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September 2021

New HPIO policy brief outlines ways for Ohio policymakers to take action to address addiction

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a new policy brief, “Taking Action to Strengthen Ohio’s Addiction Response.”

The publication is the final brief in the HPIO Addiction Evidence Project and includes:

  • An update on where Ohio stands on addiction-related trends
  • A summary of Ohio’s addiction policy strengths, gaps, challenges and opportunities
  • A prioritized set of nine policy recommendations

Over the past 20 years, Ohioans have pulled together to address the complex challenges of addiction in unprecedented ways. Now, with pending opioid settlements on the horizon, there is an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of Ohio’s efforts to date and plan for what should happen next.

The brief identifies the following as the most important addiction policy priorities to address:

  • Immediate: Save lives by ending fentanyl overdoses
  • Next 2 years: Reform the criminal justice system to support recovery and employment
  • Long term: Continue to strengthen Ohio’s prevention-treatment-recovery continuum

CDC OKs COVID vaccine booster for workers at risk

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday overruled a recommendation by an agency advisory panel that had refused to endorse booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine for frontline workers (Source: “C.D.C. Chief Overrules Agency Panel and Recommends Pfizer-BioNTech Boosters for Workers at Risk,” New York Times, Sept. 24).

It was a highly unusual move for the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, but aligned CDC policy with the Food and Drug Administration’s endorsements over her own agency’s advisers.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Thursday recommended the boosters for a wide range of Americans, including tens of millions of older adults and younger people at high risk for the disease. But they excluded health care workers, teachers and others whose jobs put them at risk. That put their recommendations at odds with the FDA’s authorization of booster shots for all adults with a high occupational risk.

The White House could begin promoting and rolling out a plan for booster shots as soon as Friday. 

Study finds mortality improvements after rural hospitals merge

A new study published this week in JAMA Network Open found improved mortality rates across multiple common conditions when compared to equivalent facilities that remained independent (Source: “Rural hospitals saw mortality improvements after acquisition deals, study finds,” Fierce Healthcare, Sept. 21).

“The findings of this study regarding the positive outcomes associated with mergers in rural hospital quality challenge a common argument in prior research that hospital consolidation is likely to result in greater market power and higher prices but poorer quality,” researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and IBM Watson Health wrote in the journal.

The researchers noted that their findings differed from other studies that monitored quality changes following consolidation within urban markets, which found either no change or a decline following hospital acquisition.

The difference, they theorized, could be that rural hospital mergers more often allow these facilities “to improve quality of care through access to needed financial, clinical and technological resources, which is important to enhancing rural health and reducing urban-rural disparities in quality. This hypothesis needs to be assessed using data sources that capture data both on quality and hospital resources,” the researchers wrote.

DeWine announces new vaccine incentive for ages 12 to 25

Ohioans age 12 to 25 will be eligible to win a $100,000 college scholarship for getting a COVID-19 vaccine shot, Gov. DeWine announced Thursday (Source: “'Vax-2-School': Ohioans age 12 to 25 can win $100,000 college scholarships for getting a COVID-19 vaccine,” Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 24).

Five $100,000 scholarships and 50 $10,000 scholarships will be given away over five days from Oct. 11 to 15, according to DeWine. The money can be used for college or vocational education.

People who have already been vaccinated will be eligible and will have to sign up for the drawing in advance, but that process has not yet been set up. The scholarships will be paid for with federal coronavirus relief money.

About 46% of Ohioans age 12 to 25 have been vaccinated compared to 84% of Ohioans age 65 and over. More than 32,000 K-12 students have tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID-19 this school year.

Ohio COVID hospitalizations triple this time last year, ODH director says

The Delta variant is continuing to drive an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations with the number of hospitalizations reported Wednesday in Ohio nearly triple the amount reported a year ago, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Thursday (Source: “Ohio’s daily COVID hospitalizations nearly triple vs. year ago, Vanderhoff says,” Dayton Daily News, Sept. 16).

On Wednesday, ODH reported 7,747 new daily cases of COVID and 292 daily hospitalizations. A year ago, on Sept. 15, 2020, the state reported just over 1,000 daily cases and 103 hospitalizations, he said.

“Even though about half of us today are well protected by vaccination, our daily hospitalizations are about triple what they were last year,” Vanderhoff said. “And the reason is simple. The Delta variant is aggressively seeking out anyone who lacks immunity and is making many of them very sick.”

Ohio, local goverments finalize $808M opioid settlement

Ohio and more than 140 local governments in the state have finalized an $808 million-plus settlement with the nation’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson to settle lawsuits related to the companies’ role in the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Thursday (Source: “Ohio, local governments finalize $808M opioid settlement with four drug companies,”, Sept. 16).

Ohio’s agreement is part of a larger $21 billion deal to settle lawsuits filed by more than 3,000 state and local governments against Johnson & Johnson, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Columbus-based Cardinal Health.

The drug companies have been accused of helping to make and/or distribute billions of opioid painkiller pills in recent years despite knowing they were being abused by addicts.

Yost, a Columbus Republican, said during an online news conference that the money will be paid out over the next 18 years. Under an agreement reached last year, 55% of Ohio’s settlement money will go to a foundation that will pay for addiction treatment programs. Another 30% will go to local governments; the remaining 15% will go to the state.

More than half of states have rolled back public health powers, analysis finds

Republican legislators in more than half of U.S. states, including Ohio, spurred on by voters angry about lockdowns and mask mandates, are taking away the powers state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases (Source: “Over Half of States Have Rolled Back Public Health Powers in Pandemic,” Kaiser Health News, Sept. 15).

A Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of pieces of legislation found that, in all 50 states, legislators have proposed bills to curb such public health powers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some governors vetoed bills that passed, at least 26 states pushed through laws that permanently weaken government authority to protect public health. In three additional states, an executive order, ballot initiative or state Supreme Court ruling limited long-held public health powers. More bills are pending in a handful of states whose legislatures are still in session.

In at least 16 states, legislators have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, or quarantines or isolation. In some cases, they gave themselves or local elected politicians the authority to prevent the spread of infectious disease. At least 17 states passed laws banning covid vaccine mandates or passports, or made it easier to get around vaccine requirements. At least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates. Executive orders or a court ruling limit mask requirements in five more.

Ohio allows medical marijuana growers to expand operations

The Ohio Department of Commerce announced this week that Ohio's medical marijuana cultivators can request permission to expand their grow space (Source: “Ohio to allow medical marijuana growers to expand to meet demand, prepare for more dispensaries,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 15).

Expansion requests will be granted to businesses that have complied with rules and regulations, are already using the maximum amount of space allowed by the state and demonstrate a need to expand to keep up with demand.

The expansion process comes as the state plans to more than double the number of dispensaries to sell medical marijuana and after Akron-based cultivator Fire Rock Ltd. sued the state for failing to act on its February 2020 request to expand.

Ohio has licensed 20 cultivators who can grow up to 25,000 square feet of marijuana and 15 cultivators that can grow up to 3,000 square feet. State rules allow licensees to expand to 75,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet, respectively, but didn't outline a process for requesting expansion.

New HPIO fact sheet highlights opportunities for policymakers to support health, well-being of Ohioans of color

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a new fact sheet that outlines actions state and local policymakers can take to support the health and well-being of Ohioans of color and move Ohio toward a more economically vibrant and healthier future.

“Ensuring that every Ohioan has a fair opportunity to achieve good health and well-being is a shared value in both the public and private sectors,” the fact sheet states. “However, Ohioans of color continue to face barriers to health where they live, work, learn, play and age.”

The fact sheet, titled “State and Local Policymakers: Ensuring Ohioans of Color Have a Fair Opportunity for Good Health,” is the first in a series of three that provides action steps that can be taken to address the health impacts of racism. The publication highlights eight action steps that policymakers can take, including examples from policymakers in Ohio and across the country. 

“Government can play a strong role in educating, encouraging and creating opportunity for private sector partners and the public to take action,” according to the fact sheet.  “Many states, counties and municipalities are promoting health by understanding and addressing unfair and unjust policies and practices.”

The remaining two fact sheets in the series will provide information on how private sector partners, community groups and individuals can take action to advance equitable opportunities for Ohioans of color.

Biden unveils vaccine mandate for 100 million American workers

President Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as healthcare workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant (Source: “Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans,” Associated Press via Dayton Daily News, Sept. 9).

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us," he said. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.