First Edition: July 21, 2021

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Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.


KHN:
The Delta Variant Thrives In A State Of Political And Public Health Discord 


The day after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson finished his bicentennial bus tour to drum up tourism to the state in mid-July, Chicago issued a travel advisory warning about visiting Missouri. Earlier this summer, as covid-19 case counts began to tick up when the highly transmissible delta variant took hold in the state, the Republican-majority legislature successfully enacted laws limiting public health powers and absolving businesses from covid legal exposure. (Weber, 7/21)


KHN:
Though Millions Are At Risk For Diabetes, Medicare Struggles To Expand Prevention Program 


Damon Diessner tried for years to slim down from his weight of more than 400 pounds, partly because his size embarrassed his wife but even more because his doctors told him he was at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. His hemoglobin A1c level, a blood sugar marker, was 6.3%, just below the diabetes range of 6.5%. Then, two years ago, one of his doctors helped get him into a YMCA-run Diabetes Prevention Program not far from his home in Redmond, Washington. The group classes, at first held in person and then via Zoom during the covid-19 pandemic, were led by a lifestyle coach. He learned how to eat better, exercise more and maintain a healthier lifestyle overall. He now weighs 205 pounds, with an A1c level of 4.8%, which is in the normal range. (Meyer, 7/21)


KHN:
Analysis: Necessary Or Not, Covid Booster Shots Are Probably On The Horizon 


The drugmaker Pfizer recently announced that vaccinated people are likely to need a booster shot to be effectively protected against new variants of covid-19 and that the company would apply for Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for the shot. Top government health officials immediately and emphatically announced that the booster isn’t needed right now — and held firm to that position even after Pfizer’s top scientist made his case and shared preliminary data with them last week. This has led to confusion. Should the nearly 60% of adult Americans who have been fully vaccinated seek out a booster or not? Is the protection that has allowed them to see loved ones and go out to dinner fading? (Rosenthal, 7/21)


NPR:
U.S. Life Expectancy Fell By 1.5 Years In 2020, The Biggest Drop Since WWII


Life expectancy in the United States declined by a year and a half in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the coronavirus is largely to blame. COVID-19 contributed to 74% of the decline in life expectancy from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. It was the largest one-year decline since World War II, when life expectancy dropped by 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943. Hispanic and Black communities saw the biggest declines. (Greenhalgh, 7/21)


NBC News:
Covid Plus Overdose Deaths Drove Down Life Expectancy In 2020


Life expectancy in the U.S. plunged last year in the largest one-year drop since World War II, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday, further widening the longevity gap between the U.S. and comparable countries. Deaths from Covid-19 and drug overdoses fueled the decline — wiping out any improvements the country made in decreasing deaths from cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases — leading to a 1.5-year drop and bringing the life expectancy at birth down to 77.3 years. (Life expectancy at birth refers to how long a person born in the year being studied — in this case, 2020 — is expected to live.) (Sullivan, 7/21)


ABC News:
Delta Variant Now Makes Up 83% Of Cases, CDC Director Says, Pressed On Booster Shots


[Dr. Rochelle] Walensky said the alarming increase was happening the most in unvaccinated areas and that they were “allowing for the emergence and rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.” “In some parts of the country, the percentage is even higher, particularly in areas of low vaccination rates,” she said. The best way to stop the spread is with vaccines, she said. (Haslett, 7/20)


The Hill:
CDC Director: Delta Variant Accounts For 83 Percent Of All COVID-19 Cases In US 


The delta variant of the novel coronavirus is now responsible for 83 percent of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in the United States, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday. That estimate is a major increase from just over two weeks ago. For cases tallied during the week of July 3, the CDC estimated the delta variant accounted for about 50 percent of new infections. (Weixel, 7/20)


The New York Times:
J.&J. Vaccine May Be Less Effective Against Delta, Study Suggests 


The coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is much less effective against the Delta and Lambda variants than against the original virus, according to a new study posted online on Tuesday. Although troubling, the findings result from experiments conducted with blood samples in a laboratory, and may not reflect the vaccine’s performance in the real world. But the conclusions add to evidence that the 13 million people inoculated with the J.&J. vaccine may need to receive a second dose — ideally of one of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, the authors said. (Mandavilli, 7/20)


The Hill:
New Study Suggests Johnson & Johnson Less Effective Against Variants 


The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective in battling coronavirus variants than other shots, a new study suggests. The results, published by bioRxiv but not yet peer reviewed or published in a journal, suggest that the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna could better protect against the delta and lambda strains than the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Polus, 7/20)


Fox News:
Biden Administration Renews COVID-19 ‘Public Health Emergency’ Declaration


The Biden administration has once again renewed a declaration that a “public health emergency” exists due to the continued spread of the coronavirus. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra issued the renewal on Monday – the sixth time the federal government has done so since the initial declaration was made at the start of the pandemic last year. Following the declarations, the federal government can tap into certain funds to combat the public health emergency, amongst other actions. (Norman, 7/20)


The Hill:
Biden Says US Has ‘A Way To Go’ On Coronavirus 


President Biden on Tuesday touted the progress the U.S. has made against the coronavirus pandemic but acknowledged that the country has a long way to go amid a rise in cases due to the delta variant. Speaking at a Cabinet meeting marking his first six months in office, Biden said that his administration’s focus is on persuading those who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 to get their shot. (Chalfant, 7/20)


The Washington Post:
Delta Variant Poses Major Risk To Biden’s Promises Of Swift Economic Comeback 


A resurgence in coronavirus cases is threatening the Biden administration’s promises of a swift economic recovery, with Wall Street getting battered on Monday and some leading forecasters beginning to rethink their extremely rosy projections. The administration is closely monitoring the economic risks associated with the delta variant, and senior U.S. officials have in recent days suggested that local restrictions may have to be reimposed in response to the pandemic. (Stein and Long, 7/20)


AP:
McConnell Urges Americans: ‘Get Vaccinated’ As Cases Spike


Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell implored unvaccinated Americans Tuesday to take the COVID-19 shot, issuing a stark and grave warning of a repeat of last year’s rising caseloads and shutdowns if people refuse to protect themselves from the coronavirus. McConnell urged Americans to ignore the “demonstrably bad advice” coming from pundits and others against the vaccines. As cases skyrocket, he noted that nearly all the new virus hospitalizations in the U.S. are among people who have not been vaccinated. (Mascaro, 7/21)


NPR:
COVID Warnings From White House, Congress Rise With New Cases


Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 Republican in the House, got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Sunday after months of waiting, citing the rise of the delta variant and increasing cases and hospitalizations, primarily among people who are unvaccinated. His decision, reported on Nola.com, comes as lawmakers and the White House try to reach those hardest to convince to get vaccinated, and those with limited access. The messaging is delicate as there are also mild cases among people who are vaccinated — including in Washington, D.C. “These shots need to get into everybody’s arm as rapidly as possible, or we’re going to be back in a situation in the fall — that we don’t yearn for — that we went through last year,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. (Wise, 7/20)


ABC News:
Fauci, Rand Paul Get In Shouting Match Over Wuhan Lab Research 


GOP Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday stepped up his months-long fight with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, suggesting he lied to Congress about whether the National Institutes of Health funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and triggering an angry shouting match. At a Senate Health Committee hearing meant to update lawmakers on the country’s COVID-19 response, the Kentucky Republican began by asking Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, if he’s aware that it’s a crime to lie to Congress. (Cathey and Pezenik, 7/20)


Newsweek:
Fauci And Rand Paul Spar Again Over COVID Origins, Wuhan Lab


“On May 11, you stated that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology and yet, gain-of-function research was done entirely to the Wuhan Institute by Dr. Shi [Zhengli] and was funded by the NIH,” Paul said. The senator said that in Shi’s study, she stated that she had received a grant from NIH for her work, which involved combining genetic information from various coronavirus that only infected animals to test transmissibility in humans. “Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement,” Fauci said. “This paper that you are referring to was judged by qualified staff up and down the chain as not being gain-of-function.”(Fung, 7/20)


The Hill:
Fauci: Paul Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About ‘And I Want To Say That Officially’


It’s not unusual for conservative Republicans and allies of former President Trump to clash with Fauci during hearings; Paul has done so on numerous occasions, as has Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). In the past, Fauci has tried to remain relatively calm, if terse, even as he responds to personal attacks and accusations of a cover-up. But on Tuesday, Paul stepped up his fight, implying that Fauci had lied to Congress, and that he was fully aware of what the Wuhan lab was doing with grant money that came from NIH. He also suggested that Fauci and the NIH could be partly responsible for the pandemic and the deaths of 4 million people worldwide.(Weixel, 7/20)


The Washington Post:
Infrastructure Deadline Could Slip In Senate 


A bipartisan Senate deal to improve the nation’s infrastructure again appeared in political peril Tuesday as Republican negotiators demanded a delay on an upcoming vote on the proposal until next week. With Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) refusing to bend, GOP senators indicated that they plan to oppose a vote to begin debate on the deal they helped craft. (Romm, DeBonis and Kim, 7/20)


Politico:
Senate Infrastructure Talks May Stretch Into Next Week As Failed Vote Looms


Schumer’s push to move forward on the bipartisan infrastructure framework comes as Senate Democrats also prepare a $3.5 trillion social spending plan that they expect to wrestle through without GOP buy-in. Schumer has also set a Wednesday deadline for Senate Democrats to reach an agreement detailing how committees will construct that bill. It’s not clear if the failure of the bipartisan deal would force an increase in the separate bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag. (Levine and Everett, 7/20)


Politico:
Inside Schumer’s Infrastructure Gamble 


Shortly before Chuck Schumer cued up a vote on the staggering bipartisan infrastructure agreement reached by five of his centrists, he gathered them all in person for a gut check. The Senate majority leader wanted to explain his thinking in greater detail to the Democrats who’ve labored to cut a nearly $600 billion deal with Republicans, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. He needed to make sure everyone in his tight-knit 50-member caucus was behind him before taking a gamble that could endanger the bipartisan talks he’s spent weeks supporting. (Everett and Levine, 7/20)


CBS News:
White House Hasn’t Disclosed Past Breakthrough COVID-19 Cases


The White House has not disclosed past breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated staff members, although none of the cases have occurred among commissioned officers, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed during Tuesday’s press briefing. Psaki’s comments came after a White House official confirmed Tuesday that a fully vaccinated White House official tested positive for the virus off campus, although the White House Medical Unit determined the individual had no close contacts among White House principals and staff. The breakthrough case comes as multiple members of a Texas delegation to Washington, D.C., tested positive, despite being fully vaccinated. After meeting with members of the Texas delegation, a fully vaccinated spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tested positive as well, according to Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff. (Watson, 7/20)


ABC News:
Increasing Pressure On CDC To Revisit Guidance On Masks In Schools 


President Joe Biden’s top COVID officials are set to testify before Congress on Tuesday as guidance on masks is splintering at the local level — with some cities and medical organizations recommending a return to universal mask wearing, despite federal guidance that vaccinated Americans can go without masks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief White House medical adviser, said Monday that it was “reasonable” for a leading group of pediatricians to push back against federal guidance that vaccinated Americans can go without masks. (Flaherty and Haslett, 7/20)


The Washington Post:
Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Abortion Ban Designed As Challenge To Roe V. Wade 


A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked an Arkansas law banning nearly all abortions, calling it an “imminent threat” to the constitutional rights of women seeking abortions in the state. Judge Kristine Baker of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the law from being enforced until she can issue a final ruling. (Pietsch, 7/21)


Fox News:
CDC Says ‘No Plans To Update’ School Mask Guidance After Pediatrics Group Breaks From White House


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Fox News on Tuesday that the agency has “no plans to update” mask use recommendations. The comment comes after Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier Tuesday the CDC was “carefully looking” at its guidance relating to mask use in schools after the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) broke from federal health guidance, advising anyone above the age of 2 wear masks inside schools to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, “regardless of vaccination status.” “CDC has no plans to update any guidance regarding masks,” Kristen Nordlund, CDC spokeswoman, told Fox News. (Rivas, 7/20)


AP:
Schools Confront More Polarization With Mask Rules For Fall


Students in Wichita, Kansas, public schools can ditch the masks when classes begin. Detroit public schools will probably require them unless everyone in a room is vaccinated. In Pittsburgh, masks will likely be required regardless of vaccination status. And in some states, schools cannot mandate face coverings under any circumstances. With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide, school districts across the U.S. are yet again confronting the realities of a polarized country and the lingering pandemic as they navigate mask requirements, vaccine rules and social distancing requirements for the fast-approaching new school year. (Hollingsworth, Webber and Richmond, 7/21)


AP:
Vegas Employees To Get Coronavirus Mask Order, Not Tourists


Elected officials in tourism-dependent Las Vegas worried Tuesday about public health and the economic effects of a spike COVID-19 cases — particularly the highly contagious delta variant. But they decided not to impose a full mask mandate for everyone strolling the Strip and gathering in crowded spaces and casinos. (Ritter, 7/21)


Mississippi Clarion Ledger:
Mississippi Officials: No Mask Mandates Despite Rising COVID-19 Cases


The fourth wave of COVID-19, fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant, is multiplying Mississippi infection counts, driving up hospitalizations and filling intensive care units. “We’re gonna have a rough few weeks,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Tuesday press conference. “We’re getting to a point where we have to fly patients from the Delta to the Pine Belt to get access to care.” (Haselhorst, 7/20)


NBC News:
Popular Massachusetts Tourist Destination Issues Mask Advisory After 132 New Covid Cases


A popular Massachusetts tourist destination issued a mask advisory Monday after an outbreak of Covid-19 cases following the July 4 holiday weekend. As of Friday, 132 Covid cases that are associated with Provincetown have been reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, according to a joint release from the town’s Board of Health and the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment. It’s unclear how many who tested positive were vaccinated. (Fieldstadt, 7/20)


New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Return Of Masks? Mayor LaToya Cantrell Eyes New COVID Rules And ‘All Options Are On The Table’


With coronavirus cases climbing across the region and the state, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell is considering whether to once again require masks or implement other rules in the city to slow the spread of the highly-transmissible delta variant. During a news conference Tuesday, the mayor’s communications director, Beau Tidwell, said that “all options are on the table,” and that Cantrell and the city’s health director, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, will announce any changes Wednesday. (Sorapuru, 7/20)


USA Today:
COVID-19 Pandemic May Have Orphaned More Than 1M Kids, Study Says


A recent study reveals another devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on children around the world. Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital estimate more than a million children may have been orphaned because of a COVID-19-related death, according to their model published Tuesday in The Lancet. They defined orphaned as losing at least one parent. The authors estimate 1.13 million children lost a parent or custodial grandparent, and of these, 1.04 million losta mother, father, or both. Overall, 1.56 million children were estimated to have experienced the death of at least one parent or a custodial grandparent, or other grandparent living with them. (Rodriguez, 7/20)


Modern Healthcare:
NYC Public Healthcare Workers To Get Weekly COVID Tests If Not Vaccinated


New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio is expected to announce new policies that will require all unvaccinated employees of city-run healthcare sites to get weekly COVID-19 tests in an effort to stem the most recent rise in cases. The new policy, expected to be announced on Wednesday, would go into effect in August and will not mandate vaccinations. The requirement to get tested weekly will cover nearly 40% of the 30,000 workers of New York City Health + Hospitals system who have yet to be vaccinated, according to a spokesperson for the heath system. (Ross Johnson, 7/20)


Las Vegas Review-Journal:
Nevada Ranks Last For Vaccinating Nursing Home Residents


Nevada has plummeted to the bottom of a federal list for the percentage of vaccinations for the most vulnerable population — nursing home residents. New data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows Nevada stands as the worst U.S. state for protecting seniors living in care facilities. The shocking 61 percent vaccination rate of seniors in Nevada nursing homes, compared to 95 percent for Vermont, prompted the state’s U.S. senators to urge Health Secretary Xavier Becerra to target elderly in the state for federal funds and efforts.
Another analysis this week by AARP found similar results and prompted that nonprofit senior advocacy group to sound the alarm in Nevada. (Martin, 7/20)


Newsweek:
Florida, A Haven For Retirees, Has Second-Lowest U.S. Vaccination Rate For Nursing Home Staff


Nursing home staff in Florida are the second-least vaccinated against COVID-19 as the state faces a surge of new infections driven by the virulent Delta variant. Just 41.8 percent of Florida nursing home staff have been fully vaccinated against the virus, not far from Louisiana’s national low of 41.1 percent, according to data released Tuesday by AARP. Almost 84 percent of staff were vaccinated in top-ranked Hawaii, while the national average vaccination rate for nursing home staff is 56 percent. (Slisco, 7/21)


The Boston Globe:
33 People Test Positive For COVID-19 At West Yarmouth Nursing Home, Health Officials Confirm


The spread of COVID-19 on Cape Cod grew more alarming Tuesday with news that 33 cases of the virus have been reported in a nursing home in West Yarmouth, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed. Twenty-four residents and 9 staff members at Maplewood at Mayflower Place in West Yarmouth have tested positive for the virus since July 10, a DPH spokesperson confirmed in an email to the Globe on Tuesday. (Chaidez, 7/20)


ABC News:
New Jersey Hospital Network Fires 6 Supervisors For Not Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19 


A New Jersey hospital network has fired a half-dozen high-ranking employees who refused to comply with a new policy requiring them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. RWJBarnabas Health, one of the largest health care systems in the Garden State and in the nation, announced in May that it was mandating COVID-19 vaccination for all staff at the supervisory level and above, effective immediately. Those employees were required to have completed their course of vaccinations no later than June 30. (Winsor, 7/20)


Newsweek:
Trump Supporter Who Protested Against Vaccinations Dies Of COVID-19


Linda Zuern, a supporter of former President Donald Trump and a protester against COVID-19 vaccines, has died of coronavirus. She lived in Bourne, Massachusetts. She was 70. Zuern reportedly contracted the virus after visiting her mother in South Dakota, following the death of her father. During their return trip to Bourne, both women contracted the illness, the Cape Cod Times reported. … Zuern opposed local vaccinations efforts, both as a member of the county government council, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates, and as a volunteer with a local conservative group called United Cape Patriots. Last December, while serving her third term on the Assembly, she pushed for local doctors to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. (Villarreal, 7/20)


AP:
Tennessee Takes Down Alternative COVID-19 Care Sites


Tennessee officials say they’ve finished deconstructing emergency COVID-19 care sites in Nashville and Memphis. According to a news release, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said this week that the sites finished serving their purpose of providing additional hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients. (7/21)


Philadelphia Inquirer:
Contact Tracers Say This Is The Time They Can Stop Coronavirus Outbreaks: ‘This Is The Crux Of Public Health’


In 50 living rooms and home offices, Delaware contact tracers arm themselves every morning with laptops and cellphones, the weapons they need to curb coronavirus outbreaks. They spend hours each day calling people who have recently tested positive for the virus. They dial each person in the morning, afternoon, and evening until they answer, listening to ring after ring, hoping to hear a voice on the other end of the line. Eventually, they’ll reach about 80% of cases with a valid phone number. Now, more than at any other point in the pandemic, this team says it can help stop surges and — with vaccinations — keep case rates low, said Tracey Johnson, director of Delaware’s Office of Contact Tracing. The state, with a population just under a million, has been averaging 45 new cases a day. (McCarthy, 7/21)


USA Today:
Medical Bills Ruin Credit, Strain Living Expenses For COVID Patients


Americans increasingly struggled to pay their medical bills during the pandemic because of being infected with the coronavirus, losing income or losing employer health insurance coverage, a new survey shows. More than a third of insured adults and half of uninsured adults said they had difficulty   paying for a medical bill. The national survey by the Commonwealth Fund between March and June 2021 asked 5,450 working-age adults about how the pandemic affected their health insurance coverage and medical debt. “They suffered ruined credit ratings. They were unable to afford basic life necessities like food, heat or their rent,” said lead author Dr. Sara Collins, Commonwealth Fund’s vice president for health care coverage, access and tracking. (Avery, 7/20)


Modern Healthcare:
COVID-19 Test Providers Are ‘Gouging’ Insurers, AHIP Says


Out-of-network providers that charge more for COVID-19 tests are performing a greater share of them during this phase of the pandemic, leading to rising expenses among health insurance companies, the trade group AHIP maintains in a report published Tuesday. The number of out-of-network providers charging at least 50% more than the commercial average for COVID-19 tests has doubled since the start of the pandemic, with 36% of providers pricing tests at above the standard rates. The share of providers charging at least $185 for a coronavirus test rose to 54% in March, compared to 42% last April when the pandemic was new to the U.S., according to the Washington-based insurance industry trade association. (Tepper, 7/20)


Becker’s Hospital Review:
Virginia Mason Franciscan Health To Pay $5.5M Settlement In Nurse Class-Action Suit


A Washington healthcare system will pay $5.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which thousands of nurses claim they weren’t properly paid for lunch and other breaks, reports The Kitsap Sun. Virginia Mason Franciscan Health — the byproduct of an official merger between Tacoma, Wash.-based CHI Franciscan and Seattle-based Virginia Mason — was accused of violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Washington state law. The case, brought by Hana Etcheverry, RN, a nurse at the former Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, Wash., alleged nurses who worked shifts of 12 hours or more, “experience significant amounts of pre- and post-shift off-the-clock work, including unpaid, on-duty time preparing for their days before clocking in as well as completing charting and patient paperwork after clocking out.” (Masson, 7/20)


Modern Healthcare:
Dignity Health, Anthem Blue Cross Terminate California Contract


Anthem Blue Cross and Dignity Health could not agree on new contract terms, removing more than two dozen Dignity hospitals, medical groups and clinics across California from Anthem’s network as of July 16. Dignity, which is part of CommonSpirit Health and has the largest hospital network in California, threatened to end its contract for the vast majority of its Anthem business if the insurer didn’t agree to “excessive rate increases that will make care at Dignity even less affordable,” Anthem Blue Cross said. The contract termination impacts Anthem commercial PPO, EPO, HMO and POS members as well as some Medicaid and Medicare Advantage policyholders, but the company could not specify how many customers were affected. (Kacik, 7/20)


Modern Healthcare:
Returning Patients Meant Higher Profit For HCA In Q2


For-profit hospital giant HCA Healthcare is benefiting from a rebound in patient traffic this year after a dismal 2020 marked by COVID-19 shutdowns and anxious patients delaying care. HCA’s admissions jumped 17.5% year-over-year in the second quarter of 2021, which ended June 30. The biggest gains occurred in outpatient surgeries, emergency room visits and urgent care visits, the company disclosed in its financial statement. (Bannow, 7/20)


AP:
US Opioid Lawsuits On Verge Of Settlements With 4 Companies


The yearslong effort by state and local governments in the U.S. to force the pharmaceutical industry to help pay to fix a nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a major step forward Tuesday when lawyers for local governments announced they were on the verge of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson would not produce any opioids for at least a decade. And AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson share prescribing information under a new system intended to stop the avalanches of pills that arrived in some regions about a decade ago. (Mulvihill, 7/21)


NBC News:
PrEP, The HIV Prevention Pill, Must Now Be Totally Free Under Almost All Insurance Plans


In a move that is expected to prove transformative to the national HIV-prevention effort, the federal government has announced that almost all health insurers must cover the HIV prevention pill, known as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, with no cost sharing — including for the drug itself and, crucially, for clinic visits and lab tests. This means the entire experience of maintaining a prescription to Truvada or Descovy, the two approved forms of PrEP, should now be totally free for almost all insured individuals. A prescribing physician, however, must persuade an insurer that Descovy in particular is medically necessary for any specific patient to qualify for zero cost sharing for that drug’s use as HIV prevention. (Ryan, 7/20)


Fox News:
Puzzles, Card Games Later In Life May Delay Alzheimer’s Onset By Five Years, Study Finds


Playing puzzles, card games, reading books and engaging in other mentally stimulating activities later in life can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia by five years, researchers found. Findings published in Neurology on July 14 analyzed nearly 2,000 patients about 80 years old on average and free of dementia at the study start. During seven years of follow-up with annual exams and cognitive tests, some 457 people about 90 years old on average developed dementia, or “impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Rivas, 7/20)


The Hill:
Smoke From Western Wildfires Smothers East Coast 


Smoke from the wildfires ravaging the West Coast is reaching as far east as New York City, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The wildfires, 80 of which were reported as of Monday in 13 different states, are causing harmful air quality conditions across the country. (Polus, 7/20)


Stat:
More Than 200 People Being Tracked For Possible Monkeypox Exposure


More than 200 people in 27 states are being monitored for possible exposure to monkeypox after they had contact with an individual who contracted the disease in Nigeria before traveling to the United States this month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To date, no additional cases have been detected. State and local health authorities are working with the CDC to identify and assess the individuals, and follow up with them daily until late this month, said Andrea McCollum, who leads the poxvirus epidemiology unit at the agency’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. (Branswell, 7/20)


AP:
Public Event Set In WVa For Medical Cannabis Registration


West Virginia residents with serious medical conditions can register with the state at an upcoming public event for medical cannabis products. The state Office of Medical Cannabis will conduct the event next Monday at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. The Department of Health and Human Resources said appointments are strongly encouraged. (7/21)


AP:
Polis: Colorado Program Keeps Health Insurance Costs Low


Health insurance premiums are expected to stay stable next year for individuals buying coverage on the Colorado insurance exchange, continuing a cost-saving trend under a state-run program that covers the most expensive cases, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday. Individuals buying on the exchange are expected to save more than 24% next year compared with what they would pay if they had to purchase coverage without the state program, the Democratic governor said in a statement. The average cost will be 1.4% more than this year, according to preliminary estimates. (Anderson, 7/20)


ABC News:
Tokyo Olympics Leader Doesn’t Rule Out Canceling Games At Last Minute 


The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee addressed concerns of rising COVID-19 cases during a press conference on Tuesday and did not rule out the possibility of a last-minute cancellation of the games. “We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases. So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases. I think that is all I can say at this juncture,” said Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, in a response translated from Japanese. (Yamada, 7/20)


CNBC:
Tokyo Olympics: WHO Chief Addresses IOC In Japan, Warns Of New Covid Wave


The world is in the early stages of another wave of Covid-19 infections and death, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. Speaking to International Olympic Committee members in Tokyo, Tedros said the global failure to share vaccines, tests and treatments is fueling a “two-track pandemic.” Countries that have adequate resources like vaccines are opening up, while others are locking down in a bid to slow the virus’ transmission. Vaccine discrepancies around the world are masking a “horrifying injustice,” he added. (Choudhury, 7/21)


Becker’s Hospital Review:
Olympian Encourages Women To Get Early Screenings In Ascension’s Latest Campaign


Seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller shares her journey through cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery in St. Louis-based Ascension’s most recent marketing campaign. In 2011, the then 33-year-old gymnast was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after a routine screening that she almost delayed. After receiving care at Ascension, Ms. Miller — who is now 10 years cancer-free — teamed up with the health system to help ensure other women catch diagnoses before it’s too late. (Adams, 7/20)


Detroit Free Press:
PCR Tests Still Required To Cross Canadian Border After Aug. 9


The Canadian border reopens to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens on Aug. 9, but negative PCR tests will still be required before crossing. A polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test is a real-time diagnostic test conducted via a nasal or throat swab and can detect SARS-CoV-2. “Regardless of whether you’re Canadian or American or any other nationality, and regardless of whether you’re fully vaccinated or not, it’s mandatory for everybody ages 5 and up to have a valid PCR test, or the equivalent, within 72 hours before arriving,” said a Canadian border agent. (Rahal, 7/20)


NPR:
India’s COVID Death Toll Estimated At About 4 Million, Says New Report


How many people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began? The official global total as of this week: 4.1 million. But everyone agrees the true toll is far greater. A study released on Tuesday looks at how much of a disparity there may be in India, one of the epicenters of the pandemic. The analysis, from the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, D.C., looks at the number of “excess deaths” that occurred in India between January 2020 and June 2021 – in other words, how many more people died during that period than during a similar period of time in 2019 or other recent years. (Pathak, Frayer and Silver, 7/20)


Politico:
France Forced To Soften Rules After Coronavirus Green Pass Backlash


The French government, which last week introduced some of Europe’s toughest measures against COVID-19, has been forced to row back on some restrictions following a pushback from industries and street protests. Among the new rules, French President Emmanuel Macron sought to turbo-drive vaccinations by making proof of vaccination or immunity mandatory to enter cafés, restaurants and a range of other venues this summer. (Caulcutt, 7/20)


AP:
Fourth State In Mexico Legalizes Abortion, Up To 12 Weeks


Mexico’s Gulf coast state of Veracruz became the fourth of the country’s 32 states to legalize abortion Tuesday. The Veracruz state legislature voted 25-13 to allow abortions in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. Those who perform abortions on women after the first three months can be punished by 15 to 60 days in prison, which can be substituted by a fine and 50 to 100 of community work. (7/21)


This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.



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