Checking Up On Health: December 14, 2020

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

COVID-19 vaccine arrives: Frontline healthcare workers in New York became the first to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine today, just a day after Pfizer began shipping the first doses to hospitals December 13, The New York Times reported.The first vaccines arrived in Atlanta today but, according to 11Alive TV news, it was not clear whether Atlanta was a destination or distribution point for the vaccines. View Georgia’s official COVID-19 status report here.

According to the draft plan from the Georgia Department of Public Health, vaccinations in the state will be prioritized as follows:

  • Risk of acquiring infection: Higher priority given to individuals who have a greater probability of being in settings where COVID-19 is circulating and exposure to the virus.
  • Risk of severe morbidity and mortality: Higher priority given to individuals with a greater probability of severe disease or death if they acquire infection.
  • Risk of negative societal impact: Higher priority is given to individuals with societal function, and upon whom other people’s lives and livelihood depend directly and would be imperiled if they fell ill. It does not consider their wealth or income, or how readily an individual could be replaced in a work setting, given labor market conditions.
  • Risk of transmitting the disease to others: Higher priority is given to individuals who have a higher probability of transmitting the disease to others.

COVID-19 cost on education: The cost of COVID-19 safety precautions for in-person classes at public schools ranges from $55 to $442 per student, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC released state-by-state estimates of additional funds needed as a percentage of fiscal year 2018, with costs ranging from a mean of $55 for materials and consumables only, to $442 for materials, consumables, additional custodial staff members and potential additional transportation. For Georgia, the cost ranges from $288 to $343 per student.

Surprise billing: After months of negotiations, Democratic and Republican leaders of three U.S. House committees and one Senate committee reached consensus last week on an approach to resolve “surprise” medical bills. It would ban physicians and hospitals from balance billing – charging a patient fees their insurer will not cover and holding patients harmless when they receive emergency care from out-of-network providers, Becker’s Hospital Review reports. The No Surprises Act would allow providers to enter into arbitration to gain higher reimbursements. The arbitrator would consider factors such as median in-network rate, provider’s experience level, complexity of the medical care and the parties’ market share. The American Hospital Association is seeking modifications: penalties for health plans that fail to reimburse providers for out-of-network care and clarification that out-of-network providers are responsible for managing their own notice and consent process with patients. The clock is ticking to get the measure funded by year’s end. Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s surprise billing measure into law in July; its consumer protections take effect in January.

Avoiding medical care: As of July 2020, new lung cancer diagnoses have declined by about 23% on average across the nation, researchers report. They call the decline “especially troubling,” because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the nation, and “the data suggest that more people are living with undiagnosed lung cancer and as a result, facing significant delays in treatment.” The report suggests many Americans are avoiding visits to healthcare professionals because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more at

Patient safety: The Leapfrog Group cites a report from the Journal of Patient Safety that more than 200,000 people die annually due to preventable mistakes in hospitals. Leapfrog released its fall 2020 Hospital Safety Grades today,  assigning “A” through “F” letter grades to more than 2,600 acute care hospitals for patient safety performance. The report does not yet include data frin the height of COVID-19, Leapfrog said. Georgia hospitals ranked from “A” through “D”; click here to view the grades.

Cost of ER visits: Hospital Pricing Specialists collected 12 months of billing data from 4,570 hospitals across the nation to determine the average cost of an ER visit for “moderate-severity cases that have a single surgery code” (99283). It found the highest charges at New Jersey hospitals: $3,750. Georgia ranked 28th, averaging $1,618. Lowest charges were in Maryland, averaging $710. The overall price tag includes charges for ER visits, single surgery codes, lab and radiology tests, pharmacy and supply costs, among other fees. See how the other states ranked here. Source: Becker’s Hospital Review

Notable Quote

“In normal times, firefighters respond to 36 million medical calls a year nationally, according to Gary Ludwig, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. That role has only grown in 2020. ‘These days, we pump more oxygen than water,’ Ludwig said.” – Eli Cahan

Compiled by Benita M. Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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