RISE rounds up the latest headlines from the White House and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

CMS report: 700K Medicare beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2020

A new CMS report details the impact of COVID-19 on Medicare beneficiaries, particularly among underserved racial and ethnic minorities, adults 85 years old and older, and people with certain pre-existing conditions.

The CMS snapshot shows that more than 2.7 million beneficiaries were diagnosed with COVID-19 and nearly 700,000 beneficiaries were hospitalized with COVID-19, based on a review of services provided Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 26, 2020 (for claims received by January 22, 2021). It updates previous data captured for services provided between Jan. 1, 2020 and Nov. 21, 2020.

Since the last snapshot released in January 2021, COVID-19 cases increased by more than 790,000 and hospitalizations grew by more than 206,000. Other key findings:

  • The rate of COVID-19 cases in rural areas (4,271 per 100,000) is higher than in urban areas (4,151 per 100,000) for the first time since CMS started releasing this snapshot.
  • Medicare Fee-for-Service spending associated with COVID-19 hospitalizations grew to $10.3 billion.
  • American Indian/Alaskan Native beneficiaries continued to have the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate (2,393 per 100,000), followed by African American (1,937 per 100,000) and Hispanic (1,617 per 100,000) beneficiaries.

CMS said that although the data suggests COVID-19 continues to impact certain populations disproportionately, it also points to the importance of COVID-19 vaccines and other opportunities for prevention and treatment in disadvantaged groups.

Capturing and understanding this data is an essential part of ensuring the health of all Medicare beneficiaries, and it can also advance public health policies that promote equity,” CMS said.

ACA update: CMS extends special enrollment period for marketplace coverage to August 15

Americans will have an additional three months to sign up for health insurance for the 2021 coverage year via the HealthCare.gov platform.

CMS will extend access to the special enrollment period (SEP) until August 15 to give consumers more time to take advantage of new savings through the American Rescue Plan.

“Every American deserves access to quality, affordable health care–especially as we fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said in an announcement. “Through this Special Enrollment Period, the Biden Administration is giving the American people the chance they need to find an affordable health care plan that works for them.”

The American Rescue Plan will provide additional savings to consumers through HealthCare.gov starting April 1. These average savings will decrease premiums by $50 per person per month and $85 per policy per month. CMS said that on average, one out of four enrollees on HeathCare.gov will be able to upgrade to a higher plan category that offers better out of pocket costs at the same or lower premium compared to what they’re paying today. Additional information is available via a CMS fact sheet.

Senate confirms Dr. Vivek Murthy as surgeon general

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Vivek Murthy, M.D., as surgeon general in a bipartisan vote of 57-43. Murthy will be able to hit the ground running in his new role as he previously held the position under former President Barack Obama.

"I'm deeply grateful to be confirmed by the Senate to serve once again as your surgeon general," Dr. Murthy said on his Twitter account. "We've endured great hardship as a nation over the past year, and I look forward to working with you to help our nation heal and create a better future for our children." 

As "America's Doctor," Dr. Murthy helped lead the national response to a range of health challenges, including the Ebola and Zika viruses, the opioid crisis, and the growing threat of stress and loneliness to Americans’ physical and mental wellbeing. Prior to his tenure as surgeon general, Dr. Murthy co-founded VISIONS, a global HIV/AIDS education organization; the Swasthya Project a rural health partnership that trained women in South India to become community health workers and educators; TrialNetworks, a technology company dedicated to improving collaboration and efficiency in clinical trials; and Doctors for America, a nonprofit mobilizing physicians and medical students to improve access to affordable care.

Dr. Murthy, who served on President Joe Biden's transition team's coronavirus advisory board, said that ending the COVID-19 pandemic is his top priority.