Good morning from San Francisco, where I'm attending my first-ever meeting with the Zetema Project.
Situational awareness: No major pharmaceutical company has come forward to say it would manufacture a vaccine for the novel coronavirus currently being developed by the National Institutes of Health, per STAT. Go deeper.
Today's word count is 898, about a 3-minute read.
The number of people struggling to pay medical bills has fallen by 5.5 percentage points since 2011, but more than 14% of Americans still had problems in 2018, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why it matters: "Families with problems paying medical bills may experience serious financial consequences, such as having problems with paying for food, clothing, or housing, and filing for bankruptcy," the report's authors write.
Between the lines: Some groups of people are more likely to struggle to pay their bills than others.
UnitedHealth Group is mostly known as one of the country's largest health insurance carriers, but the massive conglomerate is increasingly making its money from things that have nothing to do with health insurance, Axios' Bob Herman reports.
The bottom line: UnitedHealth doesn't just want to be your health insurer. It wants to be your doctor, your outpatient surgery center, your mail-order pharmacy and your drug price negotiator.
By the numbers: UnitedHealthcare is still UnitedHealth's most profitable unit, generating more than $10 billion in operating earnings in 2019 as a major carrier of employer and Medicare Advantage plans.
Between the lines: The most profitable segment within Optum is OptumRx, which is part of the pharmacy benefit manager oligopoly that controls how drugs are paid for and which drugs are covered.
Even patients who plan elective surgeries with in-network doctors at in-network facilities have a pretty good chance of receiving a surprise medical bill, according to a new JAMA study.
Why it matters: Surprise bills are a problem for the patients who receive them, but also for the system as a whole, as they drive up overall health care costs.
The study found that 20.5% of elective surgeries — procedures like hysterectomies and knee replacements — performed at in-network facilities and by in-network primary surgeons resulted in an out-of-network bill.
Details: These bills ranged, on average, from less than $100 to several thousand dollars, depending on the specialty and the procedure.
Go deeper: We all pay for surprise emergency room bills
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters yesterday that Senate Republicans are divided on bipartisan bills to address both drug costs and surprise bills, The Hill reports.
The big picture: The White House vocally supports the bipartisan drug pricing bill by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden.
Meanwhile, the House Education and Labor Committee passed its surprise billing legislation yesterday — over the objections of lawmakers concerned about its impact on doctors, as The Hill's Peter Sullivan tweeted.
Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios; Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images
Fear and misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus have prompted unwarranted discrimination against Chinese-Americans who have nothing to do with the epidemic, Axios' Marisa Fernandez reports.
What they're saying: "We're already worried about [stigma] here in the U.S. and around the world, that somebody coming back from this community or that community may be treated differently ... and businesses in a certain neighborhood may be boycotted," Anne Schuchat, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday.
What's happening: Chinese-Americans and other people of Asian decent admit to suppressing their coughs and runny noses in public to avoid unwanted stares or social isolation, the Los Angeles Times and NPR report.
The bottom line: "It's definitely been an important message to point out that this outbreak is mostly in China and that's where the risk is," Nancy Messonnier, spokesperson on the coronavirus for the CDC, said Monday.
Flashback: The 2013–2016 Ebola outbreak also increased "stigma, discrimination and blame" toward communities perceived as African in non-African countries, the World Health Organization observed.
Go deeper: Coronavirus death toll tops 1,000