Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care. In another change to the Tokyo Olympics, the medal ceremonies will feature winning athletes placing their own medals around their necks to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
Today: Upwards of 2 million people have signed up for ObamaCare coverage, the Senate budget deal would fund a slew of health priorities, and US drug overdose deaths hit a record.
We’ll start with the budget:
There’s a whole lot of health care in the new Senate budget deal, from Medicare to Medicaid to ObamaCare. But a lot needs to be worked out.
The $3.5 trillion budget deal reached by Senate Democrats will include funding for a range of major health care priorities, from expanding Medicare and Medicaid to extending enhanced ObamaCare subsidies.
The proposal will also be paid for in part by lowering prescription drug prices, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Long road ahead: While the budget sets the general parameters, the details of the proposals remain to be worked out by lawmakers ahead of a final package, which will use the legislative process known as reconciliation to sidestep a GOP filibuster. The contents could also change as the legislation is crafted.
- Provide funding to add dental, hearing and vision coverage to Medicare, a major expansion pushed by progressives like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Jayapal says tuition-free community college 'probably won't' be in spending plan Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting MORE (I-Vt.), the aide said.
- Fund a program to expand Medicaid in the 12 holdout states that have so far declined to accept ObamaCare's expansion of Medicaid, though the details of how this federal workaround will work are unclear.
- Provide funding to help provide care for seniors at home, known as "home and community-based services," and will extend enhanced ObamaCare subsidies that help lower enrollees' premiums, which were funded for two years in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year.
- Paid for in part by lowering drug prices, but the details need to be worked out.
More than 2 million sign up during ObamaCare special enrollment period
Administration officials announced Wednesday that more than 2 million people have signed up for health insurance during the special enrollment period using both federal and state marketplaces.
The new sign-ups pushed the number of Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollees to a record high, though Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said the final enrollment count was not yet available.
“When you make coverage affordable, when you make it easy for people to enroll, they will do so,” Brooks-LaSure said.
By the numbers: A total of 1.5 million Americans have enrolled in coverage through healthcare.gov throughout the special sign-up period, while another 600,000 used the 15 state-based marketplaces, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said.
At the same time, a record 81 million people have received coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as of February.
Throughout the ongoing special enrollment period that the Biden administration opened on Feb. 15 and is slated to end on Aug. 15, health care sign-ups have swelled, after previously being open for weeks.
US drug overdose deaths rose to record 93,000 last year
U.S. drug overdose deaths hit a new record of more than 93,000 last year as the opioid epidemic continued during the pandemic.
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented 93,331 overdose deaths in 2020 in an almost 30 percent jump from the previous year.
Opioid overdoses made up the bulk of the deaths, at around 69,000. The synthetic opioid fentanyl has driven much of the crisis.
Background: The surge in drug overdose deaths represents a setback after overdose fatalities fell slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades. The increase came amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased isolation and stretched and redirected health care resources to fight the virus.
A bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, a company at the center of the opioid crisis, has the potential to provide additional funds to combat the crisis. Fifteen states last week agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement deal.
Anti-vaxxers gain power on right, triggering new fears
Public health experts are growing increasingly concerned about a rise in anti-vaccination rhetoric among elected officials and right-wing media as a new wave of coronavirus infections begins to wash over Americans who have yet to get vaccinated.
Legislators in more than 40 states have introduced measures to bar vaccine passports, and many Republican governors have signed executive orders or laws barring their use.
In some cases, Republican governors and legislators are now repeating far-right talking points questioning the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines, in spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence that the vaccines developed in the past year are some of the safest and most effective ever created.
Public health experts were especially alarmed earlier this week when Tennessee’s Department of Health fired Michelle Fiscus, the state’s top vaccine official, after the state legislature raised concerns about public health guidance she issued for teenagers seeking to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s shocking. It’s not shocking that we had a fringe group that’s anti vaccine. That’s been true since the first vaccine,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It is shocking to me that people who are representing the public and the health and well-being of the public are choosing to take this dramatic anti-science stance.”
Initial hospital costs for gun injuries tops $1B per year: GAO report
The cost of initial treatment for gun-related injuries in hospitals exceeds $1 billion per year, with public health coverage accounting for the majority of the bill, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
The GAO’s report released Wednesday found hospitals documented about 30,000 inpatient stays and about 50,000 emergency department visits for initial treatment for gun-related injuries per year, according to the most recent hospital data from 2016 and 2017.
But the data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality did not include the physician costs, which the office predicted could add about 20 percent to the $1 billion total.
What we’re reading
Delta variant widens gulf between ‘two Americas’: vaccinated and unvaccinated (The New York Times)
What the $%&! is going on at the FDA? (The New Republic)
A tragic death shows how ERs fail patients who struggle with addiction (NPR)
State by state
Red state, blue state, twin outbreak: behind Wyoming and Colorado’s anomalous Covid spikes (Kaiser Health News)
Botched surgeries and death: how the California Medical Board keeps negligent doctors in business (Los Angeles Times)
5 Charleston hospital employees fired after refusing to get COVID-19 vaccine (The State)