What We’re Reading: COVID-19 Cases Fall; Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage; OK Seeks to Return Hydroxychloroquine

January 28, 2021
AJMC Staff

Rates of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases decline in 41 states; Aetna to cover medically necessary breast augmentations for transgender individuals; Oklahoma seeks to return $2 million worth of hydroxychloroquine.

US COVID-19 Cases Decline

New cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) have fallen in 41 states in the past week, Axios reports, for a 16% decline overall. Although this marks the third straight week of significant improvement, the United States is still averaging around 165,000 news cases each day. More contagious variants of the disease will also pose a challenge in the weeks ahead. The latest numbers indicate new cases are around the same level as they were in mid-December. As the country continues to struggle with a slow vaccine rollout, improving on this progress by reducing transmission will help reduce the number of COVID-19 deaths that occur before vaccines become universally available.

Aetna to Cover Some Gender-Affirming Surgeries

Aetna, one of the country’s largest health insurers, has agreed to pay for breast augmentation for some transgender women, according to The New York Times. The procedure, which has been denied coverage in the past because it was considered cosmetic, can now be covered if patients show it to be medically necessary. Specifically, women seeking coverage would need to demonstrate they had persistent gender dysphoria, undergo a year of feminizing hormone therapy, and have a referral from a mental health professional. Although some insurers currently offer a wide range of medically necessary surgeries for transgender women, others can deny coverage for procedures they deem cosmetic.

Oklahoma Attempts to Return Hydroxychloroquine

The attorney general’s office in Oklahoma is attempting to return $2 million worth of unused hydroxychloroquine, The Associated Press reports. The malaria drug was once promoted by former President Trump as an effective treatment for COVID-19. In April 2020, Oklahoma acquired 1.2 million pills from FFF Enterprises, a California-based supplier. Although the drug was considered a potential COVID-19 treatment early on in the pandemic, it has since been concluded hydroxychloroquine has little or no effect on severe cases of COVID-19. In July, patients with systemic lupus erythematosus reported experiencing shortages of the drug, which some consider essential to their treatment.