IMPAQ Health News
From our experts to your inbox. Every two weeks.
In this edition, learn about efforts to mitigate rising rates of COVID-19, how a Biden administration might address health reform, persistent health equity issues, and the latest health policy rules and reports. Also, look out for a special year-end edition of IMPAQ Health News on December 18.
Having employment opportunities is a key factor in helping justice-involved individuals avoid reincarceration. One challenge in this effort is addressing how substance use affects those re-entering society after incarceration. In a new blog post, experts from Maher & Maher, an IMPAQ company, describe some innovative efforts to tackle the issue.
COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the United States, with more than twice as many recorded cases in November as October, overwhelming hospitals. As the year comes to an end, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, advises Americans to postpone holiday travel plans, unless absolutely necessary.

  • President-elect Joe Biden added three new members to his transition team’s COVID-19 task force: Jane Hopkins, a nurse who is an immigrant from Sierra Leone; Jill Jim, executive director of the Navajo Nation Department of Health; and David Michaels, an epidemiologist and professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. Biden said the appointments reflect his desire to be informed by diverse perspectives and help the task force address the health inequities that have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Moderna reported 94.1% efficacy for its COVID-19 vaccine and applied for FDA approval for emergency use. If approved, vaccines could be available as early as December 21. The CDC expert panel approved recommendations stating that vaccines will first go to select groups like health care workers and those who work and live in long-term care facilities.

  • The CDC updated directions for contact tracers, urging them to prioritize their efforts toward those who tested positive for COVID-19 most recently (i.e., within six days) instead of those who tested positive more than two weeks ago.

  • States have mounted various efforts to improve long-term care, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase, particularly among those in nursing homes. These efforts include using Medicaid waivers to increase flexibility of home-based services, tapping into state resources, and post-COVID-19 policy planning to address the impacts of the pandemic on long-term services and supports programs.
Here are some resources for following health policy trends and the latest efforts to address COVID-19: 
  • Johns Hopkins University frequently updates its worldwide map of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

  • In a blog post, Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologists give advice to parents on helping their children manage holiday disappointments during the pandemic.

  • In a new graph, Axios depicts the unprecedented decrease in health care spending spurred by the pandemic. 
Rules & Reports
CMS released the 2021 final policies for QPP through the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule. The QPP final rule includes several key updates, such as the 2022 implementation of the new Merit-based Incentive Payment System Value Pathways and finalization of the new Alternative Payment Model Performance Pathway. CMS (12/1)

  • As part of the PFS final rule, CMS finalized the expansion of Medicare telehealth services, granted non-physician practitioners full practice authority, and allowed providers to be paid for the additional time they spend with patients, particularly those with chronic conditions. CMS (12/1)
CMS releases this payment notice annually to provide guidance to insurers and states participating in the ACA Marketplaces for the upcoming plan year. In a notable proposed change, states will be permitted to transition toward decentralized enrollment through insurers rather than the current centralized marketplace,, similar to the waiver CMS recently approved in Georgia. Health Affairs (11/27)
The 2021 OPPS final rule will phase out the inpatient only list for surgical services starting in 2021, allowing Medicare to pay for procedures on that list when they are provided in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. The final rule will also reduce how much Medicare reimburses hospitals for drugs acquired under the 340B Drug Pricing Program. RevCycleIntelligence (12/2)
How a Biden Administration Could Approach Health Policy Reform
If the Senate remains under Republican control after January, the Biden administration will likely face difficulties in passing health care reforms through Congress. However, Biden could use executive action to expand health care coverage. For example, he could use this power to fix the ACA’s “family glitch,” which results in some employees not having access to affordable coverage options for their dependents. Vox (11/17)
The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) has released a set of priority actions and lessons learned for the Biden administration to improve the ACA. These actions include streamlining the process to enroll in a health care plan, creating a more cohesive and less segmented market, and increasing access to coverage and services. NASHP (11/23)
President-elect Joe Biden will take office as the nation faces twin health crises: a persistent drug addiction epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden administration’s plans to address the drug epidemic include increasing funding for treatment and prevention, eliminating some criminal charges for drug use, and approaching the epidemic as a public health issue. Politico (11/28)
Addressing Health Equity During COVID-19
Value-based payment structures can help decrease health disparities, yet few organizations have prioritized health equity in their plans. In a blog post, health care experts, such as former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, offer strategies to help health care organizations leverage such payment models to address health equity issues. Rhode Island, for instance, uses the pay-for-reporting and pay-for-performance programs, which consider health disparities in its measures. Health Affairs (11/25)
Food insecurity had been on a steady downward trend since the Great Recession; however, the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing economic and health inequities that in turn affect food security. Economic downturns, school closings, and other factors have decreased the avenues through which many low-income families receive nutritious meals, leading to long lines at many food banks. The Hill (11/24)
Graphic of the Week
With COVID-19 vaccines nearly ready for distribution, learn more about how Operation Warp Speed will accelerate the process to make doses available for the U.S. public.
Upcoming Events, Trainings, & Webinars
Aligning for Health, Trust for America’s Health, and a bipartisan panel of congressional staff will discuss creative approaches to social determinants of health, including such relevant recent legislation as the Social Determinants Accelerator Act of 2019 and the Improving Social Determinants of Health Act of 2020. Register here.
The American Public Health Association will host a webinar to discuss how stresses of the current COVID-19 pandemic affects vulnerable populations and provide ideas for families and friends to support each other during this time. 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.