Welcome to the WBD News Flash, your weekly highlight of HR benefits and healthcare news. Weekly, we will provide you with the top trending industry news stories in healthcare, human resources, legislation, benefits technology and administration, and more. Make the WBD News Flash your go to reference for current events!

Covid-19 Hospitalizations Rise in U.S., Worrying Officials, Wall Street

Unvaccinated people are leading the spike in Covid-19 cases, the CDC says, as the U.S. sees a rise of about 11% week over week. Hospitalizations rose nearly 9% week over week. One WHO official suggested that a fall surge could be in the making, with a return to health guidelines in parts of the country which have abandoned mask, social distancing, and other restrictions.

The vast majority of new cases are occurring in counties with vaccination rates of less than 40%. States with big increases include Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada, and Illinois. The White House is sending special teams to hot spots with rising case counts, although the Missouri governor has told the federal government that increased vaccination pushes are not welcome in that state. Officials warn that the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, which may be associated with more severe disease in younger people, is leading the charge.

Wall Street indexes fell with the news, as investors fear the anticipated economic recovery will falter amidst rising cases.

Hospital Transparency Rules Fall Short, Still Reveal Discrepancies

The Trump administration’s price transparency rule, which took effect at the beginning of 2021, was meant to provide consumers with the actual prices of medical treatments. Industry analysts are saying they’re seeing mixed results, with some hospitals burying data deep within their sites, not including everything required, or even failing to comply with the rule at all. One consulting firm told KHN that 30% of 1000 hospitals surveyed had not reported any prices.

Meanwhile, consumers may find that even if their area hospitals provide price data, the results are so confusing they may get no benefit from the data. In-network, out-of-network, and individual patient pricing for cash can lead to confusing results.

However, one analyst says that some employers may find the rule useful — for firing insurers if they find their rates are substantially higher than others. Journalists are also finding the data useful. The Wall Street Journal analyzed available data and found that many hospitals charge the uninsured the highest rates of all.

House Oversight Report Finds Big Pharma Spends More on Exec Pay Than Research

Large drug companies say that high profits are necessary to finance the expense of research and development. Now, a new report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee says more money is going back into stocks, dividends, and executive compensation than is being spent on R&D. House Democrats say that’s related to a lack of price restrictions on drugs, including Medicare’s inability to negotiate drug prices.

“Drug companies are actively and intentionally targeting the United States for price increases, often while cutting prices in the rest of the world,” says Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney.

The report found that between 2016 to 2020, the 14 largest drug manufacturers invested $56 billion less on research and development than they spent on paying themselves and investors. The report also found some R&D money is spent on researching ways to suppress competition, keeping prices high and generics out of the market. Read more.