November 24, 2021 Edition

CDPH Concludes Inspections of Valencia Branch Laboratory

On Monday, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released the results of a routine inspection and a complaint investigation of the Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL), the state’s primary COVID-19 testing laboratory. The CDPH Laboratory Field Services (LFS) closed its two inspections of the VBL after multiple visits and detailed assessment of the laboratory. No sanctions were imposed by CDPH and all previously identified deficiencies with the laboratory have been corrected.

Recall, earlier this year, California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) officials announced that laboratory inspectors found significant deficiencies during a routine inspection. According to CDPH, in addition to addressing the identified deficiencies, the state required laboratory operator PerkinElmer to go through an independent inspection and accreditation process with the College of American Pathologists (CAP). The laboratory received full accreditation following an inspection in March 2021.

CDPH LFS additionally conducted a complaint investigation following reports in local media about staff training and qualifications and document handling issues. CDPH investigated the complaints, finding no evidence to support the allegations of improper document and data destruction. The laboratory addressed other deficiencies identified by CDPH.

The full press announcement from CDPH is available here.

CDC Warns of Increasing Seasonal Influenza Activity

Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a national health advisory about increased influenza A(H3N2) activity that could mark the beginning of the 2021-22 influenza season. The CDC notes that while influenza activity is still low overall nationally, an increase of the influenza strain A(H3N2) has been detected in recent weeks with most infections occurring among young adults, including at colleges and universities. The CDC further indicates influenza vaccination coverage is low, but there remains time this season to benefit from an annual influenza vaccine.

The CDC health advisory includes the following primary recommendations:

  • Remind public health practitioners and clinicians to recommend and offer the current seasonal influenza vaccine to all eligible persons ages six months and older (flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine can be administered during the same visit)
  • Remind clinicians to consider testing for both influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 in patients with influenza-like illness (ILI)
  • Advise clinicians that antiviral treatment is recommended as early as possible for any patient with confirmed or suspected influenza who is hospitalized, at a higher risk for influenza complications, or developing progressive illness.
  • Remind public health practitioners and clinicians to consider mitigation measures including antiviral post-exposure prophylaxis during influenza outbreaks in institutions in the setting of co-circulation of SARS-CoV-2
  • Remind the public to use non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) or everyday preventive actions in addition to receiving an influenza vaccine

The full CDC health advisory is available here.

HHS Announces $35M Investment in Title X Telehealth Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week announced the availability of $35 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to enhance and expand the telehealth infrastructure and capacity of Title X family planning providers.

According to HHS, telehealth adoption in the U.S. has increased dramatically and Title X grantees have consistently supported the use of telehealth services as an option for their patients. These additional resources are anticipated to help Title X grantees expand their capacity to provide telehealth services and increase community access to comprehensive family planning services. The ARPA funds will support national efforts to achieve health equity by supporting the enhancement and expansion of telehealth services provided by these grantees.

HHS will award an estimated 60 one-time grants to active Title X grantees. Additional information about the funding announcement is available here.

NACCHO LHD Practice Awards Applications Due December 31

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) recently announced it has begun accepting applications for its 2022 Model and Innovative Practice Awards. Every year, NACCHO’s Model Practices Program nationally honors and recognizes outstanding local public health practice and shares them through the Model Practices Database. Model Practices are awarded to local health departments across the country for implementing programs that demonstrate exemplary and replicable outcomes in response to an identified public health need.

This year, NACCHO is continuing to recognize local public health innovation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the Innovative Practice Award. The 2022 Innovative Practice Award will focus on practices that were developed in response to emerging and exacerbated health inequities due to COVID-19 and demonstrate effective community partnerships and collaboration, adaptability and quality improvement, and remarkable innovation.

Applications for both awards are due December 31, 2021. Additional information from NACCHO is available here.

HHS Publishes Report on Surprise Medical Bills

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week released a new report finding that millions of Americans with private health insurance experience some kind of surprise medical billing. The report, developed by the HHS Office of Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, found that surprise medical bills are relatively common and can average more than $1,200 for anesthesiology services, $2,600 for surgical assistants, and $750 for childbirth-related care. HHS notes that while many states have taken steps to address surprise billing, critical gaps that exist nationwide will be addressed when the No Surprises Act takes effect in 2022.

According to HHS, an estimated 18 percent of emergency room visits by individuals with large employer coverage resulted in one or more out-of-network charges ranging from a low of three percent in Minnesota to a high of 38 percent in Texas. Patients receiving a surprise bill for emergency care paid physicians more than 10 times as much as patients without a surprise bill for emergency care.

The Biden-Harris Administration has issued a series of regulations that, starting in January 2022, will provide patients with individual or employer health coverage relief from surprise medical billing and reduce health care costs. Individuals with most individual and employer insurance can no longer be balanced-billed for emergency and certain non-emergency services in most circumstances. Patients will be removed from payment disputes that must be settled between providers and insurers. Further, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has predicted that the No Surprises Act will reduce health insurance premiums for consumers.

Additional information about the HHS report and the No Surprises Act is available here.