Axios Vitals

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October 12, 2022

It's already Wednesday, Vitals readers! Today's newsletter is 802 words or a 3-minute read.

📆 What we're watching: When the Biden administration will re-up the COVID-19 public health emergency, which is set to expire Thursday.

  • It's widely expected the emergency, and the numerous waivers and flexibilities that come with it, will be extended — for the last time — until Jan. 11, 2023.

1 big thing: Employers in tricky spot this benefits season

Illustration of a man inside of a red cross-shaped box

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Employers grappling with surging health care costs are embracing new tech-driven care arrangements and alternative payment models to cushion the financial blow to their workers, Axios' Arielle Dreher and I write.

The big picture: Companies anticipate a median 7% increase in medical costs for next year but know passing that on to employees could be disastrous in a tight labor market, experts said.

  • Employers have warned that health care spending is on an unsustainable trajectory and that provider consolidation is limiting their ability to reduce costs.

What they're saying: "Employers have complicated decisions to make," said Cynthia Cox, vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • "You can only do so much cost shifting before somebody says, 'Look, the unemployment rate is 3+%. I can go get a job anywhere I want. You're not giving me the health benefit I need. I'll just go somewhere else," said Trevis Parson, chief actuary for Via Benefits at Willis Towers Watson.

State of play: The inflationary pressure is accelerating the adoption of apps, telehealth and other digital tools that streamline the process of connecting patients with providers, United Healthcare chief growth officer Brandon Cuevas told Axios.

  • More employers also are looking to more preventive care and early intervention, by adding advanced primary care vendors to their packages.
  • "It's a way of providing an enhanced benefit to employees but not adding costs," said Dustin Grzeskowiak, a principal actuary at Milliman.

Looking ahead: Employers and health insurers are encouraging workers to catch up on screenings, annual physicals and immunizations post-pandemic, aware that the cost of deferred care could exacerbate an already tough cost environment.

Yes, but: Employers could, of course, conclude prices have risen across the board so much that workers will simply have to take the hit.

Read the rest.

2. Biden moves to fix ACA's "family glitch"

The Biden administration on Tuesday finalized rules to fix a glitch in the Affordable Care Act that had been preventing some families from getting subsidized health insurance, Axios' Peter Sullivan writes.

Between the lines: The "family glitch" stems from language in the health law that shortchanges the cost of covering dependents.

  • People can qualify for ACA marketplace subsidies if they lack "affordable" insurance through work. But the test of affordability only takes into account the cost of covering the employee, not any dependents.
  • The change will allow about 1 million people to gain subsidized ACA coverage, at a cost of $38 billion over 10 years, the administration estimates.

The big picture: Democrats have been touting health care ahead of the midterm elections, from a new law to lower prescription drug prices to defending the ACA.

The other side: Republicans argued the change is costly and violates the spirit of the ACA.

  • "This is no 'family glitch.' It's the letter of the law Democrats passed, which is why the Obama-Biden Treasury rejected this very same approach as not legal only a few years ago," said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

3. Half of voters motivated by demise of Roe: poll

Share of voters who say that the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade made them more motivated to vote in the 2022 midterm election
Data: KFF Health Tracking Poll; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Half of all voters say that they are more motivated to cast a ballot in the midterms because of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez reports about a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Wednesday.

Why it matters: Three-quarters of those who say the decision is motivating them say they intend to back candidates who support abortion rights, compared to 17% who plan to vote for candidates who want to limit access.

By the numbers: 50% of 1,534 adults KFF polled between Sept. 15–26 say they are more eager to vote in the midterms due to the fall of Roe, up from 43% in July and 37% in May following the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision on Roe.

  • 51% of voters in states with abortion bans are more motivated to vote, compared to 32% in states that protect abortion access.
  • In anti-abortion states, 74% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters are more eager to vote, versus only 35% of Republicans or Republican-leaning voters.
  • 53% of women say they are more motivated to vote and 46% of men say they are more motivated because of the Supreme Court decision.

Go deeper: Democrats' abortion ad blitz

4. Quote du jour: 🤦

Ashish Jha. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

"We are carefully monitoring the rise of several subvariants that are evolving rapidly and emerging around the world, including ones that evade some of our treatments."
— COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha speaking at the White House on Tuesday

5. Catch up quick

💰 PE firms soon may be cane-deep in a bidding war for Brookdale Senior Living, one of the nation's largest overseers of senior living communities. (Axios)

👀 Pediatricians should routinely screen children as young as 8 for anxiety and kids 12 and older for depression, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Tuesday. (Axios)

😎 Pharma marketers have made it to the TikTok. Is that how the kids say it? (Endpoints)

Thanks for reading, and thanks to senior editor Adriel Bettelheim and senior copy editor Bryan McBournie for the edits. Please ask your friends and colleagues to sign up.