HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Trump to Sign Boost for Rural Health Care

Doctors treating patients virtually can provide new services, such as emergency visits, eye exams, and certain mental health visits, after the pandemic subsides under an executive order from President Donald Trump announced yesterday.

As part of the order, the Agriculture Department and Federal Communications Commission are partnering to bolster broadband access to rural communities, boosting telehealth efforts beyond the pandemic.

The telehealth order offers some peace of mind for both doctors and patients. The move increases options for patients in rural areas who might have to drive miles for treatment. It also brings certainty to doctors who feared that some telehealth services allowed under temporary orders would be labeled as fraud when the public health emergency is over.

The pandemic has vastly altered how people access their doctors. About 43% of health centers offered telehealth services in 2018, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Now more than 90% of facilities offer them, “and about half of health center visits during the pandemic have been virtual,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar wrote in an op-ed last week.

Regulators will now have to ensure patients’ data will be secure. Health insurers might also have to reconfigure their payment models for doctors who see their patients virtually. Major health-care commercial insurers like Aetna, Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, and United Healthcare usually cover telehealth, but these virtual services don’t always pay providers at the same rates as in-person care. Read more from Jacquie Lee and Shira Stein.

Happening on the Hill

Senate May Delay Recess for Stimulus: Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said yesterday senators may remain in Washington through next week if an agreement for a new virus stimulus package isn’t reached by tomorrow. “I’d like to do something for Friday,” Shelby said, noting that the latest jobs report will be released that day.

The Senate is currently scheduled to begin an August recess at the end of this week. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Erik Wasson.

Research & Treatment Efforts

Task Force to Issue Voting Guidelines, Maloney Says: House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter the White House Coronavirus Task Force has committed to drafting safety guidelines for the November election amid the pandemic. “We MUST have guidelines for our November elections,” Maloney wrote, Kasia Klimasinska reports. Maloney on Friday called on the task force at a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing to publish such guidelines.

Antibody Drug Starts Testing in Nursing Homes: Eli Lilly will begin testing in nursing homes its Covid-19 antibody drug, a treatment with the potential to protect vulnerable groups that vaccines may not cover. The trial kicked off yesterday at several nursing homes across the U.S. and marks the third phase of testing for the monoclonal antibody that Lilly developed with Canadian start-up AbCellera Biologics. The study will enroll up to 2,400 participants in nursing homes either diagnosed with Covid-19 or at risk of exposure. Read more from Sharon Chen and Dong Lyu.
Related: New York Limits Liability Shield for Nursing Home Workers

WHO Says Studies Put Mortality Rate at 0.6%: Several studies estimate the mortality rate of the coronavirus at 0.6%, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s top epidemiologist on Covid-19. “That may not sound like a lot, but it is quite high,” she added. The death rate is about 1 in 200 compared with one in 10,000 or 100,000 in the 2009 swine flu pandemic, according to the head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, Mike Ryan. Read more.

Title 32 Extension: The White House in a statement yesterday extended the use of Title 32 for National Guard operations in response to and recovery from the coronavirus, the same day the National Governors Association pushed the Trump administration to lengthen the order.

“While we appreciate the Administration’s support over the past few months, short-term extensions and last-minute authorizations are adversely impacting and disrupting state plans and operations. Unnecessary delays in extending Title 32 create significant challenges for states and territories, which are amplified in the middle of a crisis,” according to a press release.

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What Else to Know Today

Shelter Rule Said to Threaten Trans Women: House and Senate Democrats are vying to undo a new rule from the White House that might require transgender women to stay in men’s homeless shelters, arguing it violates a recent Supreme Court verdict that affirmed federal protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people. The proposed change would let shelter operators declare the gender of homeless people looking to stay in sex-segregated facilities. Advocates fear that vulnerable transgender individuals would avoid shelters as a result. Read more Kriston Capps.

Ambulance Provider Gets U.S. Clawback Order: An ambulance provider must return about $1.3 million in Medicare funds to the government because, despite what a doctor said, it did not prove its non-emergency ambulance services were medical necessity, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled. Moreover, a doctor’s written certification of medical necessity does not by itself compel the government to fund services, the court ruled. Mary Anne Pazanowski has more.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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