Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the COVID-19 vaccine front —

The first two vaccines against the novel coronavirus could be available to Americans before Christmas, Health Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday, after Moderna Inc became the second vaccine maker likely to receive U.S. emergency authorization. The Food and Drug Administration’s outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to consider authorizing Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine. That vaccine could be approved and shipped within days, with Moderna’s following one week behind that, Azar said.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports on this afternoon’s CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (“ACIP”) meeting

The [ACIP] panel voted 13-1 in favor of giving the first [COVID-19] vaccines to about 21 million health-care workers and three million residents of long-term care facilities. 

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has said federal officials will consider the committee’s recommendations, but that state governors may make final decisions about whom to vaccinate first with the doses that the federal government allocates to them based on their adult populations. He also has said he supports vaccinating vulnerable residents of nursing homes among the first groups.

States wouldn’t have to follow the CDC recommendations, but state and local authorities are expected to rely on them as guideposts for deciding who gets the vaccine first. States have until Friday to indicate to the federal government where they want their initial doses sent.

  • Becker’s Hospital Review informs us that “Any American who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the end of June 2021, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, director of supply, production and distribution for Operation Warp Speed, said in an Nov. 30 interview with MSNBC. We will have over 300 million doses available to the American public, well before [June],”Mr. Ostrowski said.”

In other news, “Today the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the annual [Medicare Part B] Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) final rule, prioritizing CMS’ investment in primary care and chronic disease management by increasing payments to physicians and other practitioners for the additional time they spend with patients, especially those with chronic conditions. The rule allows non-physician practitioners to provide the care they were trained and licensed to give, cutting red tape so healthcare professionals can practice at the top of their license and spend more time with patients instead of on unnecessary paperwork.” Here’s a link to the CMS fact sheet on the final rule.

The final rule is relevant to the FEHBP for two reasons — (1) a large cadre of Medicare prime annuitants is enrolled in the FEHBP and if any of them have not enrolled for Part B, fee for service plans use the Medicare PFS to pay their doctors and (2) the Medicare PFS is widely used to set payments for out-of-network providers because doctors are so familiar with the PFS. In that case, commercial health plans typically use a higher dollar modifier than Medicare which gives you an idea of how low the Medicare modifier is.

Finally, a friend of the FEHBlog called his attention to this FAIR Health analysis of the number telehealth claims which found that the number of telehealth claims jumped nearly 3000% from September 2019 to September 2020. Wow.