What We're Reading: Private Insurers to Cover At-Home COVID-19 Tests; Hospital Staffing Shortages; Groundbreaking Pig Heart Transplant

The Biden administration announced a requirement for insurance companies and group health plans to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests; critical staffing shortages are reported nationwide amid record surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations; the first-ever successful animal-to-human heart transplant was announced.

US to Require Insurance Reimbursement for At-Home COVID-19 Tests

In an effort to expand the availability of free COVID-19 testing nationwide, the Biden administration announced Monday that it is requiring insurance companies and group health plans to cover the cost of over-the-counter, at-home tests. Starting January 15, people with private health coverage will be able to receive the free tests either online or in-store, in which consumers will be paid either up front by their health plan or get reimbursed by submitting a claim to their plan. Biden officials noted that the requirement will incentivize insurers and group health plans to develop programs that allow Americans to get the COVID-19 tests directly through preferred pharmacies, retailers, or other sources with no out-of-pocket costs.

Critical Staffing Shortages Reported in Nearly 1 in 4 US Hospitals

As reported by USA Today, critical staffing shortages are being reported in nearly a quarter of US hospitals amid record surges in COVID-19 case totals and hospitalizations. With 1.35 million COVID-19 cases reported Monday—a global record—24% of 5000 hospitals across the United States are experiencing the shortages and a further 100 anticipate shortages this week. As these staffing shortages serve as the most since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have also reached a new record high (145,982), surpassing the previous peak from January 2021 (142,000).

Historic Pig-to-Human Heart Transplant

In a groundbreaking, first-ever medical procedure, a gene-edited pig heart was successfully transplanted into a human, creating both newfound hope as well as questions from bioethicists. Reported by STAT, the man, 57-year-old David Bennett, had terminal heart failure whose disease was too advanced to qualify for a human heart transplant or a mechanical assist device. Researchers noted hope that the procedure could lead to the routine use of animal organs for human transplants and subsequently shorten waiting lists that often lead to the deaths of thousands of ill people each year.  However, animal rights activists and bioethicists have voiced their concerns on the procedure, especially as no formal clinical trials have been conducted.