What the PHE Taught Us About Sick Leave, Telemedicine and Public Health Powers

Research Corner
May 9, 2023

Leslie Walker, Senior Producer

Leslie Walker is stepping in for Soleil Shah this week. She is a Senior Producer at Tradeoffs and managing editor of the Research Corner newsletter.

Thursday marks the official end of the federal public health emergency (PHE) in this country. Although COVID-19 is still killing more than 1,000 Americans every week, lifting the PHE does feel like an important milestone.

So we’re using this opportunity to highlight a trio of PHE-adjacent papers — studies that taught us something important about a period that’s unprecedented in many ways, including in how it upended so many health policies. Thanks for reading!

What the PHE Taught us about Sick Leave, Telemedicine and Public Health Powers

Sick leave policies boosted vaccination rates

As COVID rocked workplaces across the country, many cities and states implemented an array of supplemental sick leave policies. Most expired earlier in the pandemic. One research team led by Alina Schnake-Mahl found that COVID vaccination rates were 17 percent higher in cities with paid sick leave policies than in those without such policies. The sick leave policies were even more impactful in more marginalized neighborhoods, helping to reduce vaccination disparities.

Study: Higher COVID-19 Vaccination And Narrower Disparities In US Cities With Paid Sick Leave Compared To Those Without

Rural, primary care and mental health patients made use of interstate telemedicine

Early in the pandemic many states made it easier for out-of-state providers to care for the state’s residents remotely through the use of telemedicine. A JAMA Health Forum study found that in the first half of 2021 more than 400,000 people on Medicare received remote care from an out-of-state clinician. People living in rural communities were more likely to make use of out-of-state telemedicine – and the majority of out-of-state visits were with a primary care or mental health provider.

Study: Receipt of Out-of-State Telemedicine Visits Among Medicare Beneficiaries During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Pandemic underscored shortcomings of public health emergency powers

In a Health Affairs article, Michelle Mello and Lawrence Gostin called for a reckoning with public health law similar to one the U.S. last underwent after the September 11 attacks and the anthrax threats that followed. The pair of legal scholars outlined how some ill-fitting public health powers used during the pandemic backfired, leaving public health agencies vulnerable to legal and legislative attacks — and eroding the public’s trust. And they proposed some policy changes to better prepare local, state and federal officials to respond to the next public health crisis.

Study: Public Health Law Modernization 2.0: Rebalancing Public Health Powers And Individual Liberty In The Age Of COVID-19