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First Edition: November 15, 2021


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

How Rural Communities Are Losing Their Pharmacies

Batson’s Drug Store seems like a throwback to a simpler time. The independently owned pharmacy in Howard, Kansas, still runs an old-fashioned soda counter and hand-dips ice cream. But the drugstore, the only one in the entire county, teeters on the edge between nostalgia and extinction. Julie Perkins, pharmacist and owner of Batson’s, graduated from the local high school and returned after pharmacy school to buy the drugstore more than two decades ago. She and her husband bought the grocery store next door in 2006 to help diversify revenue and put the pharmacy on firmer footing. (Hawryluk, 11/15)

Your Out-Of-Pocket Health Care Costs Need Not Be A Mystery

If you’ve ever had a serious illness or cared for someone who has, you know how quickly the medical bills can pile up: from labs, radiology clinics, pharmacies, doctors, different departments within the same hospital — some of them in your insurance network, others not. It can be extremely confusing, no matter how clever you are, to determine which bills you need to pay. If you’re sick, or have technological, cultural or language barriers — not to mention financial difficulties — navigating this maze can be especially intimidating. (Wolfson, 11/15)

Live Performers Find Red State Rules A Tough Act To Follow

There was something a little different on stage at a recent performance of the musical “Sister Amnesia’s Country Western Nunsense Jamboree,” the first production for the Missoula Community Theatre since the beginning of the pandemic. All the actors wore clear face masks. That way, the audience could better see the actors’ expressions, which is “a pretty big deal in live theater,” said Jess Heuermann, who played Sister Mary Wilhelm in the show. (Alpert, 11/15)

Journalists Offer Primers On Medicare Open Enrollment And Death Benefits Amid Covid

KHN contributing writer and former columnist Michelle Andrews discussed on Newsy on Tuesday how unvaccinated workers risk losing the death benefits they would have otherwise received if they die of covid-19. KHN chief Washington correspondent Julie Rovner discussed Medicare open enrollment on WBUR-NPR’s “Here & Now” on Monday. She also discussed covid vaccines for children on WAMU-NPR’s “1A” on Nov. 5. (11/13)

U.S. Appeals Court Affirms Hold On Biden COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

White House officials had no immediate comment on the ruling, which was hailed as a victory by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Texas joined other U.S. states, as well as private employers and religious organizations, in legal challenges to the order. “Citing Texas’s ‘compelling argument[s]’ the 5th Circuit has stayed OSHA’s unconstitutional and illegal private-business vaccine mandate”, Paxton said on Twitter. (Whitcomb, 11/13)

Biden’s Shot-Or-Test Mandate Dealt Another Blow By Fifth Circuit

A U.S. appeals court has extended its Nov. 6 order pausing President Joe Biden’s shot-or-test mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The ruling, issued today by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, solidifies its earlier order blocking implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency regulation. Its ruling comes ahead of a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation lottery to determine which federal appeals court will be assigned to adjudicate the many legal challenges to the measure now pending across the country. The lottery is slated for Nov. 16. (Harris, 11/12)

The Hill:
Federal Appeals Court Affirms Stay On Biden Vaccine Mandate For Businesses

A federal appeals court has upheld its stay on President Biden’s vaccine-or-test mandate for companies with at least 100 employees. In a 22-page ruling on Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the mandate was “fatally flawed,” and barred the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from enforcing the mandate “pending adequate judicial review” of a motion for permanent injunction. OSHA shall “take no steps to implement or enforce the mandate until further court order,” the ruling stated. (Williams, 11/12)

The New York Times:
Faith Groups Push To Scrap Mandates In Biden’s Child Care Plan

A coalition of conservative religious groups is waging an intensive lobbying effort to remove a nondiscrimination provision from President Biden’s ambitious prekindergarten and child care plans, fearing it would disqualify their programs from receiving a huge new infusion of federal money. The fight could have major consequences for a central component of Mr. Biden’s $1.85 trillion social policy bill, which the House is to consider as soon as this week. It could go a long way toward determining which programs, neighborhoods and families can benefit from the landmark early-childhood benefits established in the legislation, given that child care centers and preschools affiliated with religious organizations make up a substantial share of those offered in the United States — serving as many as 53 percent of families, according to a survey last year by the Bipartisan Policy Center. (Broadwater, 11/14)

The Washington Post:
DeSantis Brings Back Florida Lawmakers To Crack Down On Pandemic Mandates

A special legislative session dubbed “Keep Florida Free” begins Monday at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who wants lawmakers to pass more measures to block coronavirus vaccine mandates by public and private employers. The four bills being considered would ratchet up the penalties for businesses, local governments and other entities that require workers to be vaccinated against the virus and students to wear masks in school. According to DeSantis (R), the session will strengthen as well as augment rules already in place — in part through his own executive orders. (Rozsa, 11/14)

The Washington Post:
Vaccine Mandate: Oklahoma National Guard Leader Rejects Pentagon Directive

The Oklahoma National Guard has rejected the Defense Department’s requirement for all service members to receive the coronavirus vaccine and will allow personnel to sidestep the policy with no repercussions, an order from the governor that could serve as a blueprint for other Republican-led states that have challenged Biden administration mandates. Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, appointed this week by Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) as adjutant of the state’s 10,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen, on Thursday notified those under his command that they are not required to receive the vaccine and won’t be punished if they decline it. (Horton and Lamothe, 11/13)

The New York Times:
Dozens Of N.Y.C. Sanitation Workers Were Suspended During An Inquiry Into The Use Of Fake Vaccine Cards

Several dozen New York City workers have been suspended without pay as a part of an investigation into the use of fake vaccine cards at the Department of Sanitation, a city official with knowledge of the investigation said. The investigation will include a thorough review of vaccination records to determine how widespread the fraud might be, said the official, who was not authorized to comment on the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The development is the latest in a protracted debate over the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers. (Ashford, 11/14)

The Wall Street Journal:
Robert Califf, Former FDA Chief, Is Biden’s Pick To Run Agency

Robert Califf, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, is the Biden administration’s choice to once again head the agency, as it plays a critical role in efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. President Biden announced the nomination on Friday, sparking criticism among some lawmakers and patient advocates while a leading industry trade group leapt to his support. Dr. Califf is expected to be confirmed. The FDA, which has been clearing the use of Covid-19 vaccines, boosters and drugs, has been operating without a permanent leader since Mr. Biden took office. (Armour and Siddiqui, 11/12)

Roll Call:
Biden Taps Califf As FDA Commissioner

President Joe Biden announced Friday he is nominating Robert Califf to again serve as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “As the FDA considers many consequential decisions around vaccine approvals and more, it is mission critical that we have a steady, independent hand to guide the FDA,” said Biden in a statement. “I am confident Dr. Califf will ensure that the FDA continues its science and data drive decision-making.” Califf, who previously helmed the FDA in the final year of the Obama administration, is seen as a status quo choice. (Kopp, 11/12)

The Wall Street Journal:
Democrats Try To Heal Rifts, Pass $2 Trillion Spending Bill 

House Democrats will return this week with the goal of passing a roughly $2 trillion social spending and climate package. To be successful, members must remain united amid intraparty friction that some lawmakers say is the worst they have seen in their time in Congress. The tensions ramped up this month as Democrats worked to pass their  separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has been linked for months with the larger spending package. Party leaders emerged victorious on the infrastructure bill, but only because 13 Republicans brought it over the finish line after six Democrats voted no, protesting a decision to delay the social spending bill. (Andrews, Collins and Parti, 11/14)

Democrats Push For Paid Family Leave Ahead Of Critical Votes

Longtime advocates of paid family and medical leave are scrambling to make sure that the long-sought Democratic priority remains in a massive social and environmental spending bill after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi revived it. But the outcome will likely come down to the support of one man. The one Senate Democrat who opposes including paid leave in the spending package is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate who has used his leverage in the evenly divided chamber to whittle away some of his party’s most ambitious and costly policy proposals. (Clare Jalonick, 11/15)

Biden Names Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu To Oversee Infrastructure Plan

President Joe Biden named former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to oversee implementation of the $1 trillion infrastructure plan, the White House said on Sunday. Landrieu, also a Democratic former Louisiana lieutenant governor, led New Orleans from 2010 to 2018. He played a key role in helping the city rebound from the devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Biden, who will sign the infrastructure bill into law on Monday, named Landrieu senior adviser responsible for coordinating implementation of the bill that includes big jumps in spending on roads, bridges, rail, airports, transit, ports, broadband internet and removing lead pipes. (Holland and Shepardson, 11/15)

Washington Seeks Over $38 Billion From Opioid Distributors

Having rejected a half-billion-dollar settlement offer, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking the state’s case against the nation’s three biggest drug distributors to trial Monday, saying they must be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. But his gamble isn’t without risk, as a loss by three California counties in a similar case this month demonstrates. Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling Nov. 1 that the counties, plus the city of Oakland, had not proven the pharmaceutical companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance. (Johnson, 11/15)

The Hill:
Medicare Premiums To Jump In Part Due To Pricey Alzheimer’s Drug

Seniors on Medicare will have to pay more than $20 more per month extra in premiums next year, a large increase that officials in part attributed to possible coverage of a pricey and controversial new Alzheimer’s drug. The Biden administration announced Friday that the monthly premium for Medicare Part B, which covers services like doctors office visits, will increase by $21.60, from $148.50 in 2021 to $170.10 in 2022. Officials said that is one of the largest increases in recent years. (Sullivan, 11/12)

Costly Alzheimer’s Drug Fuels Record Medicare Premium Hike

The standard monthly premium for Medicare outpatient, or “Part B,” coverage, will be $170.10 in 2022, up from $148.50 in 2021, senior Biden administration officials said Friday. The $21.60 increase is the largest annual dollar-amount rate hike ever for Part B coverage, while the 14.5% increase is the third-largest percentage increase since 2007. (Pugh, 11/12)

Modern Healthcare:
Medicare Premiums Will See Big Increase In 2022

Medicare members’ monthly premiums for physician and outpatient services will increase nearly 15% in 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a news release Friday. The agency attributed the increases to rising healthcare prices driven by COVID-19-related care, lawmakers’ moves to lower 2021 premiums during the pandemic and the potential for pricey drugs like Biogen’s Aduhelm to receive coverage. (Tepper and Goldman, 11/12)

Modern Healthcare:
Biden Repeals Trump-Era Medicare ‘Breakthrough’ Coverage Policy

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized its decision Friday to repeal a rule that would have created an expedited Medicare coverage pathway for medical devices considered “breakthrough technology.” The rule, originally finalized in the last days of the Trump administration, would have allowed Medicare to cover devices deemed “breakthrough” by the Food and Drug Administration for four years once they received market authorization. Medicare beneficiaries can currently get breakthrough devices covered through other methods, like a national coverage determination, but this would have sped the process. (Goldman, 11/12)

The Hill:
Psaki Takes Shot At Aaron Rodgers: We’re Against ‘Misinformation’

Press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the White House is against misinformation when asked about celebrities, such as NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “You know how we feel about misinformation — we’re against it,” Psaki said when asked by a reporter if she had anything to say to people, such as the Green Bay Packers star, who have promoted “dubious alternatives to vaccines.” (Gangitano, 11/12)

The Washington Post:
Messonnier, Birx Detail Political Interference In Last Year’s Coronavirus Response

The Trump administration repeatedly interfered with efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year to issue warnings and guidance about the evolving coronavirus pandemic, six current and former health officials told congressional investigators in recent interviews. One of those officials, former CDC senior health expert Nancy Messonnier, warned in a Feb. 25, 2020, news briefing that the virus’s spread in the United States was inevitable — a statement that prompted anger from President Donald Trump and led to the agency’s media appearances being curtailed, according to interview excerpts and other documents released Friday by the House select subcommittee on the pandemic. (Diamond, 11/12)

The Hill:
Trump CDC Official: No ‘Public Health Reason’ For Border Closure, Title 42

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials felt evidence “did not support” former President Trump’s decision to close the border and that the move “wasn’t based on a public health assessment at the time,” the CDC’s Trump-era deputy director told congressional investigators. Anne Schuchat’s comments, released Friday as part of a congressional select committee review of the U.S.’s coronavirus response, confirms reporting that CDC officials saw little public health rationale for Title 42, which allows for swift expulsion at the border and denies migrants the chance to seek asylum. (Beitsch, 11/12)

The Washington Post:
Americans More Critical Of Biden’s Pandemic Response, Post-ABC Poll Finds 

Americans’ approval of President Biden’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic – one of his most positive assets early in his presidency – has continued on a downward trend in recent months, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found. This tracks with the trajectory of the public health crisis that seemed to be easing this summer, but roared back to life with the spread of the more-contagious delta variant and plateauing vaccination rates in some areas. (Pannett and Timsit, 11/15)

The New York Times:
Colorado Governor Says He Is ‘Frustrated’ With Federal Regulators On Boosters

As federal regulators consider a request to expand eligibility of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine boosters to all adults, three states decided this past week to broaden access on their own. Colorado, New Mexico and California are allowing adults to seek out boosters, provided individuals are at least six months past the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months past the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “I’ve been very frustrated with the convoluted messaging out of the C.D.C. and the F.D.A.,” said Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado on Sunday on the CBS show “Face the Nation,” referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Food and Drug Administration. (Hoffman, 11/14)

CBS News:
Gottlieb Says Messaging On COVID-19 Boosters Could Be “One Of The Biggest Missed Opportunities In This Pandemic”

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Sunday that the mixed messaging by the federal government over who can and should receive a COVID-19 booster shot may end up being one of the most consequential missteps of the pandemic.  “I think the confusing message around the boosters may end up being one of the biggest missed opportunities in this pandemic. We now see very clear evidence of declining vaccine effectiveness over time,” Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation.” “There’s different reasons why that may be the case, but the trend is unmistakable.” (Hayes, 11/14)

The Hill:
New Mexico Extends Eligibility For COVID-19 Boosters To All Adults

New Mexico is extending eligibility for COVID-19 boosters to all adults, joining California and Colorado. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) announced Friday that all adults were eligible to get a booster shot of the coronavirus vaccine. “As we have throughout this unpredictable and unprecedented global pandemic, we always stand ready to quickly implement new tools and policies in our fight against this terrible disease,” Lujan Grisham said. (Lonas, 11/13)

CBS News:
COVID Booster Shots Allowed For All Adults In California, Colorado And New Mexico

Three states — California, Colorado and New Mexico — are allowing COVID-19 booster shots for all adults, even though federal health officials recommend limiting shots to patients considered most at risk. The three states have some of the nation’s highest rates of new COVID infections. “This is really a critical moment in the pandemic,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis said. “It has never been more dangerous for the unvaccinated than it is right now.” (11/13)

The Wall Street Journal:
Covid-19 Cases Rise In Pockets Of North And West, Halting Delta Variant’s Decline In U.S.

Covid-19 cases are climbing in places like the upper Midwest, Southwest and parts of the Northeast, hindering the nation’s progress in ending a surge triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. Nationally, the seven-day average of new cases appears to be edging back up after hovering just above 70,000 for several weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, halting what had been a decline from the Delta-fueled peak that began in September. While the Southeast cools off from its summer surge, other regions are under pressure, including places where colder weather has brought people back indoors where the virus can more easily spread. (Kamp and Maher, 11/14)

The New York Times:
Three ‘Beloved’ Snow Leopards Died Of Covid Complications At Nebraska Zoo

Three snow leopards died of complications related to Covid-19 at a zoo in Lincoln, Neb., despite efforts by staff to restore them to health after they tested positive for the virus about a month ago, zoo announcements said. The Lincoln Children’s Zoo lamented the deaths of Ranney, Everest and Makalu in a Facebook post on its official page Friday evening, saying the mountain cats “were beloved by our entire community inside and outside of the zoo.” “This loss is truly heartbreaking, and we are all grieving together,” the statement said. (Manuel Ramos, 11/14)

U.S. Administers Over 440 Mln Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccines

The United States had administered 440,559,613 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Sunday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Those figures are up from the 439,034,461 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Nov. 13. The agency said 226,607,653 people had received at least one dose while 195,120,470 people had been fully vaccinated as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Sunday. (11/14)

Pfizer Shot Generated Most Antibodies In Comparative Study

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 shot yielded the strongest immune response among four vaccines tested in a study, which found people getting Sinopharm’s inoculation may be particularly susceptible to a breakthrough coronavirus infection. Levels of protective antibodies to the part of the coronavirus that SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect human cells varied widely across each of the four vaccine groups. “Relatively low” antibody concentrations were stimulated by the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines, intermediate levels for the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine, and the highest values for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a study in the journal Cell Host and Microbe showed. (Gale, 11/15)

The New York Times:
Efficacy Of COVID Vaccines Wanes, Fueling Boosters Debate

As tens of millions of eligible people in the United States consider signing up for a COVID-19 booster shot, a growing body of early global research shows that the vaccines authorized in the United States remain highly protective against the disease’s worst outcomes over time, with some exceptions among older people and those with weakened immune systems. But although the vaccines’ effectiveness against severe disease and hospitalization has mostly held steady, even through the summer surge of the highly transmissible delta variant, a number of published studies show that their protection against infection, with or without symptoms, has fallen. (Schoenfeld Walker and Holder, 11/14)

More Turn To Abortion Pills By Mail, With Legality Uncertain

The COVID-19 pandemic and Texas’ near-ban on abortion fueled increased interest in obtaining abortion medications by mail. But with the legality in doubt in several states, some people looking to get around restrictions may not see it as worth the risk. The matter is taking on new urgency with the Supreme Court set to hear arguments next month in Mississippi’s bid to erode the Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion. Some abortion-rights advocates worry that whatever state officials and anti-abortion groups promise, people ending their pregnancies at home will face criminal prosecutions. (Hanna, 11/13)

Modern Healthcare:
Childbirth-Related Complications Drain $32.2 Billion From U.S. Economy

Health complications stemming from childbirth drain at least $32.3 billion from the U.S. economy, according to a new study. Maternal mental health disorder accounted for the biggest share of both medical and societal costs like loss of economic output at $18.1 billion over a six-year span, according to new research from Mathematica and the Commonwealth Fund. Children of moms who suffer from mental health issues, hypertension, gastrointestinal diabetes, blood loss and other conditions are more likely develop chronic health issues or behavioral health disorders, according to the analysis of nine maternal morbidity conditions spanning conception to a child’s first five years across more than 6.3 million births. (Kacik, 11/12)

The Wall Street Journal:
Boys Have Eating Disorders, Too. Doctors Think Social Media Is Making It Worse

Eating disorders are on the rise among boys, say doctors, who think images and videos on social media are a factor. Pediatric wards are seeing more eating-disorder cases overall, with boys making up an increasing share of patients. Cases with boys are often more severe than with girls, the doctors say, because boys’ disorders often go unnoticed until they are far along, and because eating disorders are largely believed to mostly affect young women. (Jargon, 11/13)

Thousands Of Military Families Struggle With Food Insecurity

It’s a hidden crisis that has existed for years inside one of the most well-funded institutions on the planet and has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 160,000 active-duty military members are having trouble feeding their families. That estimate by Feeding America, which coordinates the work of more than 200 food banks around the country, underscores how long-term food insecurity has extended into every aspect of American life, including the military. (Khalil, 11/15)

US Flu Shows Another Small Rise, With 90% Of Cases In Young People

Though the nation’s flu activity is still at low levels, the number of detections has increased in recent weeks, mostly due to the H3N2 strain and with 90% of cases in people ages 5 to 24, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in an update that covers last week. Most flu markers remained below baselines, and the CDC notes that public health labs over the past 3 weeks have reported H3N2 in 7 of 10 of US regions. Flu seasons dominated by H3N2 are concerning, because the subtype causes more severe illness in older people and vaccines don’t typically protect as well against it. (11/12)

NBC News:
People Got Sicker During The Pandemic, Even Without Covid-19

A new study found that the number of Americans able to keep their blood pressure at healthy levels dropped significantly in 2020 —either because people avoided the doctor’s office or were unable to get care because their physicians closed their offices temporarily during the pandemic. The research, presented Saturday at an annual meeting of the American Heart Association, showed that on average, only 53.3 percent of adults in the U.S. had their blood pressure under control last year, compared to 60.5 percent in 2019. (Edwards, 11/13)

Non-White Race Tied To Higher Risk For COVID Infection, Severity

A US meta-analysis and systematic review of data on 4.3 million patients analyzed in 68 cohort and cross-sectional studies shows that, relative to White people, Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations were at higher risk for COVID-19 infection and admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) but were less likely to die of the disease. The study, published yesterday in JAMA Network Open, was designed to uncover the link between socioeconomic determinants of health and racial disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. (Van Beusekom, 11/12)

8 Lingering Questions About The New Covid Pills From Merck And Pfizer

The past two months have brought extremely good news in the fight against Covid-19. Two different oral treatments have proved effective at both preventing people newly diagnosed with Covid-19 from entering the hospital and from dying. “We’re accelerating our path out of this pandemic,” President Biden said after data on the second Covid pill became available. The wide availability of oral drugs could make Covid-19 less lethal, making it less risky for people to return to in-person work and to their normal lives. (11/15)

COVID-19, Flu Vaccines Safe To Give At The Same Time, Study Shows

A UK study yesterday in The Lancet finds that flu and COVID-19 vaccines can be safely co-administered. Led by researchers from the Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol, the multicenter phase 4 clinical trial involved 679 adults at 12 UK sites. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three inactivated age-appropriate seasonal flu vaccines and either the second dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech (BNT162b2) or AstraZeneca/Oxford (ChAdOx1) COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo from Apr 1 to Jun 26, 2021. (11/12)

Philips In Talks With FDA After New Ventilator Findings – Statement

Philips (PHG.AS), the medical equipment maker that is recalling ventilators due to use of parts containing a potentially hazardous foam, said on Sunday it is in dicussions with U.S. regulators after a new inspection of one of the company’s facilities. Philips in September estimated it will replace up to 4 million vetilators and respiratory devices because of a polyurethane foam part that might degrade and become toxic. The company has produced 15 million devices using the foam since 2009 but some are not in use. (11/14)

Kaiser Permanente, Unions Reach Labor Deal To Avert Strike

An alliance of unions representing 50,000 Kaiser Permanente workers in California, Oregon and six other states called off a strike notice after reaching a tentative labor deal Saturday with the health care network. The Alliance of Health Care Unions and Kaiser Permanente jointly announced the agreement, staving off a potentially crippling strike in which 32,000 employees, most of them in Southern California, threatened to walk off the job this coming Monday to protest understaffing and wage cuts for new hires. (11/14)

Crain’s New York Business:
Report: New York Hospitals Have Placed Thousands of Liens on Patients’ Homes Over Bills

Hospitals across New York have filed thousands of liens on the homes of patients with outstanding medical bills, according to a report released Wednesday by the Community Service Society of New York. Fifty-six New York hospitals placed 4,880 liens on patients’ homes in 2017 and 2018, the most recent years for which data was available, the nonprofit found. Simultaneously, the hospitals received more than $442 million in state funds meant to help them cover care for patients who are unable to pay, the report said. (Kaufman, 11/12)

The Boston Globe:
Mass General Brigham Resists The Lead Of Hospitals Banning Or Limiting Trustee Investments In Its Startups

Last month, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston adopted tough new rules to ensure that its trustees don’t profit personally from their prestigious volunteer role, one that gives them front-row seats to cutting-edge — and potentially lucrative — ideas for fighting cancer. Joining several other leading US hospitals, the institution banned trustees from newly investing in startup companies based on discoveries made in Dana-Farber’s labs. The sudden change came as the Globe Spotlight Team found that at least seven trustees had personally invested in Dana-Farber startups, including one trustee who cofounded five startups and saw his stock shares in one soar by about $85 million as of this fall. (Kowalczyk and Ryley, 11/12)

Modern Healthcare:
Illinois’ $16 Billion Health Program Riddled With Industry Ties and Potential Conflicts of Interest

The upper echelon of the state agency charged with overseeing Medicaid is peppered with representatives of the for-profit insurance industry state officials are supposed to be policing, a Better Government Association investigation has found. An examination of state contracts, salary data, pension statements, court records and internal correspondence identified more than a dozen top-level Medicaid officials in Illinois who have current or recent financial ties to the giant insurance companies now managing the $16 billion per year taxpayers spend to provide medical care to people who cannot afford health coverage. (Jackson, 11//12)

Last 3 Florida School Districts Drop Student Mask Mandates

The last three school districts in Florida that required at least some students to wear masks are dropping their mandates for student facial coverings. Starting Friday, grade school students in Miami-Dade schools can opt out of wearing a mask if they have their parents’ permission. Masks already had been optional for high school and some middle school students. (11/12)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Long-Haulers: Georgia Patients With Lasting COVID Symptoms Fight For Benefits

Koie Smith rarely found himself at a loss for words. After more than two decades in the information technology field, the 40-year-old Marietta resident had climbed the ranks to become the chief technologist of a construction company, where he charted out strategy, oversaw a team and spoke in front of hundreds of people at events. (Hallerman, 11/12)

Los Angeles Times:
Recovered From COVID-19, Garcetti To Return To L.A. On Tuesday

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, recovered from a bout of COVID-19, landed Sunday in Washington, D.C., where he plans to join President Biden at a signing ceremony for the administration’s infrastructure bill before returning to Los Angeles on Tuesday, a mayoral spokesman said. Garcetti, who is fully vaccinated, had been in Glasgow, Scotland, attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference, when he tested positive for a breakthrough infection. Garcetti had a fever and symptoms of a head cold and isolated in a Glasgow hotel room, he told his staff. (Blume, 11/13)

Los Angeles Times:
COVID Surge Fueled By Kids In U.K. A Warning For California

Unvaccinated adolescents have been the driving force behind a stubbornly persistent Delta surge in Britain, a potential warning sign for California if inoculation rates don’t improve considerably among this age group, health experts warn. Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious-disease expert, said unvaccinated 10- to 14-year-olds are driving the pandemic in the United Kingdom, with case rates among these ages significantly higher than any other group. (Lin II and Money, 11/14)

Who Can Get Covid Booster Vaccine In U.K.? People In 40s Now Eligible

The U.K. is expanding its Covid-19 booster program to younger people as the country seeks to head off another wave of infections this winter. A third vaccine dose will be available to people aged 40 to 49 starting six months after their second shot, the government said Monday. Previously, only those over 50 and other vulnerable groups were eligible. So far, more than 12 million people have received a third inoculation. (Hipwell, 11/15)

German Coronavirus Infections Hit New High, Tighter Measures Planned

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate has risen to its highest level since the start of the pandemic, public health figures showed on Monday, as the three parties in talks to form a new government plan an expansion of measures to tackle the pandemic. The seven-day incidence rate – the number of people per 100,000 to be infected over the last week – rose to 303 from 289 the previous day, figures from the Robert Koch Institute showed on Monday. (11/15)

CBS News:
Portugal, The Little Country That Could … Get Vaccinated

From an overlook in Lisbon, with the sun peeking through, things look pretty good. Having weathered the storm of COVID, at least for now, Portugal is emerging as a shining example: one of the most vaccinated countries on Earth, with roughly 98 percent of those eligible here having been vaccinated, compared to about 62 percent in the U.S. Trams are again packed; so are restaurants. (11/14)

The New York Times:
Brazil Surpasses The U.S. In Getting People Fully Vaccinated

Once a pandemic hot spot, Brazil has edged past the United States in fully vaccinating its people against the coronavirus, with over 60 percent of the Brazilian population fully immunized. The U.S. rate for full vaccination stands at 59 percent. The achievement contrasts with Brazil’s much derided handling of the pandemic under President Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to get vaccinated himself. It also reflects the extent of the public’s trust in a robust health care system with a track record of responding quickly to such crises. (Andreoni, 11/14)

Israel To Give Pfizer Vaccine To Children Once Doses Arrive

Israel plans to begin giving the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine to children aged 5 to 11 as soon as possible, after becoming the latest country to approve the inoculations. The Health Ministry expects the first shipments of the children’s vaccine — which is weaker than the regular dose — to arrive from the U.S. in the coming days, according to a spokesperson. A panel of experts at the ministry voted overwhelmingly in favor of the inoculation campaign last week. (Avis, 11/15)

The New York Times:
Austria’s New Lockdown Will Confine The Unvaccinated To Their Homes

Austria will confine unvaccinated adults and minors over age 11 to their homes as part of a targeted lockdown, lawmakers announced Sunday. The move, which is aimed at calming the worst surge in infections the country has faced since the pandemic started, is believed to be one of the first national lockdowns directed at the unvaccinated. “We do not take this step lightly,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a news conference on Sunday. Starting Monday, those who cannot prove that they are either fully vaccinated or immune from a past infection can only leave their dwellings for essential reasons, such as going to the doctor or for essential grocery shopping. (Schuetze, 11/14)

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