Category Archives: Uncategorized

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

Trump health officials “not aware” of how he would replace Obamacare; and what about the Vaccines?

It is truly amazing how out of touch the GOP and, I believe President Trump is, on health care, especially “after” or during this COVID pandemic. Consider the amount of monies spent on caring for the millions of patients diagnosed with COVID-19. One must remember that due to the EMTALA Act, which ensures public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Think of all the COVID testing and ICU care that has been provided for all that needed it. This experience, etc. should convince, even the clueless that we need a type of universal health care policy.

They, the GOP and the President, promised us all that they would create, provide a wonderful healthcare for all, better than Obamacare. But have they? No!

And now is the time to produce a well-designed alternative, or consider Obamacare as a well thought out program, except for the lack of financial sustainability. And guess what happened after I had a phone call with a member of the Trump administration. He asked me what I thought Trump’s chances of winning re-election. I responded that I thought he had about a 20% chance of getting re-elected. He pressed me as what I thought that would increase his chances. My response was to finally reveal their, the GOP/Trump’s

, plan and I suggested that they should adopt the Affordable Care Act but outline a plan to sustainably finance the healthcare plan.

My suggestion- embrace the Affordable Care Act as a good starting point and use a federal sales tax to finance it instead of putting the onus on the young healthy workers.

 At a hearing on the coronavirus response, Senator Dick Durbin asked the Trump administration’s top health officials about the president’s comments touting a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They said they did not know about such a plan.

And a Republican victory in Supreme Court battle could mean millions lose health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

John T. Bennett noted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell could soon be forever linked if the late Supreme Court justice’s death leads to the termination of the 44th president’s signature domestic policy achievement: the Affordable Care Act

All sides in the coming battle royal over how to proceed with filling the high court seat she left behind are posturing and pressuring, floating strategic possibilities and offering creative versions of history and precedent. Most Republicans in the Senate want to hold a simple-majority floor vote on a nominee Mr. Trump says he will announce as soon as this week before the end of the calendar year. Democrats say they are hypocrites because the blocked a Barack Obama high court pick during his final year.

It appears Democrats have only extreme options as viable tactics from preventing confirmation hearings and a floor vote before this unprecedented year is up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday refused to rule bringing articles of impeachment against the president or even William Barr, his attorney general whom the Democrats say has improperly used his office to help Mr. Trump’s friends and use federal law enforcement unjustly against US citizens.

Unless Ms Pelosi pulls that politically dangerous lever, the maneuvering of the next few weeks most likely will end after Congress returns after the 3 November election with a high court with a 6-3 conservative bend. Analysts already are warning that conservatives appear months away from being able to partially criminalize abortion and also take down the 2011 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care.

Democrats have sounded off since Ms. Ginsburg’s death to warn that millions of Americans could soon lose their health insurance, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Last year, 8.5m people signed up for coverage using the Affordable Care Act, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Healthcare in this country hangs in the balance,” Joe Biden, who is the Democratic nominee for president and was vice president when Mr. Obama signed the health plan now linked to his name into law, said on Sunday.

Mr. Biden accused Republicans of playing a “game” by rushing the process to replace Ms. Ginsburg on the court because they are “trying to strip healthcare away from tens of millions of families.”

Doing so, he warned, would “strip away their peace of mind” because insurance providers would no longer be required to give some Americans policies. Should a 6-3 court decide to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the 2011 health law be taken down, those companies would “drop coverage completely for folks with pre-existing conditions,” Mr. Biden warned in remarks from Philadelphia.

“If Donald Trump has his way, the complications from Covid-19 … would become the next deniable pre-existing condition for millions of Americans.” That means they would lose their health insurance and be forced to either pay for care out of their pocket or use credit lines. Both could force millions into medical bankruptcy or otherwise create dire financial hardships.

Mr. Trump about a month ago promised to release a new healthcare plan that, if ever passed by both chambers of Congress and signed into law, would replace Obamacare.

So far, however, he has yet to unveil that alleged plan.

Trump Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters last week that the White House’s Domestic Policy Council is leading the work on the plan. But when pressed for more details, she chose to pick a fight with a CNN reporter.

“I’m not going to give you a readout of what our healthcare plan looks like and who’s working on it,” Ms. McEnany said. “If you want to know, if you want to know, come work here at the White House.”

When pressed, Ms. McEnany said “stakeholders here in the White House” are working on a plan the president has promised for several years. “And, as I told you, our Domestic Policy Council and others in the White House are working on a healthcare plan,” she insisted, describing it as “the president’s vision for the next five years.”

The president frequently mentions healthcare during his rowdy campaign rallies, but only in general terms. He promises a sweeping plan that will bring costs down across the board and also protect those with pre-existing conditions. But he mostly brings it up to hammer Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden for pushing a flawed law that he has been forced to tinker with to make it function better for consumers.

Broad brush

His top spokeswoman echoed those broad strokes during a briefing on Wednesday. “In aggregate, it’s going to be a very comprehensive strategy, one where we’re saving healthcare while Democrats are trying to take healthcare away,” she told reporters. “We’re making healthcare better and cheaper, guaranteeing protections for people with preexisting conditions, stopping surprise medical billing, increasing transparency, defending the right to keep your doctor and your plan, fighting lobbyists and special interests, and making healthier and making, finding cures to diseases.”

If there is a substantive plan that would protect millions with pre-existing conditions and others affected by Covid-19, it would have made a fine backbone of Mr. Trump’s August Republican National Committee address in which he accepted his party’s presidential nomination for a second time. But healthcare was not the major focus, even though it ranks in the top two issues – along with the economy – in just about every poll that asks voters to rank their priorities in deciding between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.

If there is a coming White House healthcare plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions and prevent millions from losing coverage as the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing, the president is not using his campaign rallies at regional airport hangars to describe or promote it.

“We will strongly protect Medicare and Social Security and we will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” said at a campaign stop Saturday evening in Fayetteville, North Carolina, before pivoting to a completely unrelated topic: “America will land the first woman on the moon, and the United States will be the first nation to land an astronaut on Mars.”

The push to install a conservative to replace the liberal Ms. Ginsburg and the lack of any expectation Mr. Trump has a tangible plan has given Democrats a new election-year talking point less than two months before all votes must be cast.

“Whoever President Trump nominates will strike down the Affordable Care Act,” Hawaii Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono told MSNBC on Sunday. “It will throw millions of people off of healthcare, won’t protect people with pre-existing conditions. It will be disastrous. That’s why they want to rush this.”

 About 1 In 5 Households in U.S. Cities Miss Needed Medical Care During Pandemic

Patti Neighmond noted that when 28-year-old Katie Kinsey moved from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in early March, she didn’t expect the pandemic would affect her directly, at least not right away. But that’s exactly what happened.

She was still settling in and didn’t have a primary care doctor when she got sick with symptoms of what she feared was COVID-19.

“I had a sore throat and a debilitating cough,” she says, “and when I say debilitating, I mean I couldn’t talk without coughing.” She couldn’t lie down at night without coughing. She just wasn’t getting enough air into her lungs, she says.

Kinsey, who works as a federal consultant in nuclear defense technology, found herself coughing through phone meetings. And then things got worse. Her energy took a dive, and she felt achy all over, “so I was taking naps during the day.” She never got a fever but worried about the coronavirus and accelerated her effort to find a doctor.

No luck.

She called nearly a dozen doctors listed on her insurance card, but all were booked. “Some said they were flooded with patients and couldn’t take new patients. Others gave no explanation, and just said they were sorry and could put me on a waiting list.” All the waiting lists were two to three months’ long.

Eventually Kinsey went to an urgent care clinic, got an X-ray and a diagnosis of severe bronchitis — not COVID-19. Antibiotics helped her get better. But she says she might have avoided “months of illness and lost days of work” had she been able to see a doctor sooner. She was sick for three months.

Kinsey’s experience is just one way the pandemic has delayed medical care for Americans in the last several months. A poll of households in the four largest U.S. cities by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds roughly one in every five have had at least one member who was unable to get medical care or who has had to delay care for a serious medical problem during the pandemic (ranging from 19% of households in New York City to 27% in Houston).

We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days, or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week.

There were multiple reasons given. Many people reported, like Kinsey, that they could not find a doctor to see them as hospitals around the U.S. delayed or canceled certain medical procedures to focus resources on treating COVID-19.

Other patients avoided critically important medical care because of fears they would catch the coronavirus while in a hospital or medical office.

“One thing we didn’t expect from COVID was that we were going to drop 60% of our volume,” says Ryan Stanton, an emergency physician in Lexington, Ky., and member of the board of directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“We had people come in with heart attacks after having chest pain for three or four days,” Stanton says, “or stroke patients who had significant loss of function for several days, if not a week. And I’d ask them why they hadn’t come in, and they would say almost universally they were afraid of COVID.”

Stanton found that to be particularly frustrating, because his hospital had made a big effort to communicate with the community to “absolutely come to the hospital for true emergencies.”

He describes one patient who had suffered at home for weeks with what ended up being appendicitis. When the patient finally came to the emergency room, Stanton says, a procedure that normally would have been done on an outpatient basis “ended up being a very much more involved surgery with increased risk of complications because of that delay.”

The poll finds a majority of households in leading U.S. cities who delayed medical care for serious problems say they had negative health consequences as a result (ranging from 55% in Chicago to 75% in Houston and 63% in Los Angeles).

Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer of the large public hospital Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, says the number of emergencies showing up in his hospital have been down during the pandemic, too, because patients have been fearful of catching the coronavirus there. One case that sticks in his mind was a middle aged woman with diabetes who fainted at home.

“Her blood sugar was really high, and she didn’t feel well — she was sweating,” the doctor recalls. “The family called the ambulance, and the ambulance came, and she said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’ll be fine.’ “

By the next day the woman was even sicker. Her family took her to the hospital, where she was rushed to the catheterization lab. There doctors discovered and dissolved a clot in her heart. This was ultimately a successful ending for the patient, Mahajan says, “but you can see how this is very dangerous — to avoid going to the hospital if you have significant symptoms.”

He says worrisome reports from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office show the number of people who have died at home in the last few months is much higher than the average number of people who died in their homes before the pandemic.

“That’s yet another signal that something is going on where patients are not coming in for care,” Mahajan says. “And those folks who died at home may have died from COVID, but they may also have died from other conditions that they did not come in to get cared for.”

Like most hospitals nationwide, Harbor-UCLA canceled elective surgeries to make room for coronavirus patients — at least during the earliest months of the pandemic, and when cases surged.

In NPR’s survey of cities, about one-third of households in Chicago and Los Angeles and more than half in Houston and New York with a household member who couldn’t get surgeries or elective procedures said it resulted in negative health consequences for that person.

“Back in March and April the estimates were 80[%] to 90% of normal [in terms of screenings for cancer]” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says Dr. Jeffrey Drebin, who heads surgical oncology there.

“Things like mammograms, colonoscopies, PSA tests were not being done,” he says. At the height of the pandemic’s spring surge in New York City, Drebin says, he was seeing many more patients than usual who had advanced disease.

“Patients weren’t being found at routine colonoscopy,” he says. “They were coming in because they had a bleeding tumor or an obstructing tumor and needed to have something done right away.”

In June, during patients’ information sessions with the hospital, Drebin says patients typically asked if they could wait a few months before getting a cancer screening test.

“In some cases, you can, but there are certainly types of cancer that cannot have surgery delayed for a number of months,” he explains. With pancreatic or bladder cancer, for example, delaying even a month can dramatically reduce the opportunity for the best treatment or even a cure.

Reductions in cancer screening, Drebin says, are likely to translate to more illness and death down the road. “The estimate,” he says, “is that simply the reduction this year in mammography and colonoscopy [procedures] will create 10,000 additional deaths over the next few years.”

And even delays in treatment that aren’t a matter of life and death can make a big difference in the quality of a life.

For 12-year-old Nicolas Noblitt, who lives in Northridge, Calif., with his parents and two siblings, delays in treatment this year have dramatically reduced his mobility.

Nicolas has cerebral palsy and has relied on a wheelchair most of his life. The muscles in his thighs, hips, calves and even his feet and toes get extremely tight, and that “makes it hard for him to walk even a short distance with a walker,” says his mother, Natalie Noblitt. “So, keeping the spasticity under control has been a major project his whole life to keep him comfortable and try to help him gain the most mobility he can have.”

Before the pandemic, Nicolas was helped by regular Botox injections, which relaxed his tight muscles and enabled him to wear shoes.

As Nicolas says, “I do have these really cool shoes that have a zipper … and they really help me — because, one, they’re really easy to get on, and two, they’re cool shoes.” Best of all, he says they stabilize him enough so he can walk with a walker.

“I love those shoes and I think they sort of love me, too, when you think about it,” he tells NPR.

Nicolas was due to get a round of Botox injections in early March. But the doctors deemed it an elective procedure and canceled the appointment. That left him to go months without a treatment.

His muscles got so tight that his feet would uncontrollably curl.

“And when it happens and I’m trying to walk … it just makes everything worse,” Nicolas says, “from trying to get on the shoes to trying to walk in the walker.”

Today he is finally back on his Botox regimen and feeling more comfortable — happy to walk with a walker. Even so, says his mom, the lapse in treatment caused setbacks. Nicolas has to work harder now, both in day-to-day activities and in physical therapy.

‘Warp Speed’ Officials Debut Plan for Distributing Free Vaccines

Despite the president’s statements about military involvement in the vaccine rollout, officials said that for most people, “there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine.”

Katie Thomas reported that Federal officials outlined details Wednesday of their preparations to administer a future coronavirus vaccine to Americans, saying they would begin distribution within 24 hours of any approval or emergency authorization, and that their goal was that no American “has to pay a single dime” out of their own pocket.

The officials, who are part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed — the multiagency effort to quickly make a coronavirus vaccine available to Americans — also said the timing of a vaccine was still unclear, despite repeated statements by President Trump that one could be ready before the election on Nov. 3.

“We’re dealing in a world of great uncertainty. We don’t know the timing of when we’ll have a vaccine, we don’t know the quantities, we don’t know the efficacy of those vaccines,” said Paul Mango, the deputy chief of staff for policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is a really quite extraordinary, logistically complex undertaking, and a lot of uncertainties right now. I think the message we want you to leave with is, we are prepared for all of those uncertainties.”

The officials said they were planning for initial distribution of a vaccine — perhaps on an emergency basis, and to a limited group of high-priority people such as health care workers — in the final three months of this year and into next year. The Department of Defense is providing logistical support to plan how the vaccines will be shipped and stored, as well as how to keep track of who has gotten the vaccine and whether they have gotten one or two doses.

However, Mr. Mango said that there had been “a lot of confusion” about what the role of the Department of Defense would be, and that “for the overwhelming majority of Americans, there will be no federal official who touches any of this vaccine before it’s injected into Americans.”

Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski said Operation Warp Speed was working to link up existing databases so that, for example, a patient who received a vaccine at a public health center in January could go to a CVS pharmacy 28 days later in another state and be assured of getting the second dose of the right vaccine.

Three drug makers are testing vaccine candidates in late-stage trials in the United States. One of those companies, Pfizer, has said that it could apply for emergency authorization as early as October, while the other two, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have said they hope to have something before the end of the year.

Coronavirus vaccine study by Pfizer shows mild-to-moderate side effects

Pfizer Inc said on Tuesday participants were showing mostly mild-to-moderate side effects when given either the company’s experimental coronavirus vaccine or a placebo in an ongoing late-stage study.

The company said in a presentation to investors that side effects included fatigue, headache, chills and muscle pain. Some participants in the trial also developed fevers – including a few high fevers. The data is blinded, meaning Pfizer does not know which patients received the vaccine or a placebo. Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, stressed that the independent data monitoring committee “has access to unblinded data so they would notify us if they have any safety concerns and have not done so to date.”

The company has enrolled more than 29,000 people in its 44,000-volunteer trial to test the experimental COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German partner BioNTech. Over 12,000 study participants had received a second dose of the vaccine, Pfizer executives said on an investor conference call.

The comments follow rival AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trials being put on hold worldwide on Sept. 6 after a serious side effect was reported in a volunteer in Britain.

AstraZeneca’s trials resumed in Britain and Brazil on Monday following the green light from British regulators, but remain on hold in the United States.

Pfizer expects it will likely have results on whether the vaccine works in October. “We do believe – given the very robust immune profile and also the preclinical profile … that vaccine efficacy is likely to be 60% or more,” Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said.

Rushing the COVID-19 Vaccine Could Have Serious and Fatal Side Effects

Jason Silverstein noted that States have been told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention they should prepare for a coronavirus vaccine by “late October or early November,” according to reports last Wednesday. But an untested coronavirus vaccine may have serious and fatal side effects, could even make the disease worse, and may very well have an effect on the election.

What’s the worst that could happen if we give an untested vaccine to millions of people?

We received a reminder today, when one of the leading large coronavirus vaccine trials by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was paused due to a “suspected serious adverse reaction.” There are eight other potential coronavirus vaccines that have reached Phase 3, which is the phase that enrolls tens of thousands of people and compares how they do with the vaccine against people who only get a placebo. Those eight include China’s CanSino Biologics product that was approved for military use without proper testing back in July, and Russia’s coronavirus vaccine that has been tested in only 76 people.

If the CDC distributes an untested coronavirus vaccine this Fall, it would be the largest drug trial in history—with all of the risks and none of the safeguards.

“Approving a vaccine without testing would be like climbing into a plane that has never been tested,” said Tony Moody, MD, director of the Duke Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers. “It might work, but failure could be catastrophic.”

One concern about this vaccine is that it’s tracking to be an “October surprise.” From Henry Kissinger’s “peace is at hand” speech regarding a ceasefire in Vietnam less than two weeks before the 1972 election to former FBI Director James Comey’s letter that he would reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, October surprises have always had the potential to shift elections. But never before have they had the potential to catastrophically shift the health of an already fragile nation.

If there is an October surprise in the form of an untested coronavirus vaccine, it won’t be the first time that a vaccine was rushed out as a political stunt to increase an incumbent president’s election chances.

What happened with the last vaccine rush?

On March 24, 1976, in response to a swine flu outbreak, President Gerald Ford asked Congress for $135 million for “each and every American to receive an inoculation.”

How badly did the Swine Flu campaign of 1976 go? Well, one of the drug companies made two million doses of the wrong Swine Flu vaccine, vaccines weren’t exactly effective for people under 24, and insurance companies said, no way, they didn’t want to be liable for the science experiment of putting this vaccine into 120 million bodies.

By December, the Swine Flu vaccination program was suspended when people started to develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare neurological condition whose risk was seven times higher in people who got the vaccine and which paralyzed more than 500 people and killed at least 25.

What else can go wrong when vaccines are rushed

“Vaccines are some of the safest medical products in the world, but there can be serious side effects in some instances that are often only revealed by very large trials,” said Kate Langwig, Ph.D., an infectious disease ecologist at Virginia Tech.

One of the other possible side effects is known as vaccine enhancement, the very rare case when the body makes antibodies in response to a vaccine but the antibodies help a second infection get into cells, something that has been seen in dengue fever. “The vaccine, far from preventing Covid-19, might turn out to make a patient’s disease worse,” said Nir Eyal, D.Phil., a bioethics professor at Rutgers University.

We do not know whether a coronavirus vaccine might cause vaccine enhancement, but we need to. In 1966, a vaccine trial against respiratory syncytial virus, a disease that many infants get, caused more than 80 percent of infants and children who received the vaccine to be hospitalized and killed two.

All of these risks can be prevented, but safety takes patience, something that an American public which has had to bury more than 186,000 is understandably short on and Trump seems to be allergic to.

“To put this into perspective, the typical length of making a vaccine is fifteen to twenty years,” said Paul Offit, MD, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit’s laboratory developed a vaccine for rotavirus, a disease that kills infants. That process began in the 1980s and wasn’t completed until 2006. The first scientific papers behind the HPV vaccine, for example, were published in the early 1990’s, but the vaccine wasn’t licensed until 2006.

An untested vaccine may also prove a deadly distraction. “An ineffective vaccine could create a false sense of security and perhaps reduce the emphasis on social distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene,” said Atul Malhotra, MD, a pulmonologist at the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Other issues with inadequately tested vaccines

Even worse, an untested vaccine may have consequences far beyond the present pandemic. Even today, one poll shows that only 57% of people would take a coronavirus vaccine. (Some experts argue that we need 55 to 82% to develop herd immunity.)

If we don’t get the vaccine right the first time, there may not be enough public trust for a next time. “Vaccines are a lot like social distancing. They are most effective if we work cooperatively and get a lot of people to take them,” said Langwig. “If we erode the public’s trust through the use of unsafe or ineffective vaccines, we may be less likely to convince people to be vaccinated in the future.”

“You don’t want to scare people off, because vaccines are our way out of this,” said Dr. Offit.

So, how will you be able to see through the fog of the vaccine war and know when a vaccine is safe to take? “Data,” said Dr. Moody, “to see if the vaccine did not cause serious side effects in those who got it, and that those who got the vaccine had a lower rate of disease, hospitalization, death, or any other metric that means it worked. And we really, really want to see that people who got the vaccine did not do worse than those who did not.

And finally, don’t forget to get your Flu vaccine, now!

The conspiracy theorists are wrong: Doctors are not inflating America’s COVID-19 death toll for cash. What about Herd Immunity and Oh, those Ignorant College Students!

As the terrible fires continue to burn and Nancy Pelosi says that Mother Nature is angry with us and the political atmosphere is all about hate, I sometimes don’t know who to believe, especially when it comes to the media. Andrew Romano reported that earlier this week, Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst became the first member of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to embrace a false online conspiracy theory that seeks to minimize the danger of COVID-19 by claiming only a few thousand Americans have died from the virus — not the 185,000 reported by state and local health agencies and hospitals. 

Ernst, who described herself as “so skeptical” of the official death toll, even went so far as to echo the nonsense argument spread by QAnon and other right-wing conspiracy-mongers that medical providers who have risked their own lives and health to treat COVID-19 patients have been attributing non-COVID deaths to the virus to rake in extra cash from the federal government. 

“These health-care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” Ernst, who is facing a tight reelection race, said Monday at a campaign stop near Waterloo, Iowa, according to a report by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

“They’re thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19,” Ernst added in an interview with the paper. “I’m just really curious. It would be interesting to know that.”

Since Ernst is “really curious,” here are the facts.

Yes, Medicare pays hospitals more for treating COVID-19 patients — 20 percent more than its designated rate, to be exact. Incidentally, this additional payment was approved 96-0 in the U.S. Senate — including by Joni Ernst. The reason Ernst (and all of her Senate colleagues) voted for it is simple: It helped keep U.S. hospitals open and operating during a worldwide emergency.

“This is no scandal,” Joseph Antos, a scholar in health care at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, explained in a recent PolitiFact fact-check. “The 20 percent was added by Congress because hospitals have lost revenue from routine care and elective surgeries that they can’t provide during this crisis, and because the cost of providing even routine services to COVID patients has jumped.”

In other words, no one is getting rich by misclassifying COVID-19 deaths.

It’s also fair to say that fewer than 185,000 Americans have died “singularly,” as Ernst put it, from COVID-19. According to a recent update by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 94 percent of patients whose primary cause of death was listed as COVID-19 were also judged to have comorbidities — secondary conditions like diabetes that often exacerbate the virus’s effects. For the remaining 6 percent, COVID-19 was the only cause listed in conjunction with their deaths.

On Sunday, President Trump retweeted a QAnon backer who falsely claimed this meant that only 6 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths — that is, 10,000 or so — were actually caused by the virus. Perhaps this “report” is what Ernst was referring to when she agreed Monday with an audience member who theorized that COVID-19 deaths had been overcounted. “I heard the same thing on the news,” she said.

Yet Twitter quickly removed the tweet for spreading false information, and for good reason.   

Despite all the innuendo, there’s nothing unusual about the way the government is counting coronavirus deaths, as we have previously explained. In any crisis — whether it’s a pandemic or a hurricane — people with preexisting conditions will die. The standard for attributing such deaths to the pandemic is to determine whether those people would have died when they did if the current crisis had never happened.

When it comes to the coronavirus, the data is clear: COVID-19 is much more likely to kill you if your system has already been compromised by some other ailment, such as asthma, HIV, diabetes mellitus, chronic lung disease or cardiovascular disease. But that doesn’t mean patients with those health problems would have died this week (or last week, or next month) no matter what. The vast majority of them probably wouldn’t have. COVID-19 was the cause of death — the disease that killed them now, and not later.

A closer look at the CDC data, meanwhile, reveals that many of the comorbidities listed by medical providers are complications caused by COVID-19 rather than chronic conditions that predated infection: heart failure, renal failure, respiratory failure, sepsis and so on.

Feverishly creating a baseless fiction from two threads of unrelated information — the additional Medicare payments and the CDC update about comorbidities — is a classic conspiracy-theorist move. But that doesn’t make it true.

“Let there not be any confusion,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday. “It’s not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19. It’s 180,000-plus deaths.”

“The point that the CDC was trying to make was that a certain percentage of [deaths] had nothing else but COVID,” Fauci continued. “That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn’t die of COVID-19. They did.”

In reality, it’s more likely that the U.S. is undercounting rather than overcounting COVID-19 deaths. According to a recent New York Times analysis of CDC estimates, at least 200,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. between March and early August — meaning that the official COVID-19 death count, which hit 140,000 over the same period, is probably too low. 

In the Hawkeye State, COVID-19 had killed at least 1,125 as of Wednesday afternoon. Over the past week, the state has reported an average of 1,177 cases per day, an increase of 124 percent from the average two weeks earlier. Its positive testing rate has risen from 10 percent to 18.5 percent since then. 

So while Republican lawmakers such as Ernst seek to downplay the lethality of the virus, Theresa Greenfield, Iowa’s Democratic Senate candidate, seized on her opponent’s baseless claim to underscore the gravity of the situation in one of the only states in America where the pandemic is getting worse.    

“It’s appalling for you to say you’re ‘so skeptical’ of the toll this pandemic has on our families and communities across Iowa,” Greenfield tweeted Tuesday, addressing the senator. “We need leaders who will take this seriously.”

Why a herd immunity approach to COVID-19 could be a deadly disaster

Reporter Rebecca Corey noted that since the coronavirus pandemic began, herd immunity has been floated by some experts as a possible solution to the deadly virus that has so far killed over 865,000 people worldwide. 

Herd immunity is possible when enough people have contracted and become immune to a virus, providing community-wide protection by limiting the number of people who can spread it. And while the strategy is considered controversial and even downright dangerous by many public health experts, it is also reportedly gaining momentum in the White House.    

According to a report by the Washington Post, herd immunity is a strategy being pushed by Dr. Scott Atlas — a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases or epidemiology who recently joined the White House as a pandemic adviser. 

Atlas denied that he had encouraged the White House to adopt a herd immunity strategy, and on Wednesday White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed the idea that herd immunity was under consideration. An administration official, however, told CNN that the policies being promoted by Atlas are indeed akin to a herd immunity approach.   

Ordinarily, herd immunity would be acquired through a majority of the population being vaccinated — not through immunity acquired by natural infection. 

“Normally, when we talk about herd immunity, we talk about how much of the population needs to be vaccinated,” World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove said on Aug. 27. “If we think about herd immunity in a natural sense of just letting a virus run, it’s very dangerous because you would need a lot of people to be infected.” 

It’s still uncertain what percentage of a population would need to be immune to the virus in order to attain herd immunity. According to Johns Hopkins University, in general, the answer is 70 to 90 percent of a population, depending on how contagious the infection is. But a model published last month in the magazine Science found that the threshold needed for coronavirus herd immunity could be as low as 43 percent. 

Proponents of herd immunity have looked to emulate Sweden’s more hands-off approach; unlike most countries in Europe, the Nordic country opted out of a nationwide lockdown and kept most businesses open. 

But Sweden’s strategy didn’t entail a total return to normalcy. The Swedish government implemented a ban on gatherings of 50 people or more, and many Swedes voluntarily followed social distancing guidelines. 

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted in an op-ed published on Aug. 30 that in addition to being much larger than Sweden (a country with a population the same size as North Carolina’s), the U.S. has a high rate of citizens with preexisting conditions, which can lead to a higher rate of COVID-19 complications; about 10 percent of Americans have diabetes, and 40 percent are considered obese. 

Moreover, Sweden’s pursuit of natural herd immunity doesn’t appear to be working. A study released in June by the country’s Health Agency showed that only 6 percent of Swedes had developed antibodies to the coronavirus — though a recent study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital suggests that immunity in Sweden may be higher than antibody tests indicate. 

The role of antibodies and how much of an impact they have on long-term immunity is still questionable. A U.K. study, which had not yet been peer-reviewed, found that antibodies may start to decline 20 to 30 days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. And a Chinese study found that antibody levels in patients who had recovered from COVID-19 fell sharply within two to three months after infection. 

Falling antibody counts may not necessarily mean waning immunity; other immune responses such as T-cells could also affect how long immunity lasts. But the case for natural herd immunity is made even more improbable by reports of coronavirus reinfections in Hong Kong, Europe and the U.S. If natural immunity is as short-lived as a few months, that wouldn’t be stable enough to provide community or nationwide protection.    

Yahoo News Medical Correspondent Dr. Dara Kass says waiting to reach the minimal number of infections needed for natural herd immunity to work would not only take longer than waiting for a vaccine (which could come before the end of the year, according to the CDC) but would also likely cost more lives. Even if only 40 percent of the U.S. population needed to contract and recover from COVID-19 to reach natural herd immunity, Kass argues, that would mean another 126 million more Americans would still need to be infected.  

“It’s taken us six months to get to 6 million infections,” Kass says. “What if we just said, let’s live life like normal? Let’s not wear masks, let’s not socially distance, let’s ride the subways and go to work. How fast could we get to 126 million infections? One year? Two years? Three years? We don’t know. But what we know is, the faster we infect people, the more people will die.” 

“We’ve seen so far 185,000 Americans die of this coronavirus with 6 million people infected,” Kass continues. “If we want to intentionally infect another 126 million Americans, that means that over 1 million more Americans would die of this virus before we infected enough people to get to any possible natural herd immunity.” 

According to a Gallup poll conducted in late July, 35 percent of Americans said they would not get a coronavirus vaccine even if it were FDA-approved and available to them at no cost. But Kass says a vaccine will likely be the key to any workable herd immunity strategy.

“The bottom line is, will herd immunity be the answer to this coronavirus pandemic? And the answer will be yes — but not natural herd immunity. We will get to herd immunity hopefully with the development of a safe, effective vaccine,” Kass says.  

“Until we have a safe and effective vaccine that is available to the hundreds of millions of Americans that still need to be exposed and recovered from this virus, we just need to continue to do the hard work, which means wear a mask, be socially distanced from people you don’t know, wash your hands multiple times a day and listen to the science.”

College Students Are Already Itching to Sue Frats Over COVID-19

So, is anyone surprised at the stupidity of college students returning to campus after this long imposed “lock-down?” Are you surprised at the number of positive COVID-19 tested students after all of their large parties?

Emily Shugerman reported that across the country, as college students return to campus with masks and hand sanitizer, fraternities and sororities are doing what they’ve always done: drinking and partying. 

At the University of Washington this summer, 137 students living in frat houses tested positive for the coronavirus after hosting raucous parties that violated their own internal guidelines. At the University of Alabama, students completed an entirely virtual rush process that ended with new members showing up in person to sorority houses, packing themselves together to take photos and then crowding the neighboring bars. The next week, the university announced more than 500 cases on campus.

For responsible students and their families, who could fall ill or have their classes canceled due to their classmates’ Greek Life antics, it all seems ripe for a lawsuit, right?

Not necessarily.

Two attorneys who specialize in litigation against frats told The Daily Beast they have received multiple inquiries from concerned students or parents wondering what their legal rights are when it comes to potential super-spreader events on their campus.

Attorney Douglas Fierberg said filing a lawsuit is absolutely an option, arguing that violating public health rules around coronavirus is no different than violating other safety rules, like a speed limit. 

“The violation of [safety rules] by someone with no excuse or justification renders them responsible for the harm that’s caused,” he told The Daily Beast. “That precedent has been around since the dawn of American jurisprudence.”

But David Bianchi, an attorney who helped draft Florida’s anti-hazing law, said it isn’t so simple. In order to win such a suit, the plaintiff would have to prove not only that the defendant acted negligently, but that the negligent behavior directly caused them harm. And in a pandemic—where the virus could be picked up anywhere from a frat house to a grocery store parking lot—that could be difficult to prove. 

“The defense lawyer will have a field day asking questions of the plaintiff about every single place they went for the seven days before the fraternity party, the seven days after the fraternity party, and they’re going to come up with a list of 50 places,” he said. “How do you prove that that’s not where they got it from?”

Bianchi said half a dozen parents called his office asking about the possibility of filing a lawsuit, and he told them not to bother.

“I call ’em like I see ’em, and I just don’t see it here,” he said.

Lawsuits against Greek organizations, for everything from wrongful death to sexual assault, are big business for personal injury attorneys. (In 2018, the parents of a freshman at Northern Illinois University won a historic $14 million settlement after their son died at a fraternity party.) 

And there’s no question that some are bracing for suits against fraternal organizations: Holmes Murphy, an independent insurance brokerage with a specialty in frats, wrote a blog post on how clients could avoid trouble.

“We’ve received many questions about whether or not a house corporation has a duty to do anything,” the post said. “This is a question that will ultimately be tested after a case and spread within a house occurs. There is certainly no shortage of lawsuits as a result of the pandemic. Ultimately, doing the right thing comes first. Start with the basics. That may be all you can do. But it is better than doing nothing.”

What’s hazier is the prospect for coronavirus lawsuits in general. Thousands of suits have been filed since the pandemic started—against schools, businesses, prisons, and pretty much anywhere else you can pick up a virus—but few have been decided. Some legislators have also pushed for laws giving businesses widespread legal immunity, in hopes of getting the economy back up and running. 

On college campuses, Fierberg said, legal actions may not happen right away—classes have only just started, and it takes time for someone to get infected, suffer a grievous injury, and find a lawyer. He predicted a rash of such suits in the next six months to a year.

“The time period that this is incubating is now,” he said. “What’s gonna happen in that experiment is yet to entirely show itself. If it comes out as Frankenstein then that’s one thing. If it comes out as something nice… well that’s a different thing.”

Why a Vaccine Won’t Be a Quick Fix for COVID-19

Medscape’s Brenda Goodman noted that nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all exhausted, stressed out, and looking for the exit, so hopes for a vaccine are high. Not only are we all stressed out but with the election only weeks away there is pressure to have a vaccine so that President Trump sees a bump in his numbers for re-election possibilities.

Numerous efforts are underway around the world to test, manufacture, and distribute billions of doses. A table maintained by the World Health Organization (WHO) lists 33 vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, currently being tested in people, with another 143 candidates in preclinical testing and I just reviewed an article which noted that there were actually 210 vaccines being studied.

The effort is so critical, the U.S. government is spending billions to make doses of vaccine that may be wasted if clinical trials don’t show them to be safe and effective. The goal of this massive operation, dubbed Warp Speed, is to deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines by January 2021.

As important as a vaccine will be, some experts are already trying to temper expectations for how much it will be able to do.

“We all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said at an Aug. 3 news briefing. “However, there is no silver bullet at the moment, and there might never be.”

Barry Bloom, PhD, an expert in infectious diseases and immunology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is even more direct: The idea that a vaccine will end the pandemic just isn’t realistic.

“That’s not going to happen,” he says. First, not enough people will get the vaccine. Second, for those who do take it, the vaccine may only offer partial protection from the virus.

“I am worried about incomplete availability, incomplete protection, unwillingness of a portion of a country to be vaccinated,” Bloom says.

At least at first, not enough people will get the vaccine for the world to achieve herd immunity, or community protection. Community protection robs the virus of the chance to spread easily. It occurs when enough people become immune, either because they’ve recovered from the infection or been vaccinated against it. This high level of immunity in a population cuts the chances that someone without immunity ― say an infant or someone who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons ― will be exposed to the virus and get sick.

Typically, the herd immunity threshold for an infection is somewhere between 70% and 90% of the population. We don’t yet know where the threshold is for COVID-19 because there are still big unanswered questions about how our bodies respond to the virus or a vaccine against it: Do most people respond in a way that protects them in the future? If so, how long does that protection typically last?

Even at the low end of the typical range for community protection ― 70% ― we’re still far short of that mark.

Recent studies checking blood samples submitted to commercial labs suggest that 5% to 10% of the population has recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the U.S. That’s just an average. The real number varies widely across the U.S., ranging from a low of about 1% in San Francisco to a high of about 20% in New York City, according to CDC data. Most of the country is still in the 3%-5% range ― still a long way from community protection against the virus.

So, most of the immunity needed to reach a level that would provide community protection would have to come from a vaccine.

“It’s not just getting a vaccine. It’s using it and using it appropriately,” Bloom says. “Vaccines don’t prevent anything. Vaccination does.”

Getting enough doses to enough people will take a while, even after a vaccine becomes available, for several reasons.

When vaccines against COVID are first approved, supplies will be tight. Initially, there may be enough doses for 10 million to 15 million people in the U.S. The first shots will be reserved for the people who need them most.

Just this week, the National Academy of Sciences came up with a draft plan for how to fairly distribute the vaccine, which would unfold in four phases. Those phases will take time to execute.

The first phase recommends that the first doses go to health care workers and first responders, with the next batch going to people with health conditions that put them at highest risk of dying from COVID, and to seniors living in group homes. Those groups make up just 15% of the population, according to the report.

Phase two, which covers about 30% of the population, calls for vaccination of essential workers at “substantially high risk of exposure,” teachers, people with health conditions that put them at moderate risk from the disease, people living in close contact with others (like prisoners and those staying in homeless shelters), and seniors who weren’t covered in phase one.

The largest chunk of the population, including children, who can be infected but may show few signs of illness, aren’t a priority until phase three, which also includes other essential workers. Phase three accounts for about 40% of the population. The last phase, everyone else, makes up about 5%.

Among those who are eligible for vaccination, not everyone is likely to agree to get one.

A recent poll by Gallup found that 35% of Americans ― or about one in three ― don’t plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine, even if it’s free. Among the two-thirds of Americans who say they will be immunized, a large number plan to wait. A recent survey by STAT found that 71% will wait at least 9 months to get their shots.

Those numbers align with a recent poll by WebMD, which found that 73% of readers said they would wait at least 3 months to get a vaccine when one becomes available.

“I don’t find that shocking. I would think for people who are rational, wouldn’t you want to see what the data are on safety and efficacy before you made a decision?” Bloom says. “I’m worried about the 25% who, no matter what happens, won’t take the vaccine. Those are the people who really worry me.”

Vaccine hesitancy ― fear of getting any vaccine ― is growing. The WHO recently listed it as one of the top threats to global health, pointing to the recent resurgence in measles. Many countries have recently seen large outbreaks of measles. These outbreaks have been caused by an increasing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their kids.

Experts are worried that vaccine hesitancy will play a large role in whether the U.S. and other countries reach herd immunity thresholds. The Gallup poll found Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats, and nonwhite Americans ― the group being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 infections ― are less likely to be vaccinated than whites.

Bloom and others believe that right now, we should be working on a way to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

“Policymakers have to start focusing on this,” says Robert Litan, PhD, JD, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

He thinks we shouldn’t try to overcome hesitancy by forcing people to take the vaccine. Instead, he wants the government to pay people to take it ― $1,000 each, or $4,000 for a family of four.

“That’s a lot of money,” especially now with the economy sagging and so many people out of work, Litan says. “I think a thousand dollars would get a lot of people to take the shot who would otherwise not take it.”

Litan ran the numbers, looking at various scenarios of how many people would take it and how effective the vaccine might be. He says he realized not enough people would be protected to fully reopen the country.

He says he’s not sure $1,000 is the right sum, but it should be generous because if people think the amount could go up, they will wait until it does, which would defeat the purpose of the incentive.

“I can’t think of anything else,” he says. “You either have carrots or sticks, and we can’t use sticks. It won’t work.” How Well Will It Work?

Getting enough people to take it is only one piece of the puzzle. We still don’t know how well any of the shots might work, or for how long that protection lasts.

Researchers have now confirmed at least four cases of COVID-19 reinfection, proving that the virus infected the same person twice.

We still don’t know how common reinfection is, but these cases suggest that some people may need a booster dose of vaccine before they’re fully protected against the virus, says Gregory Poland, MD, an expert in immunity and vaccine responses at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

That’s similar to the way we dole out vaccines for seasonal flu, with people urged to get the shot every year, he says.

That’s another reason it could take a while to reach herd immunity.

It’s also not clear how effective a vaccine may be.

The FDA and WHO have said that a vaccine should be at least 50% more effective than a placebo to be approved. But that could mean that a shot merely decreases how bad an infection is but doesn’t stop it. That would be an important effect, Bloom says, but it could mean that even vaccinated people would continue to spread the infection.

“If it prevents disease, but doesn’t prevent growth in the upper respiratory tract, there is a possibility there will be a group of people who will be infected and not get sick because of the vaccine but still have the virus in their respiratory tract and be able to transit,” Bloom says. “That would not be the ideal for a vaccine, but it would protect against disease and death.”

He says the first studies will probably measure how sick vaccinated people get and whether or not they need to be hospitalized.

Longer studies will be required to see if vaccinated people are still able to pass the virus to others.

How effective any vaccine may be will also depend on age. In general, older adults ― the ones who most need protection against COVID-19 ― don’t respond as well to vaccines.

Our immune systems get weaker as we get older, a phenomenon called immunosenescence.

Seniors may need specially formulated vaccines ― with added ingredients, called adjuvants ― to get the same response to vaccines that a younger person might have.

Lastly, there’s the problem of reintroduction. As long as the virus continues to spread anywhere in the world, there’s a risk that it could reenter the U.S. and reignite infections here.

That’s what happens every year with measles. In most states, more than 90% of people are vaccinated against measles. The measles vaccine is one of the most effective ever made. It gives people substantial and long-lasting protection against a highly contagious virus that can stay in the air for long periods. You can catch it by walking through the same room an infected person was in hours before.

Every year, travelers come to the U.S. carrying measles. If they go to a crowded place, like a theme park, it increases the chances that initial infection will touch off many more. As vaccine hesitancy has increased in the U.S. and around the world, those imported cases have sparked outbreaks that have been harder and harder for public health officials to extinguish, raising the risk that the measles virus could become endemic again in countries like the U.S.

For the world to be rid of COVID-19, most of the world has to be vaccinated against it. There’s an effort underway ― called COVAX ― to pay for vaccinations for poorer countries. So far, 76 of the world’s wealthier countries have chipped in to fund the effort. The U.S. has not. The Trump administration says it won’t join because of the WHO’s involvement in the effort, a move that may place the plan in jeopardy.

For all these reasons, it will probably be necessary to continue to spread out, wear masks, and be vigilant with hand hygiene to protect yourself and others for the foreseeable future.

“For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control,” Tedros said.

We may get a vaccine, but we will still need to be able to test enough people for the virus, warn their contacts, and isolate those who are infectious to keep the epidemic under control, or, as Tedros has urged, “Do it all.”

Pandemic fears are boosting demand for trustworthy news; And What Have We Learned from Sweden’s Experience?

During these last few months of the pandemic one of my concerns is the lack consistent reliable data with which the media pundits of all sorts deliver their predictions and many times with false knowledge and predictions. Question, what is the correct social distancing length? Studies keep on changing! One of the key features of the web is its ability to turn regular people into citizen journalists. The cost of publishing text on the web is almost nil. The barriers to entry in the media industry are low, too. And many readers are not picky about where their news comes from: the stories that go viral can come from amateur scribes or veteran ones, media startups or established outfits. But this is not always the case. New research suggests that when a crisis hits, readers turn to reliable sources.

In 2018 Paul Resnick and James Park, two researchers at the University of Michigan, devised a pair of tools for measuring the popularity of English-language news stories on Facebook and Twitter. The first, dubbed the “Mainstream Quotient”, measured the proportion of highly-shared links that came from mainstream news sources, such as the New York Times, the BBC and, yes, The Economist. The second, the “Iffy Quotient”, measured the share originating from less trustworthy sources, based on ratings provided by NewsGuard, a company that tracks misinformation published online.

Both indices have shifted significantly during the pandemic. Beginning in February, when the coronavirus started to spread outside China, traffic to traditional media outlets and news sites surged, whereas dodgier sites attracted fewer readers. The Mainstream Quotient rose steadily during this period, a phenomenon Messrs Resnick and Park call a “flight to quality”. The Iffy Quotient, meanwhile, tumbled. The drop was particularly steep during March, when many countries instituted lockdown measures (see chart).

The researchers argue that consumers seek out reliable news sources during times of uncertainty, in the same way that fearful investors turn to gold. Whether these patterns will last remain unclear. The Iffy Quotient has already started to creep back up, for both Facebook and Twitter. And recent efforts by social-media platforms to crack down on fake news may prove only temporary. Once the pandemic subsides, demand for unreliable news may return to pre-covid levels. For now, at least, the flight to quality has taken off.

Pandemic Spike in Telehealth Levels Off

Crystal Phend of MedPage pointed out that Telehealth’s early bonanza during the pandemic has given way to persistently elevated use in primary care, a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report showed.

Analysis of Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) data showed an increase in Medicare primary care visits from 0.1% of all primary care in February to 43.5% in April, representing an increase from about 2,000 to 1.28 million telehealth visits per week.

Meanwhile, there was a “precipitous” drop in in-person visits for primary care in mid-March as COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., then a rise from mid-April through May, according to the report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.

Use of telehealth in primary care “declined somewhat but appears to have leveled off at a persistent and significant level by the beginning of June,” the report noted. It still accounted for 22.7% of Medicare beneficiaries’ primary care visits as of June 3rd.

Overall, weekly primary care visit rates have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Based on early experience with Medicare primary care telehealth at the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency, there is evidence that Medicare’s new telehealth flexibilities played a critical role in helping to maintain access to primary health care services — when many beneficiaries and providers were concerned with transmission of COVID-19,” the authors noted. “The stable and sustained use of telehealth after in-person primary care visits started to resume in mid-April suggests there may be continued demand for telehealth in Medicare, even after the pandemic ends.”

The findings overall match those from healthcare provider databases suggesting a 60% to 70% drop in health care office visits, partially offset by telehealth visits, with the start of the pandemic. Drug market research firm IQVIA has reported from physician surveys that about 9% of patient interactions were via telehealth prior to the pandemic but 51% during the shutdown, with expectation of a 21% rate after the pandemic, the HHS report noted.

There have been calls for Medicare to make the loosened rules around telemedicine permanent, and some legislative movement in that direction, but private insurers have signaled the opposite.

Fred Pelzman, MD, an internal medicine physician at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City (and MedPage Today columnist), said an informal survey of his patients indicated they would be willing to do up to 50% of their care via video tools.

“We went from a handful of video visits in our practice to several thousand over the course of the months,” he said. “It’s a great way to take care of people, kept a lot of people safe, we think. What has happened is that as we started to open our practice back up again and offer appointments, the floodgates have opened and patients are declining video visits.”

Those patients opting for in-person visits tend to be older, braving what feels like a quiet time in the pandemic for the state to take care of necessary visits, he noted. “I think ultimately that we’ll plateau. It will probably come down a little more.”

The study included Medicare FFS Part B claims from January through May 2020 for primary care services along with preliminary Medicare Part B primary care claims data up to June 3. Primary care services included evaluation and management, preventive services, and advance care planning.

Telehealth usage increased most in urban counties early in the pandemic and saw smaller declines in May compared with rural counties across the country. Among cities, Boston had the greatest proportion of primary care visits by telehealth (73.1%) and Phoenix the lowest (37%).

Notably, the rate “was not strongly associated with differences in COVID-19 severity across cities as measured by rate of hospitalizations per thousand Medicare FFS beneficiaries,” the report pointed out.

I read an article predicting that telehealth visits are the future of medicine. This is truly worrisome due to the many incorrect diagnoses as well as poor control of chronic diseases that I have seen coming through my office alone. Physical diagnosis is made by looking at the patient, listening to the patient, hearing what the patient is really saying, touching the patient and using the different diagnostic tools such stethoscopes, ophthalmoscopes, otoscopes, percussion hammers, etc. to make the correct diagnoses and to follow our patients. How is that done virtually? The only ones benefitting the most from these virtually visits are the practices and the electronic medical record companies selling the practices additional software to utilize telehealth. And patients are finding that not all telehealth “visits” are paid for by their insurance companies.

How Did Sweden Flatten Its Curve Without a Lockdown?

One expert credits a “good-enough strategy”; others worry that it won’t last. Who is correct?

Kristina Fiore, Director of Enterprise & Investigative Reporting, MedPage reported that

Despite never implementing a full-scale lockdown, Sweden has managed to flatten its curve, prompting its health leadership to claim victory — but others question the cost of the strategy, as the country has a far higher death toll than its Scandinavian neighbors.

In late July, Sweden’s 7-day moving average of new cases was about 200, down from a peak of around 1,140 in mid-June. Its daily death totals have been in the single digits for two weeks, well below its mid-April peak of 115 deaths in a single day.

However, on a per-capita basis, Sweden far outpaces its Scandinavian neighbors in COVID deaths, with 567 deaths per million people compared with Denmark’s 106 deaths per million, Finland’s 59 deaths per million, and Norway’s 47 deaths per million. The Swedish figure is closer to Italy’s 581 deaths per million.

While the positive trends have led Anders Tegnell, PhD, chief epidemiologist at the Swedish Public Health Agency and architect of Sweden’s coronavirus strategy, to state that the “Swedish strategy is working,” others have criticized the approach, including two dozen Swedish academics who published a recent USA Today editorial.

“In Sweden, the strategy has led to death, grief, and suffering,” they wrote. “On top of that, there are no indications that the Swedish economy has fared better than in many other countries. At the moment, we have set an example for the rest of the world on how not to deal with a deadly infectious disease.”

The Swedish Public Health Agency has not openly stated that herd immunity was its goal, though many suspect that this was the intention. Tegnell told reporters last week he thought the recent trends indicated that immunity was now widespread in the country. But with rates of antibody positivity around 10%, that seems impossible. (Officials at the agency did not respond to MedPage Today‘s request for comment.)

So how has Sweden managed to get its outbreak under control?

Behavior Change

While Sweden didn’t officially lock down, many in the country have described a locked-down “feeling” that has eased in the summer months.

At the start of the outbreak, only high schools and universities closed; daycare and elementary schools have been open. Businesses have also remained open, but typically at reduced hours, and restaurants have functioned at reduced capacity.

Swedes have been asked to keep their distance in public, refrain from non-essential travel, and work from home when possible. Gatherings of more than 50 people are also banned. People age 70 and over are advised to stay away from others as much as possible.

Masks were never required and aren’t commonly worn.

This response hasn’t changed over time, through the June surge and into today’s decline, so there’s no definitive explanation for the flattening, though, and experts have several theories.

“Swedes in general have changed their behavior to a great extent during the pandemic and the practice of social distancing as well as physical distancing in public places and at work has been widespread,” said Maria Furberg, MD, PhD, an infectious diseases expert at Umea University Hospital in northeastern Sweden.

“During the months of March to early June, all shops were practically empty, people stopped dining with friends, and families stopped seeing even their closest relatives,” Furberg told MedPage Today. “A lock-down could not have been more effective. Handwashing, excessive use of hand sanitizers, and staying home at the first sign of a cold became the new normal very quickly.”

Mozhu Ding, PhD, an epidemiologist at the famed Karolinska Institute, said the decline is “likely to be a combination of measures taken by individuals, businesses and a widespread information campaign launched by the government.”

“Even without a strict lockdown order, many businesses allowed employees to work from home, and universities are offering distance courses to the students,” Ding told MedPage Today. “Individuals are also taking personal hygiene more seriously, as items like hand sanitizers and single-use gloves are often sold out in pharmacies and grocery stores.”

Immunity

Experts told MedPage Today there weren’t clear data to prove Tegnell’s assertion of widespread immunity in Sweden.

Furberg said there is likely “some sort of unspecific immunity that protects parts of the population from contracting COVID-19” but it’s not necessarily secondary to SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

For instance, a study by the Karolinska Institute and Karolinska University Hospital recently found that about 30% of people with mild or asymptomatic COVID showed T-cell-mediated immunity to the virus, even though they tested negative for antibodies.

“This figure is [more than] twice as high as the previous antibody tests, meaning that the public immunity to COVID-19 is probably much higher than what antibody studies have suggested,” Ding told MedPage Today. “This is of course very good news from a public health perspective, as it shows that people with negative antibody test results could still be immune to the virus at a cellular level.”

Indeed, T-cell immunity is coming into focus as a potentially important factor in COVID infection. A paper published in Nature in mid-July found that among 37 healthy people who had no history of either the first or current SARS virus, more than half had T cells that recognized one or more of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins.

Another 36 people who had mild-to-severe COVID-19 were all found to have T-cell responses to several SARS-CoV-2 proteins, and another 23 people who had SARS-CoV-1 (the virus responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003) all had lasting memory T cells — even 17 years later — that also recognized parts of SARS-CoV-2.

It could be that T cell immunity is the result of a previous infection with common cold coronaviruses, but this hasn’t yet been established; nor is it certain that T cell immunity is driving Sweden’s decline in COVID cases.

Path Forward

Summertime is another factor that may account for the decline, which began around late June — not directly because of the weather, but social factors related to it.

Swedes are “outdoors more, and students are not at school,” said Anne Spurkland, MD, a professor of immunology at the University of Oslo in Norway.

Also, “perhaps Sweden has finally gotten better control over the disastrous spread of the virus in nursing homes which to some extent can explain their relatively high death rates,” Spurkland told MedPage Today. About half of Sweden’s 5,730 deaths occurred among those in elder care homes.

Norway is still requiring that Swedes quarantine for 10 days when coming into Norway, and Denmark has not fully reopened its borders to its neighbor yet either.

That doesn’t bode well for the Swedish economy. If the goal of avoiding a lockdown was to spare economic woe, its success has been limited.

According to Business Insider, “international tourism and trade are decimated. … Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research predicts Sweden’s GDP will fall 5.4% in 2020, after predicting a 1% rise [in] December 2019. It also expects unemployment to rise around three percentage points, to 9.6%, between the end of 2019 and the end of 2021.”

Spurkland said it’s still “too early yet to conclude whether the Swedish approach was the wisest over all,” as it remains to be seen whether Norway and other countries that did lock down will avoid a second wave of infections in the fall.

Yet she cautions that choosing to take on a higher case load may have health consequences far beyond the immediate infection.

“What we have learned these months is that COVID-19 is not only about death, it is also about ill health,” Spurkland said. “Quite a number of people going through the infection have long-term symptoms, that may be stopping them from resuming their daily life. We do not know yet how large a proportion of those who get the virus will fall into this category, but it is certainly a concern.”

“So, when deciding on taking a herd immunity approach to handle a totally new virus we do not know anything about,” she said, “the Swedish government has also unknowingly put the general population at risk for much long-term ill-health caused by the virus.”

Furberg doesn’t see it that way: “I am very proud of the way Swedes have adapted to the restrictions and regulations and I believe the Public Health Agency of Sweden has picked a good-enough strategy for our country.”

What Americans Need to Understand About the Swedish Coronavirus Experiment

Sweden made headlines for never shutting down. Here’s what’s really happening there.

Matthew Zeitlin pointed out that Tooutsiders, life in Stockholm, Sweden, appears perfectly normal: Walk down a cobblestone street, and you may see two friends sitting at a cafe enjoying the spring air or a group of kids kicking a soccer ball in the park. Cars and bicyclists may zip by; a family may walk past you on their afternoon stroll.

Whereas most of the Western world has been in lockdown for weeks, Sweden has opted to forgo any sort of shelter-in-place policy in response to the coronavirus and instead allow businesses and parks to stay open and groups of under 50 to gather.

That’s not to say the country hasn’t been proactive at all. The policy in effect in Sweden is similar to what had been implemented in much of the United States before shelter-in-place orders were issued — and the one that will soon be in place in states that reopen. The Swedish government has recommended that people wash their hands frequently, maintain social distance, work from home if they can, and those who are elderly or more susceptible to Covid-19 stay home. The government recommended that universities switch to online teaching; they quickly followed course. Social distance is required by law in restaurants, and bar service is banned. The government changed its sick leave rules to encourage anyone who is feeling symptoms to stay home. “Instead of saying ‘close down all of society,’ we have looked at society and closed down… aspects of society,” where the disease is most likely to spread, Anders Tegnell, the epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency in charge of recommending policy to the government, told The Daily Show. “I think that’s had a great effect.”

Sweden may not be so much an alternative, as a glimpse of the future.

Sweden’s approach has been hailed by critics of American and European pandemic policies as a less restrictive — and less economically devastating — alternative to state or national shutdowns, but it’s also been lambasted by others as an unnecessarily risky strategy that has led Sweden to have the highest Covid-19 death toll among the Nordic nations. As more and more areas of the United States reopen, Sweden may not be so much an alternative as a glimpse of the future.

As of Sunday afternoon, the country had 25,921 confirmed cases and3,220deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. These are much higher figures than those of the country’s neighbors, but lower than those in some other wealthy Western European countries on both an overall and population-adjusted basis. Sweden also has suffered problems familiar to residents of countries that have had more severe outbreaks and stricter policies. Nursing homes have been hard hit, and Tegnell described Sweden’s failure to protect nursing home residents as its greatest shortcoming so far. Immigrant and ethnic minority communities also have suffered, due in part to their larger households. Just over half of all households in Sweden in 2016 consisted of only one person, while immigrants were substantially more likely than native-born residents to live in overcrowded conditions or multigenerational household.

Even with the less aggressive containment measures, the economic effects of the virus have been severe for the country. Sweden’s National Institute for Economic Research projected that gross domestic product would contract by 7% in 2020 and the unemployment rate would rise to just over 10%. The large fall in consumer and business confidence, the institute said in a release, point “to a rapid and severe downturn, not least in large parts of the service sector.”

“The economy will shrink both due to a drop in exports and is already contracting due to lower consumption. But the underlying causes differ: The export sector is mostly affected by the international situation, whereas the drop in consumption is directly related to the government’s recommendation of social distancing,” said Lina Maria Ellegård, an economist at Lund University.

In the first three months of the year, the Swedish economy contracted by less than 1% — less than the United States’ fall — but the production of both goods and services declined in March. The car industry — one of Sweden’s major export sectors — along with real estate, hospitality, and restaurants led the way.

That’s because even without lockdowns or orders, the behavior of Swedes still changed — to an extent. According to data collected by Google and Apple, Swedes have cut back on their travel to places like stores and restaurants and decreased their use of transit-like buses substantially, though not as dramatically as their Nordic neighbors in Denmark. Still, travel over the Easter holiday fell by 90%, Tegnell said on The Daily Show.

Multiple experts in Sweden I spoke to agreed that because a recommendation made by Swedish leadership is culturally viewed as more of a demand, the freedoms allowed have not resulted in free-for-alls. “There’s a basic misconception that there’s one big huge after-ski party,” said Lars Trägårdh, a Swedish historian. “That’s not true.”

Sweden’s voluntary restrictions policy is made possible by the high levels of trust throughout Swedish society. “We have a lot of social trust and a lot of trust in the institutions, and the institutions have confidence in the citizens,” said Trägårdh. “That’s why we decided to have this voluntary approach as opposed to one that’s more hardcore.”

The photos circulating online don’t fully represent the broader reality on the ground either. “I’ve seen pictures in the newspapers and news media of what looks to be crowded restaurants in Stockholm. What I’ve seen is mostly pretty sparse restaurants. Every other table is empty, and there’s very little business,” said Bo Becker, an economist at the Stockholm School of Economics. “Life doesn’t go on as usual, but maybe the lockdown is less severe than in other countries.”

But even if Sweden’s policy of allowing businesses to open and people to move out and about is not that different from some policies American states have or will soon implement, there’s been one major difference: the schools. Schools for children up to age 15 have remained open, all the way down to daycares and preschool. “That makes a world of difference,” Trägårdh told me. “It’s a gender issue.”

Sweden has one of the highest rates of female participation in the labor force for rich countries. Forcing young children to stay home would put many mothers in a bind or even knock them out of the workforce entirely.

“Closing down schools works well if you are in a well-to-do, middle-class family that has a house and a garden and can afford to have one person staying at home,” Trägårdh said. “That may not look like a doable proposition if you are a single parent or do not make a lot of money.”

Shutting down daycare and schools could increase risk as well, Erik Angner, a philosopher and economist at Stockholm University, explained, by leading working parents to turn to their own parents for help. “If you close daycares, then either one parent has to stop working or grandma or grandpa shows up,” he said. But since the elderly are most at risk, it was even more important to keep schools and daycares open

As other countries work through their peak infections, they will have to figure out how to reach a new status quo where the disease’s spread is still slow but restrictions can be lightened. “Now that everybody else is starting to shift toward opening up, people are talking about Sweden,” said Trägårdh. “Other Nordics are realizing you can’t keep schools closed forever. We’re in the long run here. It’s not a 60-meter race, it’s more like a marathon.”

While Sweden has a higher death rate than its Nordic neighbors and other wealthy European nations like Germany, it has been lower than rates in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. According to the Financial Times’ figures, Sweden has seen an 18% jump in excess deaths since the start of the outbreak, while Denmark has seen a 5% rise. Excess deaths in England and Wales are up 37%.

“The data out of Finland, Norway, and Denmark looks much better,” said Angner. “But everything will hinge on what will happen next.”

There’s some evidence that Sweden has managed to take the heaviest blow from the virus already — about a fourth or fifth of the population of Stockholm may have been infected, which would put the infection rate at a level similar to that found in New York City, which has had many more deaths and been under a near-total lockdown for almost two months. On Tuesday, health officials in Stockholm said the number of new deaths linked to Covid-19 was slowly decreasing from one week to the next.

The Swedish example carries both optimistic and pessimistic tidings for the United States as it embraces a partial, scattered reopening cheered on by the White House. It suggests that, even without punitive mandates, people can and will take measures to keep themselves safe from the disease. But even though people are protecting themselves without formal orders, the economy will be only slightly better off than it was under lockdown. Meanwhile, the American push to reopen is being driven by distrust of the government combined with the absence of robust safety-net programs to stem the economic bleeding. In the American context, Sweden’s example may be no example at all.

As a paper that was just accepted for publication, written by this author and two coauthors, we need reliable data to evaluate our progress as well as our failures to predict, based on appropriate statistical models and in order to lead us all in the correct path for future strategies for this pandemic and future crises.

Maryland physicians, specialists urge CareFirst to reimburse phone appointments; Telehealth; COVID deaths Still on the Rise; and What About those Masks?

I needed to let everyone know that telehealth is a scam and also that it is doing more harm than good. It doesn’t help care for many of our patients and is there to make money, first for the technology companies and also to bring in revenues for the physicians during this pandemic. They are taking advantage of our patient’s fears and the physicians who are in a bind not “allowed” to see their patients and therefore not able to bill the insurance companies. But as we have found out, both in our families needing care, our friends and our patients, that not all insurers are paying for these services and if paid the rate of payment is so poor and yes, it will end soon. Then what?

This week in fact, I had to see 3 patients whose cancers were very large and should have been evaluated and treated months ago, and yes, my office was open for those cancer patients. They also had medical conditions which should have been evaluated and treated which puts me in a bind knowing that I need to do surgery on these patients and now because of many conditions, I have to remove these large cancers in my office under local anesthesia. Yes, this has been a very depressing week.

Hallie Miller further discusses this problem. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, Maryland’s largest health insurer, is not reimbursing some medical and mental health providers for appointments held over the phone or via audio-only platforms to the dismay of those providers.

CareFirst, which serves over 3 million members, is only reimbursing primary care physicians, obstetricians and gynecologists, and behavioral health providers under specific conditions. They are paid a flat rate of $20 regardless of the length of the call.

Other specialists such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists and neurologists are not reimbursed by CareFirst for any phone or audio-only services.

With the coronavirus pandemic prompting doctors’ offices and hospitals to restrict in-person patient visits and elective surgeries, physicians and medical professionals have been forced to rapidly adjust to telehealth methods to provide routine care. Much of the daily grind has shifted to virtual channels, with video visits and phone calls replacing face-to-face interaction between doctors and patients as public health experts caution against gathering in close proximity indoors.

Most insurers, public and private, are now paying for telemedicine. But the lack of uniformity in policy and standards among insurers has caused frustration among Maryland’s physicians and mental health professionals, who have to navigate a new mode of care with differing guidelines and rates across the board.

“If we genuinely want to meet patients where they are, we need to have multiple flexible platforms, and if the payer isn’t flexible, that’s a challenge,” said Dr. George Ruiz, the chief of cardiology at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and MedStar Harbor Hospital. “If payment structures come into place, we can overcome one of the major barriers to care that exist in medicine.”

Ruiz said insurers should not discount phone and audio-only sessions, which can serve vulnerable patient populations that may not have the technology or the ability to set up a video visit. Phone appointments also offer patients more convenience during time-sensitive situations and keep people out of hospitals and emergency rooms.

Gene Ransom, the CEO of MedChi, the state’s medical society, said his group has lobbied CareFirst to reconsider its audio and phone-only reimbursement policy.

“By not paying for audio-only services, you’re paying for much more expensive visits to emergency rooms later,” said Ransom, adding that some CareFirst-insured patients might not seek out care in the first place if they know their insurance will not cover it. “Carving out certain specialties could lead to a really bad outcome for the patient.”

In a statement, CareFirst said it only began reimbursing for phone and audio calls as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and then only for some doctors to allow check-ins to maintain continuity of care. It will continue such coverage after July 24 when a member cost share waiver put in place during the outbreak expires.

It also will continue to cover telemedicine, which it defines as a combination of interactive audio and video, as it did before the pandemic, CareFirst said.

“Visits that include both audio and visual components allow for provision of quality care for our members,” according to the statement.

CareFirst, in its statement, also noted that many doctors’ offices have reopened to provide on-site care.

Dr. Michael Silverman, managing physician at Cardiovascular Specialists of Central Maryland, a Johns Hopkins affiliate, believes video adds little to the substance of a telehealth visit. A phone call, he said, can deliver urgent care to patients with physical or technological limitations.

Silverman said a patient called him on June 10 for a 22-minute consultation about his spinal surgery the next day, which precipitated another 20 minutes of medical record review and note writing. CareFirst did not reimburse him for this effort, he said.

“There are physicians right now who are really suffering, financially,” said Silverman, adding that he came close to having to close his practice when the coronavirus pandemic reached Maryland in March.” A call to a cardiologist goes a long way, but if they can’t call, so be it.”

Ransom said insurers should follow the federal government’s lead, which has issued guidelines for Medicare and Medicaid — the services that cover older adults and people with low incomes — to cover audio and phone appointments and waive member cost shares until further notice. Other providers such as Aetna, Cigna and UnitedHealthcare also cover audio-only visits, though the guidelines differ from company to company.

Some providers said insurers should standardize telehealth so it can be utilized beyond the fall, as such services offer a number of benefits for both patients and doctors.

Paul Berman, a Towson-based psychologist and director of professional affairs for the Maryland Psychological Association, said telemedicine has proven especially effective for people with depression and severe phobias who struggle with leaving the home or driving. It also serves as a vital lifeline for people with substance use disorders or those suffering from acute crises.

Berman said CareFirst’s $20 flat fee for “phone consultations” for behavioral health providers covers only specific sessions that are initiated by the patient and are not related to matters discussed within seven days prior or 24 hours after the call. As a result, it does not provide for continuity of care.

“You have people who benefit from, and even need, ongoing treatment in order to stabilize their emotional state and physical health, and if they don’t have access to services, their functioning deteriorates,” Berman said. “Many psychologists … are not able to make paid contact with patients because of this exclusion.”

Berman said psychologists and counselors, in particular, will be put at risk if they are forced to return to their offices during the ongoing pandemic, as therapy requires face-to-face interaction for up to an hour. Public health experts have warned that such interaction, especially indoors, can lead to transmission of COVID-19 through aerosols.

To mitigate out-of-pocket costs for patients, Berman said some psychologists have decided to provide low-fee services, or have patients to scale back the number of sessions scheduled per month. But this can create gaps in care for patients that lead to regression in their mental health, he said.

“People have been locked out of the ability to make use of mental health services if insurance has not waived the telephone exclusion,” he said. “It makes no sense.”

U.S. COVID-19 deaths rise for second week in a row and it continues to rise 

Reporter Lisa Shumaker noted that the U.S. deaths from COVID-19 rose for a second week in a row to more than 5,200 people in the week ended July 19, up 5% from the previous seven days, a Reuters analysis found.

The country reported over 460,000 new coronavirus cases last week, up nearly 15% from the prior week, according to the analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer-run effort to track the outbreak.

Nineteen states have reported increases in deaths for at least two straight weeks, including, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

Testing for COVID-19 rose by 9% in the United States last week and set a new record high on Friday, with over 850,000 tests performed, the Reuters analysis found.

Nationally, 8.5% of tests came back positive for the novel coronavirus, down from 8.8% the prior week but still higher than the 5% level that the World Health Organization considers concerning because it suggests there are more cases in the community that have not yet been uncovered.

Thirty-one states had positivity test rates above 5%, according to the analysis, including Arizona at 24%, Florida and Nevada at 19%, and Idaho and Alabama at 18%.

Nationally, new COVID-19 cases have risen for seven straight weeks. Forty-three states reported more new cases of COVID-19 last week compared to the previous week, the analysis found.

For the first time since April, cases rose in New York State week over week, breaking a 13-week streak of declines. New Jersey now leads the nation with cases falling for two weeks in a row. The other six states have only seen cases decline for one week.

U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Could Be Cut 67 Percent With ‘Universal Mask Usage,’ Study Finds

Almost everyone is arguing about the use of masks and part of the problem is the changing opinions on mask wearing as well as the exhaustion of lockdowns and quarantines. Soo Kim reports that with novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. approaching nearly 3.9 million, several local authorities have issued orders requiring face coverings in public in a bid to reduce the spread of infection.

While many people have been opposed to mask mandates, the widespread use of masks could potentially help significantly reduce the country’s daily case count and daily death toll, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The U.S. daily death toll is currently projected to be around 815 by November 1, according to projections from the IHME. . This daily death toll projected for November 1 could be reduced by over 66.4 percent if “universal masks” were applied across the country, the institute noted.

Universal mask usage refers to a 95 percent usage of masks in public in every location, with “mandates re-imposed for six weeks if daily deaths reach eight per million (0.8 per 100,000),” the institute explained.

Universal masks could also reduce the country’s projected daily case count for November 1 by more than half, according to the research. The daily case count in the U.S. is currently projected to reach around 124,929 by November 1, the IHME noted.

If universal masks were applied across the country, the projected daily case count could be reduced to about 46,495 by November 1, over 62.7 percent less than the current daily case count projected by the institute for the same date.

The daily case count and daily death toll in Arizona, which was found to be the most “anti-mask” state by a survey of over 150,000 Twitter posts using anti-mask-related hashtags, could also be reduced by around 70 percent if universal masks were applied across the state.

The state’s daily case count is projected to hit around 3,176 by November 1, which could be reduced to around 899 with universal mask usage, according to the IHME projection, a more than 71.6 percent reduction in daily new cases.

Arizona’s daily death toll is expected to reach nearly 20 by November 1. But the projected daily death toll could be reduced by over 68 percent if universal masks were applied, the IHME noted.

Statewide mask mandates have been issued in several parts of the country, including most recently in Texas, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Masks are currently not required in Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Face coverings are required in certain counties and cities within Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

This week, President Donald Trump appeared to have shifted from a reluctance to wearing face masks to suggesting they are patriotic, while sharing a photo of himself wearing one in a post Monday on his official Twitter account.

Telehealth could grow to a $250B revenue opportunity post-COVID-19: analysis

Heather Landi pointed out that during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer adoption of telehealth has skyrocketed, from 11% of U.S. consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46% of consumers now using telehealth to replace canceled healthcare visit, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 consumer survey conducted in April.

McKinsey’s survey also found that about 76% of consumers say they are highly or moderately likely to use telehealth in the future. Seventy-four percent of people who had used telehealth reported high satisfaction.

Health systems, independent practices, behavioral health providers, and other healthcare organizations rapidly scaled telehealth offerings to fill the gap between need and canceled in-person care. Providers are ready for the shift to virtual care: 57% view telehealth more favorably than they did before COVID-19 and 64% are more comfortable using it, according to McKinsey’s recent provider surveys.

Pre-COVID-19, the total annual revenues of U.S. telehealth players were an estimated $3 billion, with the largest vendors focused on virtual urgent care.

Telehealth is now poised to take a bigger share of the healthcare market as McKinsey estimates that up to $250 billion, or 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial outpatient, office, and home health spend could be done virtually.

The consulting firm looked at anonymized claims data representative of commercial, Medicare, and Medicaid utilization.

The company’s claims-based analysis suggests that approximately 20% of all emergency room visits could potentially be avoided via virtual urgent care offerings, 24% of healthcare office visits and outpatient volume could be delivered virtually, and an additional 9% “near-virtually.”

Up to 35% of regular home health attendant services could be virtualized, and 2% of all outpatient volume could be shifted to the home setting, with tech-enabled medication administration.

Many of the dynamics that have helped to expand telehealth adoption are likely to be in place for at least the next 12 to 18 months, as concerns about COVID-19 remain until a vaccine is widely available.

Going forward, telehealth can increase access to necessary care in areas with shortages, such as behavioral health, improve the patient experience, and improve health outcomes, McKinsey reported.

Providers and patients are concerned that recent federal and state policies expanding access to telehealth will be rolled back once the emergency period ends.

Industry groups, including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), are calling on lawmakers to ensure the changes enacted by Congress and the administration become permanent.

McKinsey’s research indicates providers’ concerns about telehealth include security, workflow integration, effectiveness compared with in-person visits, and the future for reimbursement.

“We call on Medicare and all other insurers to continue to fund telehealth programs and work collaboratively on coverage and coding to lessen provider burden. We cannot go back to pre-COVID telehealth; instead, we must go forward. Patients will demand it and providers will expect it,” CHIME CEO and President Russell Branzell said in a recent statement.

Telehealth also is drawing bipartisan support. Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., urged Congress to “continue to support this expansion and codify the administration’s changes to support the health needs of the American people,” in a recent news release.

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, is introducing a bill directing HHS Secretary Alex Azar to oversee a telehealth study looking at the technology’s impact on health and costs, Politico reported in its newsletter today.

Taking advantage of the telehealth opportunity

Healthcare providers and payers will need to take action to ensure the full potential of telehealth is realized after the crisis has passed, according to McKinsey.

There continue to be challenges as providers cite concerns about telehealth include security, workflow integration, effectiveness compared with in-person visits, and the future for reimbursement. There also is a gap between consumers’ interest in telehealth (76%) and actual usage (46%). Factors such as lack of awareness of telehealth offerings and understanding of insurance coverage are some of the drivers of this gap.

“The current crisis has demonstrated the relevance of telehealth and created an opening to modernize the care delivery system,” McKinsey consultants wrote. “Healthcare systems that come out ahead will be those who act decisively, invest to build capabilities at scale, work hard to rewire the care delivery model, and deliver distinctive high-quality care to consumers.” 

McKinsey outlined steps industry stakeholders should take to drive the growth of telehealth.

Payers: Health plans should look to optimize provider networks and accelerate value-based contracting to incentivize telehealth. Align incentives for using telehealth, particularly for chronic patients, with the shift to risk-based payment models.

Payers also should build virtual health into new product designs to meet changing consumer preferences, This new design may include virtual-first networks, digital front-door features (for example, e-triage), seamless “plug-and-play” capabilities to offer innovative digital solutions, and benefit coverage for at-home diagnostic kits.

Health systems: Hospitals and health systems should accelerate the development of an overall consumer-integrated “front door.” Consider what the integrated product will initially cover beyond what currently exists and integrate with what may have been put in place in response to COVID-19, for example, e-triage, scheduling, clinic visits, record access.

Providers also should build the capabilities and incentives of the provider workforce to support virtual care, including, workflow design, centralized scheduling, and continuing education. And, health systems need to take steps to measure the value of virtual care by quantifying clinical outcomes, access improvement, and patient/provider satisfaction. Include the potential value from telehealth when contracting with payers for risk models to manage chronic patients, McKinsey said.

Investors and health technology firms: These players also can support the new reality of expanded telehealth services. Technology firms should consider developing scenarios on how virtual health will evolve and when, including how usage evolved post-COVID-19, based on expected consumer preferences, reimbursement, CMS and other regulations.

Investors also should develop potential options and define investment strategies based on the expected virtual health future. For example, combinations of existing players/platforms, linkages between in-person and virtual care offerings and create sustainable value. Investors and technology companies also can identify the assets and capabilities to implement these options, including specific assets or capabilities to best enable the play, and business models that will deliver attractive returns.

And Now Payment Problems as Patients Lose Coverage due to COVID                Leigh Page reviewed what many practices are seeing happen as the lockdowns ease up. Percy Erachshaw, DO, a general surgeon, was happy and encouraged when New York City started to open up a bit during the COVID outbreak and patients began coming back into doctors’ offices and having online visits. But Erachshaw, like many physicians nationwide, is quickly learning that the insurer payments he’s expecting may be a thing of the past.”The patient volume is back,” said Erachshaw, who manages four practice sites in Brooklyn and Queens, New York. Two of the sites that had been closed for 2 or 3 months recently reopened. However, “I have patients who don’t have insurance coverage anymore. They lost their jobs, but they are my long-term patients, so I can’t turn them away”. Many of these patients need help getting on Medicaid, but Erachshaw doesn’t have enough staff to help them. Much of his former staff left the practice and are not returning. With unemployment benefits temporarily enhanced by federal dollars, “They discovered they were making more money staying at home than working,” he said.                                                                                                            Many Patients Lost Healthcare Coverage                                                  Because of layoffs during the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 12.7 million Americans lost employer coverage from early March to May 1. Even some workers who have not been laid off may lose coverage. Although the Affordable Care Act requires large employers to provide health insurance, small businesses can cancel coverage.

“Depending on how long the high unemployment lasts, practices could have many more uninsured patients,” said Lori Foley, managing principal in Atlanta, Georgia, for PYA, a national healthcare consulting and accounting firm.

Patients who lose coverage have the option of buying their own insurance, but in many cases, Foley says, they can’t afford to do so. “Premiums for individual health insurance can be expensive, and laid-off workers may not have been saving for that, because they did not expect to be laid off,” she said.

Indeed, many people simply don’t have the funds to take out a new insurance policy. According to one analysis, 40% of Americans do not have $400 to cover unexpected expenses.

Don’t expect patients who have been laid off to turn up at your office with a new form of coverage, says Kathryn I. Moghadas, a healthcare consultant in Winter Springs, Florida. “They’re not going to run out and get new coverage,” she said. “If they come in, they’ll want to use their credit cards and negotiate a cheaper rate with the office.”

Many people who are still working are concerned about their finances or about getting the virus, so they’re limiting their medical care. Health insurers Humana and Aetna recently noted that use of medical services has plummeted by at least 30%.

High deductibles, which have become increasingly common, also incentivize people to cut back on care, particularly at the beginning of the year, before they have met their deductible. Among workers who have a health insurance deductible, the average deductible is $1655 this year.

Many patients are selecting health services on the basis of price. More hospitals are providing their prices online and even offer tools to calculate payment estimates. Patients also have begun to expect price quotes from practices.

“When these patients call a practice, they may not want to simply book an appointment,” Foley said. “They will want to hear about your prices. Many practices are still not used to this. They often don’t have the self-pay prices and payment plan information available.”

Payers Are Making It Tougher                                                                                           Some health insurers are taking longer to pay because, like many other businesses in the COVID-19 era, they have fewer staff, says Michael La Penna, a practice management consultant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Due to the lower staffing, it can take an insurer longer than the usual 30 to 45 days to process a payment,” he said.                                                                                                 Low staffing has also made it hard to get prior authorizations, such as for primary care physicians’ (PCPs’) referrals to specialists in health maintenance organizations (HMOs). “We will call the HMO and we would be put on hold forever,” Erachshaw said. “It has been a mess and a half. If you don’t have an approval for a referral, you can’t refer the patient.”                                                                                                              Some payers have temporarily waived the prior authorization process for certain services during the COVID-19 crisis, but they may not implement those changes. “Many payers claim to have relaxed authorizations for ‘most’ or ‘many’ services,” the report said, “but what ‘most’ or ‘many’ means is anyone’s guess.”                Another area of confusion is the new or enhanced telehealth payments that Medicare and many private payers are temporarily allowing during the COVID crisis. “The typical PCP has six, seven, eight different payers, each with a different telehealth policy,” said Robert L. Phillips, MD, executive director Center for Professionalism and Value In Healthcare, a think tank in Washington, DC. “As a working clinician, I can’t manage all of those policy differences in my head.” “Each insurer has slightly different rules on telehealth, and they keep changing,” said Rebecca Etz, PhD, co-director of the Larry A. Green Center, another think tank in Washington, DC, which promotes primary care. “For example, some won’t pay for telephone-based care if the call lasts less than 10 minutes.”                                Insurance companies themselves may be confused about their own telehealth policies and thus underpay or deny payment to providers. Telehealth organizations say insurers have been slow to update their software and policies. Spotty payments for telemedicine and many other services mean many doctors are reimbursed only a fraction of what they are entitled. In an April survey of physicians and other clinicians in primary care, 57% said that fewer than half of their visits in the past week were reimbursable.                                                                                          Here are some ways practices can deal with patients who lose insurance and the insurance plans that represent them.                                                                                   Keep the bill low. Look for ways to keep costs in check. For example, “physicians could find less expensive form of meds for patients who are concerned about high costs,” Moghadas said.                                                                                                              Know your prices. “Practices should be able to tell self-pay patients what they basically can expect to pay,” Foley said. At the least, a practice could state that a new visit would cost $150 for the visit, plus additional costs for labs and x-rays, and a visit for an established patient would cost $75, she says.                                             Bring your patients back in. Many of your patients are not going to return to you without a little nudge. “You can’t sit back and wait. You need to remind them,” said Phil Boucher, MD, a pediatrician in Lincoln, Nebraska, who has been a speaker on the online Back to Busy Summit for physicians who want to revive their practices in the era of COVID-19.                                                                                                               “Reach out to your patients by sending them an email, if not a text or a message on social media,” he advised. “Better yet, go on local news and talk about your practice opening. Give them a reason to come in, such as annual checkups and routine care.” For example, Moghadas notes that diabetes patients generally need to come in every 3 months, and women need to see their gynecologist more often than once a year. “You can set up your EHR system to determine when each patient needs to come in,” she said.                                                                                                                                      Update insurance coverage information. “Asking every year about insurance coverage is not frequent enough right now because there are so many changes going on,” Foley said. “Ask about coverage on each visit.” adds that when employees are laid off, coverage often lasts for the rest of the month. If patients inform you of the change immediately, you might be able to get them in to see you before coverage ends, he says. Help patients get coverage. “Help to get patients signed up with Medicaid or COBRA,” Boucher said. “Your billing people can do this through a phone call.”

Small practices, however, may not have extra staff to do this work, Foley says. Also, many practices have staff shortages, such as Erachshaw’s practice. “I still have to find and train enough staff to get vital signs,” Erachshaw said. “I don’t have enough people to sign patients up for Medicaid.”

Effective Tactics to Collect from Patients                                                                   Having many uninsured patients means you have to shift to getting more payments from patients, which is harder to do than getting paid by insurers, Moghadas says. “It really takes a lot of effort to collect this money,” she said.                                     “Most practices are already experienced with patient collections, due to high deductibles,” Foley said. “Practices need to identify who is self-pay and what their discount approach is. “You have to collect at the time of service,” Foley adds. “If you wait until after the appointment, the chances of payment drop considerably.” If the bill is past due, “tell them about it when they come in for their next appointment,” she said. “It’s easier to collect a bill face to face.”                                                                                                        When patients say they can’t pay the bill, ask about their financial hardship. “Find out their household income,” Foley said. “Set up a sliding scale in which payments are reduced depending on the patient’s income. Health systems do this all the time.” After sending a few bills, Foley says, the next letter to the patient ― the pre-collect letter ― should state that the bill will now go to a collection agency unless it is paid in full. “People worried about their credit rating, such as those buying a house, will pay, but others are willing to let their debt go to a collection agency,” she said. Creating payment plans requires setting a reasonable monthly amount to be paid. “If you set the amount too low, it could take years to pay off,” she said. If the amount owed is $500 or less, she recommends setting up three monthly payments, and if it’s over $1000, then six monthly payments.                                                                               The Future                                                                                                                                     The road ahead for doctors still seems very bumpy. The reopening of public places is coming in fits and starts, and when the number of COVID-19 cases rises again, patients stay away for a while, Phillips says. “Each temporary spike in COVID cases has a lasting effect on practices,” he said. “Patients will disappear for a while afterward.             Philips predicts that because of the epidemic, primary care practices will lose almost $20 billion by the end of the year. If temporary telemedicine payments were removed, the losses could be double that, he says.                                                         When Medicare and other payers drop the current higher payments for telemedicine, as planned, many doctors will be forced to give up telemedicine, predicts La Penna. “At lower or nonexistent reimbursement rates for telemedicine, it would not be worth their while to use it,” he said.                                                       Some doctors, however, are doing surprisingly well now that the virus is abating and some restrictions have been lifted in some areas. When surgeries were temporarily banned because of COVID-19, George Waring IV, MD, an ophthalmologist in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, lost almost all his patients. When he reopened in May, he was not sure whether his previous volume of patients would return. Many of his patients undergo Lasik surgery to replace glasses or contact lenses, or they receive advanced lens implants after cataract surgery, both of which are usually not covered by health insurance.                                                           But as it turned out, he’s had more visits than at this time last year. Was this the result of pent-up demand for services, as many observers expected after bans on elective surgery are lifted? “No,” he said, “it’s much more than that.”                            He has several explanations for the high demand. “Having to wear masks against COVID makes people less comfortable wearing glasses, because they steam up,” he said. “Also, people need to avoid putting their hand on their face, which you have to do to insert contact lenses. So, they want Lasik. “Furthermore,” he added, “sheltering in place has made some people more contemplative, and they may get a new perspective on life and consider visual self-improvement.”

The question is what does the future look like and how do we prepare, which is what a paper that I wrote with two co-authors and was just accepted for publication considered (Science and Data Driven Choice: Shaping Empowerment During COVID-19 and Beyond)… Yeah!

It’s Official: COVID-19 Was Bad for the Healthcare Business; Mask Wearing in My Office and Some Good News.

COVID-19 Took a Huge Cut of Clinicians’ Business in March and April

If you have a business, whether it is a medical practice, or other form of business you recognize the stress and changes in your business, most of them bad for your bottom line. Also, as lock-downs have been eased you realize the overall change in the way business will be managed in your immediate and probable long-term futures. Richard Franki noted that in the first 2 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care professionals experienced sharp drops in both utilization and revenue, according to an analysis of the nation’s largest collection of private health care claims data.

For the months of March and April 2020, use of medical professional services dropped by 65% and 68%, respectively, compared with last year, and estimated revenue fell by 45% and 48%, FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization that manages a database of 31 billion claim records, said in a new report.

For the Northeast states – the epicenter of the pandemic in March and April – patient volume was down by 60% in March and 80% in April, while revenue fell by 55% in March and 79% in April, the organization said.

For this analysis, “a professional service was defined as any service provided by an individual (e.g., physician, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant) instead of being billed by a facility,” FAIR Health noted. Figures for 2019 were adjusted using the Consumer Price Index.

The size of the pandemic-related decreases in utilization and income varied by specialty. Of the seven specialties included in the study, oral surgery was hit the hardest, followed by gastroenterology, cardiology, orthopedics, dermatology, adult primary care, and pediatric primary care, FAIR Health said.

After experiencing a 2% drop in utilization this January and an increase of 4% in February, compared with 2019, gastroenterology saw corresponding drops of 73% in March and 77% in April. Estimated revenue for the specialty was flat in January and rose by 10% in February, but plummeted by 75% in March and 80% in April, the FAIR Health data show.

In cardiology, patient volume from 2019 to 2020 looked like this: Down by 4% in January, up 5% in February, down by 62% in March, and down by 71% in April. The earnings numbers tell a similar story: Down by 2% in January, up by 15% in February, down by 57% in March, and down by 73% in April, the organization reported.

Dermatology did the best among the non–primary care specialties, but that was just a relative success. Utilization still dropped by 62% and 68% in March and April of 2020, compared with last year, and revenue declined by 50% in March and 59% in April, FAIR Health said.

For adult primary care, the utilization numbers were similar, but revenue took a somewhat smaller hit. Patient volume from 2019 to 2020 was fairly steady in January and February, then nosedived in March (down 60%) and April (down 68%). Earnings were up initially, rising 1% in January and 2% in February, but fell 47% in March and 54% in April, FAIR Health said.

Pediatric primary care, it appears, may have been buoyed somewhat by its younger patients. The specialty as a whole saw utilization tumble by 52% in March and 58% in April, but revenue dropped by just 32% and 35%, respectively, according to the report.

A little extra data diving showed that the figures for preventive care visits for patients aged 0-4 years in March and April were –2% and 0% for volume and –2% and 1% for revenue. Meanwhile, the volume of immunizations only dropped by 14% and 10% and vaccine-related revenue slipped by just 7% and 2%, FAIR Health noted.

“Across many specialties from January to April 2020, office or other outpatient [evaluation and management] visits became more common relative to other procedures. This may have been due in part to the fact that many of these E&M services could be rendered via telehealth,” FAIR Health said.

Telehealth, however, was no panacea, the report explained: “Even when medical practices have continued to function via telehealth, many have experienced lower reimbursements for telehealth visits than for in-person visits and more time educating patients on how to use the technology.

Patients Who Refuse to Wear a Mask: Responses That Won’t Get You Sued

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD, related a case that we in my office have recently seen. Your waiting room is filled with mask-wearing individuals, except for one person. Your staff offers a mask to this person, citing your office policy of requiring masks for all persons in order to prevent asymptomatic COVID spread, and the patient refuses to put it on.

In our case the patients are all told ahead of time that they must bring and wear a mask if they want to be admitted to our office. Last week this patient came into our office and refused to wear a mask and of course wasn’t wearing a mask.

What can you/should you/must you do? Are you required to see a patient who refuses to wear a mask? If you ask the patient to leave without being seen, can you be accused of patient abandonment? If you allow the patient to stay, could you be liable for negligence for exposing others to a deadly illness?

I’ll let all of you know that we refuse to see patients or even have them enter our office if they don’t wear masks. This is a requirement for our practice to protect my staff, my other patients and yes, even me that practitioner.

We will not even see patients who have traveled from those states where the COVID-19 infection rate has surged. They must self-quarantine and must have a negative COVID test before we will see them as a patient. And yes, this has happened, even this happened just this past Monday.

The rules on mask-wearing, while initially downright confusing, have inexorably come to a rough consensus. By governors’ orders, masks are now mandatory in most states, though when and where they are required varies. For example, effective July 7, the governor of Washington has ordered that a business not allow a customer to enter without a face covering.

So far, there are no cases or court decisions to guide us about whether it is negligence to allow an unmasked patient to commingle in a medical practice. Nor do we have case law to help us determine whether patient abandonment would apply if a patient is sent home without being seen.

We can apply the legal principles and cases from other situations to this one, however, to tell us what constitutes negligence or patient abandonment.

The practical questions, legally, are who might sue and on what basis?

Who Might Sue?

Someone who is injured in a public place may sue the owner for negligence if the owner knew or should have known of a danger and didn’t do anything about it. For example, individuals have sued grocery stores successfully after they slipped on a banana peel and fell. If, say, the banana peel was black, that indicates that it had been there for a while, and judges have found that the store management should have known about it and removed it.

Compare the banana peel scenario to the scenario where most news outlets and health departments are telling people, every day, to wear masks while in indoor public spaces, yet owners of a medical practice or facility allow individuals who are not wearing masks to sit in their waiting room. If an individual who was also in the waiting room with the unmasked individual develops COVID-19 two days later, the ill individual may sue the medical practice for negligence for not removing the unmasked individual.

What about the individual’s responsibility to move away from the person not wearing a mask? That is the aspect of this scenario that attorneys and experts could argue about, for days, in a court case. But to go back to the banana peel case, one could argue that a customer in a grocery store should be looking out for banana peels on the floor and avoid them, yet courts have assigned liability to grocery stores when customers slip and fall.

Let’s review the four elements of negligence which a plaintiff would need to prove:

  • Duty: Obligation of one person to another
  • Breach: Improper act or omission, in the context of proper behavior to avoid imposing undue risks of harm to other persons and their property
  • Damage
  • Causation: That the act or omission caused the harm

Those who run medical offices and facilities have a duty to provide reasonably safe public spaces. Unmasked individuals are a risk to others nearby, so the “breach” element is satisfied if a practice fails to impose safety measures. Causation could be proven, or at least inferred, if contact tracing of an individual with COVID showed that the only contact likely to have exposed the ill individual to the virus was an unmasked individual in a medical practice’s waiting room, especially if the unmasked individual was COVID-positive before, during, or shortly after the visit to the practice.

What About Patient Abandonment?

“Patient abandonment” is the legal term for terminating the physician-patient relationship in such a manner that the patient is denied necessary medical care. It is a form of negligence.

Refusing to see a patient unless the patient wears a mask is not denying care, in this attorney’s view, but rather establishing reasonable conditions for getting care. The patient simply needs to put on a mask.

What about the patient who refuses to wear a mask for medical reasons? There are exceptions in most of the governors’ orders for individuals with medical conditions that preclude covering nose and mouth with a mask. A medical office is the perfect place to test an individual’s ability or inability to breathe well while wearing a mask. “Put the mask on and we’ll see how you do” is a reasonable response. Monitor the patient visually and apply a pulse oximeter with mask off and mask on. In our office each patient has pulse oximetry done as part of our COVID screening and anyone with a problem is sent out to their primary care doctor to be assessed for a COVID infection. There are no exceptions. As I have said before, this is to protect the patient, our other patients, my staff and yes, me the practitioner. No exceptions!

Dr. Atlas: Coronavirus surges linked mostly to protests — and proximity to US-Mexico border

Victoria Garcia of Fox News reported that the recent surges, as the daily infections approach 70,000, in U.S. coronavirus cases can be traced to two key factors — crowds of protesters and proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, Dr. Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at The Hoover Institution, said Saturday night. ‘Protesting, sharing megaphones, screaming. That’s a setup to spread cases,’ Atlas says

Most of the cases in the Southwest — California, Arizona and Texas — are occurring in counties closest to the U.S.-Mexico border, Atlas told anchor Jon Scott during an appearance on “Fox Report Weekend.”

“When you look in the southern counties of California, Arizona and the bordering counties of Texas — with the Mexico border — these are where most of these cases are really exploding,” Atlas said. “And then you look at the Mexico map and in Mexico, that’s where their cases are. Their cases are in the northern border zone states. And it turns out the timeline here correlates much more to the Mexico timeline of increasing cases than anything else.”

Spikes in Texas, Florida and Arizona don’t essentially line up with reopening but with Mexico’s surge and the recent protests that have gripped the U.S., Atlas said.

“When you really look closely at these so-called re-opening policies, whether it’s in Georgia or Florida or Texas, you know, we didn’t really see a big correlation of cases and hospitalizations from that,” Atlas said. “That’s really not true. That’s sort of some sloppy thinking, I think, again. We really have to look closely at why these things are happening.

“By the way. California didn’t really reopen. Yet they have cases coming up. Why is that? I mean, that’s because these cases don’t really correlate to that.”

‘A setup to spread cases’

“They correlate mainly to two things — the big thousands and thousands of people with protesting, sharing megaphones, screaming. That’s a setup to spread cases,” Atlas said. “And also, when you look at the analysis of the border counties, there’s a tremendous amount of cases coming over the border and exchanging with families in the northern Mexico states.”

Atlas also explained the hospital capacity situation in Texas and Arizona. “So, the real concern that that I see right now is that there are hospitals getting crowded in their ICUs and this is clearly a concern,” Atlas said. “The crowding is from the reinstatement of regular medical care, which is actually very important. We have locked that down before and that policy kills people. So, we don’t want to go back to that.”

“The solution to this is really protect the high risk in a more diligent way than we are, the very highest-risk group. We have been very, very clear about that to people,” Atlas said. “The second part is increasing the hospital capacity.”

Fauci says states need to address problems with COVID-19 response: ‘If you don’t admit it, you can’t correct it’

Savannah Behrman of the USA TODAY reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday that states need to face problems with their coronavirus responses because “if you don’t admit it, you can’t correct it.”

In an interview with “The Journal,” a podcast from the Wall Street Journal, Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, discussed the alarming rates of coronavirus cases that are surging in some states that reopened quickly. 

“What we’re seeing is exponential growth, it went from an average of about 20,000 to 40,000 and 50,000. That’s doubling,” Fauci said.

Fauci told Congress last week that new coronavirus infections could increase to 100,000 a day if the nation doesn’t get its surge of cases under control. During the interview, he discussed conversations the White House coronavirus task force has been having with governors and health officials from states where cases are spiking. “Among the states, and there is admission from within,” the doctor explained. “Some states went too fast, some states went according to what the time table was, but the people in the state didn’t listen, and threw caution to the wind.”

Fauci was pressed on “mixed messaging” coming from the White House coronavirus task force regarding warnings he and other health officials such as Dr. Deborah L. Birx have sounded versus comments from elected officials such as Vice President Mike Pence. 

“Well, you know, I think in fairness to the vice president, the vice president understands that. But he is trying in his role as the vice president to really in a certain sense also point out some of the things that are going well,” Fauci said. “So, he is a person who is an optimistic person and is doing a very good job as the leader of the task force, I must say.”

He continued that he and other public health officials are “coldly” looking at the data that results in recommendations from the task force, but that as “a member of the task force, I’m telling you that we have a serious situation here that we really do need to address.” 

His comments come a day after President Donald Trump disputed Fauci’s comments that the U.S. is still “knee-deep in the first wave” of the pandemic. “I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him,” Trump said in an interview. 

The nation surpassed 3 million coronavirus cases and 132,256 deaths Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The grim milestone represents roughly a quarter of the world’s cases and the same percentage of its deaths.

Tuesday saw a record 60,021 new cases as the nationwide surge showed no signs of ebbing.  Cases are surging in states such as Texas, Florida, and Arizona, and some have now paused or reversed their reopenings. 

Fauci stressed that the public health “message” needs to work in tandem with states reopening in order for states to be able to protect their citizens’ health and the economy.

And this all has to be considered as we get closer to the school year. Do we send our children back to school and how do we educate our kids?

And Now Some Good News Regarding this Pandemic: New study suggests COVID-19 brought American families closer together

From developmental milestones to simple heart to hearts, three-quarters of parents polled experienced a key moment, which they otherwise may have missed, with their children while in lockdown. Seventy-five percent of American parents witnessed a key moment in their child’s life while in self-isolation, according to new research.

The survey of 2,000 Americans — of which about 1,200 were parents — asked respondents about their time sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the perks of being surrounded by family. From developmental milestones to simple heart-to-hearts, three-quarters of parents polled experienced a key moment that they otherwise may have missed with their children while in lockdown. The survey found 66% of those surveyed said the pandemic has brought them closer to their family than ever before. (iStock)

Respondents were asked to share the key moments they experienced, and one respondent said their child got to meet an aunt for the first time, while another was able to successfully potty train their little one. Another respondent shared how their child confided in them that they were being bullied at school, while someone else shared they were able to watch their son be sworn into the National Guard via a livestream.

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Juice Plus+, the survey found 66 percent of those surveyed said the pandemic has brought them closer to their family than ever before. It’s no surprise that 77 percent of respondents were also in agreement that they’ve enjoyed spending more time with the members of their household. The survey also found respondents have learned a lot about their families while sheltering in place as well.

Nearly half of respondents admitted they didn’t really know what their significant other’s job was before they began working from home during self-isolation. Seventy-nine percent of parents surveyed said they’ve also learned more about their children’s hobbies and passions during this time. While another 77 percent of parents said their children have become more open to learning new things around the house and trying new activities.

In fact, 31 percent of those surveyed said they’ve taught a family member a new skill while they’ve been in quarantine. Seven in 10 respondents also shared their increased time indoors has been a wake-up call for them to focus on their families’ unhealthy habits. Forty-one percent of those polled said they’ve added more priority to eating meals as a family during their time in isolation.

“During these unprecedented times, it has been a delight to see families becoming closer than ever before and enjoying the additional time they have gotten together while staying home,” said Dr. Mitra Ray, Ph.D., research biochemist and health ambassador with Juice Plus+. “In turn, this has led to an increase in family meals, which are proven to form better eating habits and a healthier lifestyle for years to come.”

Another 29 percent of respondents shared they learned how to cook a new family recipe. Seventy-one percent of respondents shared this has all been possible because it’s been easier for them to adhere to a new and improved schedule for themselves and their families while they’ve been sheltering in place. For those surveyed who’ve been working from home during this time, 41% said they’ve enjoyed having a more flexible schedule. A further 38 percent of these respondents shared another perk of working remotely is they’ve been able to enjoy more quality time with their family. Regardless of whether respondents are working from home, 68% shared they’ve used lockdown to improve their family’s communication skills.

“As more people become accustomed to working from home, they are finding silver linings in its flexible benefits, such as forming stronger relationships with their families,” observed Sean Hopkins, chief revenue officer for Juice Plus+. “We value and support the impact of year-round remote working models allowing more people to stay home – offering the opportunity to work according to their own schedules and give greater priority to their loves ones and their overall happiness and well-being.”

TOP PRIORITIES ADDED TO AMERICANS’ ROUTINES IN SELF-ISOLATION

Eaten more meals as a family or with members of my household – 41%
Spent more time with my family/household – 37%
Started a new exercise routine – 36%
Learned something new about someone I live with – 33%
Made more purchases online – 32%
Taught a family member a new skill – 31%
Tuned in more to the news – 31%
Learned how to cook a new family recipe – 29%
Started a new hobby – 26%
Focused more on my/my family’s nutrition – 25%
Connected virtually with my peers – 25%
Focused more on sleep – 20%

TOP BENEFITS OF WORKING REMOTELY DURING COVID-19

Enjoying a more flexible schedule – 41%
Being able to enjoy more quality time with their family – 38%
Being more productive – 33%
Not having to commute – 29%
Not having to dress up – 29%
Being able to work from the comfort of their home – 27%
Saving money – 27%
Being able to improve their communication skills – 21%
Feeling more motivated to work – 18%
Having fewer distractions than at the office – 17%

Maryland man may be first person successfully vaccinated against COVID-19

Isabelle Friedberg in the New York Post, noted that a Maryland man believes he may be one of the first people to be successfully vaccinated against the coronavirus after participating in a trial that has reported promising early results in producing antibodies, according to reports.

David Rach, a graduate immunology student, was the first person to be injected in the trial at the University of Maryland in May, where US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech are working together in the global race to create a vaccine, the Daily Mail reports.

Now, early indications show the vaccine is working by stimulating the growth of antibodies at rates equal or higher to those who have the illness, according to WJLA.

” There is a component of relief seeing that it’s actually producing results, that the vaccine is producing antibodies,” Rach told the news station. Rach cannot be certain he was given the actual vaccine or a placebo saline solution but after a slight reaction from his second dose, he is convinced he is one of the very few people in the world vaccinated against COVID-19, the outlet said. He is due to be tested in October to determine if he does have immunity against the virus. Remember, we need to know if the immunity is long term, especially with the mutation of this virus. If the trial proves successful, Pfizer said it will produce 100 million doses before the end of the year and more than a billion doses next year, WJLA reports.

Preparing for Fall’s Second Wave — and Then Some, Spikes and Masks. And How Can the White House Build Trust?

When COVID-19 and flu season coexist, we need the right tests to tell which is which

Fred Pelzman reflected on his past training as a physician. Long ago, when I was a resident, I worked an overnight emergency room shift and saw a patient who presented with episodes of shortness of breath both at rest and on exertion.

As a fairly freshly minted new intern, I was still definitely getting the hang of things, and probably took way longer to do my history and physical exam, before I was finally ready to present to the attending who was staffing the emergency department that night. Maybe I wasn’t very good at taking a history back then, and I may have missed some critical questions that needed to be asked or hadn’t ordered the right tests, but I remember finishing up my evaluation and still not really being sure what was going on with this patient.

“Let’s Treat Both”

Back then we didn’t have troponins and BNPs and D-dimers run on everyone who showed up in the emergency room, but as I remember this, all we had was a chest X-ray and an EKG that were both pretty unrevealing. I remember thinking that I wasn’t sure whether this case was pulmonary or cardiac in nature.

But I also remember being confused by the advice I got from that particular doctor that day, as his way of solving a diagnostic dilemma. “Let’s treat both,” he said, “and see if he gets better.” His recommendation was that we send the patient out with an albuterol inhaler, in case this was a flare of reactive airway disease, as well as sublingual nitroglycerin, in case it was angina pectoris. “Take both of these next time this happens and call me in the morning.”

Since the patient wasn’t having symptoms at the time of their ED visit, neither treatment given in the emergency room was likely to answer the question, so the attending physician decided to try the two most obvious, and then see what worked. What bothered me most, I recall thinking at the time, was that if he tried both, how were we going to know which one was working?

Trying serial treatments for a non-life-threatening illness is a reasonable option we have all pursued (“Let’s try treatment A for a week, and if that does not do it, we can switch to treatment B and see how that goes”). But throwing everything and the kitchen sink never seems to clear things up; instead, it just muddies the waters.

Double Trouble

This long-ago case reminds me of what we may be facing as we head into a second wave of COVID-19, if the pandemic continues its now-apparent summer push and builds into a torrent in the fall as the inevitable flu season rises up to join us.

In the early days of this pandemic, before we had much testing at all (in fact, at one point there was absolutely no outpatient testing allowed, and the limited tests we had were reserved for the sickest inpatients), in the outpatient world we pretty much assumed that anybody with a cough, shortness of breath, or a fever, was COVID-19, and for the most part we couldn’t even prove otherwise. There were restrictions on our use of respiratory viral panels (to diagnose influenza, RSV, or other viral pathogens), and no PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 was available to us, so we pretty much assumed you had COVID-19, and if you were stable enough to go home, then that was it.

Luckily, in those earliest days, influenza had already significantly tapered off for the season, so there was little that we were seeing in the community to confuse the clinical picture. But what happens when they’re both here at the same time? What happens when we have both of these significant respiratory pathogens, and knowing which one is going on may make all the difference in the world?

The right test at the right time can make that difference. When we had no tests, we assumed everything was COVID-19, and either sent them home or sent them to the hospital to be admitted. Then, when we got the ability to test certain selected patients, we were able to further distinguish between the sickest that we needed to send to the emergency room, and those we could safely send home and give them their COVID-19 test results the next morning. But what if there are two virulent diseases raging through our community at the same time? At that point, having a rapid test that can safely distinguish influenza or other respiratory pathogens from COVID-19 may be just what we need.

Thinking About the Next Wave

As we begin to think about the next wave, about what the coming months may hold for us, it seems like having rapid flu testing available in the office, as well as rapid point-of-care testing for COVID-19, may be what we need to safely diagnose, safely treat, safely send home, safely quarantine, and safely track contacts, to prevent the second wave from being as devastating as the first. We need to begin now preparing for the next, not reacting after it’s already here, not wishing we had more testing, more PPE, more ICU beds, more ventilators.

This is how we need to be thoughtful, how we need to see this with the eyes of a public health officer, an epidemiologist, a scientist, a physician. Because when the time comes, when we’re knee-deep in this stuff, when things are going all to hell, we don’t want to wish we had what we need to do the right thing for our patients.

Hopefully those who are facing the new surge of this virus elsewhere in this country, away from the epicenter that was New York City, are heeding the lessons we learned about who is at highest risk for decompensation, who can safely go home, and how to treat the sickest of the sick. And while the next wave is still over the horizon, we need to ensure that those who have the power to make the decisions about how we might respond to what comes next are listening to the most experienced voices in the room. Otherwise we might be sending people home with a Z-Pak, some oral steroids, an albuterol inhaler, Tamiflu, an antihistamine, and a PPI just in case.

‘Cause you never know.

How the White House can build public trust and end the coronavirus crisis

Dan Goldberg reported on the mixed messages on the severity of the pandemic from federal and state officials helped drive a coronavirus surge in June across much of the United States and that the window to act is closing.

Now, top public health officials are warning that the country could see as many as 100,000 new cases per day, testing capacity is reaching its limit and the virus is spreading out of control. After months of downplaying the coronavirus threat, the White House has changed course, urging Americans to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. But it is not clear whether the public will listen, after months of recovery talk and political battles over everything from masks to infectious disease modeling.

Public health experts say the window to act is closing, and that if the government wants to change the course of the U.S. outbreak, officials need to deliver clear, consistent messages. They should be frank about what we still don’t know about the virus, emphasize that our fates are collectively tied and focus on the need for face coverings, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.

“National leaders, including the vice president and president and governors, should not only be talking about and encouraging people to follow public health guidance — they should be modeling it themselves wherever they can,” said Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. “No more of this kind of strange commentary about ‘personal choice.’ The point is to protect your neighbor, so the idea of it being a personal choice is illogical.”

An administration official rejected the idea that the messages coming from the White House have been confusing or inconsistent. “Since March, the administration has consistently recommended the use of face coverings consistent with CDC guidelines, and that messaging has been included in every set of guidance from the administration,” the official said. “The messaging understands the urgency of certain states.”

Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says the first step the Trump administration should take is unmuzzling its scientists.

Anthony Fauci with Vice President Mike Pence. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

The CDC abruptly stopped its regular briefings on the virus in March and has held only a handful since then. The White House coronavirus task force, whose members include top government scientists such as Anthony Fauci, no longer addresses the nation via daily televised briefings. And its once-daily private meetings are down to twice a week.

At the same time, more than 80 percent of Americans trust medical scientists, and more than two-thirds trust Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, according to a recent New York Times/Siena College poll.

“The CDC and the other public health experts within the government need to be on the front lines talking to the country every day,” Lipsitch said. “People without scientific qualifications … do not need to be stealing the show in terms of public communication.”

But that is what has happened over the last few months, as President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other political leaders have dominated the national conversation about how to fight the virus — often contradicting the government’s own health experts.

As cases soared in the Southeast in June, Trump repeatedly said that the new infections were simply a reflection of more testing. And as hospital capacity reached alarming levels in Texas and Arizona last week, Pence tried to tamp down concern by emphasizing that most new infections were in younger adults. He also attended a huge indoor rally at a Dallas church last Sunday and defended Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Arizona days before — where thousands of mostly maskless supporters spent hours cheering — saying it gave people the freedom to participate in the political process.

“It sends a message that those things are okay, and they are not,” Inglesby said. “These political leaders know the information and they still attended, suggesting these things are low risk. They are not low risk.”

With no clear message from the top, governors are sending their own mixed signals. Bars in Texas reopened in May while North Carolina’s stayed closed. Churches were allowed to remain open in Florida but not in Kentucky. Face coverings are mandated in New Jersey but a “personal preference” in Oklahoma.

The White House has sought to correct course over the last two weeks — with mixed results. Days after Pence said “panic is overblown,” he urged younger Americans, who were ignoring “the guidance that we gave on the federal level for all the phases of reopening,” to be more vigilant because they were a growing cause of the spread. The same administration official said there are also political considerations at play — if the vice president isn’t shaping the conversation, then the void will be filled by Trump critics or political opponents.

Trump on Wednesday told Fox Business that he’d wear a mask when he could not socially distance, in line with CDC recommendations, but only once has he been spotted wearing one. At a news conference in late May, Trump taunted a Reuters journalist for wearing a facial covering and accused the reporter of wanting to be “politically correct.” The president also mocked Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for wearing a mask.

There is evidence that the president’s skepticism has influenced public behavior. Three-quarters of Democrats who responded to a recent Pew poll said they wore masks most or all of the time in public, while just 53 percent of Republicans did the same. The split held even after controlling for differences in the severity of the outbreak in different parts of the country. “The president has a unique ability to derail good policy,” Lipsitch said.

Going forward, the government needs to do a better job of managing expectations, said Jeffrey Shaman, an infectious disease researcher at the Columbia University School of Public Health. The coronavirus was unknown to science until December, and our understanding of it is changing as time passes and more people are infected.

The CDC, for example, first said masks would do little good and that the virus mostly affected the respiratory system. The guidance has evolved along with the understanding of the disease. Public health experts now know that children are more vulnerable than originally thought.

“This is where leadership and messaging are so important,” Shaman said. “People have to understand it’s not like you can spend a month wearing masks and then it’s done. We don’t have our Get Out of Jail Free card yet.”

White House messengers need to express more humility and explain how much we still don’t know, said Lori Freeman, CEO for the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

The cost of coronavirus treatment

Janette Setembre of Fox Business noted that the cost of the coronavirus can be devastating.

Americans could spend thousands of dollars on medical bills if they need treatment for COVID-19 – with or without insurance. And those who were hospitalized or caring for a loved who is could have to defer credit card bills, mortgage payments and deplete their savings to afford them.

Broadway star Nick Cordero died Sunday at 41 after spending nearly four months in the hospital battling COVID-19. Days earlier, his wife, Amanda Kloots, posted on social media about having to refinance her home to help pay for the treatment costs. A family friend created a GoFundMe page for Cordero’s medical costs with a goal of raising $400,000. It received nearly 5,000 donations raising $813,507.

The Cordero family is one of the millions grappling with the emotional and burdening financial costs of the deadly virus. An estimated 15 percent of people who contract COVID-19 could end up in the hospital, according to data published in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on medical issues. The data shows that up to an estimated 2 percent to 7 percent – or 670,000 to slightly more than 2 million — of uninsured people will require hospitalization for the novel coronavirus.

That would have been the case for Denver-based Tim Regan, 40, who went to the emergency room in March when he experienced a fever, chest pain and shortness of breath. He went to the emergency room when a nurse advised him to, explaining he had COVID-19 symptoms. Regan received a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (EKG) but was told he wasn’t sick enough to qualify for a COVID test.

“The doctor told me he was convinced I had it, several people in the medical field told me I had it without giving me a test,” Regan told FOX Business. Regan worried that if he had to be admitted to a hospital, he would deplete his savings so he continued working from home while he was sick. “I was thinking I had to make all the money I could in case we all had to be hospitalized,” he said, worried that he might infect his wife and child. Regan was billed $3,278 for his ER visit. “The insurance told us, ‘We’re not paying for it.’ We would have been stuck with everything. I don’t think we quite met the deductible. It would have wiped out any savings we had,” Regan said.

Medical bills for uninsured patients can range between $42,486 to $74,310, according to a report by FAIR Health, an independent nonprofit. But even those who do have insurance could be saddled with out-of-pocket costs between $21,936 and as much as $38,755.

“Even after you get the treatment it leaves a bunch of financial questions. If you have traditional insurance, the reason for that is so many plans have high deductibles, and if you’re on a high deductible plan you’re responsible for that deductible amount; it can be $5,000, $8,000 or more,” said Patrick Quigley, CEO and co-founder of Sidecar Health, which provides personalized and affordable health insurance.

“The second issue is the network – if you happen to go to a hospital that’s out of network your traditional insurance company isn’t responsible for those charges – they may help, but they don’t have negotiated rates with those hospitals so people with insurance will have to pay the remaining balance,” Quigley said.

And some survivors who battled for their lives while seeking treatment for the virus are left with shocking medical costs. The Seattle Times reported last month the case of Michael Flor, a 70-year-old man from Seattle who was hit with a $1.1 million hospital bill, which included 181 pages of expenses like $9,736 per day for the intensive care room, almost $409,000 for it to be sterilized and $82,000 for the ventilator, among other treatment costs. Flor had Medicare insurance and would be covered for most of the expenses, the Times reported.

Congress allocated more than $100 billion to assist insurance companies and hospitals dealing with the unprecedented treatment costs during COVID-19.

Arizona is #1, Bahrain is #4
There is no country in the world where confirmed coronavirus cases are growing as rapidly as they are in Arizona, Florida or South Carolina. The Sun Belt has become the global virus capital.
This chart ranks the countries with the most confirmed new cases over the past week, adjusted for population size, and treats each U.S. state as if it were a country. (Many states are larger in both landmass and population than some countries.)

Coronavirus expert says Americans will be wearing masks for ‘several years’

Shawn Carter reported that health experts won’t ask Americans to take off their masks any time soon. That’s the take of Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. He has been preparing for an outbreak like the novel coronavirus as part of his work for years.

Johns Hopkins practices virus simulations as part of is preparedness protocol, with the goal of offering public health experts and policymakers a blueprint of what to do in a pandemic. One of those simulations took place in October 2019, when Toner and a team of researchers launched a coronavirus pandemic simulation in New York, running through various scenarios on how residents, governments and private businesses would hypothetically react to the threat.

One thing that stood out to him: Face coverings are a vital defense to stop the spread of the virus. He believes COVID-19 won’t slow down in the U.S. even as states start to slowly reopen.

“There’s going to be no summertime lull with a big wave in the fall,” he said as part of CNET’s Hacking the Apocalypse series. “It’s clear that we are having a significant resurgence of cases in the summer, and they’ll get bigger. And it’ll keep going until we lock things down again.”

The U.S. recently added about 43,000 positive COVID-19 cases to its 2.9 million totals, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. The death total has surpassed 130,000.

Toner, contrasting the novel virus to seasonal influenza, said until there is a vaccine, communities’ best defense to fight it is through creating distance and wearing masks. “I think that mask wearing and some degree of social distancing, we will be living with — hopefully living with happily — for several years,” he said. “It’s actually pretty straightforward. If we cover our faces, and both you and anyone you’re interacting with are wearing a mask, the risk of transmission goes way down.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top official handling the U.S. COVID-19 response, said recently he was cautiously optimistic that there could be a vaccine for the virus by 2021. For those who refuse to wear a mask in the interim, Toner said they’ll eventually wise up. “They will get over it,” he says. “It’s just a question of how many people get sick and die before they get over it.”

One final thought, Congress must decide whether to extend federal aid for the unemployed beyond July. Ten million more Americans are out of work than in February, but evidence has emerged of falling poverty levels due to the stimulus. Could the coronavirus change the politics of poverty?

World hits coronavirus milestones amid fears worst to come and Consider Rationing Health Care and the Effect of Virtual Classrooms and the Effect of All These Protests on Disease Management.

The world surpassed two sobering coronavirus milestones last Sunday—500,000 confirmed deaths, 10 million confirmed cases—and hit another high mark for daily new infections as governments that attempted reopenings continued to backtrack and warn that worse news could be yet to come.

“COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who allowed businesses to start reopening in early May but on Friday shut down bars and limited restaurant dining amid a spike in cases.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back reopenings of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles. He ordered them to close immediately and urged eight other counties to issue local health orders mandating the same.

South Africa’s health minister warned that the country’s current surge of cases is expected to rapidly increase in the coming weeks and push hospitals to the limit. Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said the current rise in infections has come from people who “moved back into the workplace. It was therefore inevitable that there would be cluster outbreaks as infections spilled over from communities into places of congregation such as mines, factories, taxis and buses.”

New clusters of cases at a Swiss nightclub and in the central English city of Leicester showed that the virus was still circulating widely in Europe, though not with the rapidly growing infection rate seen in parts of the U.S., Latin America and India.

Poland and France, meanwhile, attempted a step toward normalcy as they held elections that had been delayed by the virus.

Wearing mandatory masks, social distancing in lines and carrying their own pens to sign voting registers, French voters cast ballots in a second round of municipal elections. Poles also wore masks and used hand sanitizer, and some in virus-hit areas were told to mail in their ballots to avoid further contagion.

“I didn’t go and vote the first time around because I am elderly and I got scared,” said Fanny Barouh as she voted in a Paris school.

In Texas, Abbott appeared with Vice President Mike Pence, who cut campaign events from upcoming visits to Florida and Arizona because of rising virus cases in those states.

Pence praised Abbott for both his decision to reopen the state, and to roll back the reopening plans.

“You flattened the curve here in Texas … but about two weeks ago something changed,” Pence said.

Pence urged people to wear masks when unable to practice social distancing. He and Abbott wore face masks as they entered and left the room, taking them off while speaking to reporters.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, defended the fact that President Donald Trump has rarely worn a mask in public, saying he doesn’t have to follow his own administration’s guidance because as a leader of the free world he’s tested regularly and is in “very different circumstances than the rest of us.”

Addressing spikes in reported coronavirus cases in some states, Azar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that people “have to take ownership” of their own behaviors by social distancing and wearing masks if possible.

A reported tally Sunday from Johns Hopkins University researchers said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic had reached 500,108.

About 1 in 4 of those deaths—more than 125,000—have been reported in the U.S. The country with the next highest death toll is Brazil, with more than 57,000, or about 1 in 9.

The true death toll from the virus, which first emerged in China late last year, is widely believed to be significantly higher. Experts say that especially early on, many victims died of COVID-19 without being tested for it.

To date, more than 10 million confirmed cases have been reported globally. About a quarter of them have been reported in the U.S.

The World Health Organization announced another daily record in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the world—topping over 189,000 in a single 24-hour period. The tally eclipses the previous record a week earlier at over 183,000 cases, showing case counts continue to progress worldwide.

Overall, the U.S. still has far and away the most total cases. At more than 2,450,000—roughly twice that of Brazil. The number of actual cases worldwide is much higher.

New York, once the nation’s pandemic epicenter, is now “on the exact opposite end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview with “Meet the Press.”

The state reported five new virus deaths Saturday, its lowest reported daily death toll since March 15. During the state’s peak pandemic in April, nearly 800 people were dying every day. New York still leads the nation in COVID-19 deaths with nearly 25,000.

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee put a hold on plans to move counties to the fourth phase of his reopening plan as cases continue to increase. But in Hawaii, the city of Honolulu announced that campgrounds will reopen for the first time in three months with limited permits to ensure social distancing.

Britain’s government, meanwhile, is considering whether a local lockdown is needed for the central English city of Leicester amid reports about a spike in COVID-19 among its Asian community. It would be Britain’s first local lockdown.

“We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC on Sunday.

Polish voters were casting ballots, in person and by mail, for a presidential election that was supposed to have taken place in May but was chaotically postponed amid the pandemic. President Andrzej Duda, a 48-year-old conservative backed by the nationalist ruling Law and Justice party, is running against 10 other candidates as he seeks a second five-year term. Iwona Goge, 79, was encouraged to see so many people voting in Warsaw. “It’s bad. Poland is terribly divided, and people are getting discouraged,” she said.

French voters were choosing mayors and municipal councilors in Paris and 5,000 towns and cities in a second round of municipal elections held under strict hygiene rules. Key battlegrounds include Paris, where the next mayor will preside over the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Italy was honoring its dead later Sunday with an evening Requiem concert in hard-hit Bergamo province. The ceremony in the onetime epicenter of the European outbreak came a day after Italy registered the lowest daily tally of COVID-19 deaths in nearly four months: eight.

European leaders were taking no chances in tamping down new clusters. German authorities renewed a lockdown in a western region of about 500,000 people after about 1,300 slaughterhouse workers tested positive. Swiss authorities ordered 300 people into quarantine after a “superspreader” outbreak of coronavirus at a Zurich nightclub.

Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to climb to a new high of more than 371,000, including 9,484 deaths, according to figures released Sunday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Justice Department Issues Warning About Fake Mask Exempt Cards

Jason Slotkin reported that The Department of Justice has issued an alert about a card circulating online falsely claiming that holders are legally exempt from wearing a mask. Public health officials overwhelmingly recommend wearing a mask when going out in public.

Public health experts overwhelmingly agree that one of the best ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to wear a mask. Still, the seemingly straightforward recommendation to secure a covering over one’s nose and mouth has proven one of the pandemic’s more partisan issues.

The Department of Justice is now warning that a card circulating online is falsely claiming its holder is lawfully exempt from wearing a mask.

A recently issued alert by the department is urging the public not to heed information printed on the fraudulent cards, which purport to carry the authority of the “Freedom to Breathe Agency,” which is neither a federal nor a state agency.

The fake card states that wearing a mask will incur mental or physical risk for the holder. The card also posits that the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids raising questions about the health condition aggravated by mask usage. Penalties are threatened if a business owner does not act accordingly.

“If found in violation of the ADA you could face steep penalties. Organizations and businesses can be fined up to $75,000 for your first violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violations. Denying access to your business/organization will be also reported to FTBA for further actions,” the card reads, according to images that have been posted online.

At least some versions of the card appear to bear an official looking Justice Department insignia. In its alert, the department disavowed any role in the card’s creation or dispersal, saying, “These postings were not issued by the Department and are not endorsed by the Department.”

The department also said not to rely on information included on the card and instead to visit the Americans with Disabilities Act website.

It’s unclear how many cards are in circulation, but it appears to have been spread via a Facebook page belonging to a group calling itself the Freedom to Breathe Agency.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been recommending people wear cloth or fabric face coverings since April. Many states and localities have gone on to require or urge their wearing in public — especially in enclosed spaces. Businesses large and small have also adopted the recommendation, requiring both staff and customers to wear them.

Masks have emerged as a major political flashpoint — often in response to stay-at-home orders that state and local governments put in place to slow the outbreak. Despite his own government’s guidance, President Trump has said he will not be wearing a face mask, and protesters in multiple states have been seen without masks as they amassed in defiance at coronavirus restrictions.

In many online videos, staffers at food and retail establishments have been seen contending with customers who refuse to cover their faces.

The CDC — still — recommends wearing a mask when going out in public.

Dr. Saphier on prolonged school and summer camp closures: The mental health effects for kids are real

David Montanaro of Fox NewsFox reported that news medical contributor Dr. NicoleSaphier said Wednesday that the mental health effects on children during the coronavirus shutdowns are a real concern, as many summer camps have declined to open this year.

Speaking on “Fox & Friends,” Saphier said “94 percent of superintendents” across the country are not ready to talk about plans for reopening schools in the fall, raising concerns about the effects on children.

“This conversation is being prompted by surveys out of Italy and China where they reported that children were experiencing anxiety up to 70 percent of the time, saying that they were having feelings of anxiety or difficulty breathing. Those surveys were done from March and April. I would like to see more modern ones or more up-to-date ones. Let me tell you, as a mother having three kids at home, the mental health effects of these shutdowns are real,” she said.

Saphier said she’s concerned that the negative impact on children will be long-lasting if they continue to be kept at home rather than going to school. “Going to school for children is not just the fundamental basics of education. It’s learning conflict resolution, socialization skills and building the very necessary relationships and my biggest concern is that the mental health effects are going to be here to stay,” she said, adding that doctors have learned more about COVID-19, including that children are “significantly less susceptible to illness” and they are less likely to transmit the virus than adults.

“There are smart ways that schools can come together and get those kids back in session.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said last week that there is a “growing awareness” among Americans that kids need to go back to school as soon as possible and plans must be created to do that in a safe way.

In an interview on “America’s Newsroom” with hosts Sandra Smith and Ed Henry, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee pointed out that while kids must be kept safe from coronavirus, both children and their parents are “about up to here with remote learning.” “Any teacher or parent can tell you [about] the emotional [and] the intellectual impact, especially among minority kids,” Alexander told the “Newsroom” hosts.

“I mean, this is a time when we’re all talking a lot about racial injustice and disproportionate effects on low-income and minority kids. The single best thing we can do to help minority children [and] low-income children is to get them back in school. That’s where they learn. That’s where they learn to deal with other children. That’s where many get one meal, sometimes two,” Alexander concluded.

Dr. Fauci says George Floyd protests provide ‘perfect recipe’ for new coronavirus surges

Brie Stimson of Fox News noted that recent protests across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd could lead to new surges in coronavirus cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci  warned Friday.

“It is the perfect set-up for the spread of the virus in the sense of creating some blips which might turn into some surges,” Fauci, a member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, told radio station WTOP-FM in Washington, D.C.

“It is the perfect set-up for the spread of the virus in the sense of creating some blips which might turn into some surges.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci 

His comments came as the U.S. edged closer to 2 million confirmed infections and 110,000 virus-related deaths, and the globe neared 7 million infections and 400,000 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

After months of confinement due to governors’ stay-at-home orders, thousands across the country have taken to the streets for more than a week to protest the police-custody death of Floyd – a black man who succumbed after a white officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25 in Minneapolis.

“As I sat in front of the TV and watched the screen go from Washington, D.C., to New York City, to Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, I got really concerned,” Fauci told the Sunday Times of London. “I was going, ‘Oh my goodness. I hope this doesn’t set us back a lot.’ [After] all of the work in trying to maintain the physical distance and doing all the things, I became very concerned that we might see a resurgence.”

While some in the massive crowds have worn masks, others haven’t — and no one is social distancing, he said.

The protests bring together people from different areas, many of them virus hotspots, Fauci said. The participants then return home and create a “perfect recipe” for a resurgence of the virus.

Chanting and yelling, as people typically do during protests, also increases the risk of spread, he said. “I get very concerned, as do my colleagues in public health, when they see these kinds of crowds,” Fauci said. “There certainly is a risk. I can say that with confidence.”

The only thing public health officials can do is constantly remind people to be careful and always wear a mask, Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told WTOP.

Officials in cities with protests have urged demonstrators to get tested for the virus. Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have set up mobile testing centers for protesters. “It’s a difficult situation. We have the right to peacefully demonstrate and the demonstrators are exercising that right,” Fauci added. “It’s a delicate balance because the reasons for demonstrating are valid and yet the demonstration itself puts oneself at an additional risk.”

Note Well-Arizona’s rules for rationing healthcare in the COVID-19 pandemic should terrify you

Michael Hilzik pointed out a scary fact regarding the rationing of healthcare.  You may think that the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, are frightening enough. But Arizona has just activated a rulebook for rationing hospital care that is truly terrifying.

In brief, the rules allow hospitals to deny critical healthcare resources such as ventilators to patients based on medical judgments about their likelihood of living even five more years despite surviving COVID-19.

In practical terms, that means that on average, older adults are more likely to be denied care than younger persons. Those with medical conditions other than COVID-19 would be more vulnerable to denials than those judged to be healthier, whatever their age.

Health care planning must do everything possible never to need [Crisis Standards of Care].

National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine

Under the rules, doctors making triage judgments that deprive patients of necessary care will be immune from legal liability.

Arizona’s so-called crisis standards of care, or CSC, isn’t unique among the states. But it provides an up-to-the-minute look at the harsh choices facing medical personnel across the country thanks to our unfit and unprepared political leadership, if one can call it leadership at all.

From the federal government down through the states, the vacuum of leadership has exposed millions of Americans to sickness and death while reducing our healthcare system to a patchwork of overwhelmed facilities.

The lack of planning and preparedness is the outstanding failure of the response to the crisis in the United States. That’s the implicit judgment of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

The academies stated in an assessment of crisis standards of care in March that the primary principle was that “health care planning must do everything possible never to need CSC.”

The academies also specified that in the current pandemic, “public trust is essential.” That means that leaders would have to be “proactive, honest, transparent and accountable” when discussing the condition of their healthcare systems and institutions.

Has that happened? The answer obviously is no. President Trump and Republican governors such as Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Florida’s Ron DeSantis have suppressed statistics showing the true rate of infection in their states. Trump’s approach to the crisis has been focused in large part in trying to minimize its impact, even denying its existence.

States other than Arizona have similar rulebooks to be dusted off in a major emergency. Arizona, however, is the only state that has activated its crisis standard of care procedures — so far.

Arizona residents have been among the most resistant to wearing face masks in the coronavirus crisis. (Statista)

“A lot of states actually have activated their crisis standards of care plans,” Cara Christ, director of Arizona’s Department of Health Services, said during a press conference Monday with Ducey. That appears to be untrue. Though most states have prepared a crisis plan, no others have activated it.

Several, however, may be on the verge of doing so, at least regionally, since the surge in cases is placing immense stresses on local capacities. In California, for example, Riverside County’s ICU beds were reported to be 99% occupied over the weekend and Los Angeles County is projecting the possibility of running out of hospital beds in two to three weeks and exhausting its intensive care unit beds sometime in July.

In Imperial County, an agricultural county on the Mexican border where 23% of tests are coming back positive for COVID-19, 500 patients were transferred to adjoining counties to relieve the local pressure, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

California is one of several states ranking as leading hot spots of coronavirus infection, though its statewide test positivity average of 5.9% over the last seven days remains lower than other surging states such as Arizona (24.4%), Florida (15.6%) and Texas (14.1%).

All those states are guilty of having reopened commercial and retail establishments, as well as public facilities such as beaches, too soon — notably before it was clear that they had adequately clamped down on the community spread of the coronavirus.

Newsom has urged Californians to continue social distancing and mask-wearing throughout the crisis; his error was to give local officials too much latitude to decide for themselves when they could reopen their economies. Now Newsom is signaling that such deference may be coming to an end.

Newsom pressured Imperial County into rolling back its reopening, in part by threatening that “the state of California will assert itself and make sure that happens” if officials fail to do so. As my colleague Taryn Luna reports, he also has hinted at statewide orders aimed at imposing anti-virus rules, though he has not been specific.

In other states, governors have been more permissive and even interfered with local officials’ judgments. Until June 17, Ducey forbade cities and counties to impose stricter rules than the state. In practical terms, that prevented them from keeping bars, restaurants and retail establishments closed or requiring residents to wear masks in public.

Ducey relented under pressure from the mayors of Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff and in the face of an undeniable surge in COVID-19 cases.

The politicization of mask-wearing, a fundamental tool to defeat the virus, has hampered America’s response. (Yougov)

Ducey’s indulgent approach to social distancing measures probably contributed to his constituents’ failure to embrace them. Polls taken from late March through the end of April showed that only 30% to 40% of Arizona residents regularly wore face masks in public; in California, New York and New Jersey, the rate was as high as 60%.

Arizona waited until March 30 to issue a stay-at-home policy, long after other states. Ducey lifted the policy early, on May 15.

Ducey joined Trump at an indoor political rally in Phoenix on June 23 at which an estimated 3,000 persons were in attendance, crammed shoulder to shoulder and mostly maskless — even though a week earlier the city had ordered masks to be worn. Ducey wore a mask bearing the Arizona state seal, but Trump was maskless.

Not until Monday did Ducey reimpose anti-virus measures, prohibiting large gatherings, ceasing the issuance of new special event licenses, and closing bars, gyms, movie theaters, waterparks and tubing rentals. His order will remain in effect through the month. He didn’t order masks to be worn in public.

By then, the state already had activated its crisis standards of care, or rationing plan. Let’s take a look.

Like other states’ plans, Arizona’s relies chiefly on a metric known as a SOFA Score, for “sequential organ failure assessment.” The score is based on the condition of six major organ systems: lungs, circulatory, heart, kidney, liver and neurological.

Arizona assigns points to patients according to their SOFA score range, to a maximum of four points for the most severely affected. Then it adds up to four more points for a subjective assessment of a patient’s survivability: two points for those whose death is expected within five years despite successful treatment of COVID-19, and four for those whose death is expected within one year despite successful treatment. Priority for treatment is given to those with lower scores.

The guidelines state that judgments are to be made regardless of “race, ethnicity, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, veteran status, age, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity, quality of life, or any other ethically irrelevant criteria.”

But several of these factors obviously will play into the point system. Black patients on average tend to suffer from more medical conditions than others, in part because their incomes are lower on average and their access to medical care more limited. Older residents also suffer from more health challenges. And how do medical personnel assess a patient’s “quality of life”?

Some of these factors are especially relevant in Arizona, where residents 65 and older constitute 23% of the adult population, above the national average of 20.7%. Florida skews even older, with 25.6% of its adult population 65 and older.

The prospects of subjective judgments creeping into triage judgments is great because the SOFA score itself, despite its apparent objectivity, is an imperfect tool.

The scores are “poor predictors of individual patients’ survival,” the National Academies found in its assessment of crisis standards. That’s especially true for patients suffering acute respiratory failure, one of the key symptoms of COVID-19.

As a result, “these scores are not suitable for excluding patients with acute respiratory failure… from receiving critical care” in the pandemic.

One can’t blame Arizona for implementing a rationing plan aimed at delivering crisis care to those judged most likely to benefit from it. But its leaders can be blamed for allowing the state to reach the point where rationing is deemed necessary. The seeds of its disaster were planted long ago.

Fauci says new mutation of coronavirus spreads quickly: report

Jack Hobbs in the New York Post reported that the country’s top infectious disease expert said Thursday that a more infectious strain of the coronavirus may be emerging.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the claim Thursday in an interview with The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Fauci said research suggests Italy was devastated by a different strain of the coronavirus than the one that originated in Wuhan, China.

The main difference between the two, Fauci said, is that Italy’s version passes from person to person more effectively, making it even more difficult to contain.

“It just seems that the virus replicates better and may be more transmissible,” says Fauci.

The study he references, which was released by researchers affiliated with the Sheffield COVID-19 Genomics Group, states that the new strain “has become the most prevalent form in the global pandemic.”
However, the researchers also found no evidence that this new strain causes worse symptoms than the original.

As of Thursday, The United States had more than 2.7 million confirmed cases, the highest in the world and Dr. Fauci also is warning us that the U.S. could see 100,000 Coronavirus cases a day if this surge continues.

What do we do to protect ourselves and conquer this disease?

And remember to celebrate Independence Day, the Fourth of July! Remember why we celebrate this holiday!

Health care spending hit $3.6 trillion in 2018 due to ACA tax, The GDP and Again My Worry Concerning Rural Hospitals

bus559National spending on health care is rising, fueled in part by the reinstatement of an Affordable Care Act tax on insurers, according to a new federal report.

Total national health expenditures last year increased by 4.6 percent to $3.6 trillion last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said. The U.S. spent about $11.172 per person, and national health care spending accounted for about 17.7 percent of the total U.S. economy last year, compared with 17.9 percent in 2017. It was roughly the same as in 2016.

By household, health care spending, which includes out-of-pocket spending, contributions to private health insurance premiums and contributions to Medicare through payroll taxes and premiums, also grew by 4.4 percent.

Private businesses, meanwhile, shelled out $726.8 billion on health care, a 6.2 percent increase from the year-ago period. Most of that goes toward employers’ contributions for insurance premiums. At 20 percent, it absorbed the second-largest shares of health care spending, preceded only by the federal government and households.

Overall, spending by Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance grew faster because of the health insurance tax; an annual fee on all health insurers intended to help fund the estimated $1 trillion cost of the ACA. Congress suspended the tax in 2017 and 2019. It was expected to raise $14.3 billion in 2018, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“It was responsible for a significant portion of the rise we saw,” Micah Hartman, the report’s lead author, told The Wall Street Journal.

As baby boomers age, the pace of health care spending is only expected to grow. Health care’s share of the economy is projected to climb to 19.4 percent by 2027 from 17.9 percent in 2017, according to a previous CMS study cited by the Journal.

The number of uninsured Americans rose by 1 million for the second year in a row to 30.7 million in 2018. The rate of people without health insurance held steady under 10 percent.

The report could draw the ire of Democrats, who have criticized the Trump administration for its attacks on the ACA. The future of the Obama-era health law is in limbo as a panel of three federal appeals court judges weighs whether it’s unconstitutional after Republicans stripped it of the individual mandate in 2017.

Rare Dip in Healthcare’s Share of GDP in 2018

CMS report shows growth in spending on physician services fell slightly

Joyce Frieden, the News Editor of the MedPage points out that overall U.S.healthcare spending increased by 4.6% in 2018 — higher than the 4.2% growth in 2017, but still representing a slight drop in healthcare’s percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said Thursday.

The increase left the U.S. with health spending of $3.6 trillion in 2018, or $11,172 per person. Some of the spending increase was attributed to growth in private health insurance and Medicare spending due to collection of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance tax — postponed from 2017 — which raised $14.3 billion in 2018, said Micah Hartman, a statistician in CMS’s Office of the Actuary, during a press briefing hosted by Health Affairs. (The figure for the tax revenue came from the Internal Revenue Service, not CMS.) Other growth drivers included faster growth in healthcare prices. Because the overall economy’s 5.4% growth in 2018 outpaced healthcare spending, the percentage of GDP spent on healthcare dropped slightly, from 17.9% in 2017 to 17.7% in 2018, Hartman said.

Paul Hughes-Cromwick, MA, co-director of Sustainable Health Spending Strategies at Altarum, a healthcare consulting firm here, said in an email that he found the decrease in percentage of GDP “encouraging,” but added that “we can safely predict that this will return to near 18% in 2019 with mildly accelerating health spending and weakening GDP growth.” And “despite all the talk and support for social determinants of health (SDOH) across the political spectrum, government public health activities only grew at 2.4%, the second slowest in the past 7 years (though it is expected that much SDOH activity lies outside formal public health spending).”

Jamie Hall, a research fellow in quantitative analysis at the Heritage Foundation here, said in a phone interview that the decrease in the percentage of GDP “is the first time that’s happened since before Obamacare. So it’s a good sign that some of the Trump administration policies that are oriented toward containing costs are having an effect” — things like short-term, limited-duration insurance policies and efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. “We’re sort of more at equilibrium and it’s somewhat more of a stable system at this point,” he said.

Growth in Spending on Physicians Declines

Spending on physician care and other clinical services increased by 4.1% in 2018, down from 4.7% the year before. This was due in part to slower growth in private health insurance, Medicaid, and “residual use and intensity” — the number and intensity of clinician visits — and was not offset by faster growth in healthcare prices, said Aaron Catlin, deputy director in the Office of the Actuary.

Healthcare prices are accelerating from an all-time low measured in 2015, Hughes-Cromwick noted. “If health care price growth returns to a historical pattern, i.e., significantly higher than economy-wide inflation, healthcare spending will definitely accelerate,” consistent with CMS’s long-run projections, he said.

The percentage of uninsured Americans grew by one million people, from 29.7 million to 30.7 million, according to CMS; that was on top of a previous one-million-person increase from 28.7 million in 2016. “We can’t track individuals, so we can’t say where those people came from and the status of their coverage before and after becoming uninsured … but we do show decreases in private health insurance and reductions in other directly purchased insurance,” said Catlin.

This increase in the uninsured “is a huge issue,” said Dan Mendelson, founder and former CEO of Avalere, a healthcare consulting firm here, in a phone interview. “The numbers are on an upward march and it will be a major electoral issue going into 2020.”

But Hall said the uninsured numbers were “quite misleading.” “Of the folks officially considered uninsured, the overwhelming majority of these folks have access to some type of coverage but have chosen not to enroll,” he said. “It’s important that folks not equate a lack of insurance with lack of access to coverage or lack of access to care.”

Private Insurance Enrollment Down

Private health insurance enrollment declined by 1.6 million people, with the drop coming primarily from those enrolled in private plans outside the ACA’s health insurance marketplaces, said Anne Martin, an economist in the Office of the Actuary. The number of enrollees who purchased employer-sponsored health insurance also fell slightly, from 175.6 million to 175.2 million. Medicare enrollment, on the other hand, grew from 57.2 million in 2017 to 58.7 million in 2018, while Medicaid enrollment also rose slightly during the same time period, from 72.1 million to 72.8 million.

Despite the enrollment drop, spending on private health insurance grew by 5.8%, to $1.2 trillion, up from 4.9% the prior year, Martin continued. “The most significant factor in insurance spending was the increase in the net cost of health insurance, which was influenced by the health insurance tax.”

Retail prescription drug spending rose by 2.5% in 2018, to $335 billion, up from a 1.4% increase in 2017. “This faster rate of growth was driven by non-price factors, such as the use and mix of drugs consumed, which more than offset a decline of 1% in prices for retail prescription drugs,” the agency said in a press release. This spending category does not take into account spending on physician-administered drugs or drugs administered in the hospital.

Home Healthcare Spending Up

“The fact that drug spending at the pharmacy is attenuating is a big deal, and it appears to be a combination of the mix of drugs being used,” Mendelson said. “It shows that consumers are using drugs more efficiently, which is good news. I think that change of behavior has been happening for quite some time; it’s durable and it’s a positive effect.”

However, he added, “The other thing is that healthcare costs are still rising much more rapidly than wages, and what it shows is that while costs have attenuated, the fact that they’re still rising faster than wages is squeezing consumers significantly … The fact we’re seeing macro[-level] progress doesn’t help the patient who is facing a $5,000 deductible and trying to figure out how to pay for their healthcare.”

In terms of personal healthcare spending, some of the largest increases were in-home healthcare (up 5.2%), durable medical equipment (up 4.7%), and dental services (up 4.6%). Spending on hospital care in 2018 rose 4.5% to $1.2 trillion, down slightly from a 4.7% increase the year before. The slower growth was attributed to a decrease in out-of-pocket hospital spending growth, decreased residual use and intensity, a slowing in inpatient days in hospitals, and a drop in the growth of hospital spending by the Defense Department.

Overall, 33% of healthcare expenditures in 2018 went for hospital care, 20% went for physician care and other clinician services, 13% to other services, 9% to retail prescription drugs, 8% to government administration and net cost of health insurance, and 5% to nursing care and continuing care retirement communities, according to the agency.

Sally Pipes: Sanders, Warren wants ‘Medicare-for-all’ like Canada – But Canadian health care is awful

Sally Pipes of the Fox News reported that the Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want you to believe Canada’s health care system is a dream come true. And they want to make the dream even better with their “Medicare-for-all” plans. Don’t believe them.

In truth, Canada’s system of socialized medicine is actually a nightmare. It has left hospitals overcrowded, understaffed and unable to treat some patients. Americans would face the same dismal reality if Canadian-style “Medicare-for-all” takes root here.

Canada’s health care system is the model for the “Medicare-for-all” plan that both Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren, D-Mass., embrace.

North of the border, all residents have taxpayer-funded, comprehensive health coverage. In theory, they can walk into any hospital or doctor’s office and get the care they need, without a co-pay or deductible.

Sanders and Warren would one-up Canada by providing all Americans with free prescription drugs, free long-term care, free dental care, free vision care, and free care for people with hearing problems.

Who could possibly object to all that free care?

Well, politicians in Canada object. They say even their country can’t do what Sanders and Warren want because all this free care would cost too much and cause other problems.

But for Sanders and Warren, money is no object. They can just raise taxes as higher and higher and higher. And the huge tax increases needed to fund “Medicare-for-all” would hit us all – there aren’t enough millionaires and billionaires to foot the bill.

It’s true that everyone in Canada has health coverage. But that coverage doesn’t always secure care. According to the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think tank, patients waited a median of nearly 20 weeks to receive specialist treatment after referral by a general practitioner in 2018. That’s more than double the wait patients faced 25 years ago.

In Nova Scotia, patients faced a median total wait time of 34 weeks. More than 6 percent of the province’s population was waiting for treatment in 2018.

Waiting for care is perhaps better than not being able to seek it at all. The hospital emergency department in Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia recently announced that it would simply close on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There aren’t enough doctors available to staff the facility.

Canadians can’t escape waits like these unless they leave the country and payout of pocket for health care abroad. Private health insurance is illegal in Canada.

Private clinics in Canada are not allowed to charge patients for “medically necessary” services that the country’s single-payer plan covers. And the government has deemed just about every conceivable service “medically necessary.”

For the past decade, Dr. Brian Day, an orthopedic surgeon who runs the private Cambie Surgery Centre in British Columbia, has tried to offer Canadians a way out of the waits by expanding patient access to private clinics. He’s been battling his home province in court for a decade to essentially grant patients the ability to pay providers directly for speedier care.

During closing arguments in Day’s trial before the British Columbia Supreme Court at the end of November, Dr. Roland Orfaly of the British Columbia Anesthesiologists’ Society testified that over 300 patients in the province died waiting for surgery from 2015 to 2016 because of a shortage of anesthesiologists. And that was in just one of the province’s five regional health authorities!

Shortages of crucial medical personnel and equipment are common throughout Canada. The country has fewer than three doctors for every 1,000 residents. That puts it 26th among 28 countries with universal health coverage schemes. If current trends continue, the country will be short 60,000 full-time nurses in just three years.

In 2018, Canada had less than 16 CT scanners for every million people. The United States, by comparison, had nearly 45 per million.

These shortages, combined with long waits, can lead to incredible suffering.

In 2017, one British Columbia woman who was struggling to breathe sought treatment in an overcrowded emergency room. She was given a shot of morphine and sent home. She died two days later.

That same year, a Halifax, Nova Scotia, man dying of pancreatic cancer was left in a cold hallway for six hours when doctors couldn’t find him a bed. Yes, people must sometimes be treated on hallway floors because of severe overcrowding.

In fact, some Canadian hospital emergency rooms look like they belong in poverty-stricken Third World countries.
WBUR Radio, Boston’s NPR station, documented these terrible conditions in a story about a hospital in Nova Scotia earlier this month.

Americans who find the promise of free health care difficult to resist would do well to take a hard look north.

Sure, “Medicare-for-all” as pitched by Sanders and Warren sounds good. But the reality is far from what these two far-left candidates are promising. Like a drug that helps you in one way but causes even more serious problems, “Medicare-for-all” has dangerous side effects that can be hazardous to your health.

Rural hospital acquisitions may reduce patient services

I have already discussed the outcome of Medicare for All on physicians and especially rural hospitals. Beware, especially when we hear of what is happening already! Last week it was reported that one of the hospital systems in Chicago fired 15 physicians and hired NP’s/nurse practitioners to take over their patient care responsibilities.

Also, Carolyn Crist of Reuters noted that although hospitals can improve financially when they join larger health systems, the merger might also reduce access to services for patients in rural areas, according to a new study.

After an affiliation, rural hospitals are more likely to lose onsite imaging and obstetric and primary care services, researchers report in a special issue of the journal Health Affairs devoted to rural health issues in the United States.

“The major concern when you think about health and healthcare in rural America is access,” said lead study author Claire O’Hanlon of the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.

More than 100 rural hospitals in the U.S. have closed since 2010, the study authors write.

“Hospitals in rural areas are struggling to stay open for a lot of different reasons, but many are looking to health-system affiliation as a way to keep the doors open,” she told Reuters Health by email. “But when you give up local control of your hospital to a health system, a lot of things can change that may or may not be good for the hospital or its patients.”

Using annual surveys by the American Hospital Association, O’Hanlon and colleagues compared 306 rural hospitals that affiliated during 2008-2017 with 994 nonaffiliated rural hospitals on 12 measures, including quality, service utilization, and financial performance. The study team also looked at the emergency department and nonemergency visits, long-term debt, operating margins, patient experience scores, and hospital readmissions.

They found that rural hospitals that affiliated had a significant reduction in outpatient non-emergency visits, onsite diagnostic imaging technologies such as MRI machines, and availability of obstetric and primary care services. For instance, obstetric services dropped by 7-14% annually in the five years following affiliation.

“Does this mean that patients are getting prenatal care in their community at a different location, traveling to receive prenatal care at another location of the same health system, or forgoing this care entirely?” O’Hanlon said. “Trying to figure out the extent to which the observed changes in the services available onsite at rural hospitals reflect real changes in patient access is an important next step.”

At the same time, the affiliated hospitals also experienced an increase in operating margins, from an average baseline of -1.6%, typical increases were 1.6 to 3.6 percentage points, the authors note. The better financial performance appeared to be driven largely by decreased operating costs.

Overall, patient experience scores, long-term debt ratios, hospital readmissions, and emergency department visits were similar for affiliating and non-affiliating hospitals.

“Research on these mergers has been mixed, with some suggestions they are beneficial for the community (access to capital, more specialty services, keep the hospital open) and other evidence that there are costs (employment reductions, loss of local control, increase in prices),” said Mark Holmes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Mergers can have a large impact on a community, so understanding the effect on the resultant access, cost and quality of locally available services is important,” he told Reuters Health by email.

A limitation of the study is that the surveys capture affiliation broadly and don’t specifically describe the arrangements, the study authors’ note. Future studies should investigate the different types of affiliations, such as a full acquisition versus a clinically integrated hospital network, which may show different outcomes, said Rachel Mosher Henke of IBM Watson Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

For instance, certain types of rural hospital affiliations may be better for the community than a full hospital closure, she said.

“However, it’s important to evaluate the potential for negative consequences for the community in terms of reduced service offerings,” she told Reuters Health by email. “New payment models such as all-payer global payments that allow rural hospitals to continue to operate independently with consistent cash flow may be an alternative to affiliation to consider.” But it may not fix the impossible especially if the system pays all at Medicare or Medicaid rates?

Next is to discuss the basis of single-payer healthcare systems and look who is back trying to hold his lead in the Democratic-run for President a guy who can’t even remember where he is, dates, or where he is going, Joe Biden!!!

 

Waiting to Be Saved: A Health Care Fairy Tale and Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick and is Health Insurance Affordable?

17308963_1134320833364241_8656274778864181034_nLindsey Woodworth of the National Interest recently noted that the wait times in emergency rooms are so out of control that researchers recently tested whether aromatherapy would make waiting in the ER more tolerable.

It didn’t.

Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine offered an ominous warning: “Underneath the surface, a national crisis in emergency care has been brewing and is now beginning to come into full view.”

Now the view is quite clear. ERs are packed and wait times are growing longer each year. In fact, even if you’re having a heart attack, you may have to wait to get to the doctor.

The problem is, patients get sicker the longer they wait.

Oh, by the way, sicker patients cost more to care for.

I am an economist at the University of South Carolina. In a new study, I analyzed how ER wait times affect health care costs. I found that a 10-minute increase in ER wait time among the most critical patients will increase the hospital’s cost to care for the patient by an average of 6%. Some critical patients are currently waiting close to an hour, according to my study.

Costs grow a little more slowly among patients who begin their wait in a better condition.

An intriguing relationship

Health care costs are an issue of national concern. Presidential candidates have focused on health care reform as a major issue in the 2020 presidential election.

One complication in lowering health care costs, however, is that reductions in health care spending could compromise patient outcomes – spend less on health care, and you might very well jeopardize health.

Yet, this is exactly what makes the finding that ER wait times exacerbate costs so intriguing. It suggests that targeting ER wait times could both improve patient outcomes and lower the cost of care. A double win like this hardly ever occurs in health care.

Longer wait = higher costs

One major challenge in measuring the effect of ER wait times on costs is that ERs prioritize sicker patients. This means that relatively healthy patients have longer waits. The sickest patient in the ER will always get treated first. A lot of resources will probably get poured into this patient, making his costs quite high. On the other hand, a patient who arrives at the ER with a splinter will wait in the ER for hours. Treating this patient will be super cheap.

This creates a persistent correlation between long waits and low costs. On the surface, this correlation can deceptively send the signal that longer ER wait times reduce health care costs.

To uncover the real effect of ER wait times on costs, I needed to use a “trick” in my research to untangle the mess. The “trick” I used was to leverage something in the ER that slightly bumps patients’ wait times but has nothing to do with their health at their time of arrival. Triage nurses provided the answer.

These nurses are the people who determine the order in which patients are seen. Yet, because triage nurses are not robots, they sometimes differ in terms of their judgments. This means that some triage nurses are “tougher” than others – at least “tougher” in the sense that they’ll look at a problem and not see it as quite so urgent. This causes their patients to have longer wait times, on average.

It is effectively a coin toss whether a patient will get a tough triage nurse, so the patients who get a tough triage nurse look remarkably similar to the patients who do not, in terms of their health at arrival. Yet, the patients who get a tough triage nurse have to wait in the ER longer.

The study revealed that the patients who had longer wait times only because they coincidentally got a tough triage nurse had higher health care costs by the end of their visits. In other words, longer ER wait times cause health care costs to go up.

Why? It seems that patients’ health deteriorates the longer they wait. Therefore, by the time they get to the doctor, it takes more resources to get their health up to speed.

What’s the treatment?

How might ER wait times be reduced and costs lowered?

Fixing ER wait times will require taking a step out of the emergency room and looking at the whole health care system.

Drs. Arthur L. Kellermann and Ricardo Martinez recently wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine: “The quickest way to assess the strength of a community’s public health, primary care, and hospital systems is to spend a few hours in the emergency department.”

ER overcrowding often occurs when people are blocked from care elsewhere. For instance, when people with Medicaid are unable to find primary care physicians who accept their insurance, they often resort to ERs instead.

Another contributor to ER overcrowding is a recent shift in how patients are admitted to hospitals. It used to be that primary care physicians directly admitted their sick patients to the hospital if inpatient care was required. Now, many first recommend that their patients go first to the emergency room.

Inpatient wards inside hospitals can also contribute to ER overcrowding. Often inpatient wards get filled with high-paying, elective-case patients. These patients take up valuable bed space, leaving little room for ER patients who need to be hospitalized. As a result, the ER patients who have already been seen by the ER doctor end up staying in the ER waiting for an inpatient bed to become available. This practice of “ER boarding” generates a log jam inside the emergency room. Patient volumes balloon and the overcrowding prolongs all patients’ waits.

Growth in ER wait times shows no sign of slowing. Therefore, policymakers should consider system-level changes that would take the pressure off of ERs. It is time to turn the tide on ER wait times given their impact on both patient outcomes and the overall cost of care.

Why Most Americans Can’t Afford to Get Sick

Simon F. Haeder reviewed the financial costs of health care finding that Americans are being bankrupted by the costs of providing health care. Medical bankruptcy has been a talking point for many Democratic candidates as they make their individual cases for health care reform. This begs a few questions about how widespread these bankruptcies are and what causes them.

  1. How big a problem is medical bankruptcy?

Medical bankruptcy, which refers to situations where individuals were forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills, loss of income due to sickness or accident, or both, is widespread in the U.S.

While the exact contribution of medical bills to the number of bankruptcies is difficult to determine, one important study prior to the Affordable Care Act found that medical debt was the single biggest contributor to bankruptcies for well over 60% of Americans. Even today, while the overall number of bankruptcies has been cut in half over the last decade to roughly 750,000 in 2018, a recent study indicated that two-thirds of bankruptcies are connected to medical bills.

It is interesting to note that the concept of medical bankruptcy is entirely alien to Europeans.

  1. How did the Affordable Care Act help?

Individuals have gained coverage via the Medicaid expansion, their parents’ insurance or the insurance marketplaces. Moreover, other ACA insurance regulations have added protections for all Americans with insurance.

  1. Who’s still vulnerable?

Close to 30 million Americans remain uninsured. While a significant number are eligible for varying degrees of public support, the refusal by many states to expand their Medicaid programs creates challenges. It is important to note that while the ACA expanded coverage to millions, it did little to reign in the biggest contributor to medical bankruptcy: high medical costs.

Even Americans with insurance are not immune to the specter of medical bills. While the ACA limited deductibles and out-of-pocket payments, many insurance plans still require consumers to pay tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Similarly, many Americans may incur bills ranging in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from so-called surprise bills. Inaccurate provider directories can compound these problems, misleading patients to believe they seek care from a provider in their network.

Finally, evidence from ACA and commercial plans, as well as Medicare Advantage, has highlighted problems with regard to “artificial local provider deserts,” situations in which providers are located in the area but excluded from the network. These situations might force patients into seeking costly out-of-network carefully aware of the potential financial consequences.

  1. How do concerns about medical costs affect Americans beyond medical bankruptcy?

Half of Americans have less than US$1,000 in savings. This lack of financial security has implications for how Americans access medical care. A study found that costs have kept 64% of Americans from seeking medical care. Millions of Americans are skipping their medications for the same reason. Avoiding needed medical care often has implications for people’s health and well-being. Of course, it may also ultimately force them to seek care in more expensive settings, like emergency departments or at advanced stages of the disease.

New medical bankruptcy study: Two-thirds of filers cite illness and medical bills as contributors to financial ruin

Physicians for a National Health Program looked at the contributors to financial ruin and found that medical problems contributed to 66.5% of all bankruptcies, a figure that is virtually unchanged since before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a study published yesterday as an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health. The findings indicate that 530,000 families suffer bankruptcies each year that are linked to illness or medical bills.

The study carried out by a team of two doctors, two lawyers, and a sociologist from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP), surveyed a random sample of 910 Americans who filed for personal bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016, and abstracted the court records of their bankruptcy filings. The study, which is one component of the CBP’s ongoing bankruptcy research, provides the only national data on medical contributors to bankruptcy since the 2010 passage of the ACA. Bankruptcy debtors reported that medical bills contributed to 58.5% of bankruptcies, while illness-related income loss contributed to 44.3%; many debtors cited both of these medical issues.

These figures are similar to findings from the CBP’s medical bankruptcy surveys in 2001 and 2007, which were authored by three researchers in the current study (Himmelstein, Thorne, and Woolhandler), and then-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren. As in those earlier studies, many debtors cited multiple contributors to their financial woes.

The current study found no evidence that the ACA reduced the proportion of bankruptcies driven by medical problems: 65.5% of debtors cited a medical contributor to their bankruptcy in the period prior to the ACA’s implementation as compared to 67.5% in the three years after the law came into effect. The responses also did not differ depending on whether the respondent resided in a state that had accepted ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The researchers noted that bankruptcy is most common among middle-class Americans, who have faced increasing copayments and deductibles in recent years despite the ACA. The poor, who were most helped by the ACA, less frequently seek formal bankruptcy relief because they have few assets (such as a home) to protect and face particular difficulty in securing the legal help needed to navigate formal bankruptcy proceedings.

Relative to other bankruptcy filers, people who identified a medical contributor were in worse health and were two to three times more likely to skip needed medical care and medications.

Dr. David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study, a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Hunter College and Lecturer at Harvard Medical School commented: “Unless you’re Bill Gates, you’re just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments, and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss—just when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain.”

In the article, the authors note that “medical bills frequently cause financial hardship, and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that they were by far the most common cause of unpaid bills sent to collection agencies in 2014, accounting for more than half of all such debts.”

The study’s senior author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an internist in the South Bronx, Distinguished Professor at CUNY/Hunter College and Lecturer in Medicine at Harvard commented: “The ACA was a step forward, but 29 million remain uncovered, and the epidemic of under-insurance is out of control. We need to move ahead from the ACA to a single-payer, Medicare for All system that assures first-dollar coverage for everyone. But the Trump administration and Republicans in several states are taking us in reverse: cutting Medicaid, threatening to gut protections for the more than 61 million Americans with pre-existing conditions, and allowing insurers to peddle stripped-down policies that offer no real protection.”

Study co-author Robert M. Lawless, the Max L. Rowe Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law noted: “In the Supreme Court’s words, bankruptcy is a fresh start for the ‘honest but unfortunate debtor.’ Our study shows that for many bankruptcy debtors, the misfortune continues to come from the way we pay for health care. Bankruptcy may provide a fresh start, but it comes at a high financial and emotional cost for those who file. Filing for bankruptcy can stop the financial bleeding that the health care system imposes, but curing that system’s ills is the only lasting solution.”

Health insurance is becoming more unaffordable for Americans

Megan Henny of FOX Business pointed out that Americans who receive health insurance through their employers are finding it increasingly unaffordable, as out-of-pocket costs continue to outpace wage growth, according to a new study.

Over the past decade, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles grew quicker than the median income in every single state, according to a study released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for expanded health insurance coverage.

Last year, on average, middle-income workers spent 6.8 percent of their income on employer premium contributions, or fixed costs they pay every month. Deductibles, which you pay before your health insurance kicks in, accounted for 4.7 percent of median income on average.

That number is even higher in some states, however. In nine states — Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Texas — premium contributions accounted for 8 percent or more of median income, reaching a high of 10 percent in Louisiana.

In Louisiana, on average, employees pay more than $5,000 in premiums. The state’s median household income is $46,145.

Workers in the majority of states put between 6 to 8 percent of median household income toward premiums, although in thirteen states — Alaska, Washington, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire — workers paid as little as 4.1 percent.

Worse for workers is that despite the high premiums, they’re still “potentially exposed to high out-of-pocket costs because of large deductibles,” the study said.

Last year, the average deductible for single-person coverage plans was $1,846, with average deductibles ranging from $1,308 in Washington, D.C., to $2,447 in Maine. Across the country, average deductibles compared to median income were more than 5 percent in 18 states, but ranged as high as 6.7 percent in Mississippi.

In 2018, the combined cost of premiums and deductibles exceeded 10 percent of median income in 42 states, compared to seven states in 2008. That means people could spend more than 16 percent of their incomes on premiums and deductibles in Mississippi, which has the second-lowest median income in the U.S., compared to an average cost burden of 8.4 percent in Massachusetts, which has a median income among the nation’s highest.

“Higher costs for insurance and health care have consequences,” the study said. “People with low and moderate incomes may decide to go without insurance if it competes with other critical living expenses like housing and food.”

So, in the midst of all this discussion of Medicare for All and modifications of the Affordable Care Act/ Obamacare the question is, is a single-payer health care system the answer and how is it created, managed and financed?

 

Again, Democrats Spar at Debate Over Health Care, How to Beat Trump and Could Medicare for All Really Go Horribly Wrong?

 

deal549[5953]Was there anything different about last week’s Democratic debate? Bill Barrow, Will Weissert and Jill Colvin reported that the Democratic presidential candidates clashed in a debate over the future of health care in America, racial inequality and their ability to build a winning coalition to take on President Donald Trump next year.
The Wednesday night faceoff came after hours of testimony in the impeachment inquiry of Trump and at a critical juncture in the Democratic race to run against him in 2020. With less than three months before the first voting contests, big questions hang over the front-runners, time is running out for lower tier candidates to make their move and new Democrats are launching improbable last-minute bids for the nomination.
But amid the turbulence, the White House hopefuls often found themselves fighting on well-trodden terrain, particularly over whether the party should embrace a sweeping “Medicare for All” program or make more modest changes to the current health care system.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the field’s most progressive voices, staunchly defended Medicare for All, which would eliminate private insurance coverage in favor of a government-run system.
“The American people understand that the current health care system is not only cruel — it is dysfunctional,” Sanders said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden countered that many people are happy with private insurance through their jobs, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, complained about other candidates seeking to take “the divisive step” of ordering people onto universal health care, “whether they like it or not.”
Democrats successfully campaigned on health care last year, winning control of the House on a message that Republicans were slashing existing benefits. But moderates worry that Medicare for All is more complicated and may not pay the same political dividend. That’s especially true after Democrats won elections earlier this month in Kentucky and Virginia without embracing the program.
“We must get our fired-up Democratic base with us,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “But let’s also get those independents and moderate Republicans who cannot stomach (Trump) anymore.”
The fifth Democratic debate unfolded in Atlanta, a city that played a central role in the civil rights movement, and the party’s diversity, including two African American candidates, was on display. But there was disagreement on how best to appeal to minority voters, who are vital to winning the Democratic nomination and will be crucial in the general election.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey said the party has sometimes come up short in its outreach to black Americans.
“For too long, I think, candidates have taken for granted constituencies that have been a backbone of the Democratic Party,” Harris said. “You show up in a black church and want to get the vote but just haven’t been there before.”
Booker declared, “Black voters are pissed off, and they’re worried.”
In the moderators’ chairs were four women, including Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s liberal darling, and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post. It was only the third time a primary debate has been hosted by an all-female panel.
Buttigieg — who was a natural target given his recent rise in the polls to join Biden, Warren and Sanders among the crowded field’s front-runners — was asked early about how being mayor of a city of 100,000 residents qualified him for the White House.
“I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small,” Buttigieg said. “But frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small.”
Klobuchar argued that she has more experience enacting legislation and suggested that women in politics are held to a higher standard.
“Otherwise we could play a game called ‘Name your favorite woman president,’ which we can’t do because it has all been men,” she said.
Another memorable exchange occurred when Biden — who didn’t face any real attacks from his rivals — was asked about curbing violence against women and responded awkwardly.
“We have to just change the culture,” he said. “And keep punching at it. And punching at it. And punching at it.”
Harris scrapped with another low polling candidate: Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has criticized prominent Democrats, including 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.
“I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on the stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.
“I’m not going to put party interests first,” Gabbard responded.
But the discussion kept finding its way back to Medicare for All, which has dominated the primary — especially for Warren. She released plans to raise $20-plus trillion in new government revenue for universal health care. But she also said implementation of the program may take three years — drawing criticism both from moderates like Biden and Buttigieg, who think she’s trying to distance herself from an unpopular idea, and Sanders supporters, who see the Massachusetts senator’s commitment to Medicare for All wavering.
Sanders made a point of saying Wednesday that he’d send Medicare for All legislation to Congress during the first week of his administration.
Booker faced especially intense pressure Wednesday since he’s yet to meet the Democratic National Committee’s polling requirements for the December debate in California. He spent several minutes arguing with Warren about the need to more appropriately tax the wealthy, but also called for “building wealth” among people of color and other marginalized communities.
“We’ve got to start empowering people,” Booker said.
Businessman Andrew Yang was asked what he would say to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he got the chance — and joked about that leader’s cordial relationship with Trump.
“First of all, I’d say I’m sorry I beat your guy,” Yang said with a grin, drawing howls of laughter from the audience.
Is Warren retreating on Medicare-for-all?
Almost one week before the fifth Democratic presidential debate, Elizabeth Warren released the latest plan in her slew of policy proposals: An outline detailing how, if elected, she would gradually shift the U.S. toward a single-payer health care system.
“I have put out a plan to fully finance Medicare for All when it’s up and running without raising taxes on the middle class by one penny,” the Massachusetts senator wrote in a post introducing the plan. “But how do we get there? Every serious proposal for Medicare for All contemplates a significant transition period.”
It was a marked shift from her previous calls to quickly bring the country toward Medicare-for-all and, notably, included similar tenets laid out in the health care proposals of more moderate candidates, like former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
In the transition plan, Warren said she would take several steps in her first 100 days in office to expand insurance coverage, like pushing to pass a bill that would allow all Americans to either buy into a government-run program if they wanted, or keep their private insurance. It would extend free coverage to about half of the country, including children and poor families. She would also lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 50 and let young people buy into a “true Medicare-for-all” option.
“Combining the parts into a whole reveals a bit of a mess,” wrote David Dayen of The American Prospect, a progressive magazine. “After putting forward a comprehensive cost control and financing bill, Warren split that apart and asked people to accept two bruising fights to get to her purported end goal. It’s reasonable for people to see that as a bait and switch.”
Rivals portrayed the move as a retreat from one of her most high-profile positions on an issue that voters repeatedly rank as one of the most important. A campaign spokesperson for Biden called the senator’s health stance “problematic,” while Buttigieg’s spokeswoman Lis Smith criticized the latest measure as a “transparently political attempt to paper over a very serious policy problem.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has wholeheartedly pledged to fight for a single-payer health system, took a swipe at Warren when accepting an endorsement on Friday from the largest nurses’ union in the country.
“Some people say we should delay that fight for a few more years — I don’t think so,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “We are ready to take them on right now, and we’re going to take them on Day One.”
The similarities come as Warren, who experienced a somewhat momentous surge in the polls, has begun to falter. In early October, her national polling climbed to 28 percent, according to a Fox News poll, but since then, her numbers have steadily declined. In the latest Iowa poll, Buttigieg pulled ahead of Warren by a staggering nine percentage points, indicating the 37-year-old could be a serious contender.
The timing of the seeming loss of campaign momentum appears to be tied to the release of her sweeping Medicare-for-all proposal at the beginning of November. Warren said it could be paid for with a series of taxes, largely via new levies on Wall Street and the ultra-wealthy (and, she’s repeatedly stressed, none on the middle class).
According to a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report, while universal coverage is popular with a majority of Democratic voters, almost two-thirds of voters in key swing states said a national health plan in which all Americans receive their health coverage through a single-payer system was not a good idea.
It also precludes the start of the next debate in Georgia, during which Warren will very likely face fierce criticism and scrutiny over her $20 trillion Medicare-for-all plan and remember the cost is really closer to$52-$72 trillion>
Still, Warren told reporters over the weekend that “my commitment to Medicare for All is all the way,” according to The Associated Press.
And Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat who introduced the House version of the Medicare-for-all bill, called the plan a “smart approach to take on Big Pharma & private-for-profit insurance companies.”
Medicare for All’s thorniest issue is how much to pay doctors and hospitals. Any new system could become a convoluted mess if it goes wrong.
Earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren unveiled her $20.5 trillion package to finance Medicare for All, a system that would provide comprehensive health insurance to every American and virtually erase private insurance.
If its details are made reality, it would be nothing short of a sweeping transformation of the way Americans receive and pay for their medical care.
The proposal attempts to address one of the thorniest problems that any candidate pushing for a single-payer system in the US faces: how much to pay doctors and hospitals.
Dismantling the current payment structure and replacing it with another would likely require some tough trade-offs, experts say, creating winners and losers when the dust settles.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently unveiled details of her Medicare for All health plan, a system that would provide comprehensive health coverage to every American and virtually erase private insurance.
If its details are made reality, it would be a sweeping transformation in the way Americans get and pay for their medical care. Its the only financing model for universal coverage that a Democratic presidential candidate has rolled out in the primary so far.
It attempts to address one of the thorniest problems any candidate pushing for a single-payer system in the US faces: how much to pay the country’s doctors and hospitals. Pay them too little, and you risk wreaking havoc on their bottom line — and possibly forcing a wave of hospital closures as some critics have warned. Pay them too much, and it becomes much more expensive to finance care for everybody.
“The challenge is that when you expand Medicare to new populations, they’re going to use more healthcare,” Katherine Baicker, a health policy expert who serves as the dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, told Business Insider. “But that means there is going to be a substantial increase in demand for healthcare at the same time that you’re potentially cutting payments to providers.”
Warren has proposed big cuts in payments to many hospitals and doctors in her $20.5 trillion package to bring universal healthcare to the United States. Single-payer advocates argue that eliminating private insurance would lower administrative burdens on doctors and hospitals, freeing them up to treat more insured patients.
Several outside analyses of Medicare for All proposals suggest it can lead to considerable savings through negotiation of lower prices and reduced administrative spending.
The cuts in Warren’s plan are steep, because private insurers currently pay around twice as much as Medicare does for hospital care, according to research from the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Warren’s reform blueprint sets them in line with the Medicare program. Doctors would be paid at the Medicare level while hospitals would be reimbursed at 110% of Medicare’s rate.
‘A recipe for shortages’
As a result, those rates would lower doctor pay by around 6.5%, according to an estimate from economists who analyzed the Warren plan. For hospitals, who are used to bigger payments from private insurers, the payments under Warren’s plan would be roughly enough to cover the cost of care, the economists said.
Baicker says the healthcare system may not be prepared to meet the rapid rise in demand, especially if payments fall at the same time.
“You’re going to see people wanting more services at the same time you pay providers less, and that’s a recipe for shortages unless something else changes,” she said.
That echoes a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released in May. It found that setting payments in line with Medicare would “substantially” lower the average amount of money providers currently receive. “Such a reduction in provider payment rates would probably reduce the amount of care supplied and could also reduce the quality of care,” the CBO report said.
Business Insider reached out to the five largest hospital systems to ask the possible effects of lowering payment rates to Medicare levels and whether they would be prepared to weather the transition.
Only one responded: the 92-hospital Trinity Health System based in Michigan.
“Trinity Health supports policies that advance access to affordable health care coverage for all, payment models that improve health outcomes and accelerate transformation, and initiatives that enhance community health and well-being,” spokeswoman Eve Pidgeon told Business Insider.
Pidgeon said that Trinity Health welcomes the dialogue around “critical questions” of financing and access to coverage, and would “analyze Medicare for All proposals as more details emerge.”
The healthcare industry generally opposes Medicare for All
“Trinity Health has a rich tradition of honoring the voices of the communities we serve, and we will continue to dialogue around policy proposals designed to improve affordability, quality and access for all,” Pidgeon said.
The healthcare industry generally opposes Medicare for All, arguing that it would lead to hospital closures and hurt the overall quality of care for Americans.
The American Hospital Association is staunchly against it. In a statement to Business Insider, executive vice president Tom Nickels called it “a one-size -fits-all approach” that “could disrupt coverage for more than 180 million Americans who are already covered through employer plans.”
“The AHA believes there is a better alternative to help all Americans access health coverage – one built on improving our existing system rather than ripping it apart and starting from scratch,” Nickels said.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physician organization, came out against the single-payer system, though its membership nearly voted to overturn its opposition in June, Vox reported. The group since pulled out of an industry coalition fighting the proposal.
While many big hospitals could face payment cuts, others could benefit, particularly those that mainly serve people with low incomes or who don’t have insurance.
“If you’re a facility serving a lot of Medicaid and uninsured patients today, you might come out ahead here,” Matthew Fiedler, a health policy expert at the Brookings Institution, told Politico. “But the dominant hospitals in a lot of markets that are able to command extremely high private rates today will take a big hit. I don’t think we’d see hospitals closing, but the question is: What would they do to bring down spending?”
Chris Pope, a healthcare payment expert and senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said fewer dollars would ultimately mean a cutback in services hospitals would be able to offer. “The less you pay, the less you’re going to get in return.”
“What would likely happen is if you give a fixed lump sum of money, they would start dialing back on access to care,” Pope told Business Insider. “You’re just not going to be able to have a scan done when you need one done.”
The impact on hospitals and doctors
I have pointed these next few points before but thought that it would be worth mentioning again. The surging cost of hospital bills has fanned consumer outrage in recent years as people struggle to afford needed care and helped elevate support for some type of government insurance plan, whether its the more incremental route allowing people to simply buy into a public insurance option or Medicare for All.
In a preview of battles to come, Congress has struggled to pass legislation addressing exorbitant and confusing hospital bills, an issue with widespread public support and bipartisan interest that the White House backed as well, the Washington Post reported in September. Its movement grinded to a halt amid an onslaught of outside spending from doctor and insurer groups.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, chief executive of the Jefferson Health hospital system in Pennsylvania, said the political debate has oversimplified the difficult decisions that would need to be taken in moving to Medicare for All.
“They haven’t been willing to talk about what you would really have to do to bring a dollar and a quarter down to a dollar,” Klasko said, referring to candidates like Warren and Sanders who back universal health coverage.
The hospital executive said that while the nation’s healthcare system is “inefficient” and “fragmented,” slashing overhead wouldn’t necessarily improve the quality of care.
“This myth that there’s these trillions of dollars of administrative costs that are out there in the ether, that’s not true. Every dollar you take away is somebody’s dollar,” Klasko said.
He added that pricing reform on the scale that Warren proposes “is doable,” though there’s likely a caveat.
“It will change how consumers interact with the healthcare system and they won’t get everything they want,” he said.
I’m not sure that Medicare for All will be the Democratic party’s continual push as the debates continue and they realize that moderation to develop a health care system will be the only way to challenge a run against President Trump. I wonder when the rest of the Democratic potential candidates realize that besides the gaffs that former Vice President Biden makes, that improving the Affordable Care Act is the only strategy that may work.
Now I want to wish all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that we all will appreciate all that we all have and as Mister Rogers said we all need to be Kind, and be Kind and also be Kind. Enjoy you Turkey Day!