January 5, 2023

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Will the federal public health emergency for COVID-19 end Jan. 11?

If the Department of Health and Human Services follows its promise to give stakeholders a 60-day notice, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will not end Jan. 11 as planned because the government has given no such notice. That would mean the COVID-19 emergency, which began in January 2020, will last until at least April.

This emergency affects millions of Americans because it enables the federal government to pay for waivers and policies for Medicaid coverage, telehealth coverage, COVID-19 testing, vaccines and antiviral treatments. When the emergency expires, COVID-19 treatment and testing costs will fall back on patients and insurance companies.

Healthcare Finance News reports:

An estimated 15 million people could lose Medicaid coverage when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends and with it the continuous-enrollment requirement.

Hospitals are seeing an influx of children suffering from the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and are bracing for a bad flu season, as well as continued COVID-19 cases. Extensions are needed until at least April to have time to lobby state legislatures to enrich their Medicaid pay rates, according to McKnights Long-Term Care News. The hope is that many of the states that have had Medicaid add-ons would convert those into the base Medicaid rates.

Two dozen governors are asking President Joe Biden to end the emergency declaration (see letter and list of governors). The letter says, in part:

The PHE is negatively affecting states, primarily by artificially growing our population covered under Medicaid (both traditional and expanded populations), regardless of whether individuals continue to be eligible under the program. While the enhanced federal match provides some assistance to blunt the increasing costs due to higher enrollment numbers in our Medicaid programs, states are required to increase our non-federal match to adequately cover all enrollees and cannot disenroll members from the program unless they do so voluntarily.

Making the situation worse, we know that a considerable number of individuals have returned to employer sponsored coverage or are receiving coverage through the individual market, and yet states still must still account and pay for their Medicaid enrollment in our non-federal share. This is costing states hundreds of millions of dollars.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, states have added 20 million individuals to the Medicaid rolls (an increase of 30%) and those numbers continue to climb as the PHE continues to be extended every 90 days.

Paxlovid will no longer be free when the public health emergency ends

When the federal public health emergency officially ends, the government will no longer pay for COVID-19 vaccines or antiviral medications, and you may be paying the bill. Kaiser Health News says:

Nearly 6 million Americans have taken Paxlovid for free, courtesy of the federal government. The Pfizer pill has helped prevent many people infected with covid-19 from being hospitalized or dying, and it may even reduce the risk of developing long covid. But the government plans to stop footing the bill within months, and millions of people who are at the highest risk of severe illness and are least able to afford the drug — the uninsured and seniors — may have to pay the full price.

Paxlovid is expected to hit the private market in mid-2023, according to HHS plans shared in an October meeting with state health officials and clinicians. Merck’s Lagevrio, a less effective covid treatment pill, and AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, a preventive therapy for the immunocompromised, are on track to be commercialized sooner, sometime in the winter.

Click on the linked map to get state-by-state Paxlovid data.

Vaccine hesitancy connected to measles and chickenpox outbreaks

Columbus, Ohio, has recorded 82 measles cases since the end of November, and 32 of those patients were hospitalized. Most of the cases involved children under age 2. None of the infected people had been fully vaccinated.

Mysheika Roberts, director of Columbus’s health department, says vaccine hesitancy is what is causing the outbreak to “spread like wildfire.”

The latest polling recently released by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that adults are less likely to support routine childhood vaccines that have, for years, proven to be effective in preventing infections. Still, you should note that the overwhelming percentage of adults of all political leanings support vaccines.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Look at the next chart and see how the pandemic has affected America’s attitudes toward mandatory vaccinations. One in four American adults says parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children even if it creates health risks for other children and adults (such as a measles outbreak). Among adults who identify as Republicans, more than four in 10 say they should have the right not to vaccinate their children.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

The Washington Post says health officials are monitoring other outbreaks:

It is too early to see the effects of eroding public support for school vaccination requirements on childhood immunization rates because federal data typically lag by about two years. During the pandemic, routine vaccination rates slipped because of school closures and because children were not going to the doctor.

The growing negative attitudes about school immunization requirements are troubling for health workers. Kentucky officials are urging that people get flu shots after six children — none of whom were vaccinated — died after contracting influenza. South Carolina officials had also promoted childhood vaccinations after two chickenpox outbreaks in March — the first since 2020 — affected nearly 70 people.

A case of paralytic polio in a New York man this summer prompted worry that low childhood immunization rates and rising vaccine misinformation could result in the disease’s resurgence, decades after vaccination had eliminated it in the United States.

Laws to watch around the world

Quartz created an intriguing list of laws taking effect around the world that are so interesting that I found myself pecking through each one.

LED lights may soon be your only choice

The above list of new laws also includes, “The EU will ban fluorescent lighting,” which is ahead of where the U.S. is — but is heading.

A couple of weeks ago, the Biden administration pushed a plan that would phase out incandescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs and require bulbs of the future to double their current energy efficiency. The current standards are that each watt must generate 45 lumens of light. The new standard would be 120 lumens per watt, and LED is the technology that would deliver that.

The Biden administration says this change would eventually save families “at least $100 annually through lower energy bills,” but lighting manufacturers will have to shoulder the $400 million cost of converting to the newer technology.

The rules aim to get incandescent off store shelves by mid-summer, a move that started decades ago but was undone by President Donald Trump, who said “I always look orange” in the energy-efficient lighting.

The Department of Energy says LED bulbs generally last three to five times longer than compact fluorescent bulbs last and 30 times longer than incandescent bulbs. In addition to being more energy efficient, LED bulbs also don’t produce much heat, so building cooling systems don’t have to fight to overcome the temperature increase.

The 2020 Residential National Energy Consumption Survey says the conversion to LEDs is already well underway, with about half of households reporting they use LEDs now. Five years earlier, only 4% used LEDs.

TSA discovered a record number of firearms in 2022

It is a good time to check with your regional Transportation Security Administration folks to get the end-of-year numbers on checkpoint seizures.

TSA stopped more than 6,300 weapons from clearing airport security this year. And that was before the Christmas travel week. Almost nine out of 10 of the guns were loaded, TSA said. Once those numbers are in — by the end of this week, TSA said — you can probably add another 300 or so weapons to that list.

(Transportation Security Administration)

“Firearm possession laws vary by state and local government, but firearms are never allowed in carry-on bags at any TSA security checkpoint, even if a passenger has a concealed weapon permit,” TSA said. “To reduce the threat of firearms at checkpoints, TSA has increased the maximum civil penalty for a firearms violation to $14,950. TSA determines the penalty amount for a violation based on the circumstances in each case. TSA will continue to revoke TSA PreCheck® eligibility for at least five years for passengers caught with a firearm in their possession.”

Right before Christmas, TSA found these two doozies:

The PointsGuy reports:

There are a variety of theories about what’s behind the uptick in passengers arriving at airport checkpoints with firearms in their carry-on bags. But “the general consensus seems to be that we have far more leisure passengers traveling who are not as familiar with the rules,” says aviation security expert Jeff Price. “They think they can either circumvent the rules or that the rules do not apply to them because they might have a concealed carry permit.”

Or, he says, it may be because they aren’t frequent flyers. “They aren’t in the habit of checking to make sure they don’t have a firearm on them when they go to the airport, as a much more experienced flyer does.”

You might wonder what government agencies do with the guns they seize. The answer is that it sells them online. Right here. For example, here is a lot of 56 pistols, and several rifles and long guns.

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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,…
Al Tompkins

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