Good morning … Vitals is off Monday for the President’s Day holiday, so try to hold yourself together in its absence, and we’ll see you back here on Tuesday.
Police arrest a woman outside a suspected drug house. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Almost everyone seems to agree that Washington needs to do something to help get the opioid epidemic under control. But there’s no real consensus about what that something should be.
What’s next: The Energy and Commerce Committee is going to begin a legislative push later this month, and the Senate health committee is aiming to mark up a bill in late March. Congress also provided $6 billion in opioid funding as part of its big budget deal last week.
Yes, but: My colleague Caitlin Owens asked around about what Congress will try to do. It hasn’t decided yet.
Key quote: Some lawmakers say they’re making progress, albeit slowly. But the death rate from drug overdoses continues to climb.
Health insurer Anthem is making some changes to the way it pays for emergency room trips, following criticism of a pilot project that essentially forced patients to correctly diagnose themselves in the middle of an emergency.
Refresher: In an effort to cut down on ER spending, Anthem had decided it would not cover patients for “inappropriate” ER visits. But it defined appropriateness based on the ultimate diagnosis, not on the patient’s symptoms when they first entered the ER.
What’s new: Anthem now allows new exceptions to its policy.
Quick take: Anthem’s policy was clearly unsustainable — and a nightmare for its customers — but its frustration with high ER bills is widely shared. And some experts and cost hawks were already concerned about hospitals’ financial incentives to perform a lot of MRIs and other imaging tests, even if patients didn’t need them.
Woman getting this year's flu shot at Walgreens. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
It’s true that this year’s flu vaccine isn’t quite as helpful as it could have been — it’s about 36% effective overall, according to new estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it’s as high as 59% effective for children younger than 9, health officials said yesterday.
Why it matters: This is an especially deadly flu season, and it’s not over.
Go deeper: Why this flu season is so bad.
Companies that operate medical helicopters are again pushing federal lawmakers for hefty raises in their Medicare payments, arguing that Medicare only covers 60% of their costs, my colleague Bob Herman reports.
Here’s the latest: