THU AM News: WHA calls for health departments to take on more pandemic efforts with reimbursement ending; ‘Stealth omicron’ on the rise in state

— With federal reimbursement ending for hospitals providing COVID-19-related care to thousands of uninsured, the Wisconsin Hospital Association argues public health departments will need to take on more of this work. 

“The ending of reimbursement for testing and vaccination to hospitals should rightly result in transitioning certain public health functions back to public health departments whose responsibilities include communicable disease testing and vaccination,” WHA told in a recent statement. 

Since February 2020, the federal government has been reimbursing hospitals at Medicare rates for COVID-19 testing, vaccination and treatment provided to patients without health insurance, WHA explained. The group notes Medicare reimburses hospitals at about 27 percent below what it costs them to provide care. 

According to WHA, funding for testing and treatment reimbursement ended March 22 and funding for vaccination will end April 5 as money allotted for this program has run out. 

In response to WHA’s remarks, the state Department of Health Services noted vaccination and testing “remain key strategies” in the state’s effort to fight the pandemic. 

“We are monitoring the recent federal decisions and are connecting with health system and health provider partners across the state to assess how it will impact our collective work to protect the health of people across the state, especially those most at risk and most vulnerable,” DHS said in an emailed statement. 

As of March 3, the latest date covered in the data provided by WHA, Wisconsin hospitals had received a total of nearly $18 million in reimbursement for COVID-19 testing, over $23 million for treatment and about $5 million for vaccination of uninsured patients. 

WHA says hospitals and health systems in the state have been “providing services beyond the norm and filling gaps in the public response … which are typically functions of state and local public health agencies.” The group says these providers have been “uncompensated or undercompensated” for filling this role. 

“Beyond reimbursement, shouldering the burden of vaccine administration and community testing during successive surges of COVID-19 further strained frontline workers desperately needed to provide care to patients filling hospitals and primary care clinics with COVID and non-COVID related ailments,” WHA said. 

Still, the organization says it will continue to serve patients regardless of their ability to pay or if they’ve been unable to get insurance coverage. 

“However, when providers aren’t reimbursed for services provided to individuals who are uninsured, those costs get shifted in a hidden health care tax to employers and businesses,” WHA said. 

— The latest sequencing data show the “stealth omicron” variant of COVID-19 is on the rise in Wisconsin. 

The State Laboratory of Hygiene dashboard shows about a quarter of the COVID-19 cases sequenced so far this month are of the “stealth omicron” BA.2 lineage, though the prevalence of this strain could be much higher in the state given the lag in reporting data and declining testing. 

That marks an increase from February, when just under 4 percent of the sequenced cases were linked to the latest and more transmissible sub-variant. 

At the national level, the CDC estimates BA.2 is now responsible for the majority of new infections in the United States, making up about 55 percent of cases last week. 

Meanwhile, individuals over age 50 can now receive a second booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if four months have passed since their prior dose, after the FDA and CDC this week signed off on allowing the additional booster dose. 

The need for a second booster dose has been debated by health experts, though many seem to agree older adults and those with compromised immune systems will see greater benefit. The federal agencies reportedly made the decision on the second boosters without calling meetings of their independent vaccine advisory committees. 

The state Department of Health Services dashboard shows 33.5 percent of Wisconsin residents have gotten an additional or booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with just under 2 million of these doses administered in the state. 

As with earlier rounds of vaccination, rates tend to be higher among older adults. While just 18.2 percent of residents aged 12-17 have gotten a booster or additional dose, that number rises to 37.1 percent for those aged 45-54 and 48.2 percent for those aged 55-64. For residents over age 65, the rate is 66.7 percent. 

The DHS site shows 64.1 percent of state residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 60.7 percent have completed the vaccine series. 

See the latest vaccination figures here: 

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— Gov. Tony Evers has announced $5 million for telehealth grants funded by American Rescue Plan Act dollars. 

Half of the funds will be used by the Department of Health Services to create a grant program aimed at improving child psychiatry telehealth services for hospitals and health systems in the state, a release from the guv’s office shows. Up to five one-year grants of about $500,000 will be awarded. 

The other $2.5 million will go toward another grant program to create “neighborhood telehealth access points” at places like libraries, community centers, food pantries, homeless shelters, long-term care facilities and schools. Between 25 and 50 providers will receive one-year grants of up to $100,000 each, the release shows. 

Applications for both grant programs are due by May 6. 

See the release: 

— Promega is launching a post-doctoral research program for researchers to explore new ideas for genome engineering technology. 

AstraZeneca will provide mentoring support in the three-year program that takes place at the company’s R&D site in Gothenburg, Sweden, and at Promega’s headquarters in Madison.

“We’re thrilled to invest directly in people dedicated to outcomes beneficial to science and human health,” Promega Advanced Technologies Group Director of Research Thomas Machleidt said in a statement. “The collaborative approach allows us to leverage our respective strengths alongside our colleagues at AstraZeneca and provide unparalleled access to tools and expertise that will expand what is possible with genome editing.”

According to a release, the program gives researchers the opportunity to work on groundbreaking projects in an emerging field while collaborating with scientists at a global pharmaceutical company and a manufacturer of life science research tools.

Applicants must have a PhD in molecular or cell biology or genetics as well as broad multidisciplinary experience. 

See more at Madison Startups: 

— A Wisconsin Tomorrow “action accelerator” event next month will feature several expert panels discussing the importance of early childcare and education. 

The April 14 event in La Crosse is being hosted by the 7 Rivers Alliance and Competitive Wisconsin, with co-hosts UW-La Crosse, the Wisconsin Counties Association and Western Technical College. is also involved in the event. 

It will be held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Lunda Center. Participants can register to attend in person or virtually. 

Register to attend here: 

Register to join virtually here: 


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