In The News

Democrats Look at Lowering Medicare Eligibility Age in Healthcare Package

Wall Street Journal/March 30, 2021, By Stephanie Armour and Kristina Peterson

WASHINGTON—Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration are planning another round of healthcare initiatives that could include lowering the Medicare eligibility age, following their major expansion of the Affordable Care Act this year.
 
Democrats are still negotiating over which healthcare policy elements could be in the second of two spending programs the administration plans to unveil soon, according to congressional aides and industry groups.
 
The package is likely to contain measures to reduce drug prices and expand health coverage, lawmakers said. Proposals to expand Medicare eligibility from age 65 to 60 and to enable the federal government to negotiate drug prices in the health program for seniors—both of which President Biden supported on the campaign trail—are also likely to be included.
 
“We should lower the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 down to 60. There are many millions of seniors who would be very, very grateful if we did that right now,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said Monday. He also said he hoped to expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eyeglasses, and to pay for those through savings from reduced drug prices for Medicare.
 
The healthcare proposals would face opposition from many Republicans and hospital groups, who say they could reduce the labor force because more people may retire early. Republicans also say they are reluctant to add to the nation’s $3 trillion budget deficit and that Medicare’s trust funds are already facing insolvency in coming years…

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CMS Holds Claims With Expectation Congress Will Avert Sequester Cuts

Inside Health Policy
By Michelle M. Stein / March 30, 2021 at 6:08 PM
 
CMS will hold Medicare claims “for a short period” after April 1 so that providers don’t see the 2% Medicare sequestration cuts go into effect before lawmakers take final action to extend the moratorium on those cuts.
 
“In anticipation of possible Congressional action to extend the 2% sequester reduction suspension, we instructed the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to hold all claims with dates of service on or after April 1, 2021, for a short period without affecting providers’ cash flow,” CMS said in a March 30 Medicare Learning Network announcement. “This will minimize the volume of claims the MACs must reprocess if Congress extends the suspension; the MACs will automatically reprocess any claims paid with the reduction applied if necessary.”
 
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Health officials plan major research on COVID-19 long-haulers

Roll Call
By Mary Ellen McIntire
Posted April 30, 2021 at 6:00am
 
The National Institutes of Health is preparing to award grants in the next three weeks to researchers studying the long-term effects of COVID-19 and patients experiencing “long COVID.”
 
NIH Director Francis Collins told the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee this week that the agency expects laboratory research and imaging studies to be underway by the summer. The agency received 273 research proposals after Congress provided more than $1 billion for research into the long-term effects of COVID-19. 
 
Many people who have been sick with COVID-19, including some who had mild or no symptoms, reported dealing with additional symptoms long after their acute illness ended. The long-haul COVID-19 symptoms can range from fatigue or headaches to mental health issues or chronic pain. 
 
“Some of you have been suffering for more than a year with no answers, no treatment options, not even a forecast of what your future may hold,” Collins said during his opening statement Wednesday, referring to patients suffering from long COVID-19. “Some of you have even faced skepticism about whether your symptoms are real. I want to assure you that we at NIH hear you and believe you.”

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Congress Extends Medicare Sequestration Relief

Thanks in large part to our collective advocacy, the Senate has passed H.R. 1868, which would extend the moratorium on the 2% Medicare sequestration until December 31, 2021. To offset the cost, the bill also extends the timeframe for the Medicare sequestration to permanently expire to the end of 2030.

President Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law after the House passes the Senate version of the bill. However, the House is not scheduled to be back in session to vote on legislation until April 13, 2021, after the current moratorium has expired on March 31, 2021. Negotiations regarding the lapse beginning April 1st are ongoing.

 

Five Reaons Why COVID Herd Immunity is Probably Impossible

Nature.com/Christie Aschwanden

As COVID-19 vaccination rates pick up around the world, people have reasonably begun to ask: how much longer will this pandemic last? It’s an issue surrounded with uncertainties. But the once-popular idea that enough people will eventually gain immunity to SARS-CoV-2 to block most transmission — a ‘herd-immunity threshold’ — is starting to look unlikely.

That threshold is generally achievable only with high vaccination rates, and many scientists had thought that once people started being immunized en masse, herd immunity would permit society to return to normal. Most estimates had placed the threshold at 60–70% of the population gaining immunity, either through vaccinations or past exposure to the virus. But as the pandemic enters its second year, the thinking has begun to shift. In February, independent data scientist Youyang Gu changed the name of his popular COVID-19 forecasting model from ‘Path to Herd Immunity’ to ‘Path to Normality’. He said that reaching a herd-immunity threshold was looking unlikely because of factors such as vaccine hesitancy, the emergence of new variants and the delayed arrival of vaccinations for children.

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