rule

health

Hartford judge hears testimony on safety of masks in schools as parents seek to block face coverings rule

A Hartford judge heard hours of testimony on the safety and efficacy of masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus Friday as he decides whether to grant an emergency injunction blocking a state requirement that students wear face coverings in schools.

In a daylong hearing on the injunction, Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher heard from both those downplaying the effectiveness of masks as well as those who said face coverings do not negatively impact children and slow the spread of the virus.

The hearing came several weeks after a group of parents and the CT Freedom Alliance sued the state’s education department and top officials to lift the requirement that children wear masks in schools out of fear of the harms they pose to children both mentally and physically.

The assertions in the lawsuit are in direct conflict with scientific evidence that shows that mask-wearing slows the spread of COVID-19. Lawyers for the state have argued there is no evidence to support the claim that masks are dangerous and that in fact masks are protecting students as they attend in-person classes.

Quick to send students home for virtual learning in the spring, Connecticut education officials outlined extensive measures to safely return students to school this fall. Key among those measures was a requirement that students and staff wear masks in school.

Moukawsher set Friday’s hearing to get testimony from two expert witnesses called by the plaintiffs, as well as the state’s witnesses, before ruling on the request for an injunction. The state has filed a motion to dismiss the case, which Moukawsher will address after the injunction.

Lawyers for the parents and CT Freedom Alliance first called on a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist, who said that masks can inhibit development, cause stress and led to other complications for children.

“I am greatly concerned by what I am seeing … children who are forced to wear masks in a school settings as well as outside the school settings are in imminent harm,” said Dr. Mark McDonald. McDonald also noted that the risk of oxygen deprivation can led to “permanent neurological damage in children, which we will not be able to address because the window will have passed.”

The state questioned McDonald’s beliefs in masks and the government response to the pandemic. McDonald said he believes that a healthy person confers no benefits to others when wearing a mask.

The plaintiff’s second witness, Knut Whittkowski, a New York-based epidemiologist with 35 years in the field, said he reviewed scores of studies and could not find evidence that masks were effective outside a health care setting.

“I went through all the literature I could find, and all the literature I was presented and I could not find convincing evidence on the effectiveness of surgery masks or bandannas or other masks worn in non-health care settings in general,” Whittkowski said. “And in particular, I couldn’t find evidence for the effectiveness of mask wearing by children.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and

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health

Arizona governor defends school rule as virus ‘storm’ looms

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday warned that a “storm is ahead” as coronavirus cases climb in the state, but defended new guidelines for in-person school instruction that will let students remain in class far beyond what earlier guidance would have recommended.

The Republican governor insisted that his administration consulted with public education and health officials before making the decision to ease guidance for when schools should consider ending in-person instruction and returning to online classes.

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, a Democrat, said in a tweet that her department did not request or recommend any changes to the state health department’s guidance.


And two major school administrator groups objected to the decision, saying it goes against months of planning done following the previous guidance. The Arizona School Administrators and the Arizona School Boards Association released a statement s aying the change was made without communicating its reason or an understanding of its impact on schools.

Ritchie Taylor, Hoffman’s spokesman, said the Health Services Department presented the change as a done deal at a regular weekly meeting earlier this month of a group of county health officials and Education Department officials. The group has been meeting since the summer to collaborate on school virus issues.

“It was not put up for a collaborative debate or input,” Taylor said. “It was put up as a policy decision.”

The Health Services Department in August issued guidance outlining how and when schools can consider reopening and when they should close again if virus cases surge. Those rules suggested a return to remote learning if at least one of a county’s three benchmarks based on COVID-19 cases, testing positivity and prevalence of COVID-19-like illness moved from moderate to substantial spread.

The new recommendations were quietly posted on the health services department website last Thursday, and went unnoticed until KNXV-TV reported on them earlier this week. They call for districts to move to remote learning when all three benchmarks move to substantial spread for two weeks.

Ducey on Wednesday dodged questions about why there was no announcement of the change and did not specifically say who requested them. The guidance covers 1.1 million public school students in district and charter schools statewide. It doesn’t cover private or parochial schools.

“These guidelines were adjusted at the request of public education leaders in coordination with public health officials,” Ducey said. “And that’s how we’ll continue to do that and we will be completely transparent.”

The governor spoke at a media briefing where he discussed current virus conditions, which he said were rising. Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said she expects a further spike in cases after Thanksgiving, when college students return home and families gather for the holidays.

“I hope that I am wrong, but what I would anticipate is to see a spike about 10 to 14 days after Thanksgiving and then potentially continue to increase over the next four to six weeks,” Christ said.

That would strain hospitals, who

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health

HHS Finalizes Rule on Insurer Price Transparency

WASHINGTON — Private health insurers will have to start posting their prices publicly within the next several years according to a final rule issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“This shadowy system” of healthcare pricing “has to change; the patient has to be in control,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on a phone call with reporters. “That means giving them the right to know what they’re going to owe for a healthcare service before they ever get it.” Right now, however, “patients don’t have the information they need to shop around and get a good deal … and have an informed conversation with their doctor about what makes sense for them.”

The final rule — which was issued by HHS together with the Labor and Treasury departments — would require almost all private health insurance plans to give the 200 million Americans they cover real-time access to information about negotiated prices and cost-sharing, beginning with a list of the 500 most “shoppable” services in 2023, Azar said. This list would be expanded to include all healthcare services in 2024. “This is information that patients typically receive after they get those services, through an EOB [Explanation of Benefits] form,” but now they could get it ahead of time.

Through a shopping tool available through their plan or insurance company, consumers will be able to see the negotiated rate between their doctor and their plan or insurer, as well as the most accurate out-of-pocket cost estimate possible based on their health plan for procedures, drugs, durable medical equipment, and any other item or service they may need, HHS said in a press release. “Consumers will also have access to accurate price and plan information that allows them to shop and compare costs between individual doctors before receiving care, so they can choose a healthcare provider that offers the most value and best suits their medical needs.”

In 2022, a year before the real-time access provision takes effect, insurers will be required to publish their negotiated rates in data files that will be searchable by patients, employers, researchers, and app developers who could then develop tools to help patients choose their providers. “The vast majority of patients don’t have easy access to this information today,” said Azar.

“In one study when prices for imaging were made transparent, the prices dropped almost 20%,” he said. “You should have the right to know what a healthcare service is going to cost, and the right to know what it’s going to cost you out-of-pocket. That’s what today’s rule will do.”

For each insurer, three data files will be available: one with prices for in-network providers and services, one with prices for out-of-network providers and services, and another for in-network prices for all prescription drugs.

HHS giving insurers a lot of time to comply with the new rule “reflects that there’s a lot of work involved, but that work is only necessary because entrenched special interests in the healthcare system have for

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health

Trump rule says health plans must disclose costs up front

WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to pull back the veil on health care costs to encourage competition, the Trump administration on Thursday finalized a requirement for insurers to tell consumers up front the actual prices for common tests and procedures.

A major health insurance industry group said the regulation would have the opposite effect, raising premiums.

The late-innings policy play ahead of Election Day comes as President Donald Trump has been hammered on health care by Democratic challenger Joe Biden for the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its unrelenting efforts to overturn “Obamacare,” the 2010 law providing coverage to more than 20 million people.

A related Trump administration price disclosure requirement applying to hospitals is facing a federal lawsuit from the industry, alleging coercion and interference with business practices.

The idea behind the new regulations on insurers is to empower patients to become better consumers of health care, thereby helping to drive down costs.


But the requirements would take effect gradually over a four-year period, and patients face a considerable learning curve to make cost-versus-quality decisions about procedures like knee replacements or hernia repairs. Add to that political uncertainty about the policy’s survival if Trump doesn’t get reelected, and the whole effort is running into skepticism.

Administration officials are adamant the changes will stand, arguing the goal of price transparency transcends political partisanship.

“It will be impossible to walk backwards on this,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “How do you fight transparency on prices? How do you actually articulate the argument that you should conceal what something costs from the person trying to purchase it?”

Insurance companies contend that the rules will boomerang economically, by undercutting their ability to bargain with hospitals, drug companies, doctors and other industry players. Providers now accepting discounted rates will press to get paid more once they see what their upper-end competitors are getting.

“The final rule will work to reduce competition and push health care prices higher — not lower — for American families, patients, and taxpayers,” Matt Eyles, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement. “This is precisely the opposite of what Americans want in their health care.”

The new rules are being issued jointly by HHS, the Labor Department and the Treasury, which share jurisdiction over health insurance plans. They would:

— Starting in 2022, require insurers to make available data files on the costs of various procedures, allowing technology companies to design apps that let patients see costs not only under their own plan but other insurers’ plans as well.

— Starting in 2023, require insurers to make available to their policyholders cost-sharing details on 500 specific services, medical equipment and other items, as called for by the government.

— Starting in 2024, require insurers to make cost-sharing information available on all the services and goods they cover.

Patients would use an online shopping tool from their plan to see the negotiated rate between their doctor and the insurer, as well as an out-of-pocket

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health

Trump Rule Requires Health Plans to Disclose Costs up Front | Business News

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to pull back the veil on health care costs to encourage competition, the Trump administration on Thursday finalized a requirement for insurers to tell consumers up front the actual prices for common tests and procedures.

The late-innings policy play comes just days ahead of Election Day as President Donald Trump has been hammered on health care by Democratic challenger Joe Biden for the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its unrelenting efforts to overturn “Obamacare,” the 2010 law providing coverage to more than 20 million people.

A related Trump administration price disclosure requirement applying to hospitals is facing a federal lawsuit from the industry, alleging coercion and interference with business practices.

The idea behind the new regulations on insurers is to empower patients to become better consumers of health care, thereby helping to drive down costs.

But the requirements would take effect gradually over a four-year period, and patients face a considerable learning curve to make cost-versus-quality decisions about procedures like knee replacements or hernia repairs. Add to that political uncertainty about the policy’s survival if Trump doesn’t get reelected, and the whole effort is running into skepticism.

Administration officials are adamant the changes will stand, arguing the goal of price transparency transcends political partisanship.

“It will be impossible to walk backwards on this,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. “How do you fight transparency on prices? How do you actually articulate the argument that you should conceal what something costs from the person trying to purchase it?”

Insurance companies contend that the rules will boomerang economically, driving up costs. Hospitals and doctors now accepting discounted rates will press to get paid more once they see what their upper-end competitors are getting.

The new rules are being issued jointly by HHS, the Labor Department and the Treasury, which share jurisdiction over health insurance plans. They would:

— Starting in 2022, require insurers to make available data files on the costs of various procedures, allowing technology companies to design apps that let patients see costs not only under their own plan but other insurers’ plans as well.

— Starting in 2023, require insurers to make available to their policyholders cost-sharing details on 500 specific services, medical equipment and other items, as called for by the government.

— Starting in 2024, require insurers to make cost-sharing information available on all the services and goods they cover.

Patients would use an online shopping tool from their plan to see the negotiated rate between their doctor and the insurer, as well as an out-of-pocket cost estimate for procedures, drugs, durable medical equipment and any other item or service they may need.

The information would be available ahead of time, enabling an informed decision. Currently, most patients find out what they owe after they get back from the hospital and receive their “explanation of benefits” statement.

“We need to keep pricing on the front end, not the back end,” said Seema Verma, head

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health

Federal judge strikes down Trump rule that could have cut food stamps for nearly 700,000 unemployed Americans

A federal judge Sunday struck down a Trump administration rule that could have stripped food stamps from nearly 700,000 people, saying the US Department of Agriculture has been “icily silent” about how many Americans would have been denied benefits had the changes been in effect during the pandemic.



a person standing in front of a store: A sign alerting customers about SNAP food stamps benefits is displayed at a Brooklyn grocery store on December 5, 2019 in New York City.


© Scott Heins/Getty Images
A sign alerting customers about SNAP food stamps benefits is displayed at a Brooklyn grocery store on December 5, 2019 in New York City.

“The final rule at issue in this litigation radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving states scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans,” Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the US District Court in Washington, DC, wrote in a 67-page ruling, saying the agency has not adequately explained how the rule comports with federal statutes nor how it “makes sense.”

A coalition of attorneys general from 19 states, the District of Columbia and the City of New York filed a lawsuit in January, challenging the USDA rule.

The rule, announced in December, would have required more food stamp recipients to work in order to receive benefits by limiting states’ ability to waive existing work mandates. It had been scheduled to take effect on April 1, but Howell in mid-March blocked it from being implemented, and Congress suspended work mandates in the food stamp program as part of a coronavirus relief package that month.

The requirement could have resulted in 688,000 non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents losing their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known, according to Agriculture Department estimates, which were calculated prior to the pandemic. It was expected to save $5.5 billion over five years.

Food stamp enrollment has soared during the outbreak as millions of Americans lost their jobs. More than 6 million people have signed up for benefits, as of May, a 17% increase, according to the ruling.

Nearly 43 million Americans were receiving benefits in April, according to the latest Agriculture Department data.

Hunger has risen amid the economic upheaval wrought by the pandemic. Many lined up at food banks, which distributed more than 1.9 billion meals between March and June, according to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.

Some 10% of adults live in households where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days, according to a Census Bureau survey from mid- to late-September.

In normal times, the food stamp program requires non-disabled, working-age adults without dependents to have jobs. They can only receive benefits for three months out of every 36-month period unless they are working or participating in training programs 20 hours a week. There were 2.9 million of these recipients in 2018 and nearly 74% of them were not employed, according to the agency.

The Agriculture Department did not immediately return a request seeking comment.

States can waive the work requirement for areas where unemployment is at

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