This Week in Health Care

Surge of Rapid COVID-19 Tests Ahead: Demand for over-the-counter rapid home COVID-19 tests has plunged since peaking last winter. And the vaccination of millions of Americans each day doesn’t seem like it would do much to spur growth of the market for such products.

Nonetheless a wide range of testing options -- from major players like Abbott Laboratories as well as startups like Gauss -- are about to hit store shelves. The tests vary in price, accuracy and the way results are obtained, including by sending them to a lab for processing and by pairing testing devices with smartphone apps.

Michael Greeley, co-founder of Flare Capital Partners, a healthcare technology-focused venture capital firm, said the companies are “clearly are at risk of missing the market.”

But Douglas Bryant, president and CEO of San Diego-based Quidel Corp., which just received FDA approval for its new offering, the QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test, remains optimistic.

“The level of testing for people with symptoms and the ‘worried well,’ who see others getting tested and think they should, too, is subsiding,” he said. “But once we start to get more people vaccinated, the government will move from campaigning to get people vaccinated to saying, ‘Please test yourself regularly so we can get back to work.’”

Such optimism doesn’t appear entirely unfounded. The Biden administration announced last month that it would allocate $10 billion from its recently approved $1.9 trillion stimulus package for COVID-19 testing to speed up school re-openings. And California just donated 3 million of Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid tests to disadvantaged school districts in the state. (FORTUNE)

Wealthy Hospitals Benefited Most from CARES Act: Last year when hospitals were laying off employees and cancelling lucrative elective procedures to cope with the onslaught of COVID-19 patients, some predicted the front-line healthcare providers would wind up in serious financial trouble. Congress and President Trump responded by rushing $178 billion to hospitals and other healthcare providers with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

As a result some of the most prosperous health systems in the country, like the Mayo Clinic, NYU Langone Health and Baylor Scott & White Health in Texas, which received the biggest slices of the federal relief pie, ended up not just weathering the crisis but thriving. Baylor, for instance, finished 2020 with an $815 million budget surplus - up $20 million from 2019 - and a 7.5 percent operating margin.

Meanwhile, poorer hospitals, many of which served rural areas and minority populations, didn’t receive enough aid to avoid ending the year with deficits and bond rating downgrades.

“A lot of the funding helped the wealthy hospitals at a time, especially in New York, when safety-net hospitals were hemorrhaging,” said Colleen Grogan, a professor of health policy at the University of Chicago. “We could have tailored it to hospitals we knew were really suffering and taking on a disproportionate amount of the burden.” (KAISER HEALTH NEWS)

UT Blocks Use of ‘Vaccine Passports’ by State Entities: A bill (HB 308) passed by the Utah Legislature on the last day of its regular session in March and signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox (R) 11 days later bars the state government from requiring people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the law will block state colleges and other public entities from using so-called “vaccine passports” to verify an individual’s vaccination status, private companies will still be free to do so. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, STATE NET)

FL, TX Govs’ Orders Bar Vaccine Passports
: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order last week that bars Lone Star State government and private entities that receive public monies from requiring people to show a “vaccine passport” to access goods or services. His directive came a few days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued his own order barring Sunshine State businesses from requiring customers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get service. The order also bars government agencies from issuing proof of vaccinations. (NBC NEWS [DALLAS], ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Study Links COVID-19 to Neurological Issues: One in three COVID-19 patients experienced a neurological problem within six months of being diagnosed with the virus, according to a new study published in the Lancet Psychiatry. In most cases the problem was anxiety or depression, but a small number also had a stroke or dementia. (STAT, LANCET PSYCHIATRY)

PPE Costs Still High: A year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the supply of personal protective equipment hasn’t significantly improved. But PPE costs remain high, with hospital spending on N95 masks up 715 percent since March 2020. (MODERN HEALTHCARE)

FL House Panel Approves Watered Down PBM Bill: A Florida House committee approved a bill (HB 1155) dealing with pharmacy benefit managers last week. But the committee amended out some of the measure’s most substantive provisions, including those that would have allowed state insurance regulators to audit PBMs, insurers and HMOs, and prohibited PBMs from charging pharmacists fees related to the payment of claims, before advancing it. (HEALTH NEWS FLORIDA)

Hospital Supply Manager Catches Counterfeit N95 Masks: A supply chain manager at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts was tipped off that 30,000 3M N95 masks he ordered from a third-party vendor were counterfeit by the fact that the 3M label on the exterior shipping box was in a different location than when it came from the hospital’s usual suppliers. The procurement manager used the third-party vendor because he hadn’t been able to obtain enough masks from the usual suppliers. (BECKER’S HOSPITAL REVIEW)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK


This Week in Technology

SCOTUS Decides Google v. Oracle: Last week the U.S. Supreme Court decided the years-long lawsuit between Google and Oracle over the search giant’s use of code from Sun Microsystems - acquired by Oracle in 2010 - in the design of its Android operating system.

In a 6-2 decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said Google’s use of about 11,500 lines of Java SE API “included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program” and constituted “a fair use of that material as a matter of law.”

After winning the first big legal battle in the case in 2016 and then losing on appeal two years later, Google repeatedly petitioned the Supreme Court, which finally agreed to take up the case last year.

On Twitter, Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president of global affairs, called the high court’s decision “a big win for innovation, interoperability & computing.”

Dorian Daley, Oracle’s executive vice president and general counsel, meanwhile, said that decision would just add to Google’s power.

“The Google platform just got bigger and market power greater -the barriers to entry higher and the ability to compete lower,” he said in statement posted on the company’s website. “They stole Java and spent a decade litigating as only a monopolist can. This behavior is exactly why regulatory authorities around the world and in the United States are examining Google’s business practices.” (CNET, ORACLE.COM)

NLRB Says Amazon Illegally Fired Activist Employees: The National Labor Relations Board has reportedly determined that Amazon acted illegally last April when it fired two employees who had publicly criticized the company for its impact on climate change and its treatment of employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

The NLRB, an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private-sector workers, said it would accuse the company of unfair labor practices if it didn’t settle the case with the employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa.

Amazon maintains those employees weren’t fired for their public comments but for violating company policies.

“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” the company said. “We terminated these employees not for the reasons cited in the preliminary finding, but because they repeatedly violated internal policies.” (BUSINESS INSIDER)

Personal Data of Over 500 Million Facebook Users Posted Online: The personal data of 533 million Facebook users, including full names, phone numbers, email addresses and biographical information, was posted on a low-level hacking forum. Facebook said the data was accessed through a vulnerability the company patched two years ago. (BUSINESS INSIDER)

Lawsuit Accuses Facebook of Allowing Anti-Muslim Hate Speech: Muslim Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights organization, has filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that Facebook has failed to remove anti-Muslim hate content from its platform. The complaint also accuses Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives of making false statements about the removal of such content. (CNET)

SCOTUS Dismisses Trump-Twitter Lawsuit: The U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court’s ruling that former President Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked several critics of his policies on Twitter from his account in 2017, with the justices declaring the case moot in an unsigned order. But in a lengthy concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed concern about Twitter’s banning of Trump after the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January and said: “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.” (HILL, SUPREME COURT.GOV)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

This Week in Finance, Banking & Insurance

More States Move Toward COVID Civil Immunity: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a measure (SB 1377) last week that makes the Grand Canyon State the latest to grant businesses, health care facilities, schools, churches and other public entities broad immunity from COVID-19 civil suits.

Similar legislation has become law in Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Governors have issued executive orders that mirror those bills in other states, though mostly only for health care facilities or schools.

Lawmakers also advanced civil immunity measures last week in Pennsylvania (HB 605), Kentucky (SB 5) and Georgia (HB 112). The Kentucky and Georgia bills move to the governor, while the Pennsylvania measure advances to the Senate. (ARIZONA PUBLIC RADIO, JD SUPRA, COURIER TIMES [LEVITTOWN], INSURANCE JOURNAL, NATIONAL LAW REVIEW, STATE NET).

FL Senate Approves Major Property Ins Changes: The Florida Senate approved SB 76, a bill that would implement several major changes to the Sunshine State’s beleaguered property insurance market. The bill, which among several things would create a uniform period for filing a property insurance claim and require that the insured party provide notice to the insurance company before filing a lawsuit, moves to the House. A similar measure there is still in committee. (INSURANCENEWSNET, TAMPA BAY TIMES)

Regulators Close to National Pet Insurance Standards: A committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is set to hear recommendations this week on establishing national standards for pet insurance policies. The NAIC is expected to use the input to craft a new model law set for release later this year. (INSURANCE JOURNAL, INVESTOPEDIA)

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN


Baker Signs Bill to Bolster MA Unemployment Fund: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed a measure that authorizes $7 billion in borrowing to stabilize the Bay State unemployment insurance system, establishes a paid sick leave program for COVID-19 emergencies and reduces the size of premium increases employers face to fund the jobless benefits system.

Baker also line-item vetoed elements of the paid sick leave measure, asking lawmakers to ensure that leave is in line with federal law applying to companies with 500 or fewer employees. Under his proposed changes, employees would be paid at their regular rate while under self-isolation for a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, obtaining the vaccine, recovering from the disease, seeking or obtaining a medical diagnosis, or when unable to telework.

Lawmakers will now consider whether to accept those changes or to override the governor’s veto. (JD SUPRA, EAGLE-TRIBUNE NORTH ANDOVER)

IN Lawmakers Pass Emergency Power Bill: Ignoring a vow from Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) to veto it, Indiana lawmakers passed a bill last week that would allow the General Assembly to call itself into an emergency session when it isn’t meeting during its annual legislative session. Holcomb said the bill is unconstitutional and vowed to veto it, though the GOP-controlled Legislature likely has the votes to override that veto. If so, observers expect the governor to take the matter to court. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

--Compiled by RICH EHISEN