Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare
Overnight Health Care: Biden announces 1M have enrolled in special ObamaCare sign-up period | Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins | Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines
Welcome to Tuesday's Overnight Health Care. Two fun vaccine motivators that make us wish we could take advantage: A Colorado resort is hosting a ski-in, ski-out clinic and offering a free bacon Bloody Mary, and the Talladega Superspeedway will allow people a chance to drive on its famous track if they get vaccinated, or even tested.
Today: One million people have signed up for ObamaCare. Rand Paul clashed with Anthony Fauci over the origins of the coronavirus, Medicare will require nursing homes to report COVID vaccinations, and President Biden vowed to start showing the full benefits of being vaccinated.
We'll start with ObamaCare:
Biden announces 1 million have enrolled in special ObamaCare sign-up period
One million people have enrolled so far in Affordable Care Act coverage during a special pandemic sign-up period, President Biden announced Tuesday.
Biden reopened ObamaCare enrollment upon entering office in January, a step that the Trump administration had declined to take after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Sign-ups are ongoing until Aug. 15, and Biden urged more people to go to healthcare.gov to enroll.
"That's one million more Americans who now have the peace of mind that comes from having health insurance," he said in a statement in making the announcement. "One million more Americans who don't have to lie awake at night worrying about what happens if they or one of their family members gets sick. Through this opportunity for special enrollment, we have made enormous progress in expanding access to health insurance."
The $1.9 trillion COVID-19-related relief bill that Biden signed in March also included additional financial assistance for Affordable Care Act enrollees to help them pay for their premiums.
Rand Paul clashes with Fauci over coronavirus origins
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has clashed repeatedly with Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious diseases expert and director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
During a Senate hearing Tuesday, Paul echoed right-wing disinformation that Fauci and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are somehow linked to the virus's origins in Wuhan, China.
Paul alleged that the NIH had been sending funding to a Wuhan lab, which then "juiced up" a virus that was originally found in bats to create a super-virus that can infect human cells.
Paul pressed Fauci on the theory that the novel coronavirus was created in the Wuhan lab, and then somehow escaped, either because of an accident or because it was deliberately released.
The "lab leak" theory is not new, and there isn't any evidence that the virus was engineered in a lab.
But in recent days, conservative media outlets such as Newsmax and influential right wing media figures including Tucker Carlson have floated the idea that the NIH and Fauci funded the Wuhan Institute of Virology in order to conduct the research that led to the creation of the novel coronavirus.
Fauci tried to shut it down. "Sen. Paul, with all due respect, you are entirely, entirely and completely incorrect," he said. "The NIH has not ever, and does not now, fund 'gain of function research' in the Wuhan Institute."
Gain of function research is a controversial form of study that involves boosting the infectivity and lethality of a pathogen. Fauci has advocated for the research in the past, but he denied that the NIH was funding it in China.
"We have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. No matter how many times you say it, it didn't happen," Fauci said.
U.S. health agencies did at one point fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in the form of a grant given to a group called EcoHealth Alliance, which hired the lab to conduct genetic analyses of bat coronaviruses and examine how they spread to humans.
Even though there's no evidence that money was used for gain of function research, or that it was illegal, or that it somehow helped cause the pandemic, that didn't stop Paul's line of questioning.
New rule: Medicare requiring nursing homes to report weekly vaccination count
Federal health officials will require long-term care facilities residents and staff to report COVID-19 vaccinations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) every week.
The rule will take effect beginning in two weeks.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the requirement on Tuesday, as officials aim to use the information to help track vaccinations in these congregate care settings and determine which might need more resources during the pandemic.
The move comes as an initial effort to get shots to nursing homes across the country, as part of a federal pharmacy partnership, has wound down.
The rule to submit the data to the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) applies to long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, and residential facilities for those with intellectual disabilities.
Long-term care facilities already have to report COVID-19 testing, case and death data. But COVID-19 vaccination statistics have not previously been mandated, despite requirements to report influenza and pneumococcal vaccines.
Why it's important: The rule intends to limit the amount of severe illness and deaths occurring in these facilities after nursing homes became breeding grounds for the virus, leading to many deaths among the vulnerable residents.
Quote: "Reporting vaccination rates is critical to facilitating in-person visitations in nursing homes, tracking the effectiveness of the vaccines, and helping ensure the industry meets our goal to vaccinate 75 percent of staff by the end of June," David Gifford, the chief medical officer of American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, said, although the group said results should not be used to "judge" nursing homes with low vaccine rates.
What's next: CMS said it is looking into extending the policies to psychiatric residential treatment facilities, group homes and assisted living facilities.
Biden vows to get 'more aggressive' on lifestyle benefits of vaccines
President Biden on Tuesday said his administration would soon offer a more "aggressive effort" to model the freedoms that people have once they are vaccinated, as a way to encourage more people to get shots.
"We're just getting there now to the degree that I think you're going to see a more aggressive effort on our part to lay out that once vaccinated, it's not only you can hug your grandchildren. You can do a lot more," Biden said.
He made the comments during a conversation with six governors, in which Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) asked the White House to do more to increase people's motivation to get vaccinated.
What Cox said: "That's one area where we could use some help from the White House and others, and that is modeling what a fully vaccinated person can do. I like to state: We have fully vaccinated people; we should start acting like it."
Follows criticism: Some experts have criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Biden administration for moving too slowly or offering confusing guidance around what vaccinated people can do.
What's next: Biden hinted that guidance on unmasking even indoors could be coming soon and acknowledged the slow pace so far.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients emphasized that guidance would come from the CDC.
Free boosters: Biden health official says COVID-19 vaccine booster shots will be free
A top U.S. health official told senators at a hearing on Tuesday that the federal government has funding to purchase the next round of vaccines, so individuals won't have to pay for booster shots.
"We are planning, and I underscore the word planning, to have booster doses available if necessary for the American people," David Kessler, the chief science officer for the White House's COVID-19 response team, said.
"We do have the funds to purchase the next round, if they are necessary. So we will be able to purchase the next round to ensure if there are boosters, they are free, just as the last round," Kessler told the Senate Health Committee.
"Beyond 2022?" Kessler said, "I look to your guidance, and your colleagues, on at what point do you transition back to a commercial market."
Why it's important: Kessler was responding to a question from Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who had asked what Congress could do to ensure fair pricing in the long-term for COVID-19 vaccines, especially given the significant taxpayer investments in many of the vaccines.
Comments by drug company executives, including at Pfizer, have raised concern that once the public health emergency ends, they will significantly raise prices on their COVID-19 vaccines.
Unlike several other rival companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer did not use federal funds and said it planned to make a profit.
What we're reading
What you should know about coronavirus vaccines for younger adolescents (The Washington Post)
CDC's slow, cautious messaging on Covid-19 seems out of step with the moment, public health experts say (Stat)
A misleading CDC number (New York Times)
State by state
What the slowing vaccine rates mean for one rural Montana county (Kaiser Health News)
Massachusetts reports zero new coronavirus deaths as more than 3 million people fully vaccinated (Boston Herald)
With vaccinations down 38%, state looking for more arms to jab (The Morning Call)