Weekend update

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are attending to committee and floor business this coming week. The House is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief budget reconciliation bill this week. The Hill provides access to the text of the “mammoth” legislation here.

From the COVID-19 front —

  • On Thursday February 26, “[t]he [Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory] committee will meet in open session to discuss [emergency use authorization] EUA of the [single dose] Janssen Biotech Inc. [a/k/a Johnson & Johnson] COVID-19 Vaccine for active immunization to prevent COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 in individuals 18 years and older.” This committee’s meetings on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were held on Thursdays as well, and the FDA EUA approval was issued within 48 hours after those meetings. The only turmoil was in the Pfizer hearing because Pfizer sought and received EUA for people beginning at age 16. That was a helpful move in terms of getting colleges back open in the fall.
  • Medicity News reports that the FDA late last week approved consumer purchase of the Everywell COVID-19 test without a prescription. “Users swab their nose and send in the sample, which is then processed at one of Everlywell’s partner labs. It takes one to two days to get results from the rt-PCR test. If users have a positive or an undetermined result, they’re contacted by a clinician. On Everlywell’s website, tests are priced at $109 — generally more costly than most antigen test alternatives. The company also plans to partner with retailers to sell it over the counter.”
  • NPR Shots now offers a website for COVID-19 vaccine hunters.
  • The Kaiser Family Foundation offers a COVID-19 vaccine site that covers a number of significant topics, including vaccine hesitancy, distribution, and messaging.

In other healthcare news, Kaiser Health News reports that

The federal government has penalized 774 hospitals for having the highest rates of patient infections or other potentially avoidable medical complications. Those hospitals, which include some of the nation’s marquee medical centers, will lose 1% of their Medicare payments over 12 months.

The penalties, based on patients who stayed in the hospitals anytime between mid-2017 and 2019, before the pandemic, are not related to covid-19. They were levied under a program created by the Affordable Care Act that uses the threat of losing Medicare money to motivate hospitals to protect patients from harm. * * *

“The all-or-none penalty is unlike any other in Medicare’s programs,” said Dr. Karl Bilimoria, vice president for quality at Northwestern Medicine, whose flagship Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago was penalized this year. He said Northwestern takes the penalty seriously because of the amount of money at stake, “but, at the same time, we know that we will have some trouble with some of the measures because we do a really good job identifying” complications.

Other renowned hospitals penalized this year include Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles; UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco; Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Tufts Medical Center in Boston; NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York; UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside in Pittsburgh; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

There were 2,430 hospitals not penalized because their patient complication rates were not among the top quarter. An additional 2,057 hospitals were automatically excluded from the program, either because they solely served children, veterans or psychiatric patients, or because they have special status as a “critical access hospital” for lack of nearby alternatives for people needing inpatient care.

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