What Happened, What You Missed: July 24-28, 2023

Administration Proposes New Mental Health Parity Rule

The Biden administration issued a proposed rule that would require mental health benefits on commercial heath plans to resemble traditional medical benefits more closely. While 2008’s Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) required insurers to provide the same level of coverage for both mental and physical health care, critics say lack of awareness and enforcement has restricted access to mental health care coverage. If finalized, the rule would require insurers to evaluate coverage based on several benchmarks, including the plan’s provider network, how plans pay for out-of-network coverage, and how often prior authorization is required and approved.

Hospitals Are Having Trouble Discharging Patients

It’s becoming harder for hospitals to discharge patients to post-acute care settings, according to a report by health technology company Wellsky. While referrals for post-acute settings like nursing homes and home care have increased since last year, so have rejections for these referrals. The report cited staffing shortages in nursing homes and home care providers as one reason why patients are staying hospitalized longer than necessary. Another factor behind longer hospital stays is the rise in the number of older patients, who are more likely to have chronic health conditions. The struggle to discharge patients comes amid a growing preference for home-based care.

House Leaves Town with Only One Appropriations Bill Approved

The House of Representatives approved their Fiscal Year 2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies spending bill 219-211 on Thursday before departing for August recess. House lawmakers initially planned to vote for the Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) appropriations bill on Thursday before punting the vote to September after House GOP leaders failed to address concerns over funding levels. Meanwhile, the Senate made further progress on its appropriations bill on Thursday, with the Appropriations Committee passing its four remaining spending bills with support from both parties. The gulf between funding levels in the House and Senate appropriations bills is a significant factor in how Congress will handle their September 30th deadline to fund the government in the next fiscal year.

Black Fetal Mortality Rate Dips Slightly

The fetal mortality rate for Black infants has declined by 4% in 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the Black fetal mortality is two times higher than the national average. Only 1% of pregnancies in the US end in fetal death, which is defined by death within 20 of gestation or later. While the study does not identify the causes of fetal death, the findings are consistent with lower health outcomes among Black Americans. For example, Black maternal deaths are higher than White maternal deaths due to a lack of diversity among medical professionals and higher comorbidities.

ICYMI: Senators Jump into Barbie, Oppenheimer Meme Debate

The social media debate over whether to identify with Barbie or Oppenheimer has reached the halls of Congress. Over the past two weeks, Senators from both parties have shared which one of the two films they’ve seen first or preferred. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have made Maryland’s Senate delegation a part of Team Barbie, while current and former presidential candidates Sens. Tim Scott (D-SC) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have sided with Team Oppenheimer. Meanwhile, Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) are picking both by joining “Team Barbenheimer.”