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Some Good News on Healthcare and COVID-19

The threat of war in Ukraine has grabbed all of our attention. It’s too bad that the threat of war is the only thing that can divert our attention from the pandemic and our access to healthcare. Russia’s threat of an attack on Ukraine is certainly scary, it seems like we keep getting more things added to our list of stuff to worry about. I don’t know about you, but my worry list is just about maxed out. We just start to envision life after COVID-19 and then Russia gets crazy. My solution is to pivot back to healthcare and COVID-19, where there is finally some good news.

The Build Back Better legislation has stalled, and it looks like the bill will not move forward in its present form. There were some good things in that bill, particularly the yearly cap on the out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, but there were some onerous price fixing schemes that threatened both access and innovation. It seems that the only path forward is to break the Build Back Better bill into parts and try to wrangle the votes to pass the pieces, but Russia and inflation has seemed to ruin Washington’s appetite for taking on this new path at this time. The goal was to have some things passed by the March 1st State of the Union but that is not going to happen. I do want to warn everyone that fixing the prices on prescription drugs and other attacks on Medicare Part D are still on the President’s “to do” list and I can guarantee that they will, at some point, be back in play. As my earlier blog discussed, all this focus on drug prices has somehow missed the fact that drug prices have risen slower than our year over year inflation and the net price that the drug manufacturers get has actually gone down each of the last four years. It seems strange that this issue still seems to garner a huge amount of attention. When all of this comes back in play, we’ll be here to keep you up to date.

I don’t have to tell you that COVID-19 seems to be fading. My own personal feeling, and I emphasize that it’s purely my own feeling, is that I’m done with COVID-19. I’ve been vaccinated, boosted, and then caught COVID-19 a little over two months ago. I had what seemed to be a two-day light cold and that was it. From my perspective, I’m going to do everything I can to return to my former normalcy.

From a national point of view COVID-19 is dropping as fast as its steep climb was. While there is still pressure on hospitals to treat those that are still ill, the path is clearly down. States and even other countries are dropping their restrictions – you can now travel to Australia, something you haven’t been able to do for almost two years. While there still could be surprises, it seems like more and more studies indicate that those that have been vaccinated and especially those that were vaccinated and had a breakthrough case of COVID-19 will be protected going forward, possibly for an extended time. The talk of another vaccination has diminished.

Having said all this, I do want to point out that there are still lives that can be saved as the pandemic wanes. We can still save thousands of older Americans’ lives. It is an absolute fact that age is the biggest determinate of whether you will die of COVID-19. We all quickly became aware at the beginning of the pandemic that the older population, especially those in assisted living circumstances, bore the brunt of the deaths. As the pandemic progressed and more and more younger people were infected, this fact kind of got lost. They need to be brought back front and center. According to the Atlantic, compared with someone in their 20s, a person over 65 is at least 65 times more likely to die of COVID-19; over 75, 140 times more likely to die; over 85, 340 times more likely to die. No other factors – not race, diabetes, cancer, or immunosuppression – have anywhere close to that risk. They increase the risk “only” between two to four times. While the older age group has the highest percentage of vaccinations, they are still bearing the brunt of the deaths. It is a fact that getting the third shot, the booster, has a huge impact on protecting us from COVID-19. Consider this, the vaccinated but unboosted elderly are still dying of COVID-19 at four times the rate of the unvaccinated adults under 49. A booster cuts that risk dramatically. There are those in this older age group who have indicated they are never going to get vaccinated. Those people have made up their minds. We need to concentrate on the vaccinated but unboosted. They are clearly open to vaccines and should be willing to get the booster. The booster is easily available and free. We all need to concentrate on getting this vulnerable but willing group to take this lifesaving step and get the booster. If you know anyone in this group, talk to them, tell them how much the booster will lower their risk. Getting the booster is guaranteed to save lives.

I hope your worry list has been lightened by the good news. We’re not out of the woods but we’re starting to see glimpses of the sunny meadows ahead.

Best, Thair