Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.
Millions of COVID Vaccine Doses May Be Tossed
As millions of Americans continue to refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, millions of vaccine doses are sitting on shelves about to expire, STAT News reported.
Both the federal government and states are sitting on supply gluts that may soon have to be tossed, just as the Delta variant is sweeping through several regions of the country and afflicting the unvaccinated almost exclusively.
STAT calculated that states alone are sitting on 26.2 million unused doses of mRNA vaccines.
Experts cited potential solutions including the federal government intervening to help states ship unused doses to needier countries and extending vaccines’ expiration dates when possible. Federal officials have thus far declined to authorize states to ship their surplus doses to other countries, and STAT noted expiration dates can only be pushed out so much.
But unless many people change their minds and decide to get vaccinated and/or show up to get their second mRNA shot, many of these doses will never be used.
Many Pfizer doses are set to expire in August, for example. “Given waning domestic vaccine demand, those doses are unlikely to be fully used before they must be tossed,” STAT wrote.
Excessive Trauma Fees for Minor Injuries
Hospital trauma centers have been increasingly assembling teams to respond to emergencies, charging thousands of dollars to insurers and patients with minimal oversight, Kaiser Heath News found.
What was a relatively minimal practice as recently as 2008 has exploded into a massive revenue-generator for many hospitals, including many in Florida, “where the number of trauma centers has exploded,” KHN reported. Hospitals there charged these fees more than 13,000 times in 2019 despite patients going home the same day. That figure was double the number of similar cases in 2014.
Nationally, hundreds of hospitals have pursued trauma center designations in recent years. The number of Level I and Level II trauma centers grew from 305 in 2008 to 567 last year.
Yet many of the patients handled by these trauma teams hardly need the attention. Some are released from the hospital almost immediately after being checked in — if they are admitted at all. “Tens of thousands of times a year, hospitals charge enormously expensive trauma alert fees (up to $50,000) for injuries so minor the patient is never admitted,” KHN reported.
Proponents note that these teams are sometimes essential and they need to assemble them just to be safe.
Trauma centers regularly review and revise rules, said Martin Schreiber, MD, trauma chief at Oregon Health & Science University and board chair at the Trauma Center Association of America. “It is not my impression that trauma centers are using activations to make money,” he said. “Activating patients unnecessarily is not considered acceptable in the trauma community.”
But critics say trauma teams are not needed nearly as often as they are called to action. The result: insurers and patents are charged exaggerated bills and medical personnel must often drop what they are doing to sprint to help victims who don’t need assistance.
“Some hospitals are using it as a revenue generator,” said Tami Rockholt, RN, a medical claims consultant. “It’s being taken advantage of.”
Hospitals began billing trauma team fees to insurers when Medi