August 19, 2021
Newsletter | Tea Leaves

D.C. News:

  • S. health officials announced plans for all Americans to receive a COVID-19 booster shot eight months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The doses could begin the week of September 20. The announcement was coupled with the release of three new CDC studies that found the vaccines’ effectiveness against infection has decreased over time. The overall plan is subject to an FDA evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose and a review by a CDC advisory panel. (Articles here, here, here, here, here, here, and here)
  • President Biden announced that nursing homes must require their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to continue receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds. The CMS is expected to release an emergency rule in September affecting 1.3 million staffers in roughly 15,000 nursing homes. Federal data shows that around 60 percent of nursing home staff are currently vaccinated, although that falls as low as 44 percent in some states. (Articles here, here, here, and here)

Health IT:

  • The Biden administration is investing $19 million to expand telehealth in rural and underserved communities to help increase access to care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Health Resources and Services Administration will distribute the funding to 36 awardees to train primary care providers, bolster groups providing virtual care, pilot new telehealth services, and research the efficacy of digitally delivered care in rural geographies. (Press release here)


  • The American Hospital Association (AHA) wrote a letter to three federal agencies requesting a meeting to discuss President Biden’s executive order on merger guidelines for hospitals. In the letter, the AHA told the leaders of the Federal Trade Commission, HHS, and the Department of Justice that hospital mergers have not negatively impacting prices or quality. Rather, hospital mergers heled reduce annual operating expenses per admission, improved key quality indicators, and helped blunt a wave of hospital closures in rural areas. (Article here)
  • Humana completed its acquisition of Kindred at Home, making the insurer the country’s largest provider of home health care services. Kindred will be folded into the insurer’s Home Solutions business arm and will adopt Humana’s payer-agnostic health services branding, CareWell, under which it will operate as CenterWell Home Health beginning next year. Humana bought 60 percent of the company for $5.7 billion in a deal announced earlier this year. (Press release here)

Opioid/Substance Use Disorders:

  • Richard Sackler, former president and board chair of Purdue Pharma, told a court that he, his family, and the company are not responsible for the opioid crisis in the U.S. He also said the family would not agree to the settlement if states that oppose the deal were allowed to move ahead with lawsuits against the company and family members. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain said he expects testimony to be completed Thursday, final arguments to begin on Monday, and a decision later next week. (Articles here, here, here, and here)
  • U.S. states have until Saturday to decide whether to join a $26 billion opioid settlement with three drug distributors and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. Fourteen state attorneys general unveiled the proposed settlement in July, which was formulated on at least 44 states signing on. Texas announced the state would join the settlement, but then said the state was “still evaluating” J&J’s piece. Michigan, South Carolina, and Nevada are still evaluating the deal. Ohio is nearing a separate, related $808 million deal with the distributors. However, Washington, New Mexico, and communities in West Virginia are against the deal and New Hampshire is unlikely to join the deal because the state plans to take J&J to trial next year. (Article here)


  • Anthem Blue Cross and Dignity Health announced that the two reached a new network agreement in California. Last month, the insurer and health system canceled the agreement amid a disagreement over payment rates. The agreement is retroactive to July 15, 2021 and will remain in place through April 30, 2025. (Press release here; Article here)