IMPAQ Health News
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In this edition, learn about progress in COVID-19 vaccination efforts, reopening updates, new reports from MedPAC and MACPAC to Congress, and more. 
The approval of COVID-19 vaccines is just one step in achieving herd immunity and working to end the pandemic. CMS took another step in late 2020, issuing an interim final rule outlining insurance coverage for vaccines and paving the way to ensure all Americans have access to vaccination. In a new blog post, IMPAQ experts examine the COVID-19 coverage rule in detail and point out additional considerations, as vaccines continue to roll out.
The COVID-19 pandemic put increased pressure on an already strained U.S. public health system, and community health workers stepped in to help fight the virus. A new issue brief from IMPAQ and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) describes the role of community health workers, both in the community and in efforts to combat COVID-19, and examines how to sustain their work. (IMPAQ is an affiliate of AIR.)
Administration News & Reopening Updates. The Biden administration set a new goal of administering 200 million COVID-19 vaccines within 100 days, after previously reaching 100 million doses on the 59th day. In addition, the administration urges all states to open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1, and a newly signed law will allow all veterans to get vaccinated through the VA. Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new cases is up in 27 states, and experts warn of a possible surge if restrictions are eased too quickly.

COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Updates. Many states are expanding vaccine eligibility beyond their initial prioritized populations; however, only three states are currently vaccinating all individuals older than age 16. With an estimated 1 in 6 U.S. adults considered to be fully vaccinated and COVID-19 infections generating a sizable population with antibodies, experts are debating if and when herd immunity may be reached.

  • With most vaccine scheduling taking place online, technology barriers—such as internet connectivity, access to technology, and technology usability and literacy—may worsen vaccine distribution inequities, particularly among older, lower-income, and minority communities.

  • As more vaccines become available for use, a video by Vox Media explains why COVID-19 vaccines cannot be directly compared. One reason is that clinical trials were performed at different times and under very different conditions (i.e., before or after variants emerged).
Rules & Reports
MedPAC and MACPAC Release March 2021 Reports to Congress
On March 15, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) released its March 2021 Report to Congress on Medicare Payment Policy and the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) released its March 2021 Report to Congress on Medicaid and CHIP. MedPAC calls for a 2 percent raise in acute care hospital payments in 2022, but no increase for physician payments, and a continuation of the temporary telehealth service expansion. The MACPAC report suggests that Congress take steps to improve Medicaid’s responsiveness during economic downturns, address concerns about high rates of maternal morbidity and mortality, and integrate care for people who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare.
A study from the Hilltop Institute found that as of early February 2021, 65 of the nation’s largest 100 hospitals have not yet met CMS requirements to publish a machine-readable file of rates negotiated with payers. The price transparency requirements became effective January 1, 2021. Modern Healthcare (3/16)

  • A separate investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that among hospitals that did publish their prices, many had embedded code in their websites that prevents the price lists from appearing in search engine results.
Shopping for and preparing healthy meals are critical parts of maintaining a well-balanced diet, but these activities can be challenging, particularly for low-income families who need to be conscious of both time and budget. In a new paper published in the International Quarterly of Community Health Education, experts from IMPAQ and their colleagues studied the effects of low-income families’ participation in Cooking Matters, a food skills education program. In surveys, Cooking Matters participants reported experiencing greater improvements than a comparison group in selecting healthier foods, and the researchers found that these improvements were sustained six months after participation.
Telehealth Updates
According to a RAND Corporation study of employer-based claims, the rapid growth of telehealth services after March 2020 primarily occurred in more affluent and urban areas. For instance, wealthier areas experienced 48 telehealth visits per 10,000 people, compared with 15 visits per 10,000 people in high-poverty areas. There were 50 visits per 10,000 people in urban areas, compared with 31 visits per 10,000 in rural areas. Healthcare IT News (3/16)
The technology giant announced that its Amazon Care app, already used by Amazon employees in Washington state, will soon be available to employers nationwide. The 24/7 telemedicine platform will connect users with available medical providers that can provide virtual services and is designed to be an employee benefit. ABC News (3/17)
Graphic of the Week
The National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) explores burnout among health care workers in a recently published infographic, a crisis that has been hugely exacerbated by the pandemic.
Upcoming Events, Trainings, & Webinars
The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation of Harvard Law School is excited to announce the launch of its new report analyzing current barriers and policy opportunities for expanding access to Produce Prescription Programs across the United States, which enable health care providers to distribute benefits/vouchers for fruits and vegetables to patients living with, or at risk of, diet-related health conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. This web forum will provide an overview of key findings from the report as well as provide insights from experts in the produce prescription field. Register here.
Kaiser Health News and The John A. Hartford Foundation will be holding an interactive web event to examine the crucial roles home health aides have played for families during the pandemic, as well as the challenging economics of the industry for both providers and consumers. Register here.
Last fall, Missouri Foundation for Health launched a research project to better understand Missourians' perceptions and feelings about COVID vaccines. Now that they’ve completed the research, they want to share insights about how to effectively message about the vaccines. 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.