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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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An emergency room is a common site for "superutilizers." Photo: Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Providing close follow-up care from a team of clinical and social workers to the sickest, most vulnerable patients does not reduce hospital readmissions, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes.

Why it matters: Many doctors and scholars viewed this approach as a promising way to improve care and save money, but it doesn't appear to do either.

What happened: Unexpected life changes or holes in social programs derailed the lives of many patients who were getting the extra help, forcing them to put their health needs on the back burner.

  • One patient who participated in the study told the Tradeoffs podcast that he lost contact with his social workers and providers because he was evicted and became homeless — leading to many repeat visits to his hospital. 

The bottom line: Giving extra health care support to patients who are struggling with poverty, addiction, hunger and other issues is still the right thing to do.

  • But that model doesn't cure the deeper problems within other parts of the country's social safety net, like housing.

Go deeper: There is an important difference between "social needs" and "social determinants of health," health economist Austin Frakt wrote last year.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled late Wednesday that restrictions previously imposed on New York places of worship by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) during the coronavirus pandemic violated the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The decision in a 5-4 vote heralds the first significant action by the new President Trump-appointed conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who cast the deciding vote in favor of the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish synagogues.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 shows a bright future for vaccines

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Promising results from COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope not just that the pandemic could be ended sooner than expected, but that medicine itself may have a powerful new weapon.

Why it matters: Vaccines are, in the words of one expert, "the single most life-saving innovation ever," but progress had slowed in recent years. New gene-based technology that sped the arrival of the COVID vaccine will boost the overall field, and could even extend to mass killers like cancer.

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