Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The FEHBlog spent two hours this morning listening to the oral argument in the latest Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) constitutionality case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, California v. Texas (No. 19-840). This activity resulted in the FEHBlog learning a new word hortatory and receiving confirmation that his hunch is correct, to wit, There is no chance that the Supreme Court will disrupt the ACA status quo as a result of this case. Indeed the Supreme Court clearly took the case to preserve, not disrupt, the status quo. If you are interested, Amy Howe from the SCOTUSblog has written a legal analysis of the oral argument.

Following up on yesterday’s good news about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the Wall Street Journal informs us that

In Kalamazoo, Mich., Pfizer has turned a stretch of land the size of a football field into a staging ground outfitted with 350 large freezers, ready to take delivery of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine before they can be shipped around the world.

To make sure its Covid-19 vaccine doses arrive at hospitals and clinics frozen and potent, Pfizer created its own container to ship them.
The temperature-controlled container can store between 1,000 and 5,000 doses for 10 days at minus 70 degrees Celsius before requiring re-icing.

From that site, and another in Puurs, Belgium, the pharmaceutical giant said it wants to deliver up to 100 million doses this year and another 1.3 billion in 2021.

One person needs two doses of the vaccine in order to be protected, again assuming that the phase III study of the vaccine remains on its currently successful course.

The Journal further reports that

U.S. health officials on Monday authorized use of the first treatment for people with earlier-stage Covid-19 who aren’t hospitalized, filling a gap in treatment.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Eli Lilly LLY 2.97% & Co.’s antibody drug should be used for patients ages 12 and up with mild to moderate Covid-19, based on a study showing it helped improve symptoms and kept many patients out of the hospital.

The drug is named bamlanivimab [and it is infused into the patient]. Lilly said it will begin shipping the drug immediately to AmerisourceBergen Corp. ABC 3.59% , a national drug distributor, to distribute it as directed by a federal allocation program [which is described in this HHS announcement issued today].

The Journal also discusses ongoing U.S. problems with COVID-19 testing

The U.S. is running more Covid-19 tests each day than at any other point during the pandemic, but the increased testing doesn’t fully explain recent case surges across the nation, data show. Altogether, testing data suggest Covid-19 diagnostic tests are still severely underused in the U.S. And inconsistencies in data collection and reporting systems are hampering efforts to understand and contain the virus’s spread as the holidays approach, public health and testing executives say.

Because the FEHBP covers a large cadre of senior citizens, it is worth pointing out this AHRQ funded report finding that

Healthcare costs for seniors who needed emergency services after a fall averaged $26,143 in the year following the event, according to an AHRQ-funded study published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Those costs significantly exceeded the average $8,642 in healthcare costs in the year prior to the event

In civil service news,

Federal employees would not receive an across-the-board increase in pay next year under provisions outlined in a series of fiscal year 2021 funding bills released by the Senate Appropriations Committee Nov. 10. Unlike FY2021 funding passed in the House earlier this year — which simply did not include any provision addressing federal pay — the Senate bill actively sets 2021 pay levels at the same rate as 2020. That difference would override any planned pay increase out of the White House, which was set at 1 percent in President Donald Trump’s February budget proposal.

The Senate is pushing through these measures in order to create a baseline for negotiating an omnibus continuing resolution with the House, which has completed its appropriations bills work, before the current continuing resolution expires on December 11.

  • Federal News Network reports on the Biden Administration’s transition team. Of note,

Kiran Ahuja, a former chief of staff at the agency, will lead the OPM team. Ahuja served at OPM during the aftermath of the agency’s cybersecurity breaches. Prior to her OPM service, she led the Obama administration’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Today, she’s the CEO of Philanthropy Northwest, a non-profit organization. The rest of the team is filled with OPM alums who served at the agency as senior advisors during the Obama administration.