Overnight Health Care — ObamaCare gets record numbers
Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
If you ordered free COVID-19 tests from the new government website as soon as it went live last week, be sure to check your mailbox, as some people are starting to get them.
A record number of people signed up for coverage under ObamaCare this year— advocates said that when the administration isn’t intent on ending the law, it works pretty well.
Let’s get started.
Record 14.5M sign up for ObamaCare
Remember ObamaCare? It’s faded from the headlines recently, but it’s setting record enrollment numbers.
President Biden announced Thursday that a record 14.5 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act for 2022.
Why the increase? Biden attributed the numbers to increased financial assistance under the American Rescue Plan that Democrats in Congress passed last year. That law increased the subsidies that help people afford their premiums and also lifted the income cap to allow more people to be eligible for assistance.
“This did not happen by accident,” Biden said. “The American Rescue Plan did more to lower costs and expand access to health care than any action since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.”
The Biden administration also reversed cuts to outreach and advertising spending made under the Trump administration.
Deadline coming: The enhanced financial assistance under the American Rescue Plan is currently scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Biden’s proposed Build Back Better plan would extend it through 2025, but that plan is currently stalled given concerns from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) about the package as a whole.
Many Democrats view finding a way to continue the enhanced subsidies as key to cementing the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.
Watchdog adds HHS to ‘High Risk List’
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to correct longstanding issues related to its ability to respond to public health emergencies, according to a nonpartisan government watchdog report.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday added HHS to its “High Risk List” of federal departments and programs susceptible to waste, fraud and abuse without significant changes.
“For over a decade, we have found issues with how HHS’s leadership prepares for and responds to emergencies, including COVID-19, other infectious diseases, and extreme weather events, such as hurricanes,” GAO wrote in the report, which was shared with Congress.
“If left unaddressed, these deficiencies will continue to hamper the nation’s ability to be prepared for, and effectively respond to, future threats. As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, more frequent extreme weather events, new viruses, and bad actors who threaten to cause intentional harm loom, making the deficiencies we have identified particularly concerning,” the report added.
Long time coming: GAO in the report said it gave the agency 115 different recommendations to implement since fiscal year 2007; 72 of those remain open.
Among the more recent: HHS did not work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop plans to mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS has also yet to develop a comprehensive and publicly available testing strategy, which GAO recommended it do in January 2021.
HOSPITALS WARN OF BLOOD SHORTAGE
Health care workers warned on Thursday that a blood shortage could jeopardize their ability to adequately care for patients.
In an statement issued by the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, workers said that the current “severity and duration” of the blood supply shortage could “significantly jeopardize” the ability of health care providers to meet the many urgent needs around the country.
The U.S. currently faces its worst blood shortage in over a decade.
Earlier this month, the American Red Cross said it had “less than a one-day supply of critical blood types” and has had to limit distributions to hospitals. It warned of the severe consequences for patients — including doctors being forced to make “difficult decisions” about which people receive blood transfusions.
The statement issued by the groups Thursday said it was important to have “a steady and robust supply of blood and blood products to save the lives of our patients.” However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into donations because organizations like businesses, houses of worship and universities — places that have bolstered its blood supply for many years — have faced challenges.
POLL: PANDEMIC WON’T BE OVER UNTIL DISEASE MILD FOR EVERYONE
A majority of Americans surveyed in a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll say they believe they’re going to be stuck with the coronavirus for a long time.
The poll found 83 percent of Americans say they’ll feel the pandemic is over when COVID-19 is largely a mild illness, according to The AP. Only 15 percent say they will consider the pandemic over when the disease is eliminated.
Regarding vaccinations, 59 percent of individuals said that they think it is crucial to be inoculated against COVID-19 to safely participate in public activities. However, only 37 percent of parents said that it is essential to vaccinate their children before returning to normal life.
Vaccine mandate for health workers begins
Health workers in about half of the United States Thursday will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the Biden administration’s requirement takes effect.
Enforcement of the requirement begins in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and will extend to every other state except Texas on Feb. 14. Enforcement in Texas will start Feb 22.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services staggered the deadlines because of various lawsuits brought by GOP-led states. Subsequent court rulings blocked the requirement in some states but not others, leading to a patchwork of different rules before the Supreme Court earlier this month allowed the requirement to take effect.
Thursday’s deadline requires staff at all facilities and providers certified under Medicare and Medicaid to have received at least the first dose of a primary series or a single dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment or other services.
The rules will impact about 10.3 million health workers across every sector of the industry.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Anthony Fauci is up against more than a virus (Washington Post)
- Some Americans are hesitant about Covid vaccines. But they’re all-in on unproven treatments (Stat)
- Trump plan favored giving vaccines to Israel, Taiwan over poorer countries (Politico)
STATE BY STATE
- Resistance to a Boston hospital’s expansion centers on rising prices (Kaiser Health News)
- D.C., Montgomery County see covid cases drop — but not mask mandates (Washington Post)
- Report: Lapses at state hospital reached ‘level of immediate jeopardy’ last month (Providence Journal)
OP-ED IN THE HILL
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you Friday.
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