Health Care — The days of free COVID tests are numbered
🎤 Beyoncé has officially announced the dates for her Renaissance Tour this year. Will Ticketmaster be able to handle the demand or should we expect another congressional hearing?
In health news, COVID-19’s public health emergency label will end May 11, which likely spells the end of free tests.
Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care roundup, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. We’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi.
End of public health emergency will nix free tests
The ending of the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11 will mark the end of an era in the U.S. health system as many Americans will have to start paying for care that, for the past three years, has been free.
Experts said the changes related to the public health emergency won’t be earth shattering.
When the public health emergency ends, the biggest change facing the majority of Americans will be that the days of free, easily accessible COVID-19 tests will likely end.
- Right now, everyone with private insurance can get up to eight tests a month. That will go away once the emergency ends. Private insurance may not cover the full price of over-the-counter tests anymore, and patients may need a prescription first for a PCR test.
- Vaccines and treatments will still be free, so long as the government supply lasts.
- “On May 12, you can still walk into a pharmacy and get your bivalent vaccine. For free. On May 12, if you get COVID, you can still get your Paxlovid. For free. None of that changes,” White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha tweeted on Wednesday.
The biggest shock to the public is likely to occur once the federal supply of vaccines and treatments is exhausted, and the costs shift to the private sector.
Overall, the changes made to the U.S. health system as a result of COVID-19 were probably “the closest we’ve probably come to universal health coverage in the United States,” said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at KFF, formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Bipartisan senators slam FDA over vaping regulation
A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday slammed the “repeated failures” at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate e-cigarettes and take action against companies illegally marketing products to minors.
Led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lawmakers sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra urging him to “do everything in your power to right the ship and take meaningful action to fix FDA’s persistent leadership failures and prevent youth from a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”
Extremely behind: The FDA is currently 16 months past a court-ordered deadline to finish reviewing e-cigarette applications, and the lawmakers criticized the agency for saying it needs another six months to complete its work for the e-cigarettes with the largest market share.
An estimated 1 million children may now be at risk of picking up vaping before the FDA finishes its review, Durbin said.
- Durbin has been a leading Senate advocate against youth vaping and has repeatedly called for federal regulators to do a better job protecting children by immediately removing e-cigarettes and vaping products from store shelves.
- “For nearly a decade, the agency has neglected its duty under the law to regulate e-cigarettes, jeopardizing the health of millions of children. Now, after yet another delay in FDA’s efforts to regulate the e-cigarette marketplace, it is now clear to us that FDA is adrift and lives are at risk,” the lawmakers wrote.
SURVEY: WIDESPREAD CONFUSION OVER ACCESS TO ABORTION MEDS
Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. are unsure whether medication abortion is legal where they live, according to a survey released Wednesday by KFF.
At least 4 in 10 adults — including 41 percent of women of childbearing age — said they are “not sure” whether mifepristone, a medication abortion drug, is legal where they live.
The findings show the continued widespread confusion over access to medication abortion, the most common way for people to end pregnancies.
The survey was conducted Jan. 17-24, more than six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to an abortion.
Many states with strict abortion bans also limit the availability of mifepristone — a drug that blocks hormones necessary for pregnancy — either through restrictions on who can prescribe and dispense the pill or outright bans.
US HEALTH COSTS NEARLY DOUBLES THAT OF OTHER WEALTHY NATIONS
In 2021, the U.S. spent 17.8 percent of GDP on health care, nearly double the average of 9.6 percent for high-income countries, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund.
Health care spending per capita in the U.S. was three or four times greater than for countries like South Korea, New Zealand and Japan.
Researchers compared data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Health Statistics 2022 database and the Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey 2022.
Preventable mortality: In addition, the rate of avoidable deaths in the U.S. was 336 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, while the OECD average was 225.
Their analysis suggests that overall health in the U.S. is worse than in other high-income countries. Life expectancy at birth for the U.S. is three years below the OECD average. The obesity rate in the U.S. is nearly double the OECD average at about 43 percent compared to the OECD average at 25 percent. The next highest countries include New Zealand (34 percent), Australia (30 percent) and the U.K. (28 percent).
GoodRx accused of illegally sharing health data
Telemedicine company GoodRx allegedly shared sensitive personal health information with Google, Facebook and other firms to target ads to users, according to a complaint filed by federal regulators on Wednesday.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that GoodRx, a company that lets users compare drug prices and receive coupons, shared sensitive information about users’ prescriptions and health conditions with advertising platforms that allowed them to target ads to users about specific health conditions and medications, despite claims that the company would not do so.
- The order, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the FTC, seeks to ban GoodRx from sharing health data with advertisers. It would also require the company to direct third parties, such as Google and Facebook, to delete the data that was previously shared with them.
- In addition to the proposed actions, GoodRx agreed to pay a $1.5 million penalty, according to the FTC. The order is subject to approval from a federal court.
- An FTC official said that if companies weren’t paying attention to the rule before, they will now. The official said the order filed against GoodRx will be a sign for the industry that the agency is not taking the issue lightly.
It is the first enforcement action the FTC has taken under its Health Breach Notification Rule, which requires vendors of personal health records and related entities to notify consumers and the FTC when that data is disclosed or acquired without the consumers’ authorization.
GoodRX in a statement said it does not agree with the FTC’s allegations and does not admit to wrongdoing as part of the agreement.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Medicare may test policy of paying less for accelerated approval drugs (Stat)
- Vaccine makers kept $1.4 billion in prepayments for canceled covid shots for the world’s poor (New York Times)
- Republicans break with another historical ally: doctors (Axios)
- Supply of weight loss drug Wegovy expected to improve in next few months, company says (NBC News)
STATE BY STATE
- A Mass. bill would cut prison time for organ donations. An advocate is calling the measure ‘unethical and depraved.’ (Boston.com)
- Indiana public health program boost clears legislative panel (Washington Times-Herald)
- Red tide again staining Lee County waters, state health department issues advisory (The News-Press)
THE HILL OP-ED
Restoring public trust in public health
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.