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: Grim Milestone
This week the US officially reached the grim milestone of over 100,000 American COVID deaths. While the numbers have improved in recent weeks, the number of daily deaths still remains high (around a 1,000 deaths a day). Of particular note is that over the course of the pandemic the location of new cases has shifted – away from the New York/tri-state area, which was hardest hit, toward other areas of the country, such as the South and more rural areas. As can be seen in the chart, the location of new COVID cases has changed over the past few months.
The US announced a massive push for promising vaccine candidates. Candidate vaccines that demonstrate promise (i.e., successful Phase I results), will be included in a huge trial starting in July. Healthcare workers and communities with spread will likely be target sites for the trial. Moderna Inc. and Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be on the list of vaccines tested, with other vaccine candidates potentially joining. Dr. Fauci was quoted as saying it remains possible for a vaccine to be available by December or January if everything comes together.
Take-up the vaccine becomes an important issue, both in controlling the virus and from a cost perspective. Currently about 45% of the target population gets a flu vaccine. Recent survey data indicates 50% of the population would for sure get the vaccine and 30% unsure. In order to achieve herd immunity probably 60% to 80% of the population would need to be immune to the disease (whether from a vaccine or immune due to infection).
Another 2.1 million Americans filed for new unemployment claims. Around 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began – which by most estimates means that the unemployment rate is around 25%. At this stage, increases in unemployment are more a result of businesses closing than state social distancing policy and therefore more likely to mean more long-term dislocations even if social distancing policies change.
The IRS released its annual HDHP guidance. A high deductible health plan will be defined for 2021 as a plan with a deductible (for self-only coverage) of at least $1,400 but does not exceed $7,000.
More states are releasing proposed rates for the 2021 benefit year. Oregon’s proposed rates for the individual market averaged an increase of 2.2% and its small group a proposed increase of 3.9%
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