Checking Up On Health: November 16, 2020

Medical Monday: A weekly post of healthcare- and technology-related policy news, views and commentaries.

You can expect a lot of pushback as COVID-19 numbers climb around the nation. Before you panic, today Becker’s Hospital Review ranked the states where the novel coronavirus is spreading fastest and those where it’s spreading slowest. Do you know where Georgia ranks? Find out here.

What are the odds? Assess your risk of contracting COVID-19 at an event this holiday season using a tool created by Georgia Tech researchers. The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool examines the risk that at least one individual infected with COVID-19 is present at an event based on its size and geographic location. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

Relief in sight: One week after Pfizer announced a COVID-19 vaccine that showed more than 90% effectiveness, Moderna announced its vaccine has been shown to be 94.5% effective. Both are “messenger-RNA” (mRNA) vaccines. Messenger RNA  technology relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines. It isn’t known yet how long the vaccine-induced immunity will last. Both vaccines require two doses, three to four weeks apart. The U.S. government has contracted for 100 million doses of Moderna’s drug, with an option to buy more. The most likely availability date would be March. The European Commission has gone with BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine, in a deal for 300 million doses for EU members: 200 million doses initially and an option to buy an additional 100 million doses based on the shot’s safety and efficacy. Source: News reports

Restrictions apply: The nation hit 11 million COVID-19 cases November 15, an increase of 1 million over one week, according to The Washington Post. Effective through December 14, Washington state announced COVID-19 restrictions that ban indoor dining and social gatherings with people from other households. On November 15, Michigan announced three weeks of restrictions that prohibit  indoor dining, limit indoor social gatherings to two households for three weeks and cancel in-person learning at high schools and colleges. Reason’s Jacob Sullum lists more restrictions – in New Mexico, Chicago and New York – and he notes, “When there is little rhyme or reason to COVID-19 control measures, politicians should not be surprised by the skepticism and resentment they provoke. Worse, arbitrary legal restrictions may encourage Americans to disregard official advice and resist the voluntary steps that are crucial to reducing virus transmission.” Source: News reports

Hedging or fudging flu? Amid global reports that cases of flu are declining, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it will not collect data about the 2020-21 influenza season. In previous flu seasons, the [NCHS surveillance data were used to calculate the percent of all deaths occurring each week that had pneumonia and/or influenza (P&I) listed as a cause of death. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 coded deaths were added to P&I to create the PIC (pneumonia, influenza, and/or COVID-19) classification. PIC includes all deaths with pneumonia, influenza and/or COVID-19 listed on the death certificate.”

The ABCs of HSAs: You’re not alone if you don’t know what’s a Health Savings Account, or HSA. According to Voya Financial, only 2% of people are aware of the key attributes of an HSA. Find out more here. Among the benefits of HSAs, Kiplinger notes, contributions are pretax (or tax-deductible for HSAs that are not employer-sponsored), money in the account grows tax-deferred, and withdrawals are tax-free for qualified medical expenses. Many HSAs are employer-subsidized.

Deferred costs: Large employers expect health care expenses, including insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs, to rise by 5.3% in 2021, for a total of about $15,500 spent on each worker for the year (including contributions from both the employer and employee), according to a survey from the Business Group on Health. But because COVID-19 has caused delays in preventive and elective care in 2020, expenses could run higher than expected in 2021 as employees catch up on missed appointments and procedures. Source: Kiplinger.com

Notable Quote

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we stressed the importance of self-care and healthy coping skills. Some of our healthy coping skills were limited due to COVID regulations, but we were still able to implement many of them by and large. It will be even harder to employ many of our coping skills with winter coming, especially those that revolve around getting outside.”

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

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