Happy Hannukah

Hanukkah greeting template. Nine candles and wishing. Hand drawn sketch illustration. White, yellow and blue colors

The eight day long Jewish holiday of Hannukah begins tonight. Best wishes to those who are celebrating this holiday.

This evening. STAT News reports

A panel of outside experts on Thursday recommended the Food and Drug Administration issue an emergency use authorization to the Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a vaccine that appeared to be highly efficacious in a Phase 3 clinical trial.

The 17-4 vote came after a long day in which members of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or VRBPAC, discussed a wide range of issues related to the vaccine, including concerns about vaccinating people with severe allergies and 16- and 17-year-olds, as well as issues regarding vaccination during pregnancy or lactation.

Although the FDA does not have to follow the panel’s recommendation, it is widely expected to do so. The rollout of Covid-19 vaccine could then begin in the United States in a matter of days.

The FEHBlog watched on You Tube a good chunk of the discussion preceding the vote. The FEHBlog was surprised that the motion presented to the Committee would extend the emergency use authorization to 16 and 17 year olds. He thought that the the minimum age would be 18 years old, and the committee members who voted against the bill were pediatricians concerned about the 16 to 17 year olds. Another member who was not a physician argued that the emergency use authorization use authorization should be limited to health care workers and nursing home residents, the initial phases approved by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. In any event, the FEHBlog was pleased by the decisive vote. At the close of the virtual committee meeting the Chairman reminded the members that they would be meeting next Thursday December 17 to consider an emergency use authorization for the Modern vaccine.

Speaking of voting, the Senate did not take up today the one week long extension of continuing resolution funding the federal government or the FY 2021 national defense authorization act which the House approved yesterday. The Senate needs to act on the continuing resolution tomorrow. The Wall Street Journal reports that negotiations over another COVID-19 relief bill continue.

A friend of the FEHBlog called to his attention the Department of Health and Human Services website on combatting the COVID-19 virus. It’s quite comprehensive.

In other news today, the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, proposed changes to the Privacy Rule.

The proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule include strengthening individuals’ rights to access their own health information, including electronic information; improving information sharing for care coordination and case management for individuals; facilitating greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises; enhancing flexibilities for disclosures in emergency or threatening circumstances, such as the Opioid and COVID-19 public health emergencies; and reducing administrative burdens on HIPAA covered health care providers and health plans, while continuing to protect individuals’ health information privacy interests.

A friend of the FEHBlog shared this HHS fact sheet on this proposed rule. The proposal has a 60 day comment deadline which will end during the Biden Administration.

HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed new rules to crack down on prior authorization practice by Medicaid, CHIP, and QHP marketplace plans. (Medicare does not permit prior authorization.)

The rule would require payers in Medicaid, CHIP and QHP programs to build application programming interfaces (APIs) to support data exchange and prior authorization. APIs allow two systems, or a payer’s system and a third-party app, to communicate and share data electronically  Payers would be required to implement and maintain these APIs using the Health Level 7 (HL7) Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard. 

Building on that foundational policy, this rule would require impacted payers to implement and maintain a FHIR-based API to exchange patient data as patients move from one payer to another. In this way, patients who would otherwise not have access to their historic health information would be able to bring their information with them when they move from one payer to another, and would not lose that information simply because they changed payers.  

These proposed changes would also allow payers, providers and patients to have access to more information including pending and active prior authorization decisions, potentially allowing for fewer repeat prior authorizations, reducing burden and cost, and ensuring patients have better continuity of care.

The proposals are expected to take effect in January 2023. Good ideas. The pubic comment period ends on January 4, 2021, but the final rule no doubt will be in the hands of the Biden administration. The American Medical Association must be happy though.

In Govexec, benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan discusses FEHBP options for annuitants with primary Medicare A and B coverage. The FEHBlog is always impressed by the creative benefit designs that FEHB plan carriers offer members.