News | Healthcare Business Trends

Healthcare News of Note: Xavier Becerra likely to be confirmed as next U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary

News | Healthcare Business Trends

Healthcare News of Note: Xavier Becerra likely to be confirmed as next U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary

  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra seems likely to win confirmation as the next HHS secretary following his testimony Feb. 24 before the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Visits to certain specialists exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the month of December, including visits to rheumatologists, urologists and adult primary care practitioners.
  • The health consequences of COVID-19 extend far beyond acute infection, even among those who experience mild illness.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found these industry news stories that should be of interest to healthcare finance professionals.

1. Becerra likely to be confirmed as next Health and Human Services secretary

A Feb. 24 Modern Healthcare article reports, “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra seems likely to win confirmation as the next HHS secretary following his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.

“For the second day in a row, senators on both sides of the aisle asked Becerra a series of policy-oriented questions that aimed to address the concerns of their constituents and special interest groups. Republicans had teased that they would try to sink his nomination by painting him as inexperienced and overly supportive of Medicare-for-All proposals. But the committee's GOP members hardly tagged Becerra, lobbing mild criticisms and hunting for clarifications on issues like single-payer healthcare, abortion and religious freedom.”

Reporter Michael Brady wrote, “During the proceedings, Becerra hit on a number of issues that could impact insurers, providers and drugmakers,” including Medicare Advantage, drug pricing and telehealth.

2. Commonwealth Fund report: Certain specialists saw more patients in December than before the pandemic

A Feb. 23 Healthcare Dive article reports: “Visits to certain specialists exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the month of December, including visits to the rheumatologist, urologist and adult primary care practitioners,” according to a new Commonwealth Fund report by researchers at Harvard and healthcare technology company Phreesia.

Healthcare Dive author Samantha Liss also reported the following:

  • Outpatient visits held steady during the fourth quarter of 2020, even with a surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • Outpatient visits mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels after declining in the spring, with trends differing among age groups. Visits for adults remained stable through the end of the year, while visits for those ages 3 to 17 ended the year noticeably lower than in prior years.

According to the Commonwealth Fund report, when comparing data for the last three full weeks of 2020 with the baseline week of March 1-7, “visits to certain specialists — in particular, pediatricians — were substantially below their baseline.” The top percent changes by specialty, according to the report, are:

  • Pediatrics   -24%
  • Physical medicine & rehab   -11%
  • Pulmonology  -11%
  • Otolaryngology   -11%
  • Behavioral health   -10%

3. Study: 6 months after onset of COVID-19, one-third of people still report symptoms

“Nearly one-third of people with COVID-19 had lingering symptoms a median of 6 months after infection onset, a single-center prospective study suggested,” according to a Feb. 19 MedPage Today article.

“Among COVID-19 patients whose infections ranged from asymptomatic to severe, two problems -- fatigue and loss of smell or taste -- persisted most frequently, reported Helen Chu, MD, MPH, of University of Washington in Seattle, and co-authors, in a JAMA Network Open research letter.”

“Overall, 32.7% of outpatients and 31.3% of inpatients reported at least one persistent symptom, most commonly fatigue (13.6%) and loss of sense of smell or taste (13.6%). In addition, 13.0% reported other symptoms, including brain fog (2.3%),” the article states.

The study authors wrote, “Our research indicates that the health consequences of COVID-19 extend far beyond acute infection, even among those who experience mild illness. Comprehensive long-term investigation will be necessary to fully understand the impact of this evolving viral pathogen.”

HFMA bonus content

  • There are many ways to use social media for good, according to this week's "Voices in Healthcare Finance" podcast guest, Jill Geisler, who is hfm’s Leadership columnist. But we've all seen what can happen when it's misused or when people share things they probably shouldn't be sharing. Geisler walks us through all the good you can do on social media and how to think through what you post and share.
  • Some health systems are still unsure how to address the federal government’s price transparency mandate, while others continue to struggle to get patients through the door for non-COVID-19-related services. HFMA's Revenue Cycle: Re-engage Consumers and Improve Performance + Price Transparency Preconference, a multiweek event starting March 1, will answer those questions through expert-led educational sessions, live Q&As and peer-to-peer discussions. 

About the Author

Deborah Filipek

is a senior editor for HFMA in Westchester, Illinois.

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