Checking Up On Health: November 2, 2020

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

COVID-19 has affected everything this year, including the election. To avoid the long lines and waits caused by pandemic precautions and a shortage of poll workers, many voters chose to vote absentee or early in-person. Georgia’s Secretary of State predicted the surge of early voting will ease lines on Tuesday. As of October 31, Georgia reported 3,902,961 voters had cast their ballots early in-person, while 1,215,438 absentee ballots had been returned. Georgia has 7.6 million registered voters.

Choice and competition: Georgia Health News quoted Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, in an article about federal approval of Georgia’s ACA waiver application. One component is a new online platform that people will use to sign up for insurance coverage. Individuals will enroll directly with insurers, with local brokers or agents, or through private-sector broker sites. “The ACA waiver provides an opportunity for Georgia to go further than any state in the nation: allowing Georgia consumers to choose among a greater number of plans, and not be limited to the costly offerings on the federal marketplace, healthcare.gov,” Wingfield said. “This will open the door to greater competition and more options, and set a national example for other states to build upon.”

Saving daylight, risking health: Daylight Saving Time ended Sunday. The policy is touted as a good idea, but it has a real economic cost and will stress the human body physiologically, writes William F. Shughart II for the Independent Institute. Both are worrisome during normal times, “but even more so in the midst of a pandemic to which governments have responded with draconian lockdowns that have crippled business operations, thrown millions out of work and forced many people to avoid or delay routine medical care. Since schedules for work and other daily activities do not adjust for most people, they experience the equivalent of jet lag without traveling to another time zone. Their body clocks (circadian rhythms) are jolted two times a year. The jolt reduces productivity on the job for days after the time changes in either direction. Heart attacks and strokes spikeTraffic accidents increase, especially in the spring when drivers have lost an hour of sleep.”

The cost of readmission: In fiscal year 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will penalize 2,545 hospitals for having too many Medicare patients readmitted within 30 days, according to federal data cited by Kaiser Health News. This is the ninth year of the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program. Eighty-three percent of the 3,080 hospitals evaluated received a penalty. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review 

Expiration date for N95 masks: When reused for more than two days, nearly half of N95 masks fail, researchers found after evaluating masks reused by healthcare workers in a single-center trauma unit. Because of a worldwide shortage of N95 masks, many healthcare workers have been forced to reuse masks intended for single use. Source: Medscape.com

Telehealth: Forbes cites a  recent survey by the Business Group on Health, which found that 76% of the 95 large employers surveyed had taken steps to improve access to virtual care in response to the pandemic. A survey of 1,000 people on telemedicine by software company Metova, meanwhile, found that 80%, if given the option, would choose telemedicine for their next medical appointment, 79% have wanted to connect with a medical professional using video conferencing and 93% were either satisfied or very satisfied with their telemedicine experience.

Working on healthcare: “Health Care Workforce Reform: COVID-19 Spotlights Need for Changes to Clinician Licensing” is a Cato Institute Policy Analysis by Shirley V. Svorny and Michael F. Cannon. They suggest getting government out of the licensing business. “Licensing gives state politicians the final word on allowable categories of clinicians, the education and training requirements for each category, and the range of services each category of clinician may perform,” they write. Additionally, “It reduces access to health services by increasing prices and reducing the supply of clinicians who can provide those services.” Instead, they propose “a system in which states recognize third-party organizations that certify the competence of health professionals. In such a system, accredited educational institutions or certificate-issuing organizations would define clinician categories, determine scopes of practice for each category, and certify the training or skills of individual clinicians. … The result would be better career opportunities for clinicians and greater access to care for patients.” It’s a proposal worthy of serious consideration.

Finger food: The octopus has special cells in the suckers on its tentacles that can taste food, Smithsonian magazine reports. These specialized cells, which are not found in other animals, allow the arms to do things like distinguish food from other objects they may encounter as they probe blind crevices in the octopus’ underwater habitat, reports Jonathan Lambert for Science News. Imagine how many calories we’d avoid if we could taste food just by touching it. Instead, moment on the lips, lifetime on the hips!

Notable Quote

“Today, I will see 20 patients. Some are sick; some are well; all are tired. All my patients, without exception, are tired of living with COVID. They are tired of fear, uncertainty, and chaos. And now, I am tired of the CDC and the decrepit, impotent, puppet of an entity it has become. I am tired of the missteps, take-backs, and blame games.” – Christine Meyer, MD

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd

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