Chicago, IL, USA - October 18 2021: BinaxNOW Covid-19 Antigen Self Test. Results in 15 minutes at home.

The Devil is in the Details with Biden’s Free COVID Testing Plan

By David A. Simon

Yesterday, President Biden announced a new requirement that private insurers must reimburse purchases of at-home COVID-19 tests.

This represents a significant departure from current policy, which only requires insurance companies to pay for testing at the direction of a healthcare provider. The new policy has yet to take effect — the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will release formal guidance for private insurers by January 15th.

Removing the need for clinician approval to access free COVID-19 testing is a noteworthy step; however, the new policy raises a host of questions that remain to be addressed, which are discussed briefly below.

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A male pharmacist is examining a drug from a pharmacy inventory.

HHS’ New Prescription Drug and Health Care Spending Rule

By Cathy Zhang

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services — alongside the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury, and the Office of Personnel Management — published an interim final rule requiring health insurance plans and issuers on the marketplace to report data on prescription drug and health care spending to the three Departments.

This rule is part of a series of rules issued by the Biden Administration to implement Title I (No Surprises Act) and Title II (Transparency) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

Call Your Senator and Help Give Doctors a Break

By Jacob Madden

Want to help make a big change for our nation’s overworked doctors? Call your senator and tell them to hire more.

In March of this year, Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced S.834, the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act to confront the country’s growing shortage of doctors.

The proposed legislation will increase the number of resident physician positions supported by Medicare by 2,000 each year from 2023 to 2029, for a total of 14,000 newly supported positions.

This legislation could make a small but significant dent in the nation’s physician shortage. By 2034, the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage ranging from 17,800 to 48,000 primary care physicians, and 21,000 to 77,100 non-primary care physicians. Take both worst-case scenarios, and we are short 125,100 doctors.

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Blister pack of pills, but instead of bills dollar bills are rolled up in the packaging

What Democrats’ Drug Pricing Plan Means for Consumers

By Cathy Zhang

At the start of the month, Democrats announced a new drug pricing plan, detailed in the House’s Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). In the immediate short term, the drug pricing plan has enabled the $1.75 trillion bill to go forward through the House. If ultimately enacted, it will generate savings for consumers, some more directly than others, and at a more modest pace and magnitude than many had hoped.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

The Barriers to Aging in Place

By Renu Thomas and John Roth

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks associated with institutionalized care for the elderly, and has further shifted sentiments toward a preference for aging in place. But most seniors and their loved ones don’t realize the barriers that make aging in place a difficult proposition until a crisis occurs and they’re faced with finding services.

Take our family, for example. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was after his first fall and discharge from the hospital that our family realized my parents’ independence was severely limited. We knew their house was not wheelchair or walker accessible, but we also needed to address other issues as well; neither of them could drive anymore, so how would we get them to appointments, how would their prescriptions and groceries get picked up, and how could we prevent them from being socially isolated? Like many families, we do not live nearby, let alone in the same state, which made coordinating these services even more challenging.

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Glasses, case for contact lenses and eye test chart on mint background, top view

Medicare Poised to Expand Vision, Hearing, and Dental Benefits

By Bailey Kennedy

Though Pres. Biden’s expansive infrastructure and social spending bills remain mired in Congress, it still seems likely that his administration will preside over one of the most dramatic revisions in America’s public safety net since the Great Society.

One of the most discussed provisions in the omnibus bill would expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, vision, and dental care. Currently, millions of Americans are forced to go without the types of care that the proposed Medicare expansion would address. And seniors, in particular, are likely to deal with vision and hearing-related health care issues, which pose a high financial burden.

While the proposed expansion has met pushback, including these aspects of health care in standard insurance plans is significantly overdue.

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rear view of a dump truck loaded on the road laden with scrap metal

It’s Time for Biden to Scrap Trump-era Junk Plans

By Cathy Zhang

Open enrollment for the health insurance marketplace begins on November 1.

Among the options available to consumers will be short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI), also known as junk insurance plans. The Trump administration facilitated the proliferation of these cheap, underprotective plans in an attempt to undermine the marketplace, and the Biden administration has yet to reverse that policy.

As part of the Biden administration’s public effort “to restore and strengthen Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care,” the administration needs to take executive action to protect consumers and eliminate junk plans.

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close up of an open book

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy 

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Alexander Egilman, Aviva Wang, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues.

Below are the citations for papers identified from the month of September. The selections feature topics ranging from an analysis of the regulatory outcomes of cancer drugs that received accelerated approval and had negative post-approval trials, to an evaluation of how federal public funding contributed to the development of Pregabalin (Lyrica), to a systematic literature review of the criticisms against the use of the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) in health technology assessments. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website.

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Illustration of a family and large clipboard with items in a list checked off. All are underneath a large blue umbrella

Churning Point: Lessons from Medicaid Pandemic Policies

By Cathy Zhang

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring widespread health coverage took on a new sense of urgency, leading many states to implement policies to address the longstanding problem of Medicaid churn.

Churn is a persistent problem in the U.S. health care system. Changes in health insurance coverage disrupt care and worsen self-reported health at significant rates, even for individuals who go from one insurer to another with no gap in coverage. Legislation enacted as a stopgap measure during the pandemic may present a path forward for securing more durable Medicaid coverage beyond the public health emergency.

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Doctor Holding Cell Phone. Cell phones and other kinds of mobile devices and communications technologies are of increasing importance in the delivery of health care. Photographer Daniel Sone.

Toward a Broader Telehealth Licensing Scheme

By Fazal Khan

Evidence generated during the first year the COVID-19 pandemic has called into question the need for many of the telehealth restrictions that were in effect prior to the pandemic.

The question many policymakers are asking now is: which of the telehealth regulatory waivers enacted during the pandemic should become permanent?

My forthcoming article proposes that the federal government use its spending power to incentivize states to adopt a de facto national telehealth licensing scheme through state-based mutual recognition of licensing and scope of practice reforms through a Medicaid program funding “bonus.”

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