Weekend update

Both Houses of Congress are in session this week on Capitol Hill. The FEHBlog has signed up for Congress.gov alerts for S. 1895, Senator Lamar Alexander’s bipartisan bill to lower health care cost. The FEHBlog received his first alert this morning — the addition of a summary of key bill provisions:

Among other things, the bill

applies in-network cost-sharing requirements to certain emergency and related nonemergency services that are provided out-of-network, and prohibits health care facilities and practitioners from billing above the applicable in-network cost-sharing rate for such services; 

revises certain requirements in order to expedite the approval of generics and biosimilars, including requirements relating to citizen petitions, application effective dates, and labeling; 

requires health care facilities and practitioners to give patients a list of provided services upon discharge and to bill for such services within 45 days; 

limits prices that pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) may charge health insurers or enrollees for prescription drugs, based on prices paid by PBMs to pharmacies; 

establishes grant programs to support vaccinations and data modernization; and 

requires health insurers to make certain information, including estimated out-of-pocket costs, accessible to enrollees through specified technology (e.g., mobile applications).

The Hill reports that the Centers for Disease Control will begin to publish Wuhan coronavirus updates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There are now five confirmed cases in the U.S., all of whom are hospitalized. One hundred other people under being watched for the virus.

Chicago’s Crain Business informs us about the merger for four southside Chicago hospitals.

The combination [Advocate Trinity Hospital, Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, South Shore Hospital and St. Bernard Hospital] aims to bolster the precarious finances of the safety-net hospitals that treat large numbers of low-income patients on Medicaid, which pays less than Medicare and commercial insurance.

With an estimated $1.1 billion investment—including private donations and government dollars intended for hospital transformation—the plan is to build at least one new hospital and open up to six new community health centers that would expand access to preventive services and address social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, the four hospital leaders said today.

That’s a hopeful twist on such deals.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that

Hundreds of regional grocery stores in cities from Minneapolis to Seattle are closing or selling pharmacy counters, which have been struggling as consumers make fewer trips to fill prescriptions and big drugstore chains tighten their grip on the U.S. market. * * *

Grocery pharmacies are the latest casualty of industry consolidation that has for years been forcing mom-and-pop drugstores to close. Even some big players have rethought the market. Target Corp. sold off its pharmacy business to CVS Health Corp. five years ago. * * *

The tougher conditions come as the entire drugstore industry copes with a shift to online shopping and shrinking profits in prescription medicines, which often disproportionately affect smaller players.

And so it goes.

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