IMPAQ Health News
From our experts to your inbox. Every two weeks.
In this edition, learn about states’ plans to reopen, ACA expansions in the Covid Relief Package, an effort to end structural racism in biomedical research, and more.
Shared measurement, or using a common set of measurable goals across systems, can shift mindsets, policies, and practices to drive alignment toward equitable health and well-being. To support these efforts, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) has developed a new resource, Promising Practices: A Companion Guide for Principles to Advance Equity through Shared Measurement. The guide includes reflection questions, promising practices, and a brainstorming worksheet for partners in cross-system programs to reflect on current practices and start to build on existing efforts to advance equity using shared measurement. (IMPAQ is an affiliate of AIR.)
Dr. Erica Shelton, a principal health clinician researcher at AIR, has been able to use her experience as an emergency medicine physician to help both patients and policymakers make sound decisions, backed by evidence. Shelton was part of a team of AIR experts who developed a set of plain-language FAQs last spring to help the public better understand the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAQs, available in multiple languages and rooted in evidence, have recently been updated. “With the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines, it was important to update AIR’s FAQs to include easy to understand information on what to expect from COVID-19 vaccination,” Shelton said.
COVID Relief Package. President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Thursday, March 11. Despite the lack of bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, polling indicates that the majority of voters support the American Rescue Plan Act.

  • Prior to its passing, the Senate made notable changes to the version passed by the House, including limits to the $1,400 stimulus payments, adjustments to the enhanced unemployment insurance, and removing the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

States Reopening. As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions in an effort to return to normalcy, the CDC warns that reopening early may result in a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases. In fact, the CDC reports that U.S. death rates increased by 15 percent during 2020 due to the virus and urges the public to continue to follow social distancing protocols.

  • States such as Texas and Mississippi are ending statewide mask mandates and removing capacity limits on businesses, despite the CDC’s warnings that the nation is far from achieving herd immunity.

  • Experts also express concerns over reopening too early as new variants continue to spread. For instance, the CDC released a report using county-level data to find that mask mandates were associated with a 2 percent decrease in COVID-19 cases and that lifting restrictions on in-person restaurant dining was associated with a rise in COVID-19 infections approximately six weeks later.

COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing Updates. According to Johns Hopkins’ COVID-19 Tracking Project, the daily average rate of COVID-19 testing is declining, which is concerning to many experts as the new variants continue to spread.

  • The FDA officially authorized the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, J&J’s vaccine does not need to be stored in freezing temperatures or require a second shot, allowing for easier distribution.

  • Officials are discussing how to overcome inaccurate perceptions that the J&J vaccine is inferior to Pfizer and Moderna to avoid concerns about a two-tiered system and additional equity considerations. Experts advise against comparing efficacy rates among the three vaccines because J&J’s vaccine trials were conducted when the virus was spreading at a higher rate. Regardless, experts emphasize that the J&J vaccine, similar to the Pfizer and Moderna shots, is 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.

  • In response to President Biden’s executive order establishing a COVID-19 Pandemic Testing Board, HHS released new guidance on coronavirus testing and vaccinations. Specifically, it clarifies concerns surrounding testing requirements, vaccine coverage, and provider reimbursements for private payers. This will ensure that individuals are able to receive COVID-19 tests and vaccines under their private health insurance without cost-sharing.

Strengthening the Affordable Care Act
For the first time in nearly a decade, congressional Democrats and the Biden administration are poised to make sweeping technical changes to the ACA. The American Rescue Plan Act includes provisions for the next two years that would offer premium tax credits for people with incomes above 400% of the federal poverty level for the first time, increase subsidies for lower-income enrollees, as well as create new financial incentives for Medicaid expansion with increased federal funding. The New York Times (2/27)
CMS issued its first report on the three-month special enrollment period that began on February 15, 2021, following an executive order from President Biden. In the first two weeks of the special enrollment period, 206,000 consumers newly selected an insurance plan through An additional 54,000 consumers were also found to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP plans while enrolling. Health Affairs (3/3)
CMS announced $2.3 million in additional grant funding for navigator groups in states participating on the Federally-Facilitated Marketplace. In the announcement, CMS noted that navigators are key in helping uninsured and vulnerable communities access health insurance. Some navigator groups argue that even more funding is necessary, considering previous budget cuts and strained resources after the open enrollment period in 2020. The Washington Post (3/1)
Health Equity in 2021
In response to concerns about in-person health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS expanded the number of telehealth services covered by Medicare. Now, there appears to be bipartisan support to permanently expand telehealth services even after the pandemic, considering its popularity among rural and underserved populations. Healthcare Dive (3/3)
The NIH launched UNITE in an effort to address structural racism in biomedical research. The main goal of UNITE is to identify structural inequities in research, propose recommendations to rectify them, and implement actionable strategies to prevent future inequities. Journalist’s Resource (3/4)
In an effort to identify lung cancer at early stages, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new guidelines that should increase the number of women and African-Americans eligible for lung cancer screenings with low-dose computed tomography (CT). Though the ACA-compliant plans cover screenings recommended by the task force at no cost, researchers are concerned that many individuals who are eligible for these CT scans will be unable to access this recommended care because they lack insurance coverage or awareness of the screening. New York Times (3/9)
Higher-learning institutions, state and local governments, and community organizations are invited to apply for two grant opportunities through Radx-UP to explore advancements in COVID-19 testing. The first grant opportunity (up to $200,000 per award) will go to groups initiating COVID-19 rapid test pilot programs, while the second grant opportunity (up to $50,000 per award) is for community engagement initiatives. Radx-UP is an initiative of the NIH—supported by a national coordinating center run by Duke University with support from the University of North Carolina, IMPAQ, and other partners—that aims to ensure all communities have equitable access to COVID-19 testing.
Upcoming Events, Trainings, & Webinars
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
The Bipartisan Policy Center will host a webinar on the future of Medicare. The webinar panel will consist of congressional staff and policy experts who will discuss policy options to prevent potential pitfalls of Medicare Part A and further strengthen the Medicare program. Register here.
Tuesday, March 16 – Thursday, March 18, 2021
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) will conduct a workshop for health services researchers on MEPS data usage. In addition, workshop participants will have the opportunity to work with AHRQ staff to construct analytic files. Register here.
The National Institute for Health Care Management will host a webinar on how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated physician burnout. Speakers will discuss evidence-based support for providers and the importance of mental health wellness in the medical field. 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.