IHA Daily Briefing: June 9

Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Health Equity Action Day: Impactful Speakers, Activities 
Biden Administration Focuses on Drug Supply Chain 
HHS Reminder: COVID-19 Vaccines & Tests Must be Free 
Feds Ramp up Vaccination Efforts 
IHA Summary: Legislation to Help Low-Income, Uninsured 
Crain’s Honors IHA, Members in Notable General Counsels 
State, National, Global COVID-19 Updates 
Briefly Noted

Health Equity Action Day: Impactful Speakers, Activities
Built on a multi-dimensional approach to effect real change, IHA Health Equity Action Day on June 18 combines the expertise of top speakers in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with the commitment of IHA members to continue the work of advancing health equity.

The day is designed to deliver an impactful experience for all IHA members. Programming will begin with virtual education from 9-11 a.m. featuring DEI experts and governmental/legislative leaders, including:

  • Michelle Silverthorn, founder of Inclusion Nation, who will deliver the keynote address;
  • Governor J.B. Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health; and
  • U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois’ senior senator.

Hospital leaders will serve as panelists as well as provide opening/closing remarks, including:

  • Diahann Sinclair, Vice President and Head of Diversity, Organization & Community Development, St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center, Chicago;   
  • Darlene Oliver Hightower, Vice President, Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; and
  • Ted Rogalski, Administrator, Genesis Medical Center, Aledo.

Afternoon programming centers on activities and resources that hospital and health system participants can work on with their teams. Health Equity Action Day asks all IHA members to commit to concrete action to reduce health disparities and enhance health outcomes for all patients.

Also on Health Equity Action Day, IHA will launch the Racial Equity in Healthcare Progress Report, a long-term accountability tool to document progress toward achieving racial health equity.

Learn more about Health Equity Action Day by visiting our event landing page and seeing our FAQs flyer, which can be circulated within IHA-member organizations. Register your teams today.

Biden Administration Focuses on Drug Supply Chain
On Tuesday, the Biden administration released its 250-page report reviewing America’s critical supply chains in response to Executive Order 14017. The report includes policy recommendations from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) addressing vulnerabilities in the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain.

HHS and FDA call for enhanced tools and policy solutions that improve pharmaceutical supply chain transparency, incentivize resilience, and increase the economic sustainability of U.S. and allied drug manufacturing and distribution. The report includes three sets of recommendations to boost local production and foster international cooperation; build emergency capacity; and promote international cooperation and partnerships with allies.

“Last year the American people experienced a widespread and significant shortage of N95 respirators for healthcare workers and masks to protect essential workers and others, and year after year we see shortages of medicines and medical supplies like saline,” said FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock. “Pharmaceutical supply chains are essential for the national and health security and economic prosperity of the United States, yet the COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how vulnerable the supply chain is in this country. Now is the right time to take action to keep the U.S. drug supply chain secure and resilient.”

HHS made an initial commitment of approximately $60 million from the Defense Production Act appropriation in the American Rescue Plan to develop technologies focused on increasing domestic manufacturing capacity for active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).HHS will work with Congress and the private sector to provide investments and financial incentives to boost production and research and development; create quality transparency and improve data collection; explore the creation of a virtual strategic stockpile of APIs and essential drugs; and foster international cooperation when reviewing and responding to supply chain risks.

HHS Reminder: COVID-19 Vaccines & Tests Must be Free
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra today sent a letter to insurers and providers following reports of ongoing concerns about Americans facing costs associated with COVID-19 vaccinations or testing.

“In light of recent reports of consumer cost concerns, I am reminding health care providers of their signed agreements to cover the administration of COVID-19 vaccines free-of-charge to patients, and group health plans and health insurers of their legal requirement to provide coverage of COVID-19 vaccinations and diagnostic testing without patients shouldering any cost,” says Becerra. “COVID-19 vaccines and their administration are free for any individual living in the United States, regardless of their insurance or immigration status.”

In the letter, Becerra notes that all providers administering COVID-19 vaccines are required to sign the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement. This agreement states that providers must administer COVID-19 vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost to patients. To ensure no surprise billing, providers may not require that patients have additional medical services to receive their COVID-19 vaccination – nor can they charge any type of fee if COVID-19 vaccination is the sole medical service provided.

Becerra also says that this past February, HHS with the Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury issued updated guidance addressing the requirement that group health plans and health insurers cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing without cost-sharing.

Feds Ramp up Vaccination Efforts 
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the launch of a first-of-its-kind national hotline to connect people with disabilities to information and services to improve access to COVID-19 vaccines. The Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL) (acl.gov/DIAL; 888-677-1199) is now available to help people with disabilities find vaccination locations in their communities, assist callers with making vaccination appointments, and connect callers to local services – such as accessible transportation – to overcome barriers to vaccination.

The hotline also can provide information and resources to answer questions and address concerns about the vaccines and can connect callers to information and services that promote independent living and address fundamental needs, such as food, housing and transportation.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach.

To better serve this group, Medicare is incentivizing providers and will pay an additional $35 per dose for COVID-19 vaccine administration in a beneficiary’s home, increasing the total payment amount for at-home vaccination from approximately $40 to approximately $75 per vaccine dose. For a two-dose vaccine, this results in a total payment of approximately $150 for the administration of both doses, or approximately $70 more than the current rate.

CMS says there are approximately 1.6 million adults aged 65 or older who may have trouble accessing COVID-19 vaccinations because they have difficulty leaving home.

President Biden has set a national goal of having 70% of adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4.

IHA Summary: Legislation to Help Low-Income, Uninsured 
On Tuesday, IHA sent members a detailed summary of legislation passed in the General Assembly’s Spring session intended to advance health equity by improving access to care for low-income and uninsured individuals. The legislation – Senate Bill 1840, House Bill 158 (PA102-0004), and House Bill 3803 – amend the Community Benefits Act, Hospital Uninsured Patient Discount Act, and Fair Patient Billing Act.

Crain’s Honors IHA, Members in Notable General Counsels 
General counsels from two IHA-member hospitals, along with IHA’s general counsel, are recognized for their success and accomplishments over the past year in the Crain’s Chicago Business “Notable General Counsels of 2021.” They are:

  • Carl Bergetz of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and Rush University System for Health;   
  • Kimberly Chmura of St. Anthony’s Hospital, Chicago; and   
  • Karen Harris of IHA.

The three were among 51 general counsels from a mix of company sizes and industries, including non-profits and healthcare organizations. Nominees were drawn mainly from the greater Chicago area and were required to be full-time general counsels and C-suite members with at least 10 years’ experience practicing law.

Bergetz is general counsel and chief legal officer with Rush, where he manages all legal services and directs the work of 20 staff members in the Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of Risk & Claims Management. He teaches bioethics and health law at Rush University and is the vice chair and secretary of the Healthy Communities Foundation. Read Crain’s full write-up here.

Chmura is general counsel and vice president – administration with St. Anthony’s. She provides legal, risk and compliance services and advises on a range of operational matters. Chmura managed the hospital’s legal response to a 2019 malware attack. She also handled the hospital’s COVID response, sourcing medical supplies, implementing new regulations and advising on a community-wide vaccine rollout. Read Crain’s full write-up here.

Harris is senior vice president and general counsel with IHA, where she leads IHA’s Legal Affairs department providing legal guidance for all IHA entities. During COVID, Harris coordinated the state’s 200 hospitals and health systems with local, state and federal agencies; helped draft state executive orders; and requested regulatory waivers. She serves as co-lead of IHA’s health disparities activities. Read Crain’s full write-up here.

IHA congratulates Bergetz, Chmura and Harris for earning this honor.

State, National, Global COVID-19 Updates 
The Illinois Dept. of Public Health (IDPH) announced today 408 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths. The total number of cases in the state is 1,386,262 with a total of 22,997 deaths. IDPH says that in the past 24 hours, 41,758 test specimens have been processed, with a positivity rate of 0.98%. The preliminary 7-day statewide positivity rate for cases as a percent of total tests from June 2-8 is 1.0%, and the 7-day test positivity rate is 1.3%.

Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past 24 hours increased from 791 patients to 797 patients. Of that figure, 209 were in the ICU, with 109 patients on ventilators.

A total of 11,759,105 vaccines have been administered in Illinois as of last midnight. The seven-day rolling average of vaccines administered daily is 45,852 doses. Yesterday, 50,231 doses were reported administered in Illinois. In addition, more than 68% of Illinois adults have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and more than 51% of Illinois adults are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

To help ensure schools can more safely resume in-person learning, IDPH today announced it is expanding access to no-cost and low-cost COVID-19 testing to elementary schools across Illinois. Schools can choose to utilize the saliva-based covidSHIELD test developed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency announced today that three additional FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams arrived in Illinois this week—bringing the total to 11 teams across the state—to distribute information about COVID-19 vaccination sites, assist residents with accessing the vaccine, and raise awareness about FEMA’s funeral assistance program.

Tuesday’s CDC figures showed more than 33.2 million confirmed and presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. (a daily increase of more than 8,000 cases), with 595,301 deaths (a daily increase of 439).

Today’s WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard showed more than 173.6 million COVID-19 cases globally (a daily increase of more than 333,000 cases), with more than 3.74 million deaths. The Region of the Americas (includes the U.S.) continues to lead the world with more than 68.7 million cases and more than 1.8 million deaths.

Briefly Noted
Earlier today, IHA President & CEO A.J. Wilhelmi was part of a one-hour-long Health News Illinois virtual roundtable looking back at the General Assembly’s Spring session and looking ahead to the rest of this year and next session. Among the key issues Wilhelmi discussed were the state budget/Medicaid/hospital funding, telehealth parity, prior authorization reform, and nurse staffing. See a Facebook video replay of the event by clicking here.