Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Fedweek reports that

A Senate [Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs] Committee hearing is set for Thursday April 22 [at 10:15 am] on Kiran Ahuja’s nomination to become OPM director, potentially setting the stage for her confirmation in the near future.

No opposition has emerged to Ahuja, who was OPM’s chief of staff for part of the Obama administration and who most recently led the Biden transition team for the agency. She also has experience as a Justice Department attorney and with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under Obama, among other roles.

The FEHB Carrier Conference’s keynote speaker today was Dr. Garth Graham who spoke on social determinants of health issues. Dr. Graham who is Director and Global Head of Healthcare and Public Health at Google/YouTube published a 2018 study finding that

In this cohort study of 6402 patients from 2 acute myocardial infarction registries, self-identified black patients and white patients differed in several clinical and socioeconomic characteristics. The higher the prevalence of characteristics associated with being a black patient, the higher the 5-year mortality rate, but no differences were observed between black patients and white patients with similar characteristics.

These findings illustrate social determinants of health concerns in a nutshell. MedCity News discusses how healthcare providers and payers are addressing these concerns.

Another speaker Dr. Mark Fendrick from the University of Michigan discussed value based insurance design which focuses on paying more for high value care by identifying and excluding low value care.

The alignment of clinically nuanced, provider- facing and consumer engagement initiatives is a necessary and critical step to improve quality of care, enhance patient experience, and contain cost growth.

That’s easier said than done, but you have to start somewhere as OPM points out in its 2022 call letter.

In COVID-19 tidbits

  • ABC News reports that as of yesterday, “All adults in the United States are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday, with all 50 states and Washington, D.C., meeting the April 19 deadline President Joe Biden had set for opening eligibility.” The minimum age for the Pfizer vaccine is 16 years old. The minimum age for the Moderna and currently paused Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 18 years old.
  • STAT News informs us about the “many key questions about SARS-2 and the disease it causes, Covid-19, [that] continue to bedevil scientists.” “There was surprising diversity in the questions, though many cluster around certain themes, such as the nature of immunity or the impact of viral variants. Knowing what scientists still want to learn shows us how far we’ve come — and how far we have left to go to solve the mysteries of SARS-2 and Covid-19.”

In telehealth tidbits:

  • More news comes out of last week’s United Healthcare first quarter 2021 earnings report. Becker’s Hospital News reports that “UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum has deployed a new telehealth product across all 50 states, company leaders said April 15. The new virtual care product, dubbed Optum Virtual Care, is now live in all 50 states, said OptumHealth CEO Wyatt Decker during UnitedHealth Group’s Q1 2021 earnings call transcript, which was transcribed by the Motley Fool. With the new offering, Optum aims to integrate physical care, virtual care, home care and behavioral care. Optum Virtual Care offers virtual health services but also, if necessary, can connect patients to a bricks-and-mortar facility for more complex care or identifying and triaging both physical and behavioral healthcare needs, Mr. Decker said.
  • Fierce Healthcare reports that “Cigna’s Evernorth has completed its acquisition of virtual care provider MDLive. Cigna first announced the deal in late February, with the expectation it would close in the second quarter. The deal, the insurer said, will enhance the Evernorth subsidiary’s efforts to lower healthcare costs.
  • The upshot of the FEHB Carrier Conference’s discussion of telehealth today was that health plan payments for virtual care should reflect the quality and efficacy of care relative to in-person care. For example, the Insurance Journal reports that

Published in the April issue of Health Affairs, the [University of Michigan] study finds that patients who had an on-demand virtual care visit for an upper respiratory infection in the three years before the pandemic began were slightly more likely to receive additional follow-up care than similar patients who had their first visit in person.

The study compared data from more than 28,700 virtual visits with data from more than 57,400 in-person visits for acute respiratory infections in 2016 through 2019. Those visits, and any follow-up care, were all covered by a large insurer. All the virtual visits were done through a direct-to-consumer telehealth company with which the insurer had partnered.

The authors say it’s important to note that the vast majority of the patients did not require any further care for their infections, which included ear infections, bronchitis, laryngitis, sore throat and pneumonia.

But 10.3% of the patients first seen through a direct-to-consumer telehealth visit ended up having an in-person visit in the next week, compared with 5.9% of those who had their first visit in person. This includes second telemedicine visits or visits to clinics, urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

In other tidbits, Healthcare Dive discusses what to watch as public traded providers and payers report their first quarter 2021 results and CVS Health announced a new joint CVS Health / Aetna benefit design.