What We’re Reading: Medicare Readmission Penalties; Cigarette Sales Rose in 2020; Antidepressant Shows Promise as COVID-19 Treatment

Medicare punished more than 2000 hospitals for high readmissions; cigarette sales increased in 2020 for the first time in 2 decades; a cheap antidepressant showed promise as an affordable oral treatment for COVID-19.

Medicare Punishes Thousands of Hospitals for High Readmissions

Medicare cut payments to 47% of the nation’s hospitals in line with the federal government’s plan to penalize hospitals for excessive patient readmissions, according to Kaiser Health News. Medicare will be reducing payments to 2499 hospitals, which will result in an average cut of 0.64%, but could go up to 3%, for each Medicare patient stay from the start of October 2021 through September 2022. The fines averaged $217,000 for a hospital in 2018, and Medicare estimates the penalties over the next fiscal year will save the government $521 million. Some hospitals were exempt from the program because they specialize in treating children, psychiatric conditions, or veterans, as were rehabilitation centers, long-term care facilities, and critical access hospitals. Of the 3046 hospitals that Medicare evaluated, 82% received some penalty.

Cigarette Sales Increased for First Time in 20 Years

As reported by NPR, for the first time in 2 decades, cigarette sales were found to have increased in 2020, largely due to tobacco companies beefing up their spending to promote their products. In its annual Cigarette Report, the Federal Trade Commission said that manufacturers sold 203.7 billion cigarettes in 2020, which is up from 202.9 billion in 2019 and representing an increase of 0.4%. The report revealed that companies spent $7.84 billion on advertising and promotion in 2020, up from $7.624 billion in 2019. It is not clear if the COVID-19 pandemic had a direct impact on the increase in sales. However, cigarette manufacturer Altria said that its 2020 first quarter sales because of customers making bulk purchases out of fear of shortages.

Generic Antidepressant Shows Promise in Treating Early COVID-19

A cheap antidepressant (fluvoxamine) was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization among adults with COVID-19 who are at a high risk of complications in a study exploring existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat COVID-19, according to the Associated Press. Researchers tested the pill, currently used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, because it is known to reduce inflammation and would cost $4 for a course of COVID-19 treatment. Currently, antibody intravenous treatments for COVID-19 cost about $2000 and Merck’s experimental antiviral pill costs about $700 per course. The antidepressant was tested in 1500 Brazilians, of whom only 11% needed hospitalization compared with 16% of those who were given placebo.