Good afternoon, readers.
Today marks the beginning of a health care blitz by the nascent Biden administration.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden began long-expected moves to undo several health care policies and administrative directives enacted by the Trump administration. While these steps are cloaked in the fog of the COVID pandemic, they also show a lens into Biden’s thinking on health policy at large and the direction he wants to take it.
On the COVID front, the administration is set to reopen the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance marketplaces, which provide subsidized coverage for people who don’t have insurance through an employer or other public program like Medicare.
With millions of Americans losing their jobs over the course of the pandemic, this would give people another three months to enroll during a special enrollment period. Typically, you can only sign up for insurance during a set period of months at the end of the year, a policy meant to prevent someone from only buying a plan when they’re sick.
But there’s another order Biden is issuing Thursday which could have a more long-term policy effect: Instructing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reexamine a Trump-era policy which allows states to impose work requirements on people who want to sign up for Medicaid, the health program for some of the poorest Americans. Such requirements have been previously struck down in the courts and will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. Other changes include loosening restrictions on federal funding for clinics which provide abortions.
Many of these orders have to trickle down the rungs of the administrative state and likely make their way through the legal process.
But the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest physician trade group, praised the initial moves. “Opening the ACA exchanges provides a crucial lifeline at a time when people are losing insurance because of job layoffs as a result of the pandemic,” said the organization in a statement. “We also applaud the Administration’s move to eliminate barriers to Medicaid enrollment, which will repair holes in the health care safety net.”
More widespread changes will require Congressional action given that administrative policies don’t carry the same staying power as a law, as proven by Biden’s undoing of Trump-era regulations.
Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.
Roche wants to use quantum computing to discover drugs. Swiss drug giant Roche is teaming up with a U.K.-based tech firm to use quantum computing in order to fuel drug discovery, my colleague Jeremy Kahn reports. The computing company, Cambridge Quantum Computing, designs algorithms which can be run on a quantum computer which can essentially mimic the types of kinds of chemical reactions which occur at some of the smallest levels. This could potentially allow Roche to simulate the effect a specific may have on a disease such as, say, Alzheimer's. A.I. has already been a part of multiple drug giants' drug discovery strategies for a while now. Now, things are going quantum. (Fortune)
Germany balks at using AstraZeneca vaccine for the elderly. Citing concerns over data, Germany is considering whether or not to administer U.K.-based AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine to people over the age of 65. There has been some debate abouut just how effective this particular vaccine is among that older cohort, though AstraZeneca vehemently denies any issue. "The latest analyses of clinical trial data for the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine support efficacy in the over 65 years age group," said the company in a statement, also pointing out the European Medicines Agency (EMA), essentially Europe's equivalent of the FDA, will make a decision on the issue by the end of the week. "We await a regulatory decision on the vaccine by the EMA in the coming days."(Fortune)
Sanofi to help produce Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. As demand for COVID vaccines across the globe ramps up, rival firms are clasping their corporate hands. Pfizer and French drug giant Sanofi have struck a partnership wherein the latter aims to help produce 100 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this year. One striking element of this collaboration is that Sanofi itself is working on a COVID vaccine with its British partner GlaxoSmithKline. But that has yet to be authorized, leading the firm, a vaccine specialist, to use its production capabilities in Europe in the meantime to help meet the global demand. (CNN)
THE BIG PICTURE
How Intermountain conducted a record number of organ transplants during the pandemic. As readers know, elective surgeries and procedures have been hit hard by the pandemic. But Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based nonprofit health system, managed to set a record for organ transplants in 2020, including for critical procedures such as liver transplants. How did the system pull it off? A combination of a spike in organ donors and a transplant surveillance system meant to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission for people receiving such sensitive procedures. "To continue these life-saving procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Intermountain Transplant Program, which is based at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, implemented key safety protocols and turned to telemedicine and tele-video visits whenever possible to continue evaluating and treating potential transplant patients," said the company in an emailed statement.
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