare-bones insurance plans encouraged by the Trump administration found widespread discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, even as a growing number are enrolled.
  • Top congressional Democrats investigated eight insurers selling short-term, limited duration plans, finding they all denied medical care claims if they found a consumer had a pre-existing condition. Some refused to pay for medical claims for no discernable reason, processing them only after consumers sued or complained to state regulators. Most rescinded coverage if they determined a member had a pre-existing condition or developed one later.
  • An HHS spokesperson defended the coverage as an affordable option to pricier Affordable Care Act plans, telling Healthcare Dive, “We’ve been abundantly clear that these plans aren’t for everyone.” America’s Health Insurance Plans made similar points, with spokesperson David Allen noting: “For Americans with pre-existing conditions, they may not be protected at all.”

 

Dive Insight:

The investigation looked at 14 companies that sell or market the plans, including eight insurers such as market giants Anthem and UnitedHealth Group, and six brokers.

It found insurers frequently turned down consumers with pre-existing conditions and discriminated against women, turning down applicants who were pregnant or planning to become pregnant and charging women more than men for the same coverage.

The plans had significant coverage limitations. Some excluded routine care like basic preventive visits and pelvic exams. Some plans had hard coverage cutoffs that left consumers with massive medical bills.

In one case, a consumer was billed a whopping $280,000 and lost coverage after being treated for an infection. The insurer said the patient previously had gotten an ultrasound that was “suspicious for deep venous thrombosis.”

AHIP spokesman Allen said it is not surprising given the plans are not intended to replace comprehensive coverage.

“They often do not cover the care and treatments that patients need throughout the year — preventive care, prescription drugs, mental health care or treatments for chronic health conditions — or if they do, they may limit or cap the benefits,” he acknowledged.

On average, short-term plans spend less than half of premium dollars collected from consumers on medical care: only 48%, the investigation found. That’s in stark contrast to plans in the ACA’s individual market, which are required to shell out at least 80% of all premium dollars on claims and benefits.

Short-term insurance represents a significant and growing share of the individual healthcare market. Roughly 3 million consumers bought the plans in 2019, a 27% growth from 2018, the investigation launched in March last year found.

The growth came after the Trump administration, in a controversial move, extended the maximum duration of the plans. The skimpy coverage, which isn’t required to cover the 10 essential benefits under the ACA, was originally designed as cheap safety net coverage for three months.

But in August 2018, HHS expanded the plans to 12 months, with a three year renewal period, and opened them up to all consumers, not just for those who can’t afford other coverage.

ACA supporters and patient advocates blasted the move, which sparked an ongoing legal challenge from safety net providers. Reports of consumers purchasing the coverage, believing it was comprehensive, then being shocked by balance bills prompted the House investigation.

The report also found brokers are paid up to 10 times more compensation for peddling short-term plans than ACA-compliant coverage. The average commission rate for short-term plans compared to ACA plans was 23% versus 2%, respectively.

Currently, 24 states ban or restrict the sale of short-term plans. Some states, including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, prohibit their sale entirely, while others like Colorado, Connecticut, New Mexico and Rhode Island have such strict regulations that no plans are sold.

Democratic leaders unveiled a bill on Wednesday to bolster the ACA and rescind the administration’s expansion of the plans and expand subsidies, allowing more people to qualify for coverage.

The effort has zero chance of moving this year with Republicans in control of the Senate, but both it and the probe are likely to play into the looming 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

“The heavy-handed tactics uncovered in this investigation demonstrate why Congress must reverse the Trump Administration’s expansion of these junk plans,” E&C Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette, D-Colo., wrote in a joint statement. “It also shows how dangerous a post-ACA world would be if Republican Attorneys General and the Trump Administration are successful in striking down the law and its protections.”

That lawsuit, led by 18 red states, argues the ACA, which expanded insurance to some 20 million people, is unconstitutional because a tax bill passed in 2017 zeroed out the penalty for its individual mandate. It’s currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

President Donald Trump and his health officials have repeatedly promised people with pre-existing conditions will be protected if the ACA is struck down, but neither the administration nor Republicans in Congress have said specifically how.