IMPAQ Health News
From our experts to your inbox. Every two weeks.
In this edition, learn about new milestones in the COVID-19 pandemic, developments in health equity, the Biden administration’s health policy goals, and more. 
IMPAQ Health News strives to provide readers with timely news and insights about key health care issues. After one year of producing IMPAQ Health News, we’d like to know how we’re doing and where we can improve. Help us make IMPAQ Health News even better by filling out our new five-question reader survey. It should take you less than two minutes to complete, and it’s completely anonymous.
An emerging body of research indicates that those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are likely to lack access to affordable, nutritious food. In a new issue brief, IMPAQ researchers use nationally representative data to examine differences in food insecurity among those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and those who do not.
As the new year begins, the United States continues to lead the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Last week, the United States passed a new grim milestone, reaching more than 4,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in a single day.

  • A mutation of the coronavirus originating from the U.K. has been reported in a handful of states. This new variant is estimated to be up to 70% more transmissible among individuals. U.S. disease surveillance systems are scaling up viral sequencing to see how widespread the variant is.

  • Overwhelmed hospitals in Los Angeles County are trying to manage the surge of cases in recent weeks. Ambulances are facing long wait times for hospital admittance, and emergency medical personnel have been directed to not bring in individuals with low chances of survival and to conserve portable oxygen.

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. 

Rules & Reports
CMS released five proposals that would require Medicaid, CHIP, and issuers of Qualified Health Plans on the Federally-facilitated Exchanges to improve the electronic exchange of health care data and streamline processes related to prior authorization. CMS (12/10)
As the United States continues to see rising health care costs while still experiencing poor health outcomes, CMS released guidance to help states address social determinants of health. The guidance directs states to existing flexibilities in federal law and discusses how states’ Medicaid and CHIP programs can use different delivery approaches, benefits, and reimbursement methods to lower spending and improve outcomes. CMS (1/7)
How a Biden Administration Could Approach Health Policy Reform
With Democrats winning both Senate seats in the Georgia special election, the party will control the House and the Senate, increasing its chances of achieving the Biden administration’s health policy goals. Possible reforms include expanding ACA subsidies, reducing the Medicare eligibility age, and reversing recently passed rules by the Trump administration. Modern Healthcare (1/6)
President-elect Joe Biden has said he does not support the current ban preventing Medicare from negotiating drug prices. Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have also expressed interest in eliminating the ban. However, a slim congressional majority, partisanship, and pharmaceutical lobbying pose barriers to changing this policy. STAT (1/11)
Medicaid Updates
Tennessee is the first state to receive a Medicaid block grant, fulfilling a top priority of CMS Administrator Seema Verma to give states more flexibility in how they spend their Medicaid funds. However, the incoming HHS secretary could reverse the approval. Modern Healthcare (1/8)
A review of Medicaid and CHIP enrollment trends shows an additional 5.9 million people have joined one of these programs in the past year. This increase in enrollment is mainly due to COVID-19 and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allows continuous enrollment. CMS (12/21)
Spotlight on IMPAQ
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of all age groups, it has exacerbated issues among some students, particularly Black and Latino youth. In a recent webinar from the Public Health Institute and IMPAQ, a subsidiary of the American Institutes for Research, experts discussed how an intervention called Mental Health First Aid can be implemented during the pandemic and how it could be used to address mental health inequities.
Addressing Health Equity in 2021
Future head of the COVID-19 health equity task force, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, reports that her team plans to focus on reaching out to community leaders and ensuring equitable distribution of PPE, testing, and the vaccine. Fortune (1/9)
Pharmacy closures related to the pandemic and other economic pressures are making it harder for residents of certain neighborhoods to access needed medications. Further, Aetna’s recent decision to drop Walgreens as a provider has affected how Medicaid beneficiaries fill prescriptions, particularly in urban areas. Research shows that pharmacy closures are linked to people ending their use of necessary medications. Axios (1/7)
Certain low-income, undocumented seniors living in the state of Illinois are now eligible to receive public health insurance. The policy is expected to initially cover roughly 4,400 immigrant seniors and produce long-term benefits, such as reductions in the need for expensive emergency treatments. KHN (1/7)
The Black infant mortality rate in the United States is three times higher than that of white infants, a clear indication of persistent racial and ethnic health disparities. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that Black infants delivered by Black doctors have better outcomes than Black infants delivered by other doctors. In these instances, mortality rates were reduced by more than half. Washington Post (1/9)
In a recent report published in JAMA Open Network, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found significant disparities in the use of telemedicine. Individuals who were either above the age of 55, did not speak English, or had incomes lower than $50,000 had lower telemedicine use. Healthcare Finance (12/30)
Graphic of the Week
All eyes are on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation depicts the latest statistics in vaccine distribution, according to data from Bloomberg COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker and the CDC.
Upcoming Events, Trainings, & Webinars
Join the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation’s panel to discuss the challenges COVID-19 presents to the future of long-term care facilities and nursing homes, vaccine distribution for older adults, and how one health plan is addressing pandemic isolation and loneliness. Register here.
The Center for Health Care Strategies will host a webinar to examine how systemic racism plays out in our nation’s health care system and explore crucial opportunities for Medicaid to take a more proactive role to identify, address, and reduce health disparities and contribute to broader societal efforts to address racism. Register here.
The Health Equity Initiative will host a webinar to discuss pressing topics at the intersection of digital redlining and implicit bias during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended for those who are interested in improving the impact of their organizations on health and racial equity, and other related topics. 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.