Weekend update

The House of Representatives convenes tomorrow for its second session of the 117th Congress. Both House and the Senate expect to engage in Committee business and floor votes this week.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the President has accepted the House Speaker’s invitation to give his State of the Union address on March 1. The date of the address was push back to March to avoid conflicting with the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held from February 4 to 24. Roll Call adds that the Administration plans to release the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal following the State of the Union address.

From the Omicron front, NPR informs us that

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University have preliminary evidence that the risk of being admitted to the hospital or the intensive care unit during the omicron surge in the U.S. is about half of the risk observed during the delta surge. And this reflects what doctors across the country are now seeing firsthand with their patients. * * *

[A]s with any variant of SARS-CoV-2, your absolute risk depends on many factors, including whether you’re vaccinated and boosted, your age, your overall health and your economic situation.

“In the older age group, it’s still a nasty disease, even if it’s less [nasty] than the delta variant,” says Dr. Pamela Davis, who’s a pulmonologist at Case Western Reserve University and a senior author on the new study. “You don’t get off scot-free just because you happen to be infected in the time of omicron.”

As with previous variants, the vast majority of people infected with omicron have a mix of symptoms that resolve relatively quickly and don’t require hospital care. * * *

And doctors are finding many of these cases tend to look like an ordinary upper respiratory infection. In other words, what you think of as the common cold.

“It’s mostly that runny nose, sore throat and nasal congestion,” says Dr. John Vanchiere, the associate director of the Center for Emerging Viral Threats at LSU Health Shreveport. “The cough is milder [than previous variants], if there’s any cough at all, and fever seems to be a little less common.”

The New York Times discusses an increase in Omicron-related hospitalizations of children aged 4 and younger.

The number of hospitalized young children infected with the coronavirus rose precipitously last week to the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data released on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increase was observed in children who were 4 and younger, who are not eligible for vaccination, and the data included children who were admitted to hospitals for reasons other than Covid.

The rise may be partly explained by the surge of Omicron cases, which affects all populations, and the spread of other respiratory infections.

But the data do not show a similar steep rise in coronavirus infections among hospitalized children of other ages, and federal health officials were considering the possibility that Omicron may not be as mild in young children as it is older children.

According to the article the youngest among us are most at risk for upper respiratory infections such as Omicron.

“They’re smaller, their airways are smaller,” Dr. Kristin Oliver, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said of young children.

“It does seem reasonable in a disease that if it looks like it’s affecting the upper airway more, that they would be more impacted,” she added. “They are more at risk for that — for longer, prolonged cases, as well as the hospitalization that can come along with a more severe case.”

That may explain why more hospitalized children aged 4 and younger have tested positive for the coronavirus throughout the pandemic than those 5 and older. It’s also why young children are more vulnerable to other pathogens, like respiratory syncytial virus, and to having the seal-like cough associated with croup.

Healthline summarizes the situation as follows:

A record number of children have recently been hospitalized with COVID-19. Still, health officials say many of these kids are not in the hospital because of COVID-19 but instead incidentally tested positive when admitted for other health issues. Still, due to the sheer volume of pediatric COVID-19 cases right now, children’s hospitals across the country are seeing an increase in kids being hospitalized for COVID-19. Severe illness in kids remains rare, and even hospitalized kids tend to recover well. Still, others require intravenous fluids, steroids, and antivirals. Doctors recommend that families mask up, avoid crowded spaces, and get all eligible kids vaccinated.

From the COVID testing front, PBS reports that

Starting Jan. 15, private insurers will be required to cover the cost of at-home testing, the same way they cover the cost of PCR lab tests. People will have the option of buying tests at a store or online, then seeking reimbursement from their health insurance provider. Those with public health insurance through Medicare or Medicaid, or without insurance, will be directed to the forthcoming website to order tests or to community health centers in their area offering free testing.

However, the FEHBlog sees this program as making a change to current testing coverage rules. According to ACA FAQ 44, a healthcare provider acting within the scope of his or her license must provide an individualized clinical assessment regarding COVID-19 diagnostic testing in order to obtain health plan coverage. The provision of such assessment can be demonstrated by the provider conducting the PCR test or referring the patient to a testing facility.

That individualized clinical assessment does not occur when a consumer decides on his or her own initiative to purchase a rapid at home antigen test kit. Indeed in ACA FAQ 44, the regulators stated that

Plans and issuers are not required to provide coverage of testing such as for public health surveillance or employment purposes. But there is also no prohibition or limitation on plans and issuers providing coverage for such tests.

Thus the new at home test coverage guidance expected this week may involve a material change to the current COVID testing coverage rule. In that event, you can expect a lawsuit challenging the mandate.

The FEHBlog also expected the guidance by January 15, not implementation by that date. The regulators have to allow an opportunity for insurer feedback and then implementing this new program. We shall see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *