500,000 lost to COVID-19, but pandemic’s end is now within reach

The United States has broken the tragic barrier of more than 500,000 Americans lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is “half a million of our friends and family over this past year, our colleagues and our neighbors, people we cared for, and people who cared for us, lost in a fight that can feel never-ending,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, in a video issued to mark the dreadful occasion.

“We mourn these devastating losses, but we must not lose hope because today—even though we still face loss and tragedy—the road ahead finally looks brighter than the one we’ve been on. At this moment, millions are getting vaccinated and vaccine production is ramping up. Help is on the way.”

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Q&A: Why JAMA’s editor finds pandemic answers in conversation

From the first JAMA Viewpoint—co-written by Anthony Fauci, MD—published in January 2020 on the mysterious novel coronavirus that had just emerged in Wuhan, China, the people behind the JAMA Network of journals have worked furiously to deliver timely, high-impact original research and perspectives on COVID-19.

These essential resources can be found at the JAMA Network COVID-19 resource center, and they include a series of outstanding one-on-one livestreamed interviews conducted with key physician experts by Howard Bauchner, MD, editor-in-chief of JAMA and senior vice president of AMA scientific publications and multimedia applications.

For the “Conversations with Dr. Bauchner” podcast, he interviews leading researchers and thinkers in health care, often touching on hot COVID-19 topics such as testing, treatments, vaccines and the professional impact. For this article, Dr. Bauchner was on the other end of the questioning, and he reflected on what he and his colleagues have learned about medical publishing during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and what medicine can look forward to in 2021.

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Physicians, nurses, hospitals to America: This is our shot

With one in four Americans reportedly hesitant to get the safe and effective vaccines that have been authorized by the independent scientists at the Food and Drug Administration, the AMA joined the national organizations representing nurses and hospitals to release a public service announcement (PSA) urging the American public to get the COVID-19 vaccination when it is their turn.

“Vaccinations are safe, effective, prevent illness and save lives,” said AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD. “Protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated, and play a role in this monumental effort that will help us return to normal. Whether enough people get the COVID-19 vaccine decides our future and the future toll of the virus—so be ready to do your part.”

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Also published recently:

As pandemic rages, Americans to get health coverage lifeline

President Joe Biden took actions to expand access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while reconsidering moves made during his predecessor’s term that drastically changed a key family-planning program.

On health insurance, the president ordered the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to open HealthCare.gov for a special enrollment period to run from Feb. 15–May 15. President Donald Trump resisted calls for such a special enrollment period when the global pandemic struck the U.S. in the spring of 2020.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Also check out this other recent story of mine:

Biden’s first moves will aid pandemic fight, boost global health

The AMA is hailing President Joe Biden’s first flurry of executive orders to address the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, immigration and LGBTQ issues.

On COVID-19, the administration launched a 100-days masking challenge, asking Americans to #MaskUp for 100 days and requiring masks and physical distancing in all federal buildings and lands, and by federal employees and contractors. The Department of Health and Human Services will work with state and local officials to implement masking and other public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has killed 400,00 Americans since the first case was identified in the U.S. 12 months ago.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Also recently:

COVID-19 vaccination: Altering doses? Data doesn’t back it

Top leaders at the Food and Drug Administration are pushing back against growing calls to alter the COVID-19 vaccine administration schedule that are accelerating amid a frustratingly slow vaccination rollout and documented U.S. community spread of a more transmissible coronavirus variant.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Also check out my other article published so far this year, “How AMA is helping health systems face 2021’s biggest challenges.”

How COVID-19 vaccine options are expanding with another EUA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. for use in people 18 or older. The vaccine joins Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, which earned FDA authorization last week.

Both vaccines use the messenger RNA technology, consist of two separate doses per patient, and have shown about 95% efficacy in protecting against COVID-19, compared with placebo, in clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants.

Moderna has said it plans to ship 20 million U.S. doses in December, another 80 million by March 2021, and an additional 100 million by June 2021.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

The AMA’s top 10 stories of 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a toll on physicians battling to save lives that has been unlike any other in living memory. For months, the AMA has advocated fiercely to get doctors the personal protective equipment (PPE) they deserve, and the financial support they need to survive the pandemic’s economic strain.

Physician readers, awakened to the new demands of practicing and serving patients amid the novel coronavirus, have frequently turned to the AMA as a powerful ally for insightful, timely news coverage on top-of-mind issues such as patient questions on mask-wearing and how to reopen practice safely. That coverage includes an outstanding new offering in 2020, the “AMA COVID-19 Update” daily video series.

Here are the AMA’s top 10 stories of the year.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

Some other recent articles:

Highlights from the November 2020 AMA Special Meeting

Catch up with the news and key moments from the November 2020 AMA Special Meeting, a virtual gathering of the AMA House of Delegates that ran Nov. 13–17. For a briefer rundown, check out this list of our top 10 stories from the Special Meeting.

My other stories from the meeting:

Bill puts 2-year freeze on Medicare services set for 2021 pay cuts

A coalition of organizations representing physicians and allied health professionals, including the AMA, sent a letter to congressional leadership expressing support for H.R. 8702, the “Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020.” The bill was introduced by Reps. Ami Bera, MD, a California Democrat, and Larry Bucshon, MD, a Republican from Indiana.

H.R. 8702 would effectively freeze payments at 2020 rates for services scheduled to be cut in 2021 for a period of two years, while allowing the planned E/M payment increases to take place as scheduled. It would also avert steep payment cuts for hospital, nursing home and critical care visits. At the end of the two-year reprieve, the full budget-neutrality adjustment would take effect.

“This critical legislation recognizes the importance of allowing significant scheduled pay increases to primary care and others who primarily provide E/M services to take effect while also avoiding the devastating corresponding cuts for physician and nonphysician providers that will occur because of Medicare’s budget-neutrality requirements,” says the letter from the AMA and more than 70 other signatories.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

CMS, insurers should pay doctors for coronavirus protocols and PPE

The AMA and 127 other state medical associations and national medical specialty societies that represent hundreds of thousands of U.S. doctors are urging payers to “immediately implement and pay for Current Procedural Terminology code 99072 to compensate physician practices for the additional supplies and new staff activities required to provide safe patient care” during the COVID-19 public health emergency without patient cost-sharing.

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

New information-blocking rules: What doctors should know

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is extending compliance dates for a complex federal regulation aimed at ending information-blocking practices that impede the secure exchange and use of electronic health information by patients, doctors and health care organizations.

The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) says the final rule, implemented under the 21st Century Cures Act (Cures Act), now has an “applicability date” of April 5, 2021. On and after that date, all “actors”—which includes health information networks and exchanges, EHR vendors and health care providers—“will be subject to information blocking.”

My latest for the AMA. The whole shebang.

CPT codes for new coronavirus vaccines: What you need to know

The AMA has published an update to the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT®) code set that includes new vaccine-specific codes to report immunizations for the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CPT Editorial Panel has approved a unique CPT code for each of two coronavirus vaccines as well as administration codes unique to each such vaccine.

The new CPT codes clinically distinguish each coronavirus vaccine for better tracking, reporting and analysis that supports data-driven planning and allocation. The CPT codes are available prior to the public availability of the vaccines to facilitate the updating of health care electronic systems across the U.S.

My lede for the AMA. The whole shebang.