750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net

https://news.gallup.com/poll/312401/750-million-struggling-meet-basic-needs-no-safety-net.aspx?utm_source=newsbrief-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NewsBriefNewsletter-NewsAlerts_June_06232020&utm_content=readarticle-textlink-6&elqTrackId=4006f0c4b7d144559ddd21458f847dda&elq=855f025f02c444dcb59fe9492ea16815&elqaid=4326&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=925

750 Million Struggling to Meet Basic Needs With No Safety Net

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • One in seven adults worldwide struggle to afford food, shelter with no help
  • At least some percentage in every country is “highly vulnerable”
  • Highly vulnerable in developed, developing world as likely to have health problems

This article is the first in series based on results from Gallup’s new Basic Needs Vulnerability Index.

Imagine being unable to afford food or to put a roof over your head, or maybe you are struggling to do both. On top of this, you don’t have family or friends who can help you.

Now, imagine this is all happening and a pandemic hits.

Gallup’s new Basic Needs Vulnerability Index, based on surveys in 142 countries in 2019, suggests this was the reality for hundreds of millions worldwide just as COVID-19 arrived.

About one in seven of the world’s adults — or about 750 million people — fall into this index’s “High Vulnerability” group, which means they are struggling to afford either food or shelter, or struggling to afford both, and don’t have friends or family to count on if they were in trouble.

Globally, at least some adults in every country fall into the High Vulnerability group, which is important because Gallup finds people in this group are potentially more at risk in almost every area of their lives. Worldwide, these percentages range from 1% in wealthy countries such as Denmark and Singapore to roughly 50% in places such as Benin and Afghanistan.

20200602_vulnerability@2x

Gallup’s Basic Needs Vulnerability Index gauges people’s potential exposure to risk from economic and other types of shocks like a pandemic. Beyond measuring people’s ability to afford food and shelter, this index also folds in whether people have personal safety nets — people who can help them when they are in trouble.

People worldwide fall into one of three groups:

High Vulnerability: People in this group say there were times in the past year when they were unable to afford food or shelter or say they struggled to afford both and say they do not have family or friends who could help them in times of trouble.

Moderate Vulnerability: People in this group say there were times in the past year when they were unable to afford food or shelter or say they struggled to afford both, and they do have family or friends to help them in times of trouble.

Low Vulnerability: People in this group say there were not times in the past year when they struggled to afford food or shelter and say they do have family or friends to help them if they were in trouble.

Before the pandemic, most of the world was at least moderately vulnerable, falling into either the High Vulnerability group (14%) or the Moderate Vulnerability group (39%). The rest, 47%, fell into the Low Vulnerability group.

The life experiences in these three groups illustrate the difference that not having family and friends to count on in times of trouble can make in people’s lives.

Highly Vulnerable Most Likely to Experience Health Problems, Experience Pain

While people in the High Vulnerability group are potentially more at risk in almost every area of their lives than those in the other two groups, they are particularly at risk when it comes to their health.

More than four in 10 (41%) of the highly vulnerable say they have health problems that keep them from doing activities that people their age normally do. This percentage drops to 29% among those who are moderately vulnerable and to 14% among those with low vulnerability.

The same is true for experiences of physical pain. The highly vulnerable are also far more likely to say they experienced physical pain the day before the interview (53% have) compared with 37% in the moderately vulnerable and 20% in the lowest vulnerability group.

Looking at who the highly vulnerable are within the global population reinforces why the greater risks to their health are so important. Globally, people in the high vulnerability group are just as likely to be male or female (14% of each fall into this group), and percentages are similar in the 15 to 29 age group (12%) and 60 and older group (14%).

However, the highly vulnerable are more likely to live in rural (16%) rather than urban areas (10%) and be in the poorest 20% of the population (21%) than the richest 20% of the population (7%).

Highly Vulnerable in Developed and Developing Countries Poor Health in Common

As might be expected, most of the countries with the highest percentage in the High Vulnerability group are a mix of developing economies and notably one emerging economy — India — and the countries with the lowest percentage are developed, high-income economies.

However, regardless of where they are located or their level of development, the highly vulnerable populations look a lot alike. In fact, when it comes to health problems, among the highly vulnerable populations, almost the exact same percentage in developing economies (41%) and high-income economies (42%) report having them.

The highly vulnerable in developing countries are only slightly more likely to report experiencing physical pain (53%) than this group in developed, high-income economies (47%).

Implications

As massive as the highly vulnerable group was before the pandemic, it could have been even larger, taking children and other household members into account.

As such, this new layer of vulnerability among populations will be important to monitor as the pandemic threatens to push tens of millions more people into extreme poverty and hunger this year and beyond.

 

 

 

 

State-by-state breakdown of 130 rural hospital closures

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/state-by-state-breakdown-of-130-rural-hospital-closures.html

Rural Hospital Closures Hit Poor, Minority Communities Hardest ...

Nearly one in five Americans live in rural areas and depend on their local hospital for care. Over the past 10 years, 130 of those hospitals have closed.

Thirty-three states have seen at least one rural hospital shut down since 2010, and the closures are heavily clustered in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.

Twenty-one rural hospitals in Texas have closed since 2010, the most of any state. Tennessee has the second-most closures, with 13 rural hospitals shutting down in the past decade. In third place is Oklahoma with eight closures. 

Listed below are the 130 rural hospitals that have closed since Jan. 1, 2010, as tracked by the Sheps Center. For the purposes of its analysis, the Sheps Center defined a hospital closure as the cessation in the provision of inpatient services.

“We follow the convention of the Office of Inspector General that a closed hospital is ‘a facility that stopped providing general, short-term, acute inpatient care,'” reads a statement on the Sheps Center’s website. “We did not consider a hospital closed if it: merged with, or was sold to, another hospital but the physical plant continued to provide inpatient acute care, converted to critical access status, or both closed and reopened during the same calendar year and at the same physical location.”

As of June 8, all the facilities listed below had stopped providing inpatient care. However, some of them still offered other services, including outpatient care, emergency care, urgent care or primary care.

Alabama
SouthWest Alabama Medical Center (Thomasville)
Randolph Medical Center (Roanoke)
Chilton Medical Center (Clanton)
Florence Memorial Hospital
Elba General Hospital
Georgiana Medical Center

Alaska
Sitka Community Hospital

Arizona
Cochise Regional Hospital (Douglas)
Hualapai Mountain Medical Center (Kingman)
Florence Community Healthcare

Arkansas
De Queen Medical Center

California
Kingsburg Medical Center
Corcoran District Hospital
Adventist Health Feather River (Paradise)
Coalinga Regional Medical Center

Florida
Campbellton-Graceville Hospital
Regional General Hospital (Williston)
Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center
Shands Starke Regional Medical Center

Georgia
Hart County Hospital (Harwell)
Charlton Memorial Hospital (Folkston)
Calhoun Memorial Hospital (Arlington)
Stewart-Webster Hospital (Richland)
Lower Oconee Community Hospital (Glenwood)
North Georgia Medical Center (Ellijay)

Illinois
St. Mary’s Hospital (Streator)

Indiana
Fayette Regional Health System

Kansas
Central Kansas Medical Center (Great Bend)
Mercy Hospital Independence
Mercy Hospital Fort Scott
Horton Community Hospital
Oswego Community Hospital
Sumner Community Hospital (Wellington)

Kentucky
Nicholas County Hospital (Carlisle)
Parkway Regional Hospital (Fulton)
New Horizons Medical Center (Owenton)
Westlake Regional Hospital (Columbia)

Louisiana
Doctor’s Hospital at Deer Creek (Leesville)

Maine
St. Andrews Hospital (Boothbay Harbor)
Southern Maine Health Care-Sanford Medical Center
Parkview Adventist Medical Center (Brunswick)

Maryland
Edward W. McCready Memorial Hospital (Crisfield)

Massachusetts
North Adams Regional Hospital

Michigan
Cheboygan Memorial Hospital

Minnesota
Lakeside Medical Center
Albany Area Hospital
Albert Lea-Mayo Clinic Health System
Mayo Clinic Health System-Springfield

Mississippi
Patient’s Choice Medical of Humphreys County (Belzoni)
Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton
Merit Health Natchez-Community Campus
Kilmichael Hospital
Quitman County Hospital (Marks)

Missouri
Sac-Osage Hospital (Osceola)
Parkland Health Center-Weber Road (Farmington)
Southeast Health Center of Reynolds County (Ellington)
Southeast Health Center of Ripley County (Doniphan)
Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center (Kennett)
I-70 Community Hospital (Sweet Springs)
Pinnacle Regional Hospital (Boonville)

Nebraska
Tilden Community Hospital

Nevada
Nye Regional Medical Center (Tonopah)

New York
Lake Shore Health Care Center
Moses-Ludington Hospital (Ticonderoga)

North Carolina
Blowing Rock Hospital
Vidant Pungo Hospital (Belhaven)
Novant Health Franklin Medical Center (Louisburg)
Yadkin Valley Community Hospital (Yadkinville)
Our Community Hospital (Scotland Neck)
Sandhills Regional Medical Center (Hamlet)
Davie Medical Center-Mocksville

Ohio
Physicians Choice Hospital-Fremont
Doctors Hospital of Nelsonville

Oklahoma
Muskogee Community Hospital
Epic Medical Center (Eufaula)
Memorial Hospital & Physician Group (Frederick)
Latimer County General Hospital (Wilburton)
Pauls Valley General Hospital
Sayre Community Hospital
Haskell County Community Hospital (Stigler)
Mercy Hospital El Reno

Pennsylvania
Saint Catherine Medical Center Fountain Springs (Ashland)
Mid-Valley Hospital (Peckville)
Ellwood City Medical Center
UPMC Susquehanna Sunbury

South Carolina
Bamberg County Memorial Hospital
Marlboro Park Hospital (Bennettsville)
Southern Palmetto Hospital (Barnwell)
Fairfield Memorial Hospital (Winnsboro)

South Dakota
Holy Infant Hospital (Hoven)

Tennessee
Riverview Regional Medical Center South (Carthage)
Starr Regional Medical Center-Etowah
Haywood Park Community Hospital (Brownsville)
Gibson General Hospital (Trenton)
Humboldt General Hospital
United Regional Medical Center (Manchester)
Parkridge West Hospital (Jasper)
Tennova Healthcare-McNairy Regional (Selmer)
Copper Basin Medical Center (Copperhill)
McKenzie Regional Hospital
Jamestown Regional Medical Center
Takoma Regional Hospital (Greeneville)
Decatur County General Hospital (Parsons)

Texas
Wise Regional Health System-Bridgeport
Shelby Regional Medical Center
Renaissance Hospital Terrell
East Texas Medical Center-Mount Vernon
East Texas Medical Center-Clarksville
East Texas Medical Center-Gilmer
Good Shepherd Medical Center (Linden)
Lake Whitney Medical Center (Whitney)
Hunt Regional Community Hospital of Commerce
Gulf Coast Medical Center (Wharton)
Nix Community General Hospital (Dilley)
Weimar Medical Center
Care Regional Medical Center (Aransas Pass)
East Texas Medical Center-Trinity
Little River Healthcare Cameron Hospital
Little River Healthcare Rockdale Hospital
Stamford Memorial Hospital
Texas General-Van Zandt Regional Medical Center (Grand Saline)
Hamlin Memorial Hospital
Chillicothe Hospital
Central Hospital of Bowie

Virginia
Lee Regional Medical Center (Pennington Gap)
Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County (Stuart)
Mountain View Regional Hospital (Norton)

West Virginia
Williamson Memorial Hospital
Fairmont Regional Medical Center

Wisconsin
Franciscan Skemp Medical Center (Arcadia)

 

 

 

 

“All policy is health policy”

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-8873028c-f37e-4712-a53a-ae324c56dbb6.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

PPT - Health in All Policies PowerPoint Presentation, free ...

The effects of racism are often inseparable from black Americans’ health and well-being, as “black communities bear the physical burdens of centuries of injustice, toxic exposures, racism, and white supremacist violence,” Rachel Hardeman, Eduardo Medina and Rhea Boyd write in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Any solution to racial health inequities must be rooted in the material conditions in which those inequities thrive. Therefore, we must insist that for the health of the black community and, in turn, the health of the nation, we address the social, economic, political, legal, educational, and health care systems that maintain structural racism. Because as the Covid-19 pandemic so expeditiously illustrated, all policy is health policy…

The response to the pandemic has made at least one thing clear: systemic change can in fact happen overnight.

 

Rich vs. poor hospitals

https://www.axios.com/hospitals-coronavirus-inequality-segregation-f10c49eb-5ccc-4739-b2a9-254fd9a3d40e.html

Rich vs. poor hospitals | News Break

The inequalities in American health care extend right into the hospital: Cash-strapped safety-net hospitals treat more people of color, while wealthier facilities treat more white patients.

Why it matters: Safety-net hospitals lack the money, equipment and other resources of their more affluent counterparts, which makes providing critical care more difficult and exacerbates disparities in health outcomes.

The big picture: A majority of patients who go to safety-net hospitals are black or Hispanic; 40% are either on Medicaid or uninsured.

The other side: Wealthy hospitals, including many prominent academic medical centers, are “far less likely to serve or treat black and low-income patients even though those patients may live in their backyards,” said Arrianna Planey, an incoming health policy professor at the University of North Carolina.

  • An investigation by the Boston Globe in 2017 found black people in Boston “are less likely to get care at several of the city’s elite hospitals than if you are white.”
  • The Cleveland Clinic has expanded into a global icon for health care, but rarely cares for those in the black neighborhoods that surround its campus, Dan Diamond of Politico reported in 2017.

Between the lines: The way the federal government is bailing out hospitals for the revenues they’ve lost during coronavirus is exacerbating this inequality. More money is flowing to richer hospitals.

  • For example, the main hospital within University of Colorado Health has gotten $79.3 million from the government’s main “provider relief” fund — about the same amount as Cook County Health, Chicago’s public hospital system, which predominantly treats low-income black and Hispanic people. It has gotten $77.6 million from that pot.
  • The Colorado system, however, is sitting on billions of dollars in cash and investments that Chicago’s safety-net hospitals don’t have. Chicago has also seen a worse coronavirus outbreak.

The bottom line: Poor hospitals that treat minorities have had to rely on GoFundMe pages and beg for ventilators during the pandemic, while richer systems move ahead with new hospital construction plans.

 

 

 

 

After criticism, HHS directs $25B in CARES funding to Medicaid providers, safety net hospitals

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/after-criticism-hhs-directs-25b-in-cares-funding-to-medicaid-providers-s/579496/

Dive Brief:

  • HHS announced Tuesday it will deliver $25 billion to providers and hospitals that serve the nation’s most vulnerable patients, or those with Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage. Of that, $15 billion will go to providers that primarily serve Medicaid and CHIP patients while the other $10 billion is reserved for safety net hospitals that usually operate on razor-thin margins. A total of 758 safety net hospitals will receive direct deposits, and the administration noted that many of these facilities are operating in the red with an average profit margin of -7%.
  • Not all Medicaid providers received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security funding from the initial general distribution. This targeted allocation is designed to make up for that by distributing money to the remaining 38% of Medicaid and CHIP providers who were left out of the first tranche.
  • These Medicaid providers will receive at least 2% of reported gross patient revenue, but could receive more depending on how many patients they serve. HHS will make a final determination once providers start submitting data to the relief portal.

Dive Insight:

The industry has been clamoring for HHS to target funding to Medicaid providers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the downturn in business, noting these organizations are already on fragile ground.

Last week the American Hospital Association pleaded for the administration to release $50 billion more for all hospitals, with $10 billion reserved for providers with a heavy caseload of Medicaid patients.

HHS answered the hospital lobby’s call — in part. HHS will distribute funds to safety net providers — more than AHA asked for — but disclosed no plans Tuesday to broaden that funding to all hospitals. America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents safety net providers, had also called for the quick release of targeted funding.

“Our goal for all these distributions has been to get the money to the providers who need it most as soon as possible,” Eric Hargan, HHS deputy secretary, said Tuesday during a call with reporters.

However, some have been critical of how the administration decided to allocate the first few waves of funding.

Congress has earmarked a total of $175 billion in funding for providers through two pieces of legislation, including the CARES Act.

To get the money out the door quickly, the first tranche was sent to providers based on the Medicare fee-for-service business, and later on the net patient service revenue.

These formulas put certain providers at an advantage, which tend to be for-profit hospitals with higher-margins, or those who were already well off heading into the pandemic, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

This targeted funding was not swift, one reason for the delay was the challenge in getting a list of Medicaid providers from the states to validate and authenticate those who came to the portal to apply for funds, according to a senior HHS official.​

Still, providers that have already received funds have noted that it comes with its own set of headaches. Some have decided to return the funds as navigating the legal and compliance issues may not be worth the hassle.

Though, that’s likely not the case for these safety net hospitals and providers.

 

 

 

 

Administration Wants To Cut Back A Billion-Dollar Healthcare Program. Hospitals Say Now Is A Really Bad Time.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/trump-medicare-cuts-hospitals-coronavirus-lawsuits?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTVRRd00yUmpZbUV3TVRVeiIsInQiOiJTZ0piR2wyRnBZOU5jR3N2TTNzd3Vrb040dHA5K0hVT0lQRm82YnFkVlNVVko4QlVRU0Z0SVVTQWxZUXJmWTZFTVBqaVh0N1JRWHFJTmg2dkNDb0hQTjBYYmxyUnphMEVGSmhwN0NJWUE3V0FFa2FIenJRZTJjWmliSWZKRVwvcU8ifQ%253D%253D

340B Drug Pricing Program: What Is it, How Does It Work?

The Trump administration has been fighting in court with public and nonprofit hospitals since 2017 over a plan to slash the reimbursement rates for drugs prescribed to Medicare patients.

In 2018, Park Ridge Health, a not-for-profit healthcare network in western North Carolina that serves a large population of lower-income patients, delayed plans to buy a new CT scanner for stroke patients.

The Trump administration had drastically scaled back a federal drug reimbursement program that benefitted public and not-for-profit hospitals. Park Ridge, now called AdventHealth Hendersonville, stood to lose $3.3 million per year, the hospital’s chief financial officer wrote in a court affidavit, and it wasn’t just the CT scanner on the line — that money went toward a variety of services for elderly and poor patients, including new cancer treatment facilities, women’s healthcare, and partnerships with nonprofits on issues like prescription drug abuse.

Park Ridge and other hospitals have been battling with the administration in court for three years over a plan to slash by nearly 30% the reimbursement rate that hospitals get for certain drugs prescribed to Medicare patients. The hospitals won the first round. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit heard arguments in November and has yet to rule, and for now the cut is still in effect. In the meantime, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is exploring another way to make the cut if they lose the case, over the objection of hospitals.

The litigation predates the coronavirus pandemic, but the stakes are higher as hospitals nationwide lose tens of billions of dollars weekly while nonessential services and elective surgeries are on hold because of the ongoing crisis.

“If [hospitals] lost that money now, it would make an already dire financial situation worse,” Lindsay Wiley, director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University Washington College of Law, wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.

Hospitals that serve a high proportion of lower-income patients can buy outpatient drugs at a discounted price through what’s known as the 340B program. Until 2017, these hospitals were reimbursed by the federal government for drugs prescribed to Medicare patients at a higher rate than the discounted price the hospitals paid.

The CMS announced in 2017 that it was slashing the reimbursement rate from 6% above the average price of the drugs to 22.5% below the average cost. The agency said the program gave hospitals an incentive to overprescribe drugs and cost patients more money, and shouldn’t provide a windfall to subsidize other services.

Hospitals that opposed the change argued that they had put money earned through the program — which can run in the millions of dollars for a hospital each year — into services for poor and underserved communities, as Congress intended.

The CMS estimated that cutting the reimbursement rate for the drugs would reduce the amount of money paid to hospitals by $1.6 billion in 2018 alone. Scaling back that funding would actually increase the rates paid by the government for other services for Medicare patients — the payment system has to be “budget neutral” — but Park Ridge and other hospitals that took the administration to court said they still expected net losses of millions of dollars.

Many hospitals that participate in the 340B program “are in the red to begin with,” said Maureen Testoni, president and CEO of 340B Health, a membership group for hospitals and health systems that participate.

“So on top of that, you add this pandemic and all the financial turmoil that this has caused,” Testoni said. The pandemic has highlighted “how critical [hospitals] are … and what an important role they play. And, financially, they’re not in a situation where they can play that role when they have this big financial reduction.”

While waiting for the DC Circuit to rule, the CMS is exploring ways to move forward with the rate cut even if it loses. Last month, the agency launched a survey to collect data from 340B hospitals that the CMS says would address the issues that led the lower court judge to rule against the government. Hospitals opposed the survey and asked the agency to at least delay it, saying they’d have to divert resources that are already stretched thin during the pandemic to respond.

“Now is not the time to distract hospitals’ attention from the vital job at hand to complete a CMS survey on drug acquisition costs. By launching the survey with no notice on April 24 and providing less than three weeks to respond, CMS is creating an unnecessary burden on hospitals at the worst possible moment,” Testoni wrote in a May 4 letter to the agency. The agency didn’t respond.

Representatives of hospitals involved in the lawsuits declined interview requests, citing the pending litigation. The American Hospital Association, a lead plaintiff, declined an interview request but sent a statement:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created the greatest financial crisis in history for America’s hospitals and health systems, with our field losing over $50 billion each month. While it is too soon to have precise data on the full impact of this pandemic, the unlawful Medicare cuts that we are contesting in federal court have added significantly to the financial pressure all hospitals face,” the group said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services did not return a request for comment. In court, the Justice Department has argued that the district court judge lacked authority to review the rate cut at all, and that even if he could, the government had the power to bring the rate in line with what the available data showed hospitals were paying for the drugs.

“[O]vercompensation for some drugs or treatments means reduced payments for other drugs and treatments, and correcting overcompensation permits more equitable distribution of limited funds,” Justice Department lawyers argued in the government’s brief to the DC Circuit. “The result of bringing the Medicare payment amount for 340B drugs into alignment with average acquisition cost was therefore the redistribution of the anticipated $1.6 billion in savings, resulting in a 3.2% increase in the Medicare payment rates for non-drug items and services.”

Congress created the 340B program in 1992. Healthcare providers eligible for the program can buy outpatient drugs at discounted rates from pharmaceutical companies. When hospitals prescribe those drugs to patients covered by Medicare — the federal insurance program for people who are over the age of 65 or have disabilities — they submit claims to the government for reimbursement.

Starting in 2006, Congress gave the CMS two options to set the drug reimbursement rate. It could rely on what hospitals were actually paying to buy drugs if it had “statistically sound survey data” or, if that wasn’t available, the average sales price of the drugs. If the agency used the second, alternative option, Congress set a default rate: the average sales price plus 6%.

In the summer of 2017, the Trump administration announced a plan to change the rate. Under the new rule, the Medicare agency said it would pay the average sales price of drugs minus 22.5%. That rate would come closer to matching the discounted rate hospitals were paying through the 340B program, the agency said.

Hospitals don’t have to track or disclose how they use money saved through the program. Kelly Cleary, who spent three years as the chief legal officer for the CMS, said hospitals had provided examples of how they were using the funds to expand services into underserved areas and provide free or low-cost care.

“The money was going toward a purpose that was consistent with their mission,” said Cleary, who was involved in the CMS’s effort to change the rate and defend it in court. She returned to private practice last month as a partner at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.

The chief financial officer for the Henry Ford Health System, which serves patients in Detroit and Jackson, Michigan, wrote in a court affidavit that even if the cut meant that reimbursement rates increased for other Medicare services, the hospital network still expected to lose around $8.5 million by the end of 2018 — money that had gone toward services for patients with low incomes, such as free and low-cost medications, a free community clinic, and mobile health units.

The margin between what the Henry Ford Health System paid for drugs through the 340B program and what it received back from Medicare helped hospitals in that network provide care for “underserved and indigent populations … that would otherwise be financially unsustainable,” the officer wrote.

In support of the rate cut, the CMS pointed to a 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office that showed hospitals participating in the program had an incentive to prescribe more drugs than hospitals that weren’t in the program, and that meant higher copayments for Medicare patients who were prescribed more drugs or higher-priced drugs. The agency concluded hospitals were receiving too much of a net financial benefit.

“While we recognize the intent of the 340B Program,” the agency wrote in a November 2017 notice in the Federal Register, “we believe it is inappropriate for Medicare to subsidize other activities.”

It’s a position that aligned the government with the pharmaceutical industry, which argued that some hospitals had abused the program. Drugmakers pointed out that even with a cut to the reimbursement rate, the healthcare providers would still get the benefit of discounted drugs. A representative of PhRMA, a membership group for the pharmaceutical industry, declined an interview request, but sent BuzzFeed News a copy of comments the group submitted in support of the cut.

“PhRMA is concerned that the 340B program continues to grow rapidly and without patient benefits, thus increasingly departing from its purpose and statutory boundaries,” the group wrote. “This growth in the 340B program creates market-distorting incentives that affect consumer prices for medicines, shift care to more expensive hospital settings, and accelerate provider market consolidation.”

Hospitals that supported the program, meanwhile, said the proposal punished providers who work with vulnerable patients, and they urged the CMS to focus its efforts instead on bringing down drug costs.

The agency disputed that the plan was punitive and said that “lowering the price of pharmaceuticals is a top priority” but was outside the scope of what it was considering at the time.


Hospitals and hospital associations began suing the administration shortly after the rule became final in November 2017. They argued that the CMS had come up with the new rate using a process that Congress hadn’t approved. The agency admitted that it didn’t have the “statistically sound” survey data on what hospitals were actually paying for the drugs — the first method Congress had laid out — so instead it used an estimate of average purchase costs compiled by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an agency that advises Congress.

The problem with the government’s approach, the hospitals argued, was that Congress had said the CMS could either use survey data on purchase costs or the average sales price of the drugs, but not a hybrid of the two. Congress had given the CMS authority to “adjust” rates, but cutting the reimbursement rate by nearly 30% was more than just an adjustment, the hospitals said.

US District Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington, DC, sided with the hospitals. In a December 2018 opinion, he wrote that the rate cut’s “magnitude and its wide applicability inexorably lead to the conclusion” that the agency had “fundamentally altered” what Congress had spelled out.

The judge stopped short of blocking the rule and ordering the government to reimburse hospitals for the difference between the previous rate and the CMS’s new, lower rate, however, writing that it was “likely to be highly disruptive.” He noted that the payment system had to stay budget neutral, which meant the money would need to come from another source, a “quagmire that may be impossible to navigate” given how much money the government paid out of Medicare each year. He asked for more briefing on what the agency should do to fix the problem, but that issue was put on hold as the administration took the case to the DC Circuit.

A three-judge DC Circuit panel heard arguments on Nov. 8 and has yet to release a decision. In the meantime, hospitals have continued to file lawsuits as their claims for reimbursement at the previous, higher rate are rejected; earlier this month, a hospital system in Jacksonville, Florida, which is part of the University of Florida, filed a new suit in federal court in Washington. And the CMS is going ahead with its survey over the objections from hospitals.

“The pandemic amplifies the significance of this policy, but the fact remains that there were winners and losers with the policy and it’s always going to be a zero-sum game,” Cleary said. “If the court rules against the agency and the agency is forced to walk back the policy, that stands to negatively impact thousands of hospitals.”

Wiley, of American University, told BuzzFeed News that even before the pandemic, the fight over the 340B program highlighted how hospitals and drugmakers were “actively throwing each other under the bus” in the broader debate about who was to blame for the high cost of prescription drugs and what the federal government should do about it.

“Which stakeholders voters perceive to be the heroes of the pandemic response could affect health reform and reimbursement politics for years to come,” she wrote.

 

 

 

100,000 Lives Lost to COVID-19. What Did They Teach Us?

https://www.propublica.org/article/100000-lives-lost-to-covid-19-what-did-they-teach-us?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature

May 27 data: Four new Utah COVID-19 deaths as US count tops ...

Each person who has died of COVID-19 was somebody’s everything. Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider those who have died uncounted, the full tragedy of the pandemic hinges on one question: How do we stop the next 100,000?

The United States has now recorded 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.

It’s a moment to collectively grieve and reflect.

Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider also those who have died uncounted, I hope that we can also resolve to learn more, test better, hold our leaders accountable and better protect our citizens so we do not have to reach another grim milestone.

Through public records requests and other reporting, ProPublica has found example after example of delays, mistakes and missed opportunities. The CDC took weeks to fix its faulty test. In Seattle, 33,000 fans attended a soccer match, even after the top local health official said he wanted to end mass gatherings. Houston went ahead with a livestock show and rodeo that typically draws 2.5 million people, until evidence of community spread shut it down after eight days. Nebraska kept a meatpacking plant open that health officials wanted to shut down, and cases from the plant subsequently skyrocketed. And in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, political infighting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio hampered communication and slowed decision making at a time when speed was critical to stop the virus’ exponential spread.

COVID-19 has also laid bare many long-standing inequities and failings in America’s health care system. It is devastating, but not surprising, to learn that many of those who have been most harmed by the virus are also Americans who have long suffered from historical social injustices that left them particularly susceptible to the disease.

This massive loss of life wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and regrettable. Even without a vaccine or cure, better mitigation measures could have prevented infections from happening in the first place; more testing capacity could have allowed patients to be identified and treated earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, far from it.

At this moment, the questions we need to ask are: How do we prevent the next 100,000 deaths from happening? How do we better protect our most vulnerable in the coming months? Even while we mourn, how can we take action, so we do not repeat this horror all over again?

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Though we’ve long known about infection control problems in nursing homes, COVID-19 got in and ran roughshod.

From the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, when the virus tore through the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have emerged as one of the deadliest settings. As of May 21, there have been around 35,000 deaths of staff and residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet the facilities have continued to struggle with basic infection control. Federal inspectors have found homes with insufficient staff and a lack of personal protective equipment. Others have failed to maintain social distancing among residents, according to inspection reports ProPublica reviewed. Desperate family members have had to become detectives and activists, one even going as far as staging a midnight rescue of her loved one as the virus spread through a Queens, New York, assisted living facility.

What now? The risk to the elderly will not decrease as time goes by — more than any other population, they will need the highest levels of protection until the pandemic is over. The CEO of the industry’s trade group told my colleague Charles Ornstein: “Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened.” More can be done to protect our nursing home and long term care population. This means regular testing of both staff and residents, adequate protective gear and a realistic way to isolate residents who test positive.

Racial disparities in health care are pervasive in medicine, as they have been in COVID-19 deaths.

African Americans have contracted and died of the coronavirus at higher rates across the country. This is due to myriad factors, including more limited access to medical care as well as environmental, economic and political factors that put them at higher risk of chronic conditions. When ProPublica examined the first 100 recorded victims of the coronavirus in Chicago, we found that 70 were black. African Americans make up 30% of the city’s population.

What now? States should make sure that safety-net hospitals, which serve a large portion of low-income and uninsured patients regardless of their ability to pay, and hospitals in neighborhoods that serve predominantly black communities, are well-supplied and sufficiently staffed during the crisis. More can also be done to encourage African American patients to not delay seeking care, even when they have “innocent symptoms” like a cough or low-grade fever, especially when they suffer other health conditions like diabetes.

Racial disparities go beyond medicine, to other aspects of the pandemic. Data shows that black people are already being disproportionately arrested for social distancing violations, a measure that can undercut public health efforts and further raise the risk of infection, especially when enforcement includes time in a crowded jail.

Essential workers had little choice but to work during COVID-19, but adequate safeguards weren’t put in place to protect them.

We’ve known from the beginning there are some measures that help protect us from the virus, such as physical distancing. Yet millions of Americans haven’t been able to heed that advice, and have had no choice but to risk their health daily as they’ve gone to work shoulder-to-shoulder in meat-packing plants, rung up groceries while being forbidden to wear gloves, or delivered the mail. Those who are undocumented live with the additional fear of being caught by immigration authorities if they go to a hospital for testing or treatment.

What now? Research has shown that there’s a much higher risk of transmission in enclosed spaces than outdoors, so providing good ventilation, adequate physical distancing, and protective gear as appropriate for workers in indoor spaces is critical for safety. We also now know that patients are likely most infectious right before or at the time when symptoms start appearing, so if workplaces are generous about their sick leave policies, workers can err on the side of caution if they do feel unwell, and not have to choose between their livelihoods and their health. It’s also important to have adequate testing capacity, so infections can be caught before they turn into a large outbreak.

Frontline health care workers were not given adequate PPE and were sometimes fired for speaking up about it.

While health workers have not, thankfully, been dying at conspicuously higher rates, they continue to be susceptible to the virus due to their work. The national scramble for ventilators and personal protective equipment has exposed the just-in-time nature of hospitals’ inventories: Nurses across the country have had to work with expired N95 masks, or no masks at all. Health workers have been suspended, or put on unpaid leave, because they didn’t see eye to eye with their administrators on the amount of protective gear they needed to keep themselves safe while caring for patients.

First responders — EMTs, firefighters and paramedics — are often forgotten when it comes to funding, even though they are the first point of contact with sick patients. The lack of a coherent system nationwide meant that some first responders felt prepared, while others were begging for masks at local hospitals.

What now? As states reopen, it will be important to closely track hospital capacity, and if cases rise and threaten their medical systems’ ability to care for patients, governments will need to be ready to pause or even dial back reopening measures. It should go without saying that adequate protective gear is a must. I also hope that hospital administrators are thinking about mental health care for their staffs. Doctors and nurses have told us of the immense strain of caring for patients whom they don’t know how to save, while also worrying about getting sick themselves, or carrying the virus home to their loved ones. Even “heroes” need supplies and support.

What we still have to learn:

There continue to be questions on which data is lacking, such as the effects of the coronavirus on pregnant women. Without evidence-based research, pregnant women have been left to make decisions on their own, sometimes trying to limit their exposure against their employer’s wishes.

Similarly, there’s a paucity of data on children’s risk level and their role in transmission. While we can confidently say that it’s rare for children to get very ill if they do get infected, there’s not as much information on whether children are as infectious as adults. Answering that question would not just help parents make decisions (Can I let my kid go to day care when we live with Grandma?) but also help officials make evidence-based decisions on how and when to reopen schools.

There’s some research I don’t want to rush. Experts say the bar for evidence should be extremely high when it comes to a vaccine’s safety and benefit. It makes sense that we might be willing to use a therapeutic with less evidence on critically ill patients, knowing that without any intervention, they would soon die. A vaccine, however, is intended to be given to vast numbers of healthy people. So yes, we have to move urgently, but we must still take the time to gather robust data.

Our nation’s leaders have many choices to make in the coming weeks and months. I hope they will heed the advice of scientists, doctors and public health officials, and prioritize the protection of everyone from essential workers to people in prisons and homeless shelters who does not have the privilege of staying home for the duration of the pandemic.

The coronavirus is a wily adversary. We may ultimately defeat it with a vaccine or effective therapeutics. But what we’ve learned from the first 100,000 deaths is that we can save lives with the oldest mitigation tactics in the public health arsenal — and that being slow to act comes with a terrible cost.

I refuse to succumb to fatalism, to just accepting the ever higher death toll as inevitable. I want us to make it harder for this virus to take each precious life from us. And I believe we can.

 

 

 

Perspective: The Pandemic Has Created a Food Insecurity Crisis. The Federal Response Has Been Swift, but Is it Enough?

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The Pandemic Has Created a Food Insecurity Crisis. The Federal ...

Our ability to access nutritious food is a critical factor to our health and well-being, which is why it has been alarming to see images in recent weeks of cars lining up by the thousands at food banks across the country. Indeed, a university survey taken since the onset of the crises found nearly 4 in 10 Americans reported having moderate to high levels of food insecurity, compared to 11 percent of households who were food insecure in 2018, according to the USDA Economic Research Service.

In response, the federal government has given states administrative relief and funding through various Covid-19 response packages. USDA also has authorized temporary waivers that grant states greater flexibility to address the increased demands and to align with shelter-in-place and social-distancing orders.

USDA also created two new programs: the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). P-EBT allows states to issue eligible households an EBT card, a type of debit card used to purchase food, with the value of the free school breakfast and lunch reimbursement rates for the number of weekdays that schools are closed due to Covid-19 (estimated to be around $5.70 per day).

As of the first week of May, 18 states have been approved to provide benefits through P-EBT and 20 additional states have submitted plans for approval. CFAP aims not only to assist families in accessing food but also ranchers and farmers who have an excess supply. Through CFAP, the USDA will procure an estimated $100 million per month of fresh fruits and vegetables and $300 million per month in dairy and meat products for food banks and other nonprofits providing food to Americans in need.

Are these measures enough? Let’s examine the changes, particularly the USDA waivers for the federal food assistance programs.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides financial support to supplement the food budget of needy families. USDA waivers that increased flexibility in the administration of SNAP include:

  • waived the requirements for in-person interviews during the SNAP enrollment process,
  • provided emergency supplementary benefits up to the maximum benefit a household can receive for up to two months,
  • removed the requirement for SNAP recipients to re-certify midway through their participation,
  • provided flexibility for jobless workers to remain eligible, and
  • expanded the SNAP online grocery purchase pilot from the original eight states adding an additional 12 states and the District of Columbia.

These efforts are a step in the right direction to ease family burdens, but the supplemental benefits and program flexibilities are time-limited by the federal public health emergency declaration for Covid-19. Also, the 40 percent of SNAP households who already receive the maximum benefit are excluded from the supplemental benefits. Especially as we are experience the sharpest increase in food costs in decades, we need to provide additional support to the lowest income SNAP recipients. To assist families during the longer economic recovery, advocates and policy experts are calling for the following expansions to ensure these benefits cover a larger share of the people who need them:

  • boost the benefit for households by 15 percent (an additional $25 per person per month),
  • increase the minimum benefit per month from $16 to $30, and
  • suspend implementation of all administrative rules that restrict access for millions of Americans.

The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), a public health nutrition program that provides nutrition education, breastfeeding support and nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women and mothers of small children, has been providing services remotely. USDA waivers that increased flexibility in the administration of WIC include:

  • waived requirements for the physical presence for certification,
  • waiver for deferment of measurements and blood tests,
  • ability to issue benefits remotely, and
  • food package substitutions.

That’s a good start and more can be done. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recommends temporarily extending WIC certification periods for infants to two years as well as extending WIC eligibility from age five to age six. The National WIC Association is also advocating for an increase in the Cash Value Benefit to enhance fruit and vegetable purchases by WIC families.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which serve low-income school children, quickly revamped and developed innovative ways to distribute meals to families, often expanding their regular productions. USDA waivers that increased flexibility to help better serve families during the pandemic include:

  • ability to serve non-congregate meals,
  • allowing for pick-up and delivery of meals,
  • allowing modification in the meals components requirements,
  • waiving time elements and meal spacing requirements,
  • allowing virtual desk enrollment of new CACFP providers, and
  • waive requirement that afterschool meals and snacks be accompanied by educational activities.

CACFP provides meals to preschool-aged children in Child Care Centers and licensed child care family homes.  During the pandemic, most centers have been closed, while a majority of family homes remained open and provided services for essential workers.

According to Paula James, director of child health and nutrition at CocoKids in northern California, about 68 percent of the Contra Costa county’s family homes participating in CACFP remained open in April, and these waivers were helpful. Moving forward, she believes CACFP should continue the allowance of virtual enrollment and expand the use of that technology to regular monitoring site visits, specifically in rural areas or locations where safety could be a concern.  While the pandemic has provided the opportunity to test technological advances that could streamline program operations in the future, it also revealed some systemic weaknesses, including that CACFP has no centralized database system, which is needed at the state level and requires federal guidance. Lack of technology throughout the program was a hinderance to providing additional services to families during COVID-19.  “Continued use of technology into the future will be very important,” said James.

What more can be done? The federal government should extend COVID-19 related waivers for all nutrition programs until September 30, the date provided by congressional authority. While the public health restrictions may be lifting across the states, the economic fallout will likely be felt by families for many months to come.

In addition, states should leverage communication, technology, all federal supports, and evaluation to ensure they are successfully reaching as many in need as possible. This includes:

  • conducting a public information campaign to alert newly unemployed families in need about available food assistance programs and how to apply and access benefits;
  • utilizing technology solutions to provide remote program services and enrollment including mobile uploading of required documents;
  • taking advantage and apply for all available waiver options from the federal government; and
  • evaluating the revised work systems and if appropriate, take actions to allow for permanent program changes.

This week House Democrats passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the fifth Covid-related legislative package, which includes a boost in funding for SNAP, WIC, and Child Nutrition Programs. The bill also provides support to local food banks and emergency food providers. Any bill that goes to the president should include these food access supports.

It is critical to strengthen federal food assistance programs and the social safety net while working to address the root causes of poverty to reduce health and social disparities. To learn how Altarum can assist your state in program assessment, planning, evaluation, training and analytic support for quality services, contact Tara Fowler, PhD, director of the Center for Healthy Women and Children, at tara.fowler@altarum.org.

 

 

 

Medicaid Providers At The End Of The Line For Federal COVID Funding

Medicaid Providers At The End Of The Line For Federal COVID Funding

Medicaid Providers At The End Of The Line For Federal COVID ...

Casa de Salud, a nonprofit clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, provides primary medical care, opioid addiction services and non-Western therapies, including acupuncture and reiki, to a largely low-income population.

And, like so many other health care providers that serve as a safety net, its revenue — and its future — are threatened by the COVID-19 epidemic.

“I’ve been working for the past six weeks to figure out how to keep the doors open,” said the clinic’s executive director, Dr. Anjali Taneja. “We’ve seen probably an 80% drop in patient care, which has completely impacted our bottom line.”

In March, Congress authorized $100 billion for health care providers, both to compensate them for the extra costs associated with caring for patients with COVID-19 and for the revenue that’s not coming in from regular care. They have been required to stop providing most nonemergency services, and many patients are afraid to visit health care facilities.

But more than half that money has been allocated by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the majority of it so far has gone to hospitals, doctors and other facilities that serve Medicare patients. Officials said at the time that was an efficient way to get the money beginning to move to many providers. That, however, leaves out a large swath of the health system infrastructure that serves the low-income Medicaid population and childrenCasa de Salud, for example, accepts Medicaid but not Medicare.

State Medicaid directors say that without immediate funding, many of the health facilities that serve Medicaid patients could close permanently. More than a month ago, bipartisan Medicaid chiefs wrote the federal government asking for immediate authority to make “retainer” payments — not related to specific care for patients — to keep their health providers in business.

“If we wait, core components of the Medicaid delivery system could fail during, or soon after, this pandemic,” wrote the National Association of Medicaid Directors.

So far, the Trump administration has not responded, although in early April it said it was “working rapidly on additional targeted distributions” for other providers, including those who predominately serve Medicaid patients.

In an email, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said officials there will “continue to work with states as they seek to ensure continued access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries through and beyond the public health emergency.”

CMS noted that states have several ways of boosting payments for Medicaid providers, but did not directly answer the question about the retainer payments that states are seeking the authority to make. Nor did it say when the funds would start to flow to Medicaid providers who do not also get funding from Medicare.

The delay is frustrating Medicaid advocates.

“This needs to be addressed urgently,” said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families in Washington, D.C. “We are concerned about the infrastructure and how quickly it could evaporate.”

In the administration’s explanation of how it is distributing the relief funds, Medicaid providers are included in a catchall category at the very bottom of the list, under the heading “additional allocations.”

“To not see anything substantive coming from the federal level just adds insult to injury,” said Todd Goodwin.

He runs the John F. Murphy Homes in Auburn, Maine, which provides residential and day services to hundreds of children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He said his organization — which has already furloughed almost 300 workers and spent more than $200,000 on COVID-related expenses including purchases of essential equipment such as masks and protective equipment that will not be reimbursable — has not been eligible for any of the various aid programs passed by Congress. It gets most of its funding from Medicaid and public school systems.

The organization has tapped a line of credit to stay afloat. “But if we’re not here providing these services, there’s no Plan B,” he said.

Even providers who largely serve privately insured patients are facing financial distress. Dr. Sandy Chung is CEO of Trusted Doctors, which has about 50 physicians in 13 offices in the Northern Virginia suburbs around Washington, D.C. She said about 15% of its funding comes from Medicaid, but the drop off in private and Medicaid patients has left the group “really struggling.”

“We’ve had to furlough staff, had to curtail hours, and we may have to close some locations,” she said.

Of special concern are children because Medicaid covers nearly 40% of them across the county. Chung, who also heads the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that vaccination rates are off 30% for infants and 75% for adolescents, putting them and others at risk for preventable illnesses.

The biggest rub, she added, is that with the economy in free fall, more people will qualify for Medicaid coverage in the coming weeks and months.

“But if you don’t have providers around anymore, then you will have a significant mismatch,” she said.

Back in Albuquerque, Taneja is working to find whatever sources of funding she can to keep the clinic open. She secured a federal loan to help cover her payroll for a couple of months, but worries what will happen after that. “It would kill me if we’ve survived 15 years in this health care system, just to not make it through COVID,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Trump will urge Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare

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Trump will urge Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare - YouTube

Attorney General Bill Barr had urged the White House to soften its attack on the law during the pandemic.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said his administration will urge the Supreme Court to overturn Obamacare, maintaining its all-out legal assault on the health care law amid a pandemic that will drive millions of more Americans to depend on its coverage.

The administration appears to be doubling down on its legal strategy, even after Attorney General William Barr this week warned top Trump officials about the political ramifications of undermining the health care safety net during the coronavirus emergency.

Democrats two years ago took back the House of Representatives and statehouses across the country by promising to defend Obamacare, in particular its insurance protections that prevent sick people from being denied coverage or charged more because of a health condition. The issue may prove to be even more salient in November amid the Covid-19 outbreak that health experts believe will persist through the fall.

The Justice Department had a Wednesday deadline to change its position in a case brought by Republican-led states, but Trump told reporters Wednesday afternoon his administration would stand firm. DOJ declined to comment.

“Obamacare is a disaster, but we’ve made it barely acceptable,” Trump said.

The Supreme Court later this fall will hear a lawsuit from the GOP-led states that argue the Affordable Care Act was rendered invalid after Congress eliminated its tax penalty for not having health insurance. A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general and the Democratic-led House of Representatives are defending the law in court.

The Trump administration had previously shifted its legal position in this case, but appears to have decided against doing so again. DOJ originally argued the courts should throw out just Obamacare’s preexisting condition protections, before last year urging that the entire law be struck down.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case during its next term starting in October, but it hasn’t scheduled arguments yet. A decision is unlikely before the Nov. 3 election. The court has previously upheld Obamacare in two major challenges that threatened the law’s survival.

About 20 million people have been covered by Obamacare, and the law is expected to provide a major safety net during the economic freefall brought on by the coronavirus. Millions more are expected to join the Medicaid rolls, especially in states that joined Obamacare’s expansion to poor adults. Others who lost workplace health insurance can sign up on the law’s health insurance marketplaces, though the Trump administration isn’t doing much to advertise coverage options.

House Democrats in a filing to the Supreme Court on Wednesday said the pandemic showcased why justices should preserve the law.

“Although Congress may not have enacted the ACA with the specific purpose of combatting a pandemic, the nation’s current public-health emergency has made it impossible to deny that broad access to affordable health care is not just a life-or death matter for millions of Americans, but an indispensable precondition to the social intercourse on which our security, welfare, and liberty ultimately depend,” their brief read.

Obamacare has grown more popular since the GOP’s failed repeal bid during Trump’s first year in office, though the law is still broadly disliked by Republicans. Many Democrats are eager to again run on their defense of Obamacare this fall. That includes presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has advocated for building on the health care law rather than pursuing a comprehensive progressive overhaul like “Medicare for All.”

Top Trump officials have long been split on the legal strategy in the Obamacare lawsuit. Barr and Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, both opposed a broader attack on the law, but White House officials have been more supportive, seeing it as a chance to fulfill Trump’s pledge to repeal Obamacare. Barr, in a Monday meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials, made an eleventh-hour plea for the administration to soften its legal stance ahead of the Supreme Court’s briefing deadline.