Thanksgiving Weekend Update

We are halfway through the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season, which will end on December 11.

The Senate and the House of Representatives will be engaged in Committee business and floor voting this week.

Axios brings us a dental coverage update for Affordable Care Act plans and Medicare. Of note, Axios tells us that “earlier this month, the Biden administration expanded all Medicare beneficiaries’ access to dental services when they’re necessary for other medical care, like cancer treatment.”

From the public health front,

  • Axios reports
    • The big picture: In the two years since Omicron emerged, it has continued to rank as the predominant strain in the U.S., and its subvariants are now driving most of the country’s coronavirus infections.
    • State of play: COVID-19 is circulating in every country and remains a threat, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said in an update Tuesday.
      • “Infection from the variants now in circulation can cause anything from asymptomatic infection to severe disease, pneumonia and death, she explained.”Infection from the variants now in circulation can cause anything from asymptomatic infection to severe disease, pneumonia and death, she explained.
      • “Luckily, she added, most people are experiencing less severe symptoms because they have population-level immunity from vaccination, prior infection, or both.
    • Zoom in: Case rates are not as high as this summer, but experts expect they may rise during the winter as they have the past three years, given colder weather that drives people indoors and holiday gatherings.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds,
    • “Flu and RSV killed thousands of people on their own during typical winters before the pandemic. Covid isn’t killing people as it once did, but it remains the deadliest of the three—in part because it is more active year-round. 
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts hospitalizations this year will be about the same as last year: well above pre-pandemic levels. Even a milder season with the three viruses circulating together would likely mean more hospitalizations than a severe season of just flu and RSV, said Jason Asher, who directs a CDC forecasting department.
    • “More illness means more disruptions to life and work. The flu alone is responsible for billions of dollars in medical and economic costs and millions of lost workdays. Covid has added to worker absences in recent winters.  * * *
    • “There’s one more virus out there for you to get,” said Justin Lessler, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina. “Your risk of getting sick has probably gone up.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “About half of all people are in hospice at the end of their lives, but more than 25 percent of hospice patients enroll in the final week, according to 2021 data from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare issues.
    • “Others among the 1.7 million Medicare patients who used hospice that year availed themselves of its services for much longer. That is reflected in data that reveal the dual nature of hospice: The median stay is only 17 days, meaning half of patients were in hospice less than 17 days and half longer than that. But the average is 92 days, which shows that some patients were in hospice for many months.”
  • The Wall Street Journal points out,
    • A healthcare hiring boom is helping offset weaker job growth in other areas of the softening U.S. economy, boosting its chances of skirting a recession.
    • The industry could serve as a strong job generator for years to come as an aging population and Covid-19 fuel widespread worker shortages and greater needs for healthcare services. 
    • Healthcare providers—including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ offices—accounted for 30% of U.S. job gains in the six months through October, though less than 11% of the country’s total employment, Labor Department figures show. 
    • “As behavior returns to normal—as kids go back to germ-factory indoor play spaces and daycare centers, and as people schedule elective procedures and catch up on routine scans delayed during the height of the pandemic—providers are having to staff up to keep up with demand,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at Ziprecruiter.”