5 Things Maryland: Q&A w/Del. Peña-Melnyk, “Chronic COVID,” Long-term care bills

A big thanks to Joe DeMattos and his members at the Health Facilities Association of Maryland. They are the first sponsor of our upcoming 2021 Maryland State of Reform Health Policy Conference in May. We’ll have more details for you on that virtual conference in the weeks ahead.

Until then, here are 5 things we think are worth keeping an eye on in Maryland health care health care for the month of February, 2021. Thanks, as always, for reading our stuff.

 

 

 

 

With help from Emily Boerger

1. Del. Peña-Melnyk on health equity bills

Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk serves as Vice Chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee and as Chair of the Public Health & Minority Health Disparities Subcommittee. In this Q&A, Peña-Melnyk discusses equity in health care, related legislation she is sponsoring this year, and the importance of understanding the social determinants of health.

This year, Peña-Melnyk is sponsoring House Bill 28, a bill requiring health professionals to go through implicit bias training before renewing their licenses; HB 78, which would establish the Maryland Commission on Health Equity; and HB 309, a bill that would evaluate the racial/ethnic composition of Maryland’s health care workforce. “We know that the current public health crisis has disproportionately impacted communities of color, so we should always be looking at what we are doing and re-evaluating,” says Peña-Melnyk.

 

2. Implications of “chronic COVID”

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Chris Murray, Executive Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations (IHME), where I learned something I didn’t know. Based on newly released data from the Novavax COVID vaccine trial, being previously sick with COVID-19 appears to offer no protection from being infected with the new South African strain of the virus.

Without cross-variant immunity, Murray says this data indicates we may be moving to a “world of chronic COVID” where every winter we treat COVID as we do the flu. I outline three immediate things that will change for us in this column. Perhaps the most important is this: hospitals and their current financing models in other states are in trouble. It should make the Maryland model, with its prospective financial stability, all the more attractive outside of Maryland. We’ll see if other state hospital associations start making their calls into the state when it dawns on folks that COVID is never leaving us.

 

3. Committee discusses long-term care bills

The House Health and Government Operations Committee recently heard testimony on a slate of long-term care-related bills, including HB 303 which would prohibit long-term care coverage rate increases for those 85 years or older. Bill sponsor Del. Vaughn Stewart told the committee, “The industry underestimated how long seniors would hold on to their coverage and how long they would live. Seniors have cut back on groceries and prescriptions to afford these rate hikes, which often total thousands of dollar a year.”

The committee also heard testimony on HB 554, which requires assisted living facilities to file an annual report on the money they receive, and on HB 207, which would require nursing homes to notify family members of changes in health as soon as possible. This was an issue, says Del. C.T. Wilson, that was highlighted by the COVID crisis when “families were kept in the dark about what was going on with their family members.”

 

4. Hogan fires back at Dems on vaccine rollout

Despite Gov. Hogan’s assurance that Maryland’s vaccine efforts are improving every day, state and local leaders are describing the COVID vaccine rollout as frustrating and confusing. After Maryland Congressional Democrats called for a “course correction” on the state’s vaccine strategy, Hogan shot back on Monday with a letter, stating, “We will not rest until every Marylander who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine. You can be a part of this incredible undertaking, or you can criticize it from the cloakroom.”

Of the 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses the federal government has distributed to Maryland, the state has administered 692,965, or 63%. This ranks Maryland 41st in the nation in terms of shots in arms, and 39th in the percent of the population to have received at least one shot. Since Maryland is holding back second doses of the vaccine, Hogan’s office reported on Tuesday that 85% of the state’s first doses have been administered.

 

5. RELIEF Act heads to the House

The Senate on Friday unanimously passed the $1.5 billion COVID-19 RELIEF Act, tacking on an additional $520 million to the $1 billion proposal put forth by Gov. Hogan in January. The Senate amendments include $45 million in health-related relief, including $20 million for “mobile crisis and stand-alone walk-in” services for mental health and substance abuse issues.

The amendment includes $10 million for grants to help counties with the vaccination process. The Maryland Community Health Resource Commission has $14 million earmarked to reduce health disparities, improve health outcomes, improve access to primary care, promote prevention services, and reduce health care costs. The RELIEF Act has been referred to committee in the House where Hogan is urging lawmakers “to follow suit in short order” and pass the legislation.