Week in Washington is brought to you by Michael Cohen, PhD. Tune in each week to read the latest on healthcare policy and get a glimpse of what’s on the horizon.
Week in Washington
COVID Vaccine News
The big news this week was that several vaccine candidates (Pfizer and Moderna) made promising announcements. Both Pfizer and Moderna announced that the vaccine had produced results of around 95% effectiveness to date. Pfizer also announced the vaccine’s efficacy was consistent across age, race, and ethnicity (e.g., for those above 65 the vaccine was reported to be 94% effective). You can read the NY Times article on it here or Stats article on it here. The FDA’s advisory panel is currently scheduled to meet December 8-10 to discuss COVID-19 vaccines. If the FDA authorizes the two-dose vaccine, Pfizer said they could have up to 25 million doses (i.e., enough for 12.5 million people) available for the United States by the end of the year. On a slightly slower timeline is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has showed initial promise. Researchers expect to release late-stage results around Christmas.
One key story to follow as a vaccine approval gets closer is the distribution plan. While the CDC provides states with overall assumptions, states themselves will likely have a larger role in the distribution of the vaccine (both logistically and determining in which order people should be able to receive the vaccine). KFF has good summary of where states are in their planning. Effective logistics and state policy will be crucial in the days after initial vaccine approval, in which demand will far outstrip demand.
The COVID death toll hit 250,000 Americans with the pandemic surging across the country. As can be seen below data, cases and hospitalization seven day averages hit all-time highs and continue to show signs of exponential growth. There are currently around 80,000 US residents hospitalized. As a reminder, hospitalizations lag cases by about two weeks and death lag hospitalization numbers by about a week. In other words a surge in cases Thanksgiving week, will lead to an increase in hospitalization numbers around mid-December, and an increase in fatalities around Christmas.
There have been several stories this week of hospital staffing shortages. Between staff being infected and overall stress and strain from the pandemic, 22% of American hospitals were expecting staffing shortages this week. Hospital shortages combined with the record number of COVID hospitalizations are expected to crowd out other forms of care in the coming months.
CMS Rules Coming?
There are several reports of upcoming CMS regulations releases.
- Politico reported that the Most Favored National drug bill which would link Medicare payments for certain drugs (likely Part B) to international prices.
- The Wall Street Journal reported that the Trump Administration was also nearing approval of a rule that would end the current drug rebate program in Medicare. The original policy was found to potentially raise Medicare Part D premiums.
How is Opening Enrollment Going?
CMS released Healthcare.Gov enrollment data for the first two weeks of Open Enrollment. So far plan selections are exceeding last year’s pace although new plan selection is lagging.
Research You Can Use
- Wakely’s Analysis of What Drivers Medicare Advantage Sales
- Wakely’s Summary of 2021 Medicare Advantage and Part D Star Ratings
- Matt Fiedler on capping prices of creating a public option
Week in Washington will be on vacation next week so Happy Thanksgiving!
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