What We're Reading: Surprise Medical Billing Reform; Antiviral Pill Effective Against COVID-19 Variants; Teen Vaping Trends

Consumer protections against surprise medical billing will go into effect January 1; Merck’s experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug shows efficacy against variants; an online questionnaire finds a 40% decrease in teen vaping from 2020 to 2021.

Ban on Surprise Medical Billing to Start January 1

As reported by the Associated Press, the Biden administration released rules yesterday on consumer protections against surprise medical billing, with the ban on these charges for insured patients set to go into effect on January 1, 2022. As part of the novel billing process, hospitals, doctors, and insurers will now be responsible for determining fair payment over a 30-day negotiation period if warranted, and if an agreement cannot be reached, an independent arbitrator will decide the cost-effective value of the medical services provided. Moreover, patients will no longer be billed substantially if they undergo care at a hospital emergency department that is closest to them and outside their insurance plan’s provider network.

Merck COVID-19 Pill Effective Against Variants

According to laboratory studies investigating Merck’s experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir, results released Wednesday found the pill was highly effective against variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant. As opposed to targeting the spike protein of the virus, the main focus of approved vaccines, Reuters reports that the pill instead targets the viral polymerase, which is an enzyme needed for the virus to replicate itself. Data indicated that the antiviral pill was most effective when administered early in the course of infection.

Declining Teen Vaping Trends

Findings of a national survey conducted by the FDA and CDC on teen vaping trends released yesterday showed a dramatic 40% drop in use from 2020 to 2021, according to the Associated Press. In the survey, 11% of high school students and less than 3% of middle school students were indicated to be recent users of e-cigarettes and other vaping products, compared with in 2020 when 20% and 5% were cited as recent users, respectively, and in 2019, which exhibited the peak of use in high school students at 28%. As data were collected via online questionnaire, US health officials urged caution in interpreting the results.