Midweek Update

Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

Govexec reports that at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s business meeting today, the Committee advanced to the Senate floor the nominations of Kiran Ahuja to be OPM Director along party lines and the three nominations of Postal Service Governors with bipartisan margins. The FEHBlog expects these nominations to be brought to the Senate floor next month.

From the COVID-19 front:

  • The Wall Street Journal informs us that “Vaccines appear to be starting to curb new Covid-19 infections in the U.S., a breakthrough that could help people return to more normal activities as infection worries fade, public-health officials say. By Tuesday, 37.3% of U.S. adults were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with about 2.7 million shots each day. * * * With the U.S. recently averaging at least 50,000 new daily cases, the pandemic is far from over. But the U.S. is nearing a nationwide benchmark of having 40% of adults fully vaccinated, which many public-health experts call an important threshold where vaccinations gain an upper hand over the coronavirus, based on the experience from further-along nations such as Israel.”
  • Today the Centers for Disease Control released a report on the mRNA vaccines. Here are the highlights which support the Journal’s report particularly as over 2/3s of Americans over age 65 are fully vaccinated.

Clinical trials suggest high efficacy for COVID-19 vaccines, but evaluation of vaccine effectiveness against severe outcomes in real-world settings and in populations at high risk, including older adults, is needed.

What is added by this report?

In a multistate network of U.S. hospitals during January–March 2021, receipt of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines was 94% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults and 64% effective among partially vaccinated adults aged ≥65 years.

What are the implications for public health practice?

SARS-CoV-2 vaccines significantly reduce the risk for COVID-19–associated hospitalization in older adults and, in turn, might lead to commensurate reductions in post-COVID conditions and deaths.

  • The Wall Street Journal also reports that “Covid-19 tests for people to use to get quick results at home are finally becoming available to buy at pharmacies and retailers. Yet an obstacle might stand in the way of regular use: cost. * * * The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently cleared over-the-counter sales of two of these rapid at-home screening tests, one from Abbott Laboratories and another from Quidel Corp. 

Major pharmacies recently said they plan to sell a two-pack of Abbott’s test for nearly $24, while Walmart says it will charge just under $20. The price for Quidel’s test hasn’t been released, though Quidel has indicated it will be less than $30 for a pair.

“Twenty-five dollars for a Covid test, I think most people would pay that once. But would they pay it every week or every two weeks?” says Zoe McLaren, a health economist and an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “It’s not designed to be a one-time cost.”

Dr. McLaren and medical-testing experts expressed hope that prices would drop if more companies get clearance to sell paper-strip tests. * * * Public-health authorities say they are glad to see the tests in stores, and the tests will be valuable tools for checking symptoms or for specific occasions, such as traveling or visiting relatives.

From the Medicare front

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released yesterday a proposed fiscal year 2022 Medicare Part A inpatient prospective payment system rule. “The proposed increase in operating payment rates for general acute care hospitals paid under the IPPS that successfully participate in the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting (IQR) Program and are meaningful electronic health record (EHR) users is approximately 2.8 percent. This reflects the projected hospital market basket update of 2.5 percent reduced by a 0.2 percentage point productivity adjustment and increased by a 0.5 percentage point adjustment required by legislation.”
  • Healthcare Dive provides its perspective on the proposal which evidently was well received by the hospital industry. “[T]he American Hospital Association applaud[ed] the provision that removes the requirement that hospitals report privately negotiated rates with Medicare Advantage payers on Medicare cost reports and another that repeals market-based weight methodology for determining payments.”

On the FEHB front

  • FedSmith advises that “Federal employees facing a future with children aging out of TRICARE should consider enrolling in an FEHB policy. This is because FEHB plans provide coverage for children in the family option up to age 26. Additionally, the family FEHB premium for the employee, spouse, and children may be less than the cost of the TYA option for one individual. FEHB employees who are eligible for TRICARE and interested in having their children covered in an FEHB plan have to enroll during Open Season. Federal employees with TRICARE also need to enroll in a plan at least a year ahead of retirement for the FEHB plan to be continue in retirement.” Interesting.

On the artificial intelligence front, Forbes lists its top 50 AI companies to watch. Enjoy.