Democrats align around a health policy platform

https://mailchi.mp/86e2f0f0290d/the-weekly-gist-july-10-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Abstract Word Cloud For Health Policy With Related Tags And Terms ...

 

Promising that “we are going to at last build the health care system the American people have always deserved”, a joint task force of health policy advisors from the Biden and Sanders campaigns this week released a unified set of proposals that will serve as part of the former Vice President’s campaign platform for the November election.

While the document does not include Sanders’ signature “Medicare for All” proposal, it does support a government-run public insurance option that would be available to all Americans, at income-adjusted, subsidized rates—including free coverage for those with low incomes. It also promises to expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and to extend Medicare eligibility to those age 60 and above.

For those who lose their health coverage due to the COVID pandemic, the unity document endorses having the government pick up the tab for COBRA benefits and shifting enrollees into premium-free coverage on the Obamacare exchanges when their COBRA eligibility expires.

It also promises greater investment in public health resources, including increased funding for the CDC, and funding to recruit 100,000 contact tracers nationwide.

Other key components of the proposal include eliminating “surprise billing”, reducing drug costs, addressing racial and gender-based health inequities, and bolstering investment in scientific research.

This week’s document represents an important step in unifying the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party around key health policy principles. Should Biden win in November, and if Democrats gain control of the Senate, we’d expect quick action on many of these proposals.

Clearly the most difficult would be the public option and Medicare expansion, which would require lengthy negotiation with various industry groups to garner sufficient political support. Similar to the 2009 process that led to the Affordable Care Act, we would likely see a year’s worth of political horse-trading, leading to passage of some compromise legislation before the midterm elections in 2022.

All of that in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and likely prolonged economic downturn—both of which will probably allow for the passage of more far-reaching legislation than might otherwise be possible.

 

 

American patients can’t shop their way to a low cost healthcare system

American patients can’t shop their way to a low cost healthcare system

Hospital price transparency is a distraction from policies that could reduce costs without burdening patients, say Jamie Daw and Adam Sacarny.

 

The prices that hospitals charge privately insured patients in the US have long been shrouded in secrecy. These prices—which are negotiated between hospitals and private insurers—vary widely: the price for the same blood test could vary 39-fold within Tampa, Florida and the cost of a cesarean delivery varies by up to $24 000 in San Francisco, California.

A recent federal court decision stands to shine a light on opaque hospital pricing in the US. In a lawsuit brought forward by the American Hospital Association, a federal judge upheld a regulation issued by the Trump administration that will soon require hospitals to post a wealth of information on payment rates online.

This policy seems intuitive: in other sectors of the economy, consumers usually know the price of a service or product before they purchase it. By comparing prices, consumers can shop around and save money. In turn, sellers anticipate that behavior and are incentivized to keep prices low. Who wouldn’t want a virtuous circle like that in healthcare? 

The Trump administration argues that hospital price transparency will encourage value in healthcare by helping patients and employers find lower prices, while pressuring hospitals to cut them further. However, the potential effects—and who stands to benefit—are not so straightforward.

 

Firstly, giving consumers information on prices doesn’t necessarily mean that they will respond by seeking lower cost services. Studies have consistently found that patients tend not to use price transparency tools, and their effects on healthcare spending are small or nonexistent. Why? Shopping for healthcare services is often complicated or impossible. 

 

Many of the most expensive services are for emergencies where there is little scope for patients to shop.

Even when a patient has time to compare prices for non-urgent procedures or tests, the complexity of healthcare payment systems and insurance products makes it next to impossible for a patient to preemptively calculate what they would personally pay for an encounter. Establishing that amount requires patients to know the cost-sharing parameters of their insurance plan, the set of services they will use during the encounter, and how aggressively the hospital will bill for those services.

Insurance also obscures patients’ incentives to shop by insulating them from healthcare prices.

While patients can be given strong incentives to shop—and an increasing number of American workers are enrolled in high deductible health plans with this aim—these incentives are created by hoisting financial risk on patients. This financially burdens American families and can result in patients forgoing appropriate care.

 

Beyond the challenges posed by patient shopping, the empirical evidence supporting price transparency is weak.

It could even backfire. Economists have pointed out that in sectors with low competition, price transparency can facilitate collusion and lead to higher prices. This fear was borne out in Denmark when authorities began publishing the prices of ready-mixed cement. Prices proceeded to converge and rise, and the authorities eventually abandoned the idea. The most hopeful evidence in the US healthcare system comes from New Hampshire, where prices for medical imaging fell by 3% after the state established a price transparency website. But even effects of this magnitude, while beneficial, would only make a tiny dent in lowering US healthcare costs. 

 

Price transparency efforts reflect a broad trend for American policy makers to turn to consumer-driven strategies to reduce healthcare costs.

These strategies are built on the assumption that patients ought to be responsible for navigating their way to high quality, low cost healthcare. However, the challenges faced by patients in assessing the complex cost-quality tradeoffs in healthcare limit the potential for price transparency to have the impact that the administration advertises.

Perhaps more troubling is that these efforts could distract policy makers from addressing the main drivers of US healthcare prices, such as rapid and ongoing consolidation. Concentrated hospital markets are becoming the norm in the US and are strongly associated with higher prices. Antitrust actions, such as preventing hospital mergers, could reduce and reverse consolidation, likely leading to lower prices.

Another option for policy makers is to assume a greater regulatory role over healthcare prices, including introducing price caps and an all-payer rate setting. A Supreme Court decision made it much more difficult for state governments to collect the data that would undergird these efforts. As a result, the information released under the transparency rule may end up being more useful for states considering new price regulations than for patients shopping for healthcare services.

 

If we want to reduce prices without burdening patients with financial risk, then policy makers need to address the emerging causes of rising healthcare costs directly. Efforts to control costs are most likely to succeed when policy makers tackle the structural drivers behind the most expensive health system in the world.

 

 

 

 

Trump sidelines public health advisers in growing rift over coronavirus response

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/trump-sidelines-public-health-advisers-in-growing-rift-over-coronavirus-response/2020/07/09/ad803218-c12a-11ea-9fdd-b7ac6b051dc8_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0MI5VGiJQmUsyEpzYDj09Q0VVxxYMlHwx-UjfHdmMu1PdGD6uIzv8R2fM&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

The Health 202: Health officials promise to ramp up pandemic ...

The June 28 email to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was ominous: A senior adviser to a top Health and Human Services Department official accused the CDC of “undermining the President” by putting out a report about the potential risks of the coronavirus to pregnant women.

The adviser, Paul Alexander, criticized the agency’s methods, and said its warning to pregnant women “reads in a way to frighten women . . . as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”

As the country enters a frightening phase of the pandemic with new daily cases surpassing 62,000 on Wednesday, the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 election. In a White House guided by the president’s instincts, rather than by evidence-based policy, the CDC finds itself forced constantly to backtrack or sidelined from pivotal decisions.

The latest clash between the White House and its top public health advisers erupted Wednesday, when the president slammed the agency’s recommendation that schools planning to reopen should keep students’ desks six feet apart, among other steps to reduce infection risks. In a tweet, Trump — who has demanded schools at all levels hold in-person classes this fall — called the advice “very tough & expensive.”

“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. Within hours, Vice President Pence had asserted the agency would release new guidance next week.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

Analysts say the deepening divide is undermining the authority of one of the world’s premier public health agencies, which previously led fights against malaria, smallpox and HIV/AIDS. Amid the worst public health crisis in a century, the CDC has in recent months altered or rescinded recommendations on topics including wearing masks and safely reopening restaurants and houses of worship as a result of conflicts with top administration officials.

“At a time when our country needs an orchestrated, all-hands-on deck response, there is simply no hand on the tiller,” said Beth Cameron, former senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council.

In the absence of strong federal leadership, state and local officials have been left to figure things out for themselves, leading to conflicting messaging and chaotic responses. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization further undermined efforts to influence global strategies against the coronavirus, including how vaccines will be distributed.

The CDC, meanwhile, is increasingly isolated — a function both of its growing differences with the White House and of its own significant missteps earlier in the outbreak.

Those stumbles include the botched rollout of test kits likely contaminated at a CDC lab in late January, which led to critical delays in states’ ability to know where the virus was circulating. And the CDC’s initial decision to test only a narrow set of people gave the virus a head start spreading undetected across the country.

During a May lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump told the group the CDC “blew it” on the coronavirus test and that he’d installed a team of “geniuses” led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner to handle much of the response,” according to two people familiar with the lunch who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“There is a view the CDC is staffed with deep state Democrats that are trying to tweak the administration,” said one adviser who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations.

White House officials, who see the president’s reelection prospects tied to economic recovery, also say they’ve been deeply frustrated by what they view as career staffers at the agency determined “to keep things closed,” according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

Trump believes the CDC is “ineffective” and a “waste of time,” but doesn’t blame CDC Director Robert Redfield and generally likes him, said another official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He just thinks he is a poor communicator,” the official added.

Joe Grogan, former head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said Redfield had fans inside the White House who work on “addiction issues, on life issues, on HIV issues,” among other topics.

But he said Redfield has few political appointees to help him run a complex agency. “How do you run a place like that with … [few] appointees?” Grogan asked.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar called the director “a key scientific guide for the President and his administration, a trusted source for the American people, and a closely engaged partner of state and local governments.”

But Redfield is not a voice in coronavirus task force meetings, and “is never really in the Oval [Office] with the president,” said another senior administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal dynamics.

Even Redfield’s supporters say he has failed to be an effective advocate for the agency.

“Bob Redfield’s commitment to public health is completely strong,” said William Schaffner, a veteran infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. But he said Redfield lacks the standing, deftness, and communication capacity to persuade skeptical audiences, including those in the White House, that protecting public health and fostering economic recovery are not opposing goals.

Redfield, for his part, downplayed Trump’s criticism of the CDC school reopeniing guidelines after a coronavirus task force briefing Wednesday, saying the agency and the president were “totally aligned.”

“We’re both trying to open the schools,” he said.

White House spokesman Judd Deere also disputed big differences, saying in a statement the White House and the CDC “have been working together in partnership since the very beginning of this pandemic to carry out the President’s highest priority: the health and safety of the American public.

“The CDC is the nation’s trusted health protection agency and its infectious disease and public health experts have helped deliver critical solutions to save lives. We encourage all Americans to continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines and use best-practices they have learned, such as social distancing, face coverings, and good hygiene, to maintain public health and continue our Transition to Greatness.”

But some health experts were indignant the agency had been ordered to rewrite guidance to reopen schools to “make it easier and cost less” — a demand that effectively “turns science on its head,” said Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security.

“CDC should be giving their best judgments on how to lower risks to make schools safer,” he said. “That’s their job. If they aren’t allowed to do that, the public will lose confidence in the guidance.”

Why are they ‘not shouting “fire”?’

The diminished role of the 74-year-old agency has bewildered infectious-disease experts, as well as members of the public seeking guidance.

After six states set one-day case records on July 3, Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University’s School of Medicine, tweeted at Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, “Tom, where is @CDCgov ? Why are they not out there shouting ‘fire’?”

Frieden shot back: “They are still there, still doing great work, just not being allowed to talk about it, not being allowed to guide policy, not being allowed to develop, standardize, and post information that would give, by state and county, the status of the epidemic and of our control measures.”

Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer at Seattle and King County health department, added: “Agree. Muzzled, neutered and exiled.”

The agency has been largely invisible. After more than three months of silence, it resumed briefings for the public last month. There have been two.

By comparison, when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit the United States in the spring of 2009, the CDC held briefings almost every day for six consecutive weeks.

During this outbreak, the agency’s regular briefings ended abruptly after White House officials were angered when a top CDC leader warned that Americans could face “significant disruption” to their lives as a result of the virus’s spread to the United States.

CDC officials say they are still getting their message out, pointing to more than 2,000 documents providing pandemic-related information about reopening and staying safe for dozens of groups and venues, including funeral home directors, amusement parks, and pet owners. Each Friday, the CDC also posts CovidView, a weekly report of selected data and trends on testing, hospitalizations, and reported deaths.

But the information is posted without additional explanation or analysis.

“I want to hear a real person give me three minutes based on these findings,” said del Rio, also a global health and infectious-disease professor at Emory. “I want to see them in the news, being interviewed, giving us the data.”

Scientists at the CDC and former colleagues speak of deep frustration and low morale over its inability to fully share and explain scientific and medical information.

Researchers are fearful for their jobs and want to protect the integrity of the data they release. “If you want to say something, you’re thinking, ‘what’s the White House going to say and how are they going to use it,’ ” said one longtime scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The lack of briefings has fostered misunderstandings at times. In early April, for instance, when the agency reversed its position and recommended the use of cloth face coverings, CDC scientists gave no public briefings explaining why they made the change.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Nancy Cox, a virologist and former CDC official who led the influenza program for 22 years and was part of the agency’s response during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. “But the reasoning behind those changes should be explained as clearly as possible and then you can get everyone on board.”

In the CDC’s absence, academic medical centers, public health and professional disease groups have filled the void by holding coronavirus briefings and providing analysis of key issues, data and research studies. Frieden, the president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New York nonprofit, has also been posting long Twitter threads analyzing the weekly CDC data released on Fridays.

Speaking ‘with an unfettered voice’

Alarmed at the agency’s diminished role, nearly 350 public health organizations sent a letter Tuesday to Azar urging him to advocate for the CDC. The agency must be allowed to speak based on the best available science “and with an unfettered voice,” said John Auerbach, president and chief executive of Trust for America’s Health, a public health nonprofit that led the effort.

House Democrats echoed those concerns in a separate letter to Azar last month. Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said they were troubled by reports that administration officials are considering narrowing the CDC’s mission and embedding more political appointees at the Atlanta-based agency.

Traditionally the CDC has one political appointee, the director. Now it has Redfield and five other political appointees, including two advisers who were added in recent weeks.

“Now more than ever, the American people need a robust and effective CDC that is not repeatedly undermined by others in the administration, including the President and the Vice President,” the letter said.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows views the agency as a problem and has criticized the CDC repeatedly to other administration officials, said a senior administration official.

White House and HHS officials are discussing what the CDC’s “core mission needs to be,” said one adviser familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on policy deliberations. The discussions were first reported by Politico.

Over the years, the agency that was founded to fight malaria now works on virtually every aspect of public health. “It has tried to be everything to everyone,” the adviser said, suggesting the agency might need to refocus more narrowly.

On the global front, administration officials are also weighing a $2.5 billion initiative called the President’s Response to Outbreaks that would move a significant portion of national and international pandemic responses to the State Department, according to a draft obtained by The Post. Details were first reported by Devex.

“There is no clear leadership role for CDC” in this plan, said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president for global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In global health, you need an engaged CDC.”

Taken together, the administration efforts seem “designed to position CDC to the margins,” said one federal health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

‘Boogeyman where there aren’t any’

The report that drew the email attack, accusing the agency of undermining the president, had provided detailed but incomplete information about pregnancy risks related to the coronavirus. It found pregnant women with covid-19 were more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, and to need ventilator support than infected women who are not pregnant.

The sender, Alexander, a specialist in health research methods, is a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump ally who was recently appointed assistant HHS secretary for public affairs , which includes the CDC.

The email was directed to Redfield and Caputo.

Even amid the intense criticism of the agency, the email “crosses the line,” said the official, who was aware of the content.

Like all of the CDC’s reports, the analysis itself noted several limitations. One key one that researchers acknowledged was that they did not have data to indicate whether the pregnant women were hospitalized because of labor and delivery, or because they had covid-19.

Administration officials are “seeing political boogeymen where there aren’t any,” the federal health official said, adding that such narratives could further hamper the U.S. response.

“It could feed the fire to limit the flow of scientific data and communication to the general population,” the official said. “People are getting sick and dying. Can we just focus on the science?”

Alexander said in his email that the lack of data about why women were hospitalized was a “key issue.”

“The CDC is undermining the President by what they put out, this is my opinion and sense, and I am reading it and can see the subtle and direct hits,” he wrote.

Alexander, also a part-time assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Caputo said in an interview that he agreed with Alexander. The CDC represents itself as the gold standard for public health agencies, he said, “but in the case of pregnancy analysis, it wasn’t even bronze.”

He called CDC’s track record “spotty” and “questionable,” pointing to Zika diagnostic testing errors in 2016.

“In many cases over the years, regardless of administration, the CDC has undermined presidents and themselves,” Caputo said, referring to leaked drafts of CDC guidances. “Who says the CDC is the sole font of wisdom when it comes to detecting and fighting deadly pathogens?”

Experts say that even with some big unanswered questions, the pregnancy findings represent the best available evidence and are important. The lack of data reflects decades of long-neglected national surveillance on pregnancy.

“I don’t think this is frightening women,” said Denise Jamieson, who heads the obstetrics and gynecology department at Emory University and Emory Healthcare. True, the report “suffers from completeness of data,” she said. But now doctors can be more confident that pregnant women are more likely to have severe disease and use “this really important information” to counsel patients, she said.

 

 

Supreme Court says employers may opt out of Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate over religious, moral objections

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-obamacare-birth-control-mandate/2020/07/08/0b38a352-c123-11ea-b4f6-cb39cd8940fb_story.html?location=alert&pwapi_token=eyJ0eXAiOiJKV1QiLCJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.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.huz885amIR-ZrDl72t5E8qtHEI-itG-wa4GE-H-Z1UE&utm_campaign=wp_news_alert_revere&utm_medium=email&utm_source=alert&wpisrc=al_news__alert-politics–alert-national&wpmk=1

Supreme Court appears divided on Trump plan to limit contraception ...

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration may allow employers and universities to opt out of the Affordable Care Act requirement to provide contraceptive care because of religious or moral objections.

The decision seems to greatly expand an exception approved by the Obama administration, and the government estimates that it could mean that 70,000 to 126,000 women could lose access to cost-free birth control.

“We hold that the [administration] had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The decision sent the case back to a lower court and instructed it to dissolve a nationwide injunction that had kept the exception from being implemented.

Liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer agreed with the court conservatives’ decision to send the case back to lower courts, but they did not join the majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

At issue is the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to expand the types of organizations that could opt out of providing cost-free access to birth control and the extent to which the government should create exemptions to the law for religious groups and nonreligious employers with moral and religious objections.

The Obama administration had narrower exceptions for churches and other houses of worship, and it created a system of “accommodations,” or workarounds, for religiously affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities. Those accommodations would provide the contraceptive care but avoid having the objecting organizations directly cover the cost.

Under the Trump administration rules, the employers able to opt out include essentially all nongovernmental workplaces, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. And the employer has the choice of whether to permit the workaround.

The states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey initially challenged the rules, noting that when women lose coverage from their employers, they seek state-funded programs and services. Last summer, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit blocked the rules from taking effect nationwide. The court said the administration probably lacked authority to issue such broad exemptions and did not comply with requirements to provide notice and allow public comment on the rules.

In addition to the Trump administration, a charity called Little Sisters of the Poor defended the rules. The order of nuns, which runs homes for the elderly and employs about 2,700 people, points out that the government provided exemptions from the beginning for religious organizations such as churches. They say the accommodation provision violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law that says the government must have a compelling reason for programs that substantially burden religious beliefs.

In 2014, the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores ruled that certain closely held businesses do not have to offer birth control coverage that conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs. But the court did not take a position on the accommodation provision, which requires objecting organizations to notify the government.

Two years later, a shorthanded court of eight justices declined to rule on the merits of another challenge to the contraceptive-coverage requirement and sent the case back to the lower courts. The unusual, unsigned decision was viewed as a punt by a court then equally divided along ideological lines.

 

 

 

 

Administration Formally withdraws US from WHO

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/506214-trump-administration-formally-withdraws-us-from-WHO-

Trump administration informs Congress the US is withdrawing from WHO

The White House has officially withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday, breaking ties with a global public health body in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. withdrawal is effective as of Monday and has been submitted to the United Nations secretary-general, the official said.

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted that the administration informed Congress of the withdrawal.

“To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn’t do it justice. This won’t protect American lives or interests — it leaves Americans sick & America alone,” the senator tweeted.

The formal notification of withdrawal concludes months of threats from the Trump administration to pull the United States out of the WHO, which is affiliated with the United Nations. President Trump has repeatedly assailed the organization for alleged bias toward China and its slow response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

But public health experts and Democrats have raised alarms that the decision may be short-sighted and could undercut the global response to the pandemic, which has infected 11.6 million people worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of reported cases in the world at nearly 3 million.

They have also argued that some of the WHO’s initial missteps can be attributed to China’s lack of transparency in the early stages of the outbreak.

The president first froze funding for the WHO in April while his administration conducted a review of its relationship with the entity. Weeks later, he wrote to the WHO demanding reforms but did not specify what those reforms would be.

Trump announced at the end of May the U.S. was “terminating” ties with the WHO.

The move was cheered by conservatives who had accused the WHO of harboring pro-China bias and argued the global body was not a productive use of funds.

Critics of the WHO have pointed to its initial assertion that the coronavirus could not be spread via human-to-human transmission, and Trump has harped on the organization’s opposition to travel bans after he imposed one on China.

Trump and his allies have also lashed out at the WHO for failing to stop early warning signs of the outbreak.

China first alerted the WHO to the presence of a cluster of atypical pneumonia in the city of Wuhan on Dec. 31 after the WHO picked up reports through its epidemic intelligence system. But there is evidence to indicate the virus was circulating in Wuhan as early as mid-November.

The United States contributes upwards of $400 million annually to the WHO — making it the group’s largest contributor — and public health experts have warned that a suspension of funds would severely damage the organization.

 

 

 

 

Canada’s “national shame”: Covid-19 in nursing homes

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2020/7/7/21300521/canada-covid-19-nursing-homes-long-term-care

Why Canada's coronavirus cases are concentrated in nursing homes - Vox

Nursing homes account for 81 percent of Covid-19 deaths in the country. How did this happen?

Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has generally been viewed as a success, with experts pointing to its political leadership and universal health care system as factors.

But there has been one glaring failure in Canada’s fight against the pandemic: its inability to protect the health of its senior citizens in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

The situation for these seniors is so dire that the police — and even the military — have been called in to investigate why so many are dying.

In Quebec, some residents have been left for days in soiled diapers, going hungry and thirsty, and 31 residents were found dead at one home in less than a month, leading to accusations of gross negligence. In Ontario, the military found shocking conditions in five homes: cockroaches and rotten food, blatant disregard for infection control measures, and treatment of residents that was deemed “borderline abusive, if not abusive.”

“It’s a national shame,” said Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Toronto’s Sinai Health System. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job at all in Canada.”

A whopping 81 percent of the country’s coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That means roughly 7,050 out of 8,700 deaths to date have been among residents and workers in these facilities.

In terms of raw numbers, that may not seem like very much. (For comparison, more than 40,000 US coronavirus deaths have been linked to nursing homes.) And, to be clear, Canada is hardly alone in watching tragedy unfold in these facilities. The US and Europe have seen startling numbers of fatalities among nursing home staffers and residents.

But 81 percent is a staggering statistic, especially for Canada, a country that prides itself on its progressive health policies. And it’s higher than the rate in any other country for which we have good data. In European countries, roughly 50 percent of coronavirus deaths are linked to these facilities. In the US, it’s 40 percent.

Experts say a number of factors are probably involved in Canada’s collapse on the nursing home front, like the fact that Canada has done well at controlling community spread outside these facilities (making nursing home deaths account for a greater share of overall deaths) and that residents in Canadian homes tend to be older and frailer than those in US homes (and thus more vulnerable to severe cases of Covid-19). But they say the high death rate in the homes is due, in large part, to egregious problems with the homes themselves.

“I think we have serious issues with long-term care,” said Vivian Stamatopoulos, a professor at Ontario Tech University who specializes in family caregiving. Experts have been warning political leaders about this for years, but, she said, “they’ve all been playing the game of pass the long-term care hot potato.”

Furious over how their elders are being treated, some Canadians have started petitions, protests, lawsuits, and even hunger strikes outside the homes. They say the government’s failure to respond reveals a deeper failure to care about seniors and people with disabilities, and to make that care concrete by sending facilities what they urgently need: more tests, more personal protective equipment (PPE), and more funding to pay staff members so they don’t have to work multiple jobs at different facilities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged that the situation in the facilities is “deeply disturbing.” He’s sent hundreds of military troops to help feed and care for the seniors in certain homes, where burnout and fear have prompted some staff members to flee their charges. But to some extent, Trudeau’s hands are tied because the facilities fall under provincial jurisdiction.

That leaves families terrified for their loved ones. They’re asking: Why have things gone so terribly wrong? How could this happen in Canada?

 

Canada’s crisis was a long time in the making

The first thing to understand is that Canada’s universal health care system does not cover nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That means these institutions are not insured by the federal system. Different provinces offer different levels of cost coverage, and even within a given province, you’ll find that some homes are publicly run, others are run by nonprofits, and still others are run by for-profit entities.

“This is the main problem — they don’t fall under the Canada Health Act,” said Stamatopoulos, adding that the same is not true of hospitals. “That’s why you see that the hospitals did so well. They had the resources.”

From the standpoint of someone in the US, where more than 132,000 people have died of Covid-19, Canada may seem to be doing well overall: The death toll there is around 8,700. Per capita, Canada’s coronavirus death rate is roughly half that of America’s. It’s clear that the northern neighbor has been doing better at keeping case numbers down, partly because it’s giving safer advice on easing social distancing.

Which makes the dire situation in nursing homes stand out even more. Longstanding problems with Canada’s nursing homes have clearly fueled the tragic situation unfolding there.

These homes are chronically understaffed. They tend to hire part-time workers, underpay them, and not offer them sick leave benefits. That means the workers have to take multiple jobs at different facilities, potentially spreading the virus between them. Many are immigrants or asylum seekers, and they fear putting their precarious employment at risk by, say, taking a sick day when they need it. (These problems aren’t unique to Canada, but as in other countries, they’ve been thrown into stark relief by the pandemic.)

A lot of Canadian homes also have poor infrastructure, built to the outdated design standards of the 1970s. Residents often live four to a room, share a bathroom, and congregate in crowded common spaces. That makes it very difficult to isolate those who get sick.

These problems are even worse in Canada’s for-profit nursing homes. Research shows that these private facilities provide inferior care for seniors compared to the public facilities, in large part because they hire fewer staff members and put fewer resources into upgrading or redesigning their buildings. The for-profit model incentivizes cost-cutting. (Similarly problematic profit motives and poor living conditions persist in US nursing homes, too.)

Canadian experts have been raising the alarm about these issues for more than a decade. So why haven’t they been addressed?

“Frankly, overall, it really reflects ageism in society. We choose not to invest in frail older adults,” Stall said. He added that early on in the pandemic, the public imagination latched onto stories of relatively young people on ventilators in hospitals. The hospitals and their staff got resources, free food, nightly applause. Homes for older people didn’t get the same attention.

“Nursing homes are not something we’re proud of societally. There’s a lot of shame around even having someone in a nursing home,” Stall said.

Stamatopoulos noted there are other forces at play, too. “I’d say it’s a trifecta of ageism, racism, and sexism,” she said. “When you look at this industry, it’s majority female older residents being cared for by majority racialized women.”

Ronnie Cahana, a 66-year-old rabbi who lives with paralysis at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal, recently wrote a letter to Quebec’s premier. “I am not a statistic. I am a fully sentient, confident human being, who needs to have my humanity honored,” he wrote, adding that the premier should help the workers who take care of people like him. “Many of them are immigrants, newly beginning their lives in Quebec. … Please give them all the resources they require. Listen to their voices.”

 

How to make nursing homes safer — in Canada and beyond

If you want to keep nursing homes from becoming coronavirus hot spots, look to the strategies that have proven effective elsewhere. For months now, Canadian public health experts and advocates have been begging leaders to do just that.

All residents and workers in nursing homes should be tested regularly, whether they show symptoms or not. Anyone who gets sick should be isolated in a separate part of the building or taken to the hospital. Workers should be given adequate PPE, and universal masking among them should be mandatory. Working at multiple homes during the pandemic should be disallowed.

“Look at South Korea. They’ve had no deaths in long-term care because they treated it like SARS right from the get-go,” Stamatopoulos said. “They did aggressive testing. They were strict in terms of quarantining any infected residents and were quick to move them to hospitals. We’ve done the opposite.” Earlier in the pandemic, some Canadian hospitals sent recovering Covid-19 patients back to their nursing homes too soon; they inadvertently infected others.

“And look at New York state,” Stamatopoulos continued. “Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order on May 10 requiring all staff and residents to be tested twice a week. That aggressive testing helped halt the outbreaks in the homes.” Quebec and Ontario have yet to do this.

British Columbia, a Canadian standout at preventing deaths in nursing homes, adopted several wise measures early on. Way back on March 27, the western province made it illegal to work in more than one home — and topped up workers’ wages so they wouldn’t have to. It gave them full-time jobs and sick leave benefits.

It’s clear that so long as long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction, nursing home residents will be better off in some provinces than in others. So some Canadian experts, including Stamatopoulos, are arguing that these facilities should be nationalized under the Canada Health Act. Others are not sure that’s the answer; Stall thinks it may make sense to target only for-profit homes, compelling them to improve their poor infrastructure. In the long term, any homes that do not meet modern standards should be redesigned.

Another lesson for the long term comes from Hong Kong, which has managed to totally avoid deaths in its nursing homes. Even before the coronavirus came along, all homes had a trained infection controller who put precautions in place to prevent the spread of infections. (US homes saw a similar system enacted under President Obama, but President Trump has proposed that it be rolled back.) Four times a year, Hong Kong’s homes underwent pandemic preparedness drills so that if an outbreak occurred, they’d be ready with best practices. It did, and they were.

Preparedness clearly saves lives. Hopefully, Canada and other countries will learn that lesson going forward so that no more lives are needlessly lost.

As Cahana, the resident in the Montreal home, said, “Each of us is crying to be heard. We say: More life! Please! We are not afraid of the future. We are afraid that society is forgetting us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Why our “starved” public health system was unprepared for COVID-19

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Exclusive: Health spending in Brazil states as small as USD 20 ...

The American public health system has long been considered one of the best in the world, but decades of underfunding have left states and counties woefully ill-equipped to handle the worst pandemic in a century.

An extensive analysis by Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press found that over the past ten years, per-capita spending by state and local public health departments has dropped by 16 and 18 percent, respectively, leaving our public health system “underfunded and under threat, unable to protect the nation’s health”.

Public health departments are mandated to provide a laundry list of critical functions, from restaurant inspections and water testing to immunizations. But over time, many of these functions have been privatized, and staff and budgets reduced. Both were cut further as state budgets tightened.

The federal government has extended $13B in emergency funding, but many local public health departments have still been forced to furlough workers during the pandemic. Citing comparisons to the funding extended during other crises like Zika and the H1N1 influenza, experts are concerned that baseline budgets will continue to decline.

Moreover, public health workers face unprecedented cultural challenges, and are often disrespected by political and clinical leaders. And as public health workers are putting themselves at risk of COVID exposure just to do their jobs, many face resentment and anger from angry citizens who blame them for the policies they are charged to enforce—with some local public health leaders even resigning due to threats and intimidation.

The current crisis has shown that we need a more expansive, and better coordinated public health infrastructure. Getting there will require not just more investment, but repairs to the foundation of this critical national asset.

 

 

 

America celebrates a grim milestone

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Epidemic vs. Pandemic, What Is the Difference Between an Epidemic ...

 

As the nation headed into the 4th of July weekend, the number of new COVID cases hit a string of daily highs, reaching a record high of more than 55,000 on Thursday. States across the South and Sunbelt, especially those that lifted stay-at-home orders early, saw the worst spikes.

Florida broke a new record with more than 10,000 cases on Thursday, and Georgia also experienced a new daily high. Hospitalizations continued to rise sharply in several states as well. Many hospitals reported a shift in COVID admissions toward younger, otherwise healthy adults, reports borne out by the lower death rate than that experienced in the initial surge of cases in the Northeast. (Advances in the management of severely ill COVID patients have also brought death rates down.)

In a Senate hearing on Tuesday, top White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the US was “not in total control” of the pandemic, and predicted that daily new case counts could top 100,000 if more stringent measures are not taken.

California, Florida, and other states took steps to roll back reopening efforts, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott abruptly reversed direction and ordered a statewide mask mandate. Welcome news, but likely too late to prevent cities like Houston from exceeding available ICU capacity. Cases in the city have skyrocketed across the past month, with its positive test rate hitting 20 percent yesterday; its cancer and children’s hospitals began admitting COVID-positive adults to provide added capacity.

With celebrations scheduled across the nation this weekend, including another large event today at Mount Rushmore to be attended by President Trump, where masking and social distancing will be optional, it seems certain that we will continue to reap the whirlwind of careless behavior and hasty reopening for the rest of this month and beyond.

And looming in just six weeks—students return to schools and colleges.

US coronavirus update: 2.7M cases; 130K deaths; 33.5M tests conducted.
 

 

 

 

12 hospitals laying off workers in response to COVID-19

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/12-hospitals-laying-off-workers-in-response-to-covid-19.html?utm_medium=email

Facing a financial squeeze, hospitals nationwide are cutting jobs

To address the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals across the nation are looking to cut costs by implementing furloughs, layoffs or pay cuts. 

U.S. hospitals are expected to lose $323.1 billion this year due to the pandemic, according to a recent report from the American Hospital Association. The total includes $120.5 billion in financial losses that hospitals are projected to see from July through December, as well as $202.6 billion in losses that were projected between March and June. The losses were largely due to a lower patient volume after canceling elective procedures. 

Although Congress allocated $175 billion to help hospitals offset some of the revenue losses and expense increases to prepare for the pandemic, hospitals have said it is not enough.

Nearly 270 hospitals and health systems have furloughed workers in response to the pandemic and several others have implemented layoffs. 

Below are 12 hospitals and health systems that have announced layoffs since June 1:

1. Trinity Health furloughs, lays off another 1,000 workers
Trinity Health, a 92-hospital system based in Livonia, Mich., will lay off and reduce work schedules of 1,000 employees.

2. Ohio children’s hospital cuts jobs
Dayton (Ohio) Children’s Hospital said it has cut jobs to help offset financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Munson Healthcare to cut 25 leadership positions
Traverse City, Mich.-based Munson Healthcare cut 25 leadership positions to help offset financial losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Erlanger lays off 93 nonclinical employees
Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Erlanger Health System has cut 93 nonclinical positions to help offset financial damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. The layoffs come after the health system cut 11 leadership positions June 12, including the CEO of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy, N.C., and made staff and pay cuts in March.

5. Michigan Medicine to lay off 738 employees by end of June
Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine planned to eliminate 738 positions by the end of June amid financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

6. Pennsylvania health system cuts 10% of workforce amid pandemic losses
As part of a restructuring effort to cut pandemic-related losses, State College, Pa.-based Mount Nittany Health System plans to lay off 10 percent of its workforce, or about 250 employees.

7. TriHealth eliminates 440 positions to cut costs
Cincinnati-based TriHealth cut 440 positions as part of a plan to trim at least $140 million in expenditures this year.

8. Layoffs hit U of Kansas Health System
The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus in Topeka laid off employees after previously implementing furloughs.

9. Tower Health to cut 1,000 jobs
Citing a $212 million loss in revenue through May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Reading, Pa.-based Tower Health plans to cut 1,000 jobs.

10. Colorado hospital cuts 22 positions
Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, Colo., eliminated 22 positions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

11. Arkansas Children’s cuts 42 positions
Little Rock-based Arkansas Children’s Hospital said it is eliminating 42 jobs as part of cost-savings measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

12. North Carolina health system cuts 10% of workforce, closes clinics
Citing a financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, Lumberton, N.C.-based Southeastern Health will permanently close several clinics, cut 10 percent of its workforce and reduce executive pay.

 

 

Flu vs. Covid-19 Death Rate, by age

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