August 16, 2021
Newsletter | Tea Leaves

D.C. News:

  • The Biden administration approved a significant boost for in the levels of food stamp assistance available to needy families. Starting in October, average monthly benefits will increase from $121 per person before the pandemic to $157 – a $36 per person per month increase. The boost will offset a temporary 15 percent increase in benefits as part of pandemic relief that is set to expire September 30. The $3.5 billion boost approved earlier this year provides about $27 more per person per month. (Articles here, here, here, here, and here)

Life Sciences:

  • NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said the U.S. government could decide within weeks whether to offer COVID-19 booster shots to more Americans this fall. The first wave of eligible recipients would potentially include health care workers, long-term care residents, and older adults. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that if data suggests extra doses could help vulnerable people, officials will be ready to offer them “very quickly.” (Article here)
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on federal law enforcement officials to crack down on counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards after reports that they are being sold online for up to $200 each. Schumer said the Justice Department should prioritize cases involving fake vaccine cards and that Customs and Border Protection should work harder to identify cards sent from other countries. (Article here)

Mental health:

  • Employees’ mental health is quickly becoming a top concern for companies as they try to hold on to workers through the pandemic. A study from The Hartford found that 52 percent of U.S. employers say they are “experiencing significant workplace issues” with substance misuse or addiction by employees and 31 percent say workforce mental health is having a severe or significant financial impact on the company. Seventy-two percent of U.S. employers say stigmas associated with mental health and addiction are keeping workers from seeking help. (Article here; Study here)

Opioid/Substance Use Disorders:

  • Senators Debbie Stabenow and Roy Blunt are advocating for a major expansion of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) program to help more Americans struggling with substance use and mental health issues. Stabenow and Blunt would give states the option of incorporating the clinics within their Medicaid programs, securing federal matching funds at an enhanced rate. The estimated cost to expand to program is approximately $3 billion. (Article here)


  • The CMS notified state health officials on Friday that states will have a full year after COVID’s “public health emergency” ends to redetermine the eligibility of their Medicaid enrollees. The agency is giving sates an additional six months after they warned that the initial six-month period wouldn’t be enough time to complete the growing backlog of pending work and might result in a future “renewal bulge.” (Guidance here; Article here)
  • The CMS isn’t yet penalizing health care providers that violate a price transparency rule put in place by the Trump administration, despite pushing to increase fines for noncompliant hospitals in a proposed rule last month. Most U.S. hospitals weren’t meeting the price disclosure requirements in a recent study, and a CMS spokesperson said the agency sent about 165 warning letters to providers from April to mid-July. (Article here)
  • Oscar Health announced 2022 market expansion plans, marking its fifth straight year of geographic expansion. The startup insurer will offer plans for the first time in Arkansas, Illinois, and Nebraska and will expand its reach in 146 new counties in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The expansion will bring the company’s total footprint to 22 states and 607 counties including its individual and family, Medicare Advantage, and small group plans. (Press release here)