IHA Daily Briefing: Feb. 12

Friday, February 12, 2021
Special ACA Marketplace Enrollment Period Starts Monday
President Announces Health Equity Task Force Members
CDC Issues Updated Guidance for Schools
Biden Administration Purchases 200M COVID-19 Doses
First South African COVID-19 Variant Case in IL
State, National, Global COVID-19 Updates
Telehealth Policy and Payment Updates

Special ACA Marketplace Enrollment Period Starts Monday
Today, in accordance with the Executive Order signed by President Biden, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that the Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace will be available to consumers in the 36 states (including Illinois) that use the HealthCare.gov platform on Monday, Feb. 15, and will continue through Saturday, May 15.

Governor J.B. Pritzker is encouraging eligible Illinoisans who do not have health insurance to enroll in an ACA marketplace plan. “Access to health care is a right, not a privilege, and ensuring you and your loved ones are covered is even more essential as we continue to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to President Biden's executive order, Illinoisans will have an additional opportunity to enroll in a health insurance plan through the ACA Marketplace,” said Governor Pritzker. “I applaud the Biden-Harris administration for their commitment to supporting states during this historic time and giving Illinois residents the tools they need to stay safe.”

Federal marketplace numbers show that more than 291,000 Illinoisans enrolled in ACA Marketplace plans during the enrollment period ending last December. Illinois Dept. of Insurance Acting Director Dana Popish Severinghaus said that those numbers will likely increase.

The 2021 SEP in Response to COVID-19 also allows people currently enrolled in an ACA marketplace plan to change plans. Consumers can visit www.getcoveredillinois.gov for more information and to get answers to frequently asked questions about SEPs.


President Announces Health Equity Task Force Members
President Biden and Vice President Harris this week announced 12 individuals to serve as non-federal members of the Biden-Harris COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, created under a Jan. 21 executive order to address COVID-19-related health and social inequities. The Task Force members represent a diversity of backgrounds and expertise, a range of racial and ethnic groups, and a number of important populations, including: children and youth; educators and students; healthcare providers, immigrants; individuals with disabilities; LGBTQ+ individuals; public health experts; rural communities; state, local, territorial, and tribal governments; and unions.

The Task Force is charged with issuing a range of recommendations to help inform the COVID-19 response and recovery. This includes recommendations on equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minority populations, and improving cultural proficiency within the Federal Government. Additional recommendations include efforts to improve data collection and use, as well as a long-term plan to address data shortfalls regarding communities of color and other underserved populations.


CDC Issues Updated Guidance for Schools
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this afternoon issued updated guidance for schools, “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation.” “CDC is not mandating that schools reopen,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on an afternoon phone briefing with reporters.

In the guidance, CDC says: “To enable schools to open safely and remain open, it is important to adopt and consistently implement actions to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 both in schools and in the community. This means that all community members, students, families, teachers, and school staff should take actions to protect themselves and others where they live, work, learn, and play. In short, success in preventing the introduction and subsequent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in schools is connected to and facilitated by preventing transmission in the broader community.

“This operational strategy presents recommendations based on the best-available evidence at the time of release. As science and data on COVID-19 continue to evolve, guidance and recommendations will be updated to reflect new evidence. This document is intended to complement CDC’s guidance, tools, and resources for K-12 schools, including guidance on operating schools during COVID-19 and overview of testing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).”

The guidance emphasizes five key mitigation strategies: universal mask wearing at school, maintaining at least 6 feet of social distance, frequent hand washing, cleaning and ventilating school facilities, and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine protocols.


Biden Administration Purchases 200M COVID-19 Doses
On Thursday, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that HHS and the Dept. of Defense have purchased an additional 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from both Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. to help meet demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.

The orders placed yesterday bring the vaccine purchased by the U.S. government from these two companies to a total of 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate 300 million people. Each company is delivering 300 million doses in regular increments through the end of July 2021.


First South African COVID-19 Variant Case in IL
On Thursday, the Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) announced the first case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) variant B.1.351, which was first identified in South Africa. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the variant in a Rock Island resident.

“We expected to see more cases of variants detected in Illinois, including the B.1.351 strain,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “These variants seem to spread more rapidly, which can lead to more cases of COVID-19 and even another surge. Our best path to defeating this virus as quickly as possible remains wearing our masks and getting vaccinated when it's our turn.”

Cases of the B.1.351 were first reported in the U.S. at the end of January. So far, studies suggest that antibodies generated through the current COVID-19 vaccines recognize these variants and may offer some protection.


State, National, Global COVID-19 Updates
The Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) announced today 2,598 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 32 deaths.

The total number of cases in the state is 1,158,431 with a total of 19,873 deaths. IDPH says that in the past 24 hours, 103,009 test specimens have been processed, with a positivity rate of 2.5%. The preliminary 7-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a percent of total tests from Feb. 5-11 is 3.1%, and the seven-day test positivity rate is 3.7%.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past 24 hours decreased from 1,954 patients to 1,915 patients. Of that figure, 437 patients were in the ICU, with 211 patients on ventilators.

A total of 1,940,425 doses of vaccine have been delivered to providers in Illinois, including Chicago. In addition, approximately 445,200 doses total have been allocated to the federal government’s Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care facilities. This brings the total Illinois doses to 2,385,625. A total of 1,644,483 vaccines have been administered in Illinois as of last midnight, including 231,814 for long-term care facilities. The 7-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 59,009 doses.

Yesterday, a record 95,375 doses were administered in the state. As of today, 10% of people in Illinois have received their first dose of vaccine.

Today’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures showed more than 27.2 million confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. (a daily increase of more than 102,000 cases), with 473,699 deaths (a daily increase of 3,589).

Today’s WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard showed more than 107.4 million COVID-19 cases globally (a daily increase of more than 417,000 cases), with more than 2.36 million deaths. The Region of the Americas (includes the U.S.) continues to lead the world with more than 47.8 million cases and more than 1.12 million deaths.


Telehealth Policy and Payment Updates
IHA recently updated members on recent state and federal telehealth policy and payment updates, including:

  • Changes to the Medicaid COVID-19 Fee Schedule primarily impacting virtual check-ins and e-visits; and   
  • A correction to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule impacting remote physiologic monitoring (RPM) services.

See IHA’s memo for more details.