Tuesday Tidbits

assorted-color figurine collection bokeh photography
Frankfurt Christmas Market, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
beautifully hand crafted christmas figures and imps, seen at the Frankfurt City Christmas Market in Germany. cmophoto.net on unsplash.com

The Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, includes hundreds of pages of amendments to the Affordable Care Act. The premier change is the No Surprises Act which is principally a patient protection measure. NPR lays out this new law’s requirements which take effect for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2022.

Over the remaining posts of 2020, the FEHBlog will point out other new health plan obligations for 2022 created by this bill, which the President will sign into law within the week. Many of those provisions were drawn from the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee’s S. 1785 from the last Congress. Suffice it to say that 2021 will be very busy year for health plans and their vendors.

Federal News Network discusses how the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021, impacts federal government agencies and their employees. Of note, the bill

  • “silent[ly] endorse[s] the president’s 1% across-the-board federal pay raise for civilian employees in 2021;”
  • “allow[s} those subject to the president’s payroll tax deferral to pay back the deferred taxes — worth 6.2% of their income — throughout the entire year of 2021;”
  • “appropriates to the Office of Personnel Management $36 million more [in the current federal fiscal year] to make up for the revenue it lost when it transferred the governmentwide security clearance business to the Defense Department,” and
  • “contains a provision requiring OPM to establish a new occupational series for artificial intelligence positions, or update an existing series to more accurately account for those kinds of skills needed in the federal government.”

On the COVID-19 front, Kaiser Health News helpfully gathers stories about the variant of the COVID-19 virus that recently cropped up in Britain. Fierce Healthcare adds

Moderna * * * said in a statement provided to other media outlets that it expects “that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the U.K.,” and that it “will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation.”

Pfizer pointed out that when SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, first emerged a year ago, it was clear there was more than one strain of it, and that it was mutating as it spread. SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, and as such, it has “exceptionally high [mutation] rates” because the enzymes it uses for replication are “prone to errors when making new virus copies,” the company said.

“One of the reasons Pfizer and BioNTech chose to utilize a mRNA platform is because of the potential for the flexibility of the technology in comparison to traditional vaccine technologies,” including the ability to change the RNA sequence in the vaccine, should a strain emerge that’s not covered by the current shot,” Pfizer added.

Both COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers urged public calm.

In October 2020, the FEHBlog noted that Walmart preemptively had sued the federal government over its opioid crisis policy shortcomings. Nevertheless the other shoe dropped today when the federal government sued Walmart in Delaware’s federal court.. According to Justice Department’s press release.

In a civil complaint filed today, the Department of Justice has alleged that Walmart Inc. unlawfully dispensed controlled substances from pharmacies it operated across the country and unlawfully distributed controlled substances to those pharmacies throughout the height of the prescription opioid crisis. 

The complaint alleges that this unlawful conduct resulted in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).  The Justice Department seeks civil penalties, which could total in the billions of dollars, and injunctive relief.