IMPAQ Health News
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In this edition, learn about milestones in COVID-19 cases and vaccination, public-and private-sector policies on vaccination, strategies to address opioid use, and more.
Journal Articles by IMPAQ, AIR Experts Examine Opioid Use Disorder Issues, Including Treatment Protocols and Access to Care 
Opioid use disorder remains a concerning issue in the United States, particularly with an uptick in drug overdose deaths in 2020 and opioid use contributing to a recent decline in life expectancy. Experts from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and IMPAQ Health have recently published journal articles on different aspects of this issue, including emergency care after an opioid overdose reversal, access to treatment in rural areas, and potential connections between marijuana use and opioid use. (IMPAQ is an affiliate of AIR.)
COVID-19 Vaccine Updates. As the total number of COVID-19 cases in the United States soars past 35 million, many health care professionals continue to urge individuals to get vaccinated to prevent further deaths and overburdening hospital systems. For those already vaccinated, health professionals are discussing the need for booster shots to mitigate the decreasing efficacy rate of the COVID-19 vaccine over time.  

COVID-19 Delta Variant & Related Updates. An internal report from the CDC says the Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox. According to the report, people who have been infected with the Delta variant carry considerable amounts of the virus, regardless if they have been vaccinated. The report also mentions that those who are infected and vaccinated might spread the virus as easily as the unvaccinated, though potentially less often. CDC’s data still show that vaccination is highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization.  

  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says there will be no federal mandate for Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, new vaccination rules from President Biden require federal government workers and contractors to show proof of vaccination or comply with various precautions, including weekly testing, wearing masks, and social distancing. States and cities are following suit: In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a vaccine mandate for indoor activities at places such as restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. 

  • Large U.S. retailers are changing their mask policies in response to the Delta variant. Target employees in counties identified by the CDC as having a “substantial or high risk of transmission” will need to wear face coverings as of 8/3. Walmart and Kroger also have released new policies on mask wearing for employees and customers.  

  • Google has postponed its return to office for most workers until mid-October and will require most workers to be fully vaccinated once its campuses re-open. The move could prompt other tech companies to adopt vaccine mandates.  
New Guidance in Response to COVID-19 
On the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Biden administration issued guidance saying that individuals with long-term symptoms of COVID-19, known as “long COVID,” may be eligible for disability support. However, this guidance does not allow automatic disability assistance for all individuals experiencing long COVID; individualized assessments are required to determine the extent of long COVID’s effect on a person’s daily activities. Washington Post (7/26) 
CMS, in coordination with IRS, released guidance to protect financial assistance that consumers received to pay for health coverage obtained through the Federal Marketplace. In the guidance, CMS said that while consumers still must file tax returns and reconcile their premium tax credit for plan years 2021 and 2022, they will not lose their financial assistance if they were unable to do so. CMS (7/23)
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced a temporary policy allowing flexibility for consumers who may not be able to pay their premiums. Under this policy, insurers can provide policyholders with temporary premium reductions if they were covered in the individual and small group markets in 2020. CMS (8/4)
Health Care Access: Insurance, Mental Health, and Opioid Treatment 
Advocates and health insurers are weighing in on a CMS draft rule that proposes extending the ACA open enrollment by 30 days and establishing new special monthly enrollment periods for low-income individuals. In open comments responding to the rule, insurance companies argued that extending the enrollment period could prompt sicker individuals to sign up for coverage, as well as result in higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Consumer groups and health care providers, on the other hand, praised the rule. Modern Healthcare (7/29) 
A spending bill passed in December allows Medicare to cover mental health services delivered virtually, but there is a restriction: Medicare beneficiaries must see a practitioner in person within six months before virtual treatment begins. Providers and mental health advocates say the requirement will prevent patients from seeking out care, adding that it impedes efforts to provide mental health care services to those in rural communities. Modern Healthcare (7/27) 
Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached more than 93,000 in 2020—a record high—and opioid use is a factor in a recently reported decline in life expectancy in the country. Vox reviews evidence-based approaches to slow the opioid epidemic, such as addressing the supply of medications, improving treatment, reducing harm, and addressing root causes of the issue. Vox (7/23) 
Graphic of the Week
In a new infographic, IMPAQ Health summarizes the CDC’s recommendations on how to encourage friends and family to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 
Upcoming Events, Trainings, & Webinars
Monday, August 9, 2021, 1:00 PM ET – 2:00 PM ET 
Join the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation for a webinar on the increase in value-based care programs and how to engage and support physicians in taking increased financial risks with respect to value-based care. Listen to experts present on ways that providers and health plans can effectively collaborate to improve health care outcomes across various populations. Register here.
In this webinar, hosted by Health Affairs, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, the new CMS administrator, will share her experiences working on the Affordable Care Act, in federal government, and on the Hill. Register here.
As telehealth usage has increased during the pandemic, this webinar aims to explore the challenges and opportunities of digital health care. A panel of health care leaders will discuss key areas of investment in digital health care that can provide positive experiences for both the provider and patient, as well as address the accessibility and quality of such care. Register here.
NOTE: The information, analyses, and opinions expressed in the articles, publications, or comments contained therein are those of the authors and should not be considered verified or endorsed by IMPAQ or any of our partners or clients.