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Walmart, Sam's Club to assist in Cook County vaccine rollout • States get more federal aid to accelerate COVID response • Walgreens earnings top estimates
Crain's Health Pulse is your source for actionable, exclusive and inside news on the health care industry.

Friday, January 08, 2021
Crain's Chicago Business
by Jon Asplund

THE ROLE OF RETAIL CHAINS IN COOK COUNTY’S VACCINE ROLLOUT: The Cook County Department of Public Health is teaming up with retail pharmacies to inoculate eligible residents as quickly as possible.

During a Jan. 6 town hall with residents of suburban Cook County, local health officials said the plan is to partner with Sam’s Club and Walmart starting early this month. In an emailed statement, a representative for the department clarified that an agreement “is in the early stages, and we will provide more information in the days ahead.”

Under the department’s existing partnership with Jewel-Osco, it has inoculated more than 3,000 health care workers to date. Officials said there are plans to expand that partnership, as well as future deals, as Illinois’ vaccine rollout progresses. —Stephanie Goldberg

ILLINOIS GETS $843 MILLION IN FEDERAL COVID FUNDS: Illinois and the city of Chicago, which is responsible for its own pandemic response, are getting a total of $843 million from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The money is part of a $22 billion allocation to states and local jurisdictions to support COVID-19 containment and lagging vaccination rollouts.

Federal officials hope to accelerate inoculation efforts, which have fallen behind initial targets. As of Wednesday morning, only 5.3 million Americans had received their first shot out of 17 million doses distributed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're making these billions in new funds available to states as quickly as possible to support our combined efforts to end the pandemic," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in prepared remarks. READ MORE.

WALGREENS POSTS BETTER THAN EXPECTED EARNINGS AS IT MOVES TO SELL PHARMA WHOLESALE BIZ: Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. beat analysts’ estimates for first-quarter earnings as the international drugstore chain saw sales withstand virus-related disruptions in the U.K. and the U.S.

Revenue rose 5.7% to $36.3 billion, compared with the average estimate of $34.9 billion. The company affirmed its guidance of low single-digit growth in fiscal 2021 adjusted earnings per share.

Walgreens is facing rising pressure to quickly administer Covid-19 vaccines in U.S. nursing homes through a partnership with the government, an effort that’s come under criticism for missteps and delays. The chain will also vaccinate the wider public when more shots become available. Gains from its involvement in administering COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. will likely be offset by pandemic lockdowns and other costs, the company said during an earnings call on Thursday.

The Deerfield-based retail giant also faces weak sales of cough, cold and flu medications with coronavirus restrictions keeping seasonal illnesses at bay, executives said. People avoiding doctor’s offices amid the pandemic continues to weigh on new prescriptions, they said.

The company said Wednesday that it would sell its Alliance Healthcare businesses to AmerisourceBergen Corp. for about $6.5 billion. Divesting the drug distribution unit will allow Walgreens to invest more in its core retail pharmacy business, Chief Executive Officer Stefano Pessina said on a call with analysts. READ MORE.

ILLINOIS WILL GIVE THOSE 65 AND OLDER PRIORITY IN NEXT VACCINE PHASE: Illinois will give people over 65 priority in the next phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, a departure from a federal advisory panel that recommended states initially target those over 75.

Lowering the age for Phase 1B vaccination priority from 75 to 65 will help to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino seniors, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday. Phase 1B, set to begin later this month or early next, also includes the vaccination of "front-line essential workers."

Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike on Wednesday pointed to state data they said shows that, while white people who die of COVID on average are 81 years old, the figure is much lower for Blacks and Hispanics: 72 and 68, respectively. Combined, Blacks and Hispanics make up just 21 percent of Illinoisans aged 65 to 74, yet comprise 45 percent of COVID deaths in that age group. READ MORE.

CHECK CRAIN’S DAILY UPDATE ON VACCINE ROLLOUT IN CHICAGO: Check here each day to see how many total coronavirus cases have been discovered in the city and state, plus the number of vaccine first doses that have been given in Chicago. READ MORE.

SOUTHWEST SIDE CLINIC OPENS NEW TESTING SITE AMID COVID SURGE: Esperanza Health Centers will open a free, drive-through testing site in Marquette Park in response to an uptick in COVID cases on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The site, which will be open six days a week, can serve up to 200 patients a day, the federally qualified health center said in a statement.

The 60629 and 60632 ZIP codes have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, with more than 607 cases reported during the week ending January 2nd and the positivity rate hovering above 16 percent, the statement said, pointing to data published by the Chicago Department of Public Health. Even with the recent opening of a testing site at Midway Airport, demand for tests has been high, prompting Esperanza to open its third testing site.

“We are responding to the need,” Dan Fulwiler, president and chief executive officer of Esperanza said in a statement. “If you look at where COVID-19 rates are highest and where testing sites in Chicago are located, it is clear there just are not enough COVID-19 resources in the community. By opening a testing site at Marquette Park, we are hoping to address a need that has existed since the start of the pandemic.”

Esperanza operates two other testing sites in Brighton Park and South Lawndale.

HIGH-FASHION COMPANY HELPED EDWARD ELMHURST HEALTH DURING GOWN SHORTAGE: Facing a shortage of protective protective equipment over the summer, CEO Mary Lou Mastro found help in fashion designer Mac Duggal.

When the COVID-19 crisis had hit, the Naperville-based health system had used its entire supply of isolation gowns within a week and had trouble securing more, according to a blog post on the health system's site.

“We were running out of isolation gowns,” Mastro said. “I was starting to panic. I cold called (Duggal) and said, ‘You’ve never met me, but our sons know each other. I always thought I’d call you some day to make my mother of the groom dress, but we’re running out of isolation gowns so is there any way you can create some?’”

Duggal found space on an overseas ship, swapping out evening gowns for high-quality PPE, to get 400,000 isolation gowns to Edward Hospital in Naperville and Elmhurst Hospital. Read more from Edward-Elmhurst Health.

CAHILL: NO CURE IN SIGHT FOR HEALTH CARE STATUS QUO ILLS: News of higher drug prices and the collapse of health care venture Haven underscore the monumental difficulty of restraining health care costs in the United States, Crain’s columnist Joe Cahill writes. READ MORE.

ACA REDUCED INCOME INEQUALITY IN 2019, STUDY FINDS: The Affordable Care Act reduced income inequality in the United States by more than 10 percent in 2019, according to a new Urban Institute study.

The study in Health Affairs said the increase in the number of people with health care coverage, coupled with little or no out-of-pocket spending, helped narrow the inequality gap. A typical person at the bottom 10th percentile of the income distribution scale who enrolled in a health plan through the ACA saw their income increase by an average 18.8 percent. If that person lived in a state that expanded Medicaid, their income rose by more than 22 percent.

Letter


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