Mar 6, 2020

Axios Vitals

Good morning. Happy Friday. There is no way that this week was only five days long.

📺 This week on "Axios on HBO:" A peek into Biden's secret governing plan, HUD Secretary Ben Carson on cutting housing programs and why Trump should tweet less (clip); tennis great Billie Jean King and more top women athletes on leveling the playing field. Watch Sunday 6pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms. 

Today's word count is 1,038, or a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Coronavirus panic sells as alarmist information flies
Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Many of the novel coronavirus stories getting shared the most on social media are packaged to drive fear rather than build understanding about the illness, according to NewsWhip data provided to Axios.

Why it matters: Social media greases and amplifies dramatic headlines, while more functional or nuanced information gets squashed, Axios' Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer write.

Details: The English-language story shared the most on Facebook since the outbreak began was "Coronavirus declared global health emergency" from the BBC.

  • Some of the other top-performing articles featured largely debunked claims, such as that the coronavirus came from bats and that it might have leaked from a laboratory.
  • One of the biggest dangers during this outbreak is the misinformation that has been spreading about the virus, experts say.

The big picture: Interest in the coronavirus has taken off in the last two weeks.

  • The number of interactions on social media stories have increased 7x.
  • Since Feb. 20, Google searches have increased 8x, according to Google Trends data.
  • The number of cable news mentions has increased 3x, according to the Internet Archive Television News Archive.

New research from scientists at Northeastern University suggests that contagions can spread faster in some cases due to misinformation spreading online. 

  • "A link between social contagions and real biological contagions are a feature of modern outbreaks because of misinformation and fake news," says Samuel Scarpino, a business professor of network science at Northeastern University College of Science. 

The bottom line: "Social media presents a mixed bag," says Scarpino. "We know social media is promoting panic, and people are taking advantage of that by spreading misinformation, but it's also helping to spread good, reliable information that empowers people to make the right decisions."

Go deeper: Coronavirus "infodemic" threatens world's health institutions

2. Insurers, states move to cover testing

Both health insurers and regulators are working to make sure that coronavirus diagnostic tests will be covered. But that doesn't necessarily mean coronavirus treatment will be affordable.

Driving the news: California, New York and Washington state have announced that health plans are required to cover the diagnostic tests and the associated provider visit, without cost sharing.

  • Many health plans — including members of America's Health Insurance Plans are voluntarily saying that the tests will be covered. Cigna announced specifically that it will waive all cost sharing.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services emailed Medicare beneficiaries yesterday saying that the tests are covered. Lab tests generally don't have cost sharing under Medicare.

Yes, but: State insurance commissioners don't have the authority to regulate self-insured plans, which cover 61% of workers with employer-provided health benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • And, as WSJ points out, the state actions "focus on diagnosis, not treatment of COVID-19.... Older people and those with underlying health conditions have in some cases needed extensive, and costly, hospital care."

And while state regulators are addressing the provider visit associated with testing, insurers themselves generally aren't.

  • "We will cover needed diagnostic testing when ordered by a physician. We will take action to ease network, referral, and prior authorization requirements and/or waive patient cost sharing," AHIP said in a statement by its board of directors.
  • But the related provider visits and other services "would be covered in accordance with a person’s policy," an AHIP spokesperson said.
3. Coronavirus rattles travelers — and airlines

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Not since the aftermath of 9/11 has there been such a fear of flying, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Why it matters: The novel coronavirus has the airline industry bracing for the worst downturn since the Great Recession.

  • Even though the government says it's safe to fly domestically, the drumbeat of news about COVID-19 has cautious employers stifling business travel and worried families rethinking their summer vacation plans.

What's happening: Travel agents are being inundated with calls and emails from panicked clients canceling trips and seeking refunds.

Citing a collapse in travel bookings, airlines are slashing capacity and making emergency cost cuts, even offering employees unpaid furloughs.

  • United Airlines cut international flights by 20% and domestic flights by 10%, while British Airways canceled flights between London's Heathrow and New York's JFK airports, a key source of revenue.

The public's fear of flying may be overblown, fanned by a wave of cancellations of big trade shows, conferences and events — anywhere there are large groups of people.

  • People think being strapped into an airplane next to someone who might be ill is just as risky.
  • Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on airplanes, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Go deeper.

4. Large pay packages rolling in for health execs

New annual financial documents for large health care companies are rolling in with a familiar tune: executives took home large paydays in 2019 that mostly came from large stock gains, Axios' Bob Herman reports.

The bottom line: The health care system is a firehose of spending, and a good chunk of that money always makes its way to the top.

By the numbers: 10 major health care companies have filed preliminary or final disclosures outlining executive pay in 2019. The CEOs at those firms made more than $300 million collectively, according to our updated tracker of health care executive compensation.

  • Ari Bousbib, CEO of pharmaceutical data and clinical trial firm IQVIA, made more than $104 million last year, based on the actual realized gains of his stock holdings.
  • Right behind were Intuitive Surgical CEO Gary Guthart at $50.5 million and Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks at $30.8 million.

What we're watching: Filings will continue to be released over the next two months. Follow along.

Go deeper: What health care executives made in 2018

5. Colorado vs. hospitals

The Colorado legislature introduced its public option bill yesterday, taking one step further in one of the country's most timely health policy experiments.

Between the lines: The bill takes on hospitals as part of how it lowers costs, which is likely what Democrats would end up trying to do should they win the presidency.

Details: The bill establishes hospital reimbursement rates beginning at 155% of Medicare, with the option of adjustments for certain hospitals, per the Public Option Institute.

  • It requires that all hospitals participate in the public option, giving the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the authority to fine and suspend or revoke the license of hospitals that don't participate.
  • The public option would also be required to provide pre-deductible coverage for behavioral health care, which could make that care more accessible.

Go deeper: Colorado offers lessons for Democrats on creating a public option