June 18, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject a claim that it is unconstitutional to require all Americans to obtain health insurance. The ruling does not change much at the moment because Congress previously reduced the penalty for not having insurance to zero dollars, but it is a big defeat for the 18 states that went to court to oppose Obamacare.

The states claimed that when Congress got rid of the penalty it meant the whole mandate should be repealed. The justices said getting rid of the financial penalty guts the states’ main argument of harm. But the justices did not directly rule on the Affordable Care Act; rather the decision focuses more on technical challenges, including whether the states have legal standing to even bring the suit.

Read the ruling here.

“To have standing, a plaintiff must ‘allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief,’” the majority wrote. “No plaintiff has shown such an injury ‘fairly traceable’ to the ‘allegedly unlawful conduct’ challenged here.”

Justice Stephen Breyer authored the opinion. Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

Around 31 million Americans have insurance coverage under the ACA. Nearly 54 million Americans — or 27% of non-elderly adults — have preexisting conditions that would make them uninsurable in the individual market prior to the law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is the third time that the Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Every time, the court has upheld it. President Joe Biden wants to expand the ACA and this ruling, without a doubt, will encourage supporters to move forward.

Connecting COVID-19 deaths with closed rural hospitals

The recently closed Pickens County Medical Center in Carrollton, Ala., is shown on Thursday, March 26, 2020. The hospital is one of the latest health care facilities to fall victim to a wave of rural hospital shutdowns across the United States in recent years. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Let’s say right off the top that the chart I am including in this item does not show a direct cause and effect. But in county after American county, you can see that in places where rural hospitals closed during the pandemic, the county death rate far exceeded the state’s COVID-19 death rate.

(STAT)

STAT compiled the data and found:

Looking at the most rural counties — those with fewer than 50,000 residents and at least 50 miles from a major city — the death rates were 66% higher than in their states. Seven of the eight hospital closures in counties where the fatality rate was at least 80% higher than their states were in such rural counties.

Covid-19 often requires prompt medical attention, and the closure of hospitals can be deadly. “You’re losing the ability to hospitalize locally and quickly,” said Mark Holmes, professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The closures are predominantly clustered across the South and Southeast where, more than a half-century since health care segregation officially ended, plenty of hospitals outside of Black communities have yet to earn the trust of African American patients, erecting another barrier to care.

2020 was a death knell for so many hospitals that were forced to stop non-emergency operations and other services during the height of the pandemic. The research group Guidehouse found:

25% of rural hospitals nationwide are at a high risk of closing unless their financial situations improve.

Of these hospitals, 82% are considered highly essential to their communities.

(Guidehouse)

WRAL-TV reports:

One in four rural hospitals are at risk of closing, according to a recent study by the Chartis Center for Rural Health. Since 2010, over 120 rural hospitals have closed across the United States.

Oftentimes the healthcare system is the number one employer in rural areas and can make a town or city more attractive to potential residents and businesses. However, on top of financial barriers to running a successful rural health care system, hospitals in these areas frequently struggle to recruit medical providers, which can have a domino effect.

This is an interactive map of rural hospitals that have closed in the last decade and a half (click through for interactivity).

(UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research)

The hospitals represented by the blue dots closed between 2005 and 2010. The yellow dots closed since 2010. Notice that the places that have the most closures are the same places that have the most hospitals at risk of additional closures.

Here’s more on this topic:

The pandemic did not slow charitable giving

Despite the pandemic, and despite and the interruption in our national economy, Americans gave even more to charities in 2020. The annual Giving USA Foundation report says giving rose 5% last year to a new record of $471.4 billion.

Barrons reports:

Giving by foundations increased 17% from 2019 to an estimated $88.55 billion, the highest-ever dollar amount, according to the report. Giving by foundations represented 19% of total giving in 2020, the largest share on record.

Giving by individuals reached an estimated $41.19 billion in 2020, up 10.3% from a year ago. Donations by corporations declined 6.1% year over year to roughly US$16.88 billion, according to the report.

The high-performing stock market is one key reason that giving did not slow down. And what were the charitable sectors that benefitted the most? Barrons summarizes:

  • Public-society benefit organizations, up 15.7% to $48 billion;
  • Environmental and animal organizations, up 11.6% to $16.14 billion;
  • Human services, up 9.7% to $65.14 billion;
  • International affairs, up 9.1% to $25.89 billion;
  • Religion, up 1% to $131.08 billion

The only field that saw a decline in giving in 2020 was health, which declined 3% year over year to $42.12 billion, as event-driven fundraising from annual athletic events and walks was put on hold because of the pandemic.

Human services organizations, which include charities that respond to hunger and basic needs, and public-society benefit organizations, which include United Ways and many organizations that focus on community development and civil rights, experienced strong growth.”

What happens to pro baseball stats when a major sports website adds Negro League data

Oscar Charleston, a longtime player and manager in baseball’s black leagues, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on February 10, 1976. This is an undated photo. (AP Photo)

Major League Baseball has not yet done what the authoritative website Baseball Reference did this week. The website, the go-to source for baseball stats, merged stats for Negro league ballplayers into the MLB and, when it did, some of the all-time standings changed significantly.

Look what happened. This is the on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS+) chart. Oscar Charleston takes his place with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams:

(Baseball Reference)

There are some complications in trying to make the records equitable. For one, the Negro League teams played between 50 and 70 games a year. Today, MLB teams play more than twice that many games. And there are still lots of missing records from the 1930s, with more to do to complete the records. You can get a lot more detail about that here.

Baseball Reference announced:

We are not bestowing a new status on these players or their accomplishments. The Negro Leagues have always been major leagues. We are changing our site’s presentation to properly recognize this fact.

In keeping with our mission and values at Sports Reference, when it comes to this endeavor, our intent is to celebrate the players, teams, and leagues we are adding to our site, as well as to educate our users about the history of these leagues. The Negro Leagues are not less than the National and American Leagues. They are different, and we recognize that our work must acknowledge those differences.

The New York Times provides some background:

Until 1947, Black players had been excluded from the major leagues. And long after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, the accomplishments of most Black players remained overlooked. A committee of five white men in 1969 granted major league status to four defunct organizations, but chose not to include the Negro leagues, an omission M.L.B. called “clearly an error” in December when it announced it was finally redressing that past racial wrong and bestowing “long overdue recognition” to more than 3,400 players from seven distinct Negro leagues that operated from 1920 to 1948.

This proves it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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