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Our Take: Biden administration takes a more aggressive stance in the battle against COVID-19

Sep 13, 2021

After stating that “a distinct minority of Americans … are keeping us from turning the corner” on COVID-19, President Joe Biden announced a new plan during his speech from the White House on Thursday to reduce the spread of the disease.

The plan includes an emergency rule, developed by the Department of Labor, that will require all employers with 100 or more workers to ensure their employees are either fully vaccinated or get tested weekly. Employers will be required to provide employees paid time off to get vaccinated.

The president also expanded the previously announced vaccine mandate for workers in nursing homes who treat patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid; the mandate now covers 17 million people working in hospitals, home health care businesses, and other medical facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

And he said he would sign executive orders to require all federal employees of the executive branch, which includes members of the armed services, to be vaccinated, as well as federal contractors.

President Biden said the federal government has purchased enough vaccine booster shots for all who are eligible so that when the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize them, they will be readily available.

The administration’s plan also includes steps to keep schools open and operating as safely as possible — such as requiring all educators in the federal Head Start Program to be vaccinated.

In addition, the plan calls for making testing for COVID-19 more affordable, convenient, and available; increasing fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear a mask; and strengthening the economic recovery by expanding low-interest loan programs for small businesses.

The last step of the plan President Biden laid out in his speech is to improve care for those who get sick with COVID-19. He said the Department of Defense would double the number of military health teams being deployed to assist hospitals across the country, and shipments of free monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 would be expedited.

Our Take: If only the vaccines hadn’t become political dynamite … .

In the past, most Americans have willingly — and even gladly — been vaccinated against smallpox, measles, polio, and other highly contagious diseases. Each year, millions of Americans across the political spectrum get flu shots.

But, here we are.

Just over half of Americans (53%) are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters of those who are eligible have received at least one dose. But roughly 80 million are still hesitant or flat out refuse to get vaccinated.

The administration’s plan has already received pushback from labor unions, governors, and organizations representing first responders. No doubt it will be challenged in multiple courts of law.

Still, it will increase the number of people who are vaccinated. And that will save lives.

What else you need to know
Several M&A stories have made the news recently. Earlier this month, Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health, both based in Michigan, took the next step toward executing the merger plans they announced in June by signing a formal integration agreement. They said in a news release that they hope to launch the combined health system this fall, after the regulatory review process has been completed.

Meanwhile, two Illinois-based systems, NorthShore University Health Systems and Edward-Elmhurst Health, confirmed in a press release last week that they plan to merge under a new parent organization, creating a nine hospital health system with approximately 25,000 team members. They anticipate completing the transaction later this year if regulatory approval is granted.

And late last month, various news outlets reported that Hackensack Meridian Health and Englewood Health are appealing a district court’s decision to grant the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s request for a preliminary injunction against their proposed merger. The New Jersey-based health systems signed a definitive agreement to merger nearly two years ago, but the FTC filed an administrative complaint in December stating that the merger would adversely affect competition. The FTC’s administrative trial is slated to start on Oct. 12.

Premier and 11 health systems have invested in Exela Pharma Sciences, a U.S.-based specialty pharmaceutical company, in an effort to secure an uninterrupted supply of certain pharmaceutical products — including a number of generic injectables often found on the FDA’s drug shortage list. According to Premier’s press release, Exela will manufacture the products at its newly expanded facility in Lenoir, N.C., using active pharmaceutical ingredients primarily sourced from the U.S. and Europe. Premier said the arrangement is a “unique opportunity” for participating members “to bolster the supply of critical products and support domestic manufacturing infrastructure.” Financial terms were not disclosed.

Baylor College of Medicine announced that it is one of four partner institutions that will collaborate within the new Center to Stream HealthCare in Place, which is being launched through a $3 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Industry-University Cooperative Research Centers. The other partners are the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California, and the California Institute of Technology. Together, they will research, develop, and promote wearable devices designed to help providers collect data from patients in their homes. The data will be streamed to medical professionals, with the goal of “mitigating physiological, environmental, and psychological changes for timely management and intervention,” Baylor noted in the announcement.

Baxter International agreed to acquire Hillrom for about $10.5 billion. Baxter’s product portfolio includes critical care, nutrition, renal, hospital, and surgical products. Hillrom is a global medical technology company that makes equipment such as hospital beds and patient monitoring devices. Under the definitive agreement the two firms announced earlier this month, Baxter will pay $156 in cash for each outstanding share of Hillrom common stock. Baxter will also assume Hillrom’s outstanding debt and cash on hand, for a total enterprise value of $12.4 billion. The purchase price reflects a 26% premium to the stock’s closing price on July 27, the last day of trading before news emerged of Hillrom’s rejection of an earlier offer by Baxter. Both companies’ boards have approved the transaction, which is still subject to the approval of regulators and Hillrom’s shareholders. The deal is expected to close early next year.

Executive moves

Dr. Penny Wheeler will retire as CEO of Allina Health at year-end, the health system announced Thursday, noting that she will continue to serve on the board of directors. She has served as CEO since 2014. Lisa Shannon, who is currently Allina Health’s president and chief operating officer, will take on the role of CEO when Dr. Wheeler retires.

Jeff Alter will become Summit Health’s new CEO on Oct. 4, the physician-led network announced earlier this month. He will succeed Dr. Jeffrey Le Benger, who was CEO of Summit Medical Group since 1999 and then became Summit Health’s CEO in 2019 when Summit Medical Group merged with CityMD to form Summit Health. Alter has served as executive vice president of Anthem Health Solutions and president of IngenioRx, Anthem’s pharmacy benefit manager. He was also with UnitedHealthcare for 15 years.

Dr. Harold Paz will step down as CEO of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, effective Oct. 3. He is leaving to accept the position of executive vice president for health sciences at Stony Brook University, according to a message shared online with the OSU community.

Dr. David Brown is the new president of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and executive vice president of Mass General Brigham as of Sept. 8. He succeeds Dr. Peter Slavin, who served as president of MGH since 2003, according to a press statement. Before taking on his new role, Dr. Brown was chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at MGH.

What we’re reading
Aligning Payments, Services, and Quality in Primary Care. JAMA Viewpoint, 8.7.21
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