California’s governor signed legislation meant to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for taxpayers, employers and consumers, according to a press release from the governor’s office. The first-in-the-nation law tasks the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) with developing manufacturing partnerships to produce or distribute generic prescription drugs, thereby increasing competition in markets that have driven up prices for consumers and helping address critical drug shortages. CHHS will focus on manufacturing drugs that could produce the biggest cost savings and will submit a report to the legislature analyzing how its efforts have impacted competition, access and costs for those drugs.
Virginia decisionmakers announced more than $8.4 million in community development block grants for 14 projects to help rural communities in Virginia, according to CBS 19 News. The funding can be used to help with COVID-19 response and recovery activities including, but not limited to: acquisition costs for telework or telemedicine services; business assistance for job training or re-tooling business services to reopen and adapt in a new environment; and construction or rehab of structures for shelters. For example, Wise County is using the funding to partner with Lunchbox276 to expand food programing options for approximately 500 children and families.
Since August, the rates of COVID cases and deaths per million people for Black residents were the same or lower than those for white residents, according to data provided by Michigan’s health department, Modern Healthcare reports. The racial disparity of coronavirus' impact was prevalent in the early days of the pandemic, with Black residents representing 29.4 percent of cases and 40.7 percent of deaths, despite making up just 15 percent of Michigan's population. State officials credit the work of the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities for implementing programs like the Rapid Response Grant program, which awarded 31 grants from federal CARES Act funding worth $20 million to help provide underserved communities with food and housing assistance and access to COVID-19 and flu testing.
Wyoming’s governor has created a task force to come up with legislative policy solutions to tackle the state’s high healthcare costs, according to the Star Tribune. The group is made up of a diverse and broad set of healthcare, state and legislative officials and has established four priorities: evaluate current healthcare services in Wyoming; determining the service priorities that are needed for the state and assessing accessibility of service priorities within specific geographic areas; determining what factors are driving high healthcare costs; and formulating solutions to provide equitable, affordable access to high-risk populations. A variety of policy solutions are on the table—including an examination of what a single-payer system would look like in Wyoming.
An analysis of employer claims data by RAND found stark differences in the prices private health plans pay for inpatient and outpatient services at Kansas hospitals, reports KCUR. Prices at the University of Kansas Hospital and Overland Park Regional Medical Center were among the highest in the country, while prices at Lawrence Memorial Hospital were lower than those observed across the state and nationally. Additionally, private health plans paid more than twice the Medicare rate for hospital care in 2018. Unwarranted variation in healthcare prices, combined with a lack of transparency, makes it difficult for employers to make educated decisions when shopping for health plans to cover their employees.
The presidential administration announced a rule allowing the importation of some prescription drugs from Canada, clearing the way for Florida and other states to implement programs to bring medications across the border, according to Kaiser Health News. Florida’s law—approved in 2019—would set up two importation programs. The first would focus on getting drugs for state programs such as Medicaid, the Department of Corrections and county health departments. The second program would be geared to the broader state population. Prices are cheaper in Canada due to limitations on how much pharmaceutical companies can charge for medicines. State officials said they expect the program to save the state about $150 million annually. The rule, however, does not allow states to import all types of medications, including biologic drugs such as insulin.
Arizona’s Medicaid agency announced that it will no longer pursue a planned Whole Person Care Initiative to address social determinants of health in its December 2020 1115 waiver renewal request, according to State of Reform. Due to the COVID-19 public health emergency and budget limitations, the agency will instead focus on a series of smaller-scale, cost-effective initiatives within the parameters of the existing Medicaid program. One initiative is a partnership with Health Current, Arizona’s Health Information Exchange, to source a new "closed-loop referral system” that providers can use to identify social risk factors and manage referrals to community-based agencies to address health-related social needs. In the future, the agency plans to continue to seek opportunities to address social risk factors and explore new strategies to expand initiatives outside of 1115 waiver authority.
In 2020, Washington State finished a phased, regional process to transition from three fragmented Medicaid systems for physical health, mental health and substance use disorder services into one integrated system to improve care coordination and health outcomes for individuals with physical and behavioral health needs. A webinar hosted by the Center for Health Care Strategies explored Washington’s transition to physical-behavioral health integration, with a focus on how this approach was tailored to the strengths of different regions. Speakers shared lessons for stakeholders interested in integrating care, presented emerging data on resulting outcomes and addressed the evolving role of public regional behavioral health systems.
Envida, a local nonprofit, offers a ride service to those experiencing a mental health crisis in El Paso and Teller Counties, as transportation can often be a barrier to care for some individuals, reports KOAA News 5. The service was rolled out as a test program last year, and Envida has seen their ridership quadruple since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The drivers are trained in behavioral and mental health issues, and the program also provides home healthcare services to people with disabilities, older adults and those experiencing financial challenges.
Native American communities across the country are experiencing five times the hospitalization rates and 40 percent more deaths than whites due to COVID-19, concerning state officials in Colorado, reports 9 News. The executive director of Denver Indian Health and Family Services, Adrianne Maddux, notes that factors such as food insecurity, lack of access to fresh water, healthcare and PPE make the communities even more vulnerable to the disease. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is partnering with Denver Indian Health and Family Services to create a COVID-19 Native Responses team, that will be made up of community members trained in crisis counseling and will work to provide resources and mental health services to support the communities. The state will also provide free testing for Native Americans across Colorado and is working to develop culturally responsive public service announcements related to prevention.