SPRINGFIELD ON HEALTH CARE — A LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: Among the moves by the General Assembly last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker hailed the Illinois House’s passage of House Bill 579, which would allow Illinois to set up its own insurance marketplace similar to Obamacare.
“Through the adoption of a state-based insurance marketplace, we can expand health care access by effectively identifying traditionally underinsured communities, conducting effective outreach to them and assisting in the enrollment process,” Pritzker said in a statement, adding that he looks forward to following the bill’s progress in the Illinois Senate.
A bill that’s already heading to Pritzker’s desk for a signature would require health insurers to cover preventative liver screenings and other diagnostics. The bill, championed by state Rep. Hoan Huynh, D-Chicago, will expand access to tests that may detect forms of cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between buying their next meal or their medication,” Huynh said in a statement. “Rising costs of health care and general inflation are suffocating our working families and seniors. I remain committed to working to find ways to implement real relief for those who need it most.”
Pritzker also said last week that he hopes lawmakers can come up with ways to defray some of the projected cost overrun of the state expansion of health care to noncitizens. The governor gave suggestions for solutions that he said were made possible by the flexibility the state has since the program is not subject to the same regulation as Medicaid.
“It is possible, for example, that there could be — for some people at certain income levels — co-pays that would defray the costs of the program,” he said. Another example, he said, would be to reexamine reimbursement rates.
Pritzker also signed the Act of Duty Bill into law last week. The law retroactively provides Chicago police officers and firefighters disability benefits for the time they were unable to serve due to contracting COVID-19 between March 9, 2020, and June 30, 2021.
Vaping may also be a thing of the past inside public buildings, pending the governor’s signature. Both chambers of the General Assembly passed a bill to prohibit indoor use of e-cigarettes.
And, Health Pulse also already told you about the bill that would police deceptive practices by pregnancy centers in the state that do not provide abortions, but instead seek to dissuade women from getting them.
JOHNSON WILL KEEP ARWADY ON AT CDPH FOR NOW: Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, will remain in her post “at least initially” once Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson takes office, she said in a radio interview.
Arwady, who became well-known to Chicagoans during the COVID-19 pandemic, told WGN Radio’s Lisa Dent that she met with the Johnson’s administration Monday and was asked to remain in her role for the near term while their “teams get to know each other.”
Arwady’s future at the department was made uncertain during the mayoral election when Johnson first voiced concerns with Arwady’s approach to public health and said he would not keep her in the role if he became mayor, despite Arwady saying she wanted to keep the job.
Johnson’s initial opposition to keeping Arwady in her role stemmed from differences around how to provide mental health care in Chicago, sources told Crain’s at the time. Read more.
RUSH OPENS HEART LAB IN OAK PARK: Rush Oak Park Hospital opens a new electrophysiology lab today, providing more access to treatment for congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms to the west suburbs, the hospital said in a statement.
The lab treats patients with very slow heartbeats in need of pacemakers and those with rapid or dangerous rhythms that may lead to cardiac arrest and require defibrillator implants, the statement said. It also treats atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter and other arrhythmias such as supraventricular tachycardia, it said.
“All the physicians are electrophysiologists, so their area of expertise is dealing with these abnormal rhythms,” Dr. Parik Sharma, clinical cardiac electrophysiology specialist at Rush said in the statement. “Electrophysiologists are the electricians of the heart. They’re specialized cardiologists who have advanced training in identifying, managing and treating these heart rhythm disorders.”
The facility features four recovery bays, and there is a family suite where guests accompanying patients can wait during procedures.
PHARMACISTS GET CONTRACEPTION DISPENSING POWERS: Even before an anticipated FDA ruling for an over-the-counter birth control pill, Illinois pharmacists will be allowed to dispense certain types of birth control to patients without a prescription.
An order, signed May 10 by the head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, details the additional training pharmacists will need to dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives, which includes birth control pills, vaginal rings and injections. The move eliminates one step, a physician’s prescription, for women seeking contraception. Read more.
Illinois pharmacists who would distribute hormonal contraception are required to complete training accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and must maintain proof of training and maintain all application licensure requirements. Pharmacists must also have patients complete a self-screening risk assessment; when needed, refer patients to a physician who is a primary care provider or OB/GYN; use their professional and clinical judgment; and provide counseling and education about all methods of contraception. Additional information may be found on IDFPR’s Pharmacy Profession webpage.
“Ensuring equitable access to the full range of high-quality and affordable family planning services is critically important to the public health of Illinois residents,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a statement. “(The) IDPH is committed to working with . . . pharmacists and health care providers across the state to ensure medically safe, appropriate access to these medications.”
The state action follows news that a U.S. Food & Drug Administration panel last week said one birth control pill, Opill, should be made available prescription-free. The final approval of the pill for over-the-counter availability rests with the full FDA.
IN FIRST DOSES, MODERNA BEATS PFIZER VACCINES IN THIS AGE GROUP: Researchers have found that, for people aged 60 and older who received two doses of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine but not a booster dose, the mortality risk for Pfizer recipients is more than double that for Moderna recipients.
In a paper published last week in the journal Vaccines researchers from six major universities said they found that the two companies were not equivalent when it comes to protecting older adults against death. But study data indicates that the difference between vaccines seems to disappear once a person gets boosted.
“We need more refined messaging around boosters that explains who stands to benefit the most and targets those people,” said senior author Bernard Black, a professor of law at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, said in a statement from the school. “Boosters are crucially important for Pfizer vaccinees. That message needs to be delivered. Our public health agencies should not continue to act as if all COVID vaccines are about the same.”
Higher risk was seen throughout the study period, from April 2021 through June 2022, but there was no differences in two-dose effectiveness for younger people, the Northwestern statement said.
When omicron became the dominant variant, the remaining mortality risk relative to unvaccinated people was 57% for two-dose Pfizer vaccines aged 60 and older, while only 23% for Moderna vaccines.
The study team also included researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Medical College of Wisconsin, George Washington University, William & Mary College and Pennsylvania State University.
The message behind the study data is largely about the importance of booster shots, researchers said. And statistics around the drop-off in vaccination rates may support that message.
According to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s vaccination coverage data, of the 373,166 people over the age of 65 in the city, 73.8% had completed their primary series of vaccine shots, but only 59.2% had also received an original booster. While the CDPH has urged older adults to get vaccinated and boosted from the time boosters have been available, only 42.5% of that total population of 373,166 have yet to receive the updated, bivalent, booster that first became available in the fall of 2022. In the city’s data, a completed primary series refers to either the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Novavax initial vaccinations.
AT A GLANCE
After selling nearly $4 billion of its stock in AmerisourceBergen in 2022, Walgreens Boots Alliance is taking more cash out of its stake in its drug wholesaler partner with a sale of shares of common stock for about $644 million and a concurrent share repurchase by AmerisourceBergen for proceeds of approximately $50 million.
The $644 million in common shares are being sold as a variable prepaid forward transaction, giving Walgreens access to the funds, though not impacting its ownership of AmerisourceBergen’s common stock, which will remain at 17% for the time being, Walgreens said in a statement. Read more.
Population health expert Dr. Matthew M. Davis says there’s a better way to approach the mission of reducing mortality. Davis, chair of the department of pediatrics at Lurie Children’s and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, calls for prioritizing research along that looks for connections across the leading causes of mortality, instead of just researching disease in isolation. Davis wrote in a commentary published in JAMA Health Forum “to improve survival across many diseases and age groups, we need a broader approach that will connect mortality-focused research across federal institutes, institutions and investigators to help them move further and faster.”
Davis suggests that this effort be dubbed Research Focusing on Reducing Mortality (REFORM). He points to increased death rates for nearly every age group in 2021, compared with 2020, which were related in part to COVID-19 and several other causes as well. Davis also is the executive vice president and chief of Community Health Transformation – Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s and the Founders’ Board Centennial Professor in Pediatrics.
The Illinois Health Facilities & Services Review Board has approved OSF Healthcare’s plan for a $35 million behavioral health hospital in Peoria, WMBD-TV in Peoria reports. The 64,000-square-foot inpatient treatment facility will offer acute inpatient care, dual diagnosis treatment and ambulatory services, the report said.
“We’ve had a calendar year where 600 patients left the facility at St. Francis to be transferred to other facilities that require inpatient psychiatric services that we didn’t provide,” OSF Chief Operating Officer Dr. Mike Cruz told WMBD. “So in one year, 600 patients left our community to go someplace else because we couldn’t provide enough of those services. So the demand is huge and its actually gotten worse,” he said.
Princeton Medspa has closed on its acquisition of Kovak Cosmetic Center, the Chicago-based medical spa company said in a statement. The suburban Kovack spa was founded by Dr. Stanley Kovak, who will spearhead the creation of a medical advisory board for Princeton, a physician-governed body that will present medical leadership support to the PMP portfolio of clinics, as well as provide service line coaching and training, the statement said. Kovak will remain the lead physician at KCC.
GE HealthCare is introducing three new radiation oncology innovations at the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology & Oncology Congress, the Chicago-based company said in a statement. GE says its initiatives to broaden its imaging portfolio and accelerate workflows helps improve radiation oncology care.
The company is showcasing intelligent radiation therapy, a new platform which enables greater interoperability, connectivity and efficiency throughout the entirety of the radiation oncology care continuum. It is also streamlining the process of delineating organs at risk with auto segmentation, to ensure a patient’s tumor receives the maximum dose of radiation therapy. And it has updated its AIR Open Coil Suite, a comprehensive imaging suite that helps clinicians through the planning and guidance of radiation therapy, the statement said.
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
• Iliana A. Mora has been named executive vice president and chief operating officer at Sinai Chicago. Mora, who takes the position on June 1, most recently served as chief administrative officer for service lines, as well as the chief operating officer for ambulatory services for Cook County Health System.
While at Cook County Health, Mora launched The Change Institute in the areas of cardiology, neurosciences and cancer and led transformational initiatives that markedly improved operational efficiencies, quality and patient and employee engagement, Sinai said in a statement. Prior to Cook County, she spent 14 years at Erie Family Health.
“We’re excited to bring Iliana to Sinai at this transformational moment in our history,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Sinai Chicago president and CEO, said in the statement. “She brings a proven track record of driving operational change and improvement, as well as developing close partnerships with caregivers, government, donors and the community, all with a focus on ensuring Sinai’s ability to fulfill our mission to serving the needs of the communities of the West and South sides.”