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First Edition: April 1, 2021


Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.


KHN:
‘It Didn’t Really Stick With Me’: Understanding The Rural Shrug Over Covid And Vaccines


At 70, Linda Findley has long been active in her small town of Fort Scott, Kansas, which sits more than an hour away from any major city. Findley, whose husband died in an accident just after the local hospital closed, helps with the Elks and fundraising, and — like many people in this part of the country — doesn’t think covid-19 is that dangerous. “I don’t even know what I think about it,” Findley said recently. “I don’t know if I trust the testing because it’s so messed up or … I’ve had nieces and nephews, that’ve had it. I’ve lost good friends to it, or supposedly it’s to that.” (Jane Tribble, 4/1)


KHN:
Indiana’s Medicaid Expansion — Designed By Pence And Verma — Panned In Federal Report


Indiana’s Medicaid expansion — with its “personal responsibility” provisions that require enrollees to pay monthly premiums and manage health savings accounts — proved no better at improving health and access to care than other state expansions, a federally commissioned study found. Even when compared with states that did not expand Medicaid, Indiana showed only mixed results in improving the health of low-income residents, the report said. (Galewitz, 4/1)


KHN:
In California, Blue Shield’s Vaccination Takeover Fixes What Wasn’t Broken


In California’s Mendocino County, public health officials and community clinics say they have hit their vaccination stride. Despite the county’s remoteness and its largely rural population spread among wooded mountains, rugged coastline and idyllic vineyards, about 40% of eligible adults have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. But now they face renewed turbulence as health insurer Blue Shield of California takes over the state’s vaccine program with the mission of speeding up vaccinations. (Bluth, 4/1)


The New York Times:
Covid Was 3rd Leading U.S. Death Cause In 2020


Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, displacing unintentional injuries and trailing only heart disease and cancer, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday. The coronavirus was the cause of death for 345,323 Americans in a year that exacted a steep price in lives lost. In roughly 30,000 additional cases, death certificates cited Covid-19 but it was not deemed the cause of death, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. (Caryn Rabin, 3/31)


AP:
COVID-19 Pushed Total US Deaths Beyond 3.3 Million Last Year


The COVID-19 pandemic pushed total U.S. deaths last year beyond 3.3 million, the nation’s highest annual death toll, the government reported Wednesday. The coronavirus caused approximately 375,000 deaths, and was the third leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer. COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now top 550,000 since the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 displaced suicide as one of the top 10 causes of death, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Johnson, 3/31)


NPR:
COVID-19 Confirmed As 3rd Leading Cause Of Death In U.S. Last Year 


COVID-19 was the third underlying cause of death in 2020 after heart disease and cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on Wednesday. A pair of reports published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report sheds new light on the approximately 375,000 U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 last year, and highlights the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color — a point CDC Director Rochelle Walensky emphasized at a White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing on Wednesday. (Treisman, 3/31)


Axios:
CDC: Suicides Decreased In 2020 


Suicides in the U.S. decreased in 2020, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Critics of lockdowns and other coronavirus-prevention efforts have suggested throughout the pandemic that those measures would drive the suicide rate higher. But that hasn’t happened. (Fernandez, 4/1)


The New York Times:
Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine Is Delayed By A U.S. Factory Mixup


Workers at a plant in Baltimore manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the ingredients several weeks ago, contaminating up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines. The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, the British-Swedish company whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in the United States. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error. (LaFraniere and Weiland, 4/1)


Axios:
Baltimore Plant Ruins 15 Million Johnson & Johnson Coronavirus Vaccines 


A Baltimore plant run by Emergent BioSolutions that produces coronavirus vaccines ruined a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, according to a statement released by Johnson & Johnson Wednesday. The plant, which was projected to produce and ship tens of millions of Johnson & Johnson doses next month, must now cease producing the one-dose vaccine while the Food and Drug Administration investigates the error, the New York Times first reported. Axios confirmed the report is accurate. (Knutson, 3/31)


AP:
Company At Heart Of J&J Vaccine Woes Has Series Of Citations


The company at the center of quality problems that led Johnson & Johnson to discard an unknown amount of its coronavirus vaccine has a string of citations from U.S. health officials for quality control problems. Emergent BioSolutons, a little-known company at the center of the vaccine supply chain, was a key to Johnson & Johnson’s plan to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the U.S. by the end of May. But the company has been cited repeatedly by the Food and Drug Administration for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials and mold around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. The records cover inspections at Emergent facilities since 2017. (Lardner and Johnson, 4/1)


Politico:
Whistleblower Says FDA Minimized Safety Risks At Merck Vaccine Plant


Food and Drug Administration inspection officials downplayed critical safety and hygiene concerns at a Merck factory that is being retrofitted to help produce Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, according to a complaint filed by the Office of Special Counsel. Former FDA safety officer Arie Menachem alleges in the complaint that inspectors downgraded the Merck facility in Durham, N.C., from a category requiring immediate corrective action to a less-urgent category after a 2017 inspection — without following established procedure and despite serious hygiene and public health concerns the safety officer later discovered. (Owermohle, 3/31)


AP:
China Pushes To Expand Virus Origin Search Beyond Its Border


Chinese health officials pushed Wednesday to expand the search for the origins of the coronavirus beyond China, one day after the release of a closely watched World Health Organization report on the issue. They also rejected criticism that China did not give enough data to a WHO team of international experts that visited Wuhan, the Chinese city where the first cases were detected, earlier this year. The search for the origins of the virus has become a diplomatic feud. The U.S. and other Western nations have repeatedly raised questions about delays, transparency and data access, while China has promoted theories that suggest the virus may have come from elsewhere. (Moritsugu, 3/31)


The Wall Street Journal:
China Says Covid-19 Origin Probe Should Shift Focus To Other Countries


A WHO-led team that visited China earlier this year to explore the pandemic’s origins concluded in a report published Tuesday that the coronavirus was “extremely unlikely” to have leaked from a Chinese laboratory and recommended no further study of that possibility. However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said shortly before the report’s release that the team’s assessment of a potential lab leak hadn’t been extensive enough and that further investigation was needed, adding he was ready to deploy more specialists to study that possibility. (Page and Hinshaw, 3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
Biden Pushes For Home Health Medicaid Coverage, $400 Billion In Funding


The Biden administration is calling on Congress to expand access to home and community-based care services covered by Medicaid as part of a multi-billion dollar investment in the “care economy. “The proposal, part of a larger jobs and infrastructure plan unveiled by the White House Wednesday, asks Congress to put $400 billion toward expanding access to home and community-based care for the elderly and people with disabilities. If acted on by Congress, it would represent one of the largest financial investments made in HCBS in a decade at a time when nursing home residents have disproportionately gotten sick and died of COVID-19. (Hellmann and Christ, 3/31)


The New York Times:
Billions In New Obamacare Subsidies Are Now Available On Healthcare.Gov


The Biden administration has doubled Obamacare’s advertising budget to get the word out, and will now spend $100 million telling Americans about newly affordable options. Nearly everyone with an Affordable Care Act health plan can now qualify for increased financial help with premiums by going back to the website. Many Americans who buy their own insurance outside the A.C.A. marketplaces may also qualify for substantial help, and may benefit from reviewing options and switching to an eligible plan. Uninsured Americans also qualify. (Kliff and Sanger-Katz, 4/1)


Modern Healthcare:
CMS Delays Processing April Medicare Claims


CMS on Wednesday told Medicare administrative contractors not to process claims for care given on or after April 1, delaying some payments to providers. Although a congressional bill to end a 2% cut to all Medicare payments for the rest of the year is expected to pass the House later in April, the change is slated to go into effect on Thursday. The Senate approved the bill last week. If Congress ends the freeze on Medicare payment cuts, Medicare administrative contractors will reprocess paid claims automatically at the reduced rate. (Brady, 3/31)


Roll Call:
For Many Liberals, COVID-19 Relief Law Is ‘Not Big Enough’


Democrats have touted the new $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law as part of a broader effort to combat racial and economic inequity in the United States, starting with an expanded child tax credit that will go to Americans with little or no income, as well as middle-income taxpayers. The law also boosts subsidies for people buying health care on the individual market and includes new incentives to get more states to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, so that it reaches lower-middle-class people. (Curtis, 3/31)


ProPublica:
Documents Show Trump Officials Skirted Rules To Reward Politically Connected And Untested Firms With Huge Pandemic Contracts


Peter Navarro, who served as Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, essentially verbally awarded a $96 million deal for respirators to a company with White House connections. Later, officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency were pressured to sign the contract after the fact, according to correspondence obtained by congressional investigators. Documents obtained by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis after a year of resistance from the Trump administration offer new details about Navarro’s role in a largely secretive buying spree of personal protective equipment and medical supplies. (McSwane, 3/31)


AP:
Reversing Trump, Pentagon Releases New Transgender Policies


The Pentagon on Wednesday swept away Trump-era policies that largely banned transgender people from serving in the military, issuing new rules that offer them wider access to medical care and assistance with gender transition. The new department regulations allow transgender people who meet military standards to enlist and serve openly in their self-identified gender, and they will be able to get medically necessary transition-related care authorized by law, chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a briefing. (Baldor, 3/31)


The New York Times:
Jill Biden, In California, Lends Support To Farmworkers Seeking Vaccinations


Jill Biden, the first lady, traveled to California on Wednesday to visit a pop-up vaccination site for farmworkers who have lobbied for priority access to shots during the pandemic. In remarks to about 100 farmworkers and local politicians who had gathered to mark the birthday of César Chávez, the labor organizer who formed the country’s first successful farmworkers’ union, Dr. Biden told them that their work — and their health — had been essential to a nation crippled by the coronavirus. (Rogers, 3/31)


NPR:
How The CDC Is Battling The Pandemic And Working To Regain Public Trust 


It’s been a long year for basically everyone — and especially for Dr. Henry Walke. For months on end, Walke has been pulling 13-hour work days as the COVID-19 incident response manager at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a job he took on last July. He never expected the job to last this long. “The scale of this pandemic is mind-boggling, and it’s affected all of us — every facet of our work and home,” he says. Walke is heading up the largest and most challenging outbreak response in the agency’s history — an all-agency effort involving more than 8,000 employees, working to guide the U.S. out of a public health emergency that has claimed more than 550,000 lives. (Huang, 4/1)


Politico:
Federal Watchdog Calls For Centralized Covid-19 Data Website


Federal health agencies need to be more transparent about critical Covid-19 data, particularly on race and ethnicity and infections at nursing homes, the Government Accountability Office said Wednesday. The watchdog recommended those steps as part of its call for a sweeping overhaul of federal data on Covid-19, based on its probe of efforts to collect and analyze pandemic statistics across agencies. (Owermohle, 3/31)


The Wall Street Journal:
Covid-19 Live Updates: New U.S. Cases Continue To Trend Higher


The U.S. reported more than 66,000 new cases for Wednesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and published early Thursday morning Eastern time. That was up from 61,240 a day earlier but down from 86,950 a week earlier. While dramatically lower than the highs of around 300,000 reached in early January, daily cases are trending higher. The seven-day moving average, which smooths out irregularities in the data, was 66,876 as of Tuesday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Johns Hopkins data. The 14-day average was 60262. When the seven-day average is higher than the 14-day average, as it has been for the past week, it indicates cases are rising. (Martin, 4/1)


The Wall Street Journal:
Covid-19 Vaccinations Are Picking Up Pace, But New Cases Are Still Rising


The supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the U.S. is increasing with each week, and the pace of vaccinations is picking up. States are opening up eligibility for the vaccines sooner, too, allowing more Americans an opportunity to get the shot. And yet with so many people getting vaccinated—nearly 30% of all Americans have had at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—the number of new Covid-19 cases is on the rise. (Ansari and Grayce West, 3/31)


CNN:
US Coronavirus: Thousands Of Cases Of A Worrying Variant Have Been Reported In The US. These States Have The Highest Numbers 


Thousands of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been reported across the US, and experts fear the strain may fuel another Covid-19 surge as states race to vaccinate more residents. The variant, first spotted in the UK, is already wreaking havoc in parts of Europe and health leaders fear that if Americans aren’t careful now, the US could be next. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 11,500 cases of the variant — but the agency has said the number is likely larger. (Maxouris, 4/1)


Axios:
Americans Are Worried About Coronavirus Variants 


Americans are worried about the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants, and are still willing to take safety precautions as a result, according to new Harris Poll data. Despite the race to vaccinate as many people as possible, the variants are fueling another surge in cases across the U.S. (Fernandez, 4/1)


Axios:
Axios-Ipsos Poll: The Misinformed Are Less Likely To Get Vaccinated 


A new look at the data from our most recent Axios-Ipsos poll shows a strong correlation between the people who are influenced by COVID vaccine misinformation and those who are unlikely to get the vaccine. As this graphic shows, Americans who either believed misinformation or were unsure whether it was true or false were less likely to get the vaccine than those who knew that it was false. (Nather, 4/1)


Stat:
Pfizer And BioNTech Say Vaccine Prevents Covid-19 In Adolescents


Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that their Covid-19 vaccine prevented symptomatic disease and was well-tolerated in a Phase 3 study of adolescents ages 12 to 15. The companies say they will submit the data to the Food and Drug Administration as an amendment to the vaccine’s emergency use authorization, and will also submit the results to other regulators around the world. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a press release that the companies hope it will be possible to begin vaccinating adolescents in this group before the beginning of the next school year. (Herper, 3/31)


NPR:
Pfizer Says COVID-19 Vaccine Shows ‘100% Efficacy’ In Adolescents 


New clinical trials showed that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine elicits “100% efficacy and robust antibody responses” in adolescents from 12 to 15 years old, the drug company announced Wednesday. The trial included 2,260 participants; the results are even better than earlier responses from participants ages 16 to 25. Pfizer and its vaccine partner BioNTech said they will submit the results “as soon as possible” to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, asking regulators to expand their authorizations for the vaccine’s use in young people. (Chappell, 3/31)


AP:
EU Says ‘No Evidence’ To Restrict Use Of AstraZeneca Vaccine


The head of the European Medicines Agency said Wednesday that there is “no evidence” that would support restricting the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population, as Germany has now done amid concerns over rare blood clots in people who got the shot. But EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said her Amsterdam-based agency continues to study reports of new cases as they come in and will provide a further assessment next week. (Jordans, 3/31)


CIDRAP:
AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine 70% Effective Vs B117 Variant


Data from a UK phase 2/3 clinical trial suggest the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-vaccine is 70.4% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the B117 variant, which was identified in the United Kingdom in late 2020. The data, published in The Lancet yesterday, also showed it was 28.9% effective at preventing asymptomatic infections or cases with unknown symptoms. (Matt McLemon, 3/31)


NPR:
COVID-19 Vaccine May Provide Relief For Long-Haulers 


An estimated 10% to 30% of people who get COVID-19 suffer from lingering symptoms of the disease, or what’s known as “long COVID. “Judy Dodd, who lives in New York City, is one of them. She spent nearly a year plagued by headaches, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and problems with smell, among other symptoms. She says she worried that this “slog through life” was going to be her new normal. Everything changed after she got her COVID-19 vaccine. (Stone, 3/31)


Stat:
Report: Government Doesn’t Hold Patent Rights To Gilead’s Remdesivir


American taxpayers may have provided $162 million toward researching remdesivir, but the federal government does not have patent rights for the drug because the work contributed by U.S. scientists did not generate any inventive new uses, according to a government report. Moreover, Gilead Sciences, which discovered remdesivir, had already reached collaborative research deals with various federal agencies and universities to work on its existing portfolio of patents and patent applications, including for the remdesivir compound. And this “would have left little room for the agencies to generate their own patents, the Government Accountability Office found. (Silverman, 3/31)


NPR:
FDA Approves Two More Over The Counter COVID Tests


More consumers will soon be able to test themselves for COVID-19 from the comfort of their own home. On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved two rapid antigen home tests for use in the U.S. Americans will soon be able to purchase Abbott’s BinaxNOW and Quidel Quickvue tests at drug stores. The two options join a test made by Ellume, which received FDA approval in December, in the market. The two, newly-approved swab tests will be sold at a lower price point. (Diaz and Simmons-Duffin, 4/1)


The New York Times:
The C.D.C. And N.I.H. Launch A Rapid, At-Home Testing Initiative In Tennessee And North Carolina


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health announced a new initiative on Wednesday to help determine whether frequent, widespread use of rapid coronavirus tests slows the spread of the virus. The program will make rapid at-home antigen tests freely available to every resident of two communities, Pitt County, N.C., and Hamilton County, Tenn., enough for a total of 160,000 people to test themselves for the coronavirus three times a week for a month. (Anthes, 3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
FDA Posts Info On Impact Of Coronavirus Mutations On Test Effectiveness


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday published information for labs and healthcare providers detailing the impact of SARS-CoV-2 mutations on molecular, antigen and serology tests for the virus. While the agency said that changes in the virus’s genome may impact the effectiveness of antigen and serology tests, it noted in particular four molecular tests that received Emergency Use Authorization whose performance it said could be negatively affected by SARS-CoV-2 mutations: Mesa Biotech’s Accula SARS-CoV-2 Test; Applied DNA Sciences’ Linea COVID-19 Assay Kit; Thermo Fisher Scientific’s TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit; and Cepheid’s Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2, Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 DoD, and Xpert Omni SARS-CoV-2 tests. (3/31)


CIDRAP:
Study Highlights Aerosols Generated By Exertional Respiratory Activity


New research published yesterday in Anaesthesia indicates that respiratory activities such as shouting, coughing, and deep breathing produce substantially more aerosols than non-invasive respiratory procedures, a finding the study authors say challenges current healthcare guidelines on protective equipment for COVID-19 and has implications beyond healthcare settings. In the study, researchers from Australia, Scotland, and England set out to measure the size, total number, and volume of all human aerosols exhaled during respiratory activities that mimic patterns during illness (including quiet breathing, talking, shouting, forced expirations, exercise, and coughing) and respiratory therapies commonly used in hospitalized patients with severe COVID-19 (high-flow nasal oxygen and non-invasive ventilation). To do so, they recruited 10 healthy volunteers to sit in a chamber with clean air and breathe directly into a cone. (3/31)


The New York Times:
Virus Variants Can Infect Mice, Scientists Report


Bats, humans, monkeys, minks, big cats and big apes — the coronavirus can make a home in many different animals. But now the list of potential hosts has expanded to include mice, according to an unnerving new study. Infected rodents pose no immediate risk to people, even in cities like London and New York, where they are ubiquitous and unwelcome occupants of subway stations, basements and backyards. Still, the finding is worrying. Along with previous work, it suggests that new mutations are giving the virus the ability to replicate in a wider array of animal species, experts said. (Mandavilli, 3/31)


The New York Times:
A ‘Game Changer’ For Patients With Esophageal Cancer


For decades, esophageal cancer has defied scientific attempts to discover a therapy that extends patients’ survival, year after year claiming the lives of such illustrious people as Humphrey Bogart, Christopher Hitchens and Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas. Now a large clinical trial offers hope, finding that a drug that unleashes the immune system to attack cancer cells can double the disease-free survival times in patients from 11 months to 22 months. The study was published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. (Kolata, 3/31)


Stat:
Trial Data Muddy Delcath’s Path To Approval For Liver Tumor Device


Delcath Systems said Wednesday that its liver-tumor treatment device achieved the primary goal of a late-stage clinical trial, but questions about the strength of the data — and whether the results will satisfy regulators — caused the small company’s stock price to fall. The Delcath device, called Hepzato, consists of clamps, tubes, and a filter that isolate a patient’s liver from the rest of the bloodstream. Once the liver is blocked off, it is bathed in high doses of the chemotherapy melphalan to kill tumors. The Hepzato filter removes the melphalan from the patient before it can escape the liver, enter the bloodstream, and cause severe side effects or death. (Feuerstein, 3/31)


The New York Times:
More Pregnant Women Died And Stillbirths Increased Steeply During The Pandemic, Studies Show


More pregnant women died, experienced complications or delivered stillborn babies during the pandemic than in previous years, according to an analysis of 40 studies in 17 countries published on Wednesday in the journal Lancet Global Health. Pregnant women face a heightened risk of severe illness and death if infected with the coronavirus. But the researchers, in Turkey and the United Kingdom, wanted to assess collateral damage from the pandemic on pregnancy and delivery, and so excluded from their analysis those studies that focused only on pregnant women who were infected. (Mandavilli, 3/31)


CNN:
Ayah Lundt: This Toddler Needs Zolgensma, A Drug That Costs $2.1 Million, To Save Her Life 


For the first few months of her life, Ayah Lundt was the picture of health. Born in January last year at a whopping 8.3 pounds, the bubbly baby girl with dark curls and bright brown eyes hit all her developmental milestones. By six months, she was crawling and trying new foods. Bananas and mushy broccoli were her favorites. Avocados, not so much. Then at nine months, her progress suddenly reversed. She could not lift her head while lying down, sit on her own or clap — all things she’d excitedly done before. Her legs caved when she tried to crawl or stand. The key red flag came when she was unable to eat oatmeal with a spoon — something she’d done numerous times. (Karimi, 3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
Nearly 1 In 5 Americans Skipped Care Due To Cost Last Year


Emergency department visits are still down around 30% at Providence’s St. Joseph Hospital, and those who are coming in are sicker. Fewer people have gone to the Orange, Calif.-based hospital over the past year for endoscopies, colonoscopies and other preventative gastrointestinal procedures that can catch early signs of cancer. Symptom severity has increased by about 10% even as ED volumes have dropped, said Glenn Raup, executive director of behavioral health, emergency and observational health at St. Joseph, noting that is a conservative estimate. More people are coming in with GI bleeding and other serious conditions, which pose grave long-term consequences for both patients and the healthcare system, he said. (Kacik, 3/31)


Axios:
Washington Nationals Player Tests Positive For COVID On Opening Day Eve 


On the eve of the MLB regular season’s start, Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced a player has tested positive for COVID-19, and four teammates and a staffer are in quarantine. Major League Baseball is still reeling from the impact of the coronavirus last season, when sponsor revenue plummeted by up to 60% and players’ salary also fell, as the pandemic shortened the season. (Falconer, 3/31)


The Wall Street Journal:
Cuomo, Lawmakers Weigh Forcing Nursing Homes To Spend On Patients


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers are close to agreement on a law that would require nursing homes to spend a set portion of their revenue on patient care, officials said, at a time when the governor’s office is under fire over how it handled Covid-19 in long-term-care facilities. The law is being discussed as part of talks around the roughly $200 billion state budget coming together this week at the state Capitol. Democrats who dominate the state Assembly and Senate have approved bills with the nursing-home spending mandate, and aides to the governor and Legislature said Wednesday they were close to a final agreement. (Vielkind and Ramey, 3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
More Regulation Of Urgent-Care Industry Needed, Community Catalyst Report Argues


A new report calls attention to the lack of regulation surrounding urgent-care clinics—a popular source of COVID-19 tests during the pandemic—and implores states to boost their oversight. Not-for-profit consumer advocacy groups Community Catalyst and the National Health Law Program found that there’s no way to ensure low-income patients are able to access and afford services at urgent-care clinics or retail health clinics. Most states don’t license the facilities, and don’t require them to serve uninsured patients or those with Medicaid. (Bannow, 3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
Geisinger And Acadia Healthcare To Offer Behavioral Health Services In Joint Venture


Geisinger Health and Acadia Healthcare Co. have formed a joint venture to provide inpatient behavioral health services in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, the companies announced today. The organizations will invest close to $80 million to build two free-standing facilities in Moosic and Danville with plans to start serving adult and pediatric patients beginning in 2022 and 2023, respectively, according to a news release. The Danville location will be close to three Geisinger hospitals. Geisinger will consolidate its inpatient behavioral health services from Geisinger Medical Center, Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital and Geisinger Community Medical Center. (3/31)


Modern Healthcare:
Spectrum Health In Outcomes-Based Deal With Medtronic


Integrated health system Spectrum Health has struck its first risk-based deal with medical device manufacturer Medtronic. Heart failure patients who receive a type of Medtronic pacemaker will have their progress tracked, including 30-hospital readmissions and other measures. Medtronic will reimburse Spectrum is the patient doesn’t fare well. (Gillespie, 3/31)


Stat:
The Health Tech Tracker For The Second Quarter: 15 Pivotal Industry Events To Watch 


Securing a billion dollars of yearly funding was once considered a landmark achievement in health tech. But with the pandemic fueling a resurgence in interest for virtual care, those days are long gone. Since late last year, activity in the digital health sector has broken virtually every financial record, from funding to acquisitions and deals to go public. This quarter, which starts on Thursday, is expected to see the frenzied trend continue in lockstep with a flurry of industry conferences and events, all of which are currently slated to take place virtually. (4/1)


The New York Times:
Covid Surge In Michigan Alarms Health Experts


In a rural stretch of Michigan along the shore of Lake Huron, coronavirus outbreaks are ripping through churches, schools and restaurants where the virus has infected line cooks and waitresses. For more than a week, ambulances have taken several hourlong trips each day to rush severely ill coronavirus patients to hospitals in Detroit, Saginaw or Port Huron, where beds in intensive-care units await. Even as the pandemic appears to be waning in some parts of the United States, Michigan is in the throes of a coronavirus outbreak that is one of the largest and most alarming in the country. Infection levels have exploded in recent weeks, in big cities and rural stretches alike. (Bosman, 4/1)


Tampa Bay Times:
Majority Of Florida’s Long-Term Care Staffers Refused Coronavirus Vaccine


In early January, the marketing team of The Glenview at Pelican Bay went into residents’ rooms to film an emotional video. Residents of the retirement community, wearing “Glenview Strong” T-shirts, shared words of encouragement in hopes of easing vaccine apprehension among the staff members. “Please everybody, take the two COVID shots,” said Jim Payne. (LeFever, 4/1)


Reuters:
Wisconsin High Court Voids Governor’s Mask Mandate, Settling Partisan Dispute


A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down Governor Tony Evers’ mask mandate, saying he exceeded his authority and violated the separation of powers by reissuing emergency orders during the pandemic. In its 4-to-3 ruling, which voids a Feb. 4 face-covering order currently in effect, the court found that Evers effectively breached a statute that limits his emergency powers to 60 days without approval of the state legislature. (3/31)


AP:
Panel Advances Bills Ending Religious Exemption For Vaccines


A key Connecticut legislative committee on Wednesday advanced retooled legislation that scraps a long-standing state religious exemption that many parents have been using over the past decade to avoid having their children vaccinated, while still enabling them to attend public school. The latest version includes a new provision requiring health insurance companies to cover the cost of at least a 20-minute consultation between the health care provider and the parent or guardian. There’s also language that proponents said creates a clearer path for medical exemptions, which will remain available, including the creation of a new medical exemption certificate that physicians would fill out. (Haigh, 3/31)


The Atlantic:
Why D.C. Is Failing At The Vaccination Game 


Washington’s effort to quickly vaccinate the population against COVID-19 is a success just about everywhere except its own backyard. President Joe Biden pledged to administer 100 million vaccine doses within his first 100 days. After surpassing that goal with 41 days to spare, Biden doubled his pledge to 200 million doses. The CDC projects that 70 percent of the U.S. population will be vaccinated by summer, probably the minimum threshold to achieve herd immunity. The process is going so well that the Biden administration has started fretting about what to do with an anticipated vaccine glut. That’s the best possible problem to have. (Noah, 3/31)


New Mexico In Depth:
No One In This State Is Officially Tracking The Quality Of Care In Neonatal Centers


New Mexico parents worrying over the health of an extremely preterm baby have another reason to be concerned: Their state government provides almost no oversight of the care provided by neonatal intensive care units. Thirty-one states, including neighboring Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah, have laws or rules requiring oversight of neonatal intensive care hospitals, according to a 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Some of these states make sure that hospitals provide care at the levels they claim to, and some periodically review data on patient admissions, transfers and outcomes to identify potential problems. (Furlow, 3/31)


AP:
New Mexico Primed To Join US Recreational Pot Wave


New Mexico is joining a wave of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana as its Democrat-dominated Legislature sent a package of cannabis bills Wednesday to a supportive governor. Lawmakers used a marathon two-day legislative session to push through marijuana legalization for adults over 21 and a companion bill that automatically erases many past marijuana convictions, overriding skeptical Republicans. (Lee and Attanasio, 4/1)


Modern Healthcare:
City Of Hope Gets $50 Million Donation For Calif. Cancer Center


Cancer research and treatment center City of Hope received $50 million — the single largest philanthropic contribution to City of Hope Orange County — from the charitable arm of homebuilder Lennar Corporation. City of Hope said it will use the money from the Lennar Foundation to help continue building a cancer campus in Irvine, California, which is slated to open in 2022. (Gillespie, 3/31)


Reuters:
Only 1 In 5 With COVID Symptoms In UK Seek Test: Study


Only one person in five in Britain with COVID-19 symptoms has sought or would seek a test, according to a study which found a link between people on low pay and poor adherence to the government’s rules. Eighteen percent of participants in the study published in the British Medical Journal said they got or would get a test after showing symptoms and 42.5% would fully adhere to isolation rules, according to the study. “This is such an important part of any government’s pandemic control measures,” one of the reports authors – Susan Michie, a University College London health psychology professor – told BBC Radio. (4/1)


The Wall Street Journal:
Lessons From The Calculated Risk Behind U.K.’s Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout


The U.K.’s bold call to delay giving people a second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine has put it out in front in the race to inoculate the world against the disease. Behind that decision: a group of 16 scientists who advocated a controversial move to overrule some vaccine manufacturers’ guidelines in order to get more first doses to more people. The gamble appears to have paid off, with incoming data pointing to durable protection against falling ill after just one vaccine dose. But while some countries, such as Canada, have followed the U.K.’s lead, others including the U.S. are refusing, saying to do so could pose a risk to public health. (Colchester and Douglas, 4/1)


AP:
Medics Despair As France’s ‘Third Way’ Virus Strategy Flails


As France battles a new virus surge that many believe was avoidable, intensive care nurse Stephanie Sannier manages her stress and sorrow by climbing into her car after a 12-hour shift, blasting music and singing as loud as she can. “It allows me to breathe,” she says, “and to cry.” People with COVID-19 occupy all the beds in her ICU ward in President Emmanuel Macron’s hometown hospital in the medieval northern city of Amiens. Three have died in the past three days. The vast medical complex is turning away critically ill patients from smaller towns nearby for lack of space. (Charlton, 4/1)


This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.



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