Midweek Update

Tomorrow morning the House Oversight and Reform Committee will mark up its bipartisan Postal Reform Act (H.R. 3076) and the Postal Improvement Act (HR 3077). H.R. 3076 would eliminate the Postal Service’s unique obligation to pre-fund the cost of FEHB coverage for its annuitants. It also would create a subprogram with the FEHB for postal service employees and annuitants that would be fully integrated with Medicare Parts A (hospital), B (professional services) and D (prescription drugs) for annuitants over age 65.

Existing FEHB plans largely receive the financial benefit of Medicare Parts A and B integration, but OPM does not permit FEHB plans to offer Medicare Part D integration known as EGWPs. The FEHBlog expects H.R. 3076’s mandatory use of Part D EGWPs in the subprogram will unleash a gusher of new benefit savings for subprogram plans. Fingers crossed that successful adoption of Part D EGWPs in this subprogram leads OPM to allow carriers to add them in existing FEHB too. However, as currently drafted, the subprogram would launch on January 1, 2023, which is aggressive timing in the FEHBlog’s view.

Today according to the Wall Street Journal

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that 12- to 15-year-olds receive the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, expanding the nation’s vaccination campaign

The CDC took the step after its vaccination advisory panel voted to recommend the shot at a meeting Wednesday after reviewing clinical trial data and other relevant information. The vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, or ACIP, was 14-0, with one voting member recusing. * * *

Covid-19 cases are rising in adolescents, and as older Americans have gotten vaccinated, adolescents make up an increasing proportion of the overall U.S. case count, Sara Oliver, a CDC medical officer, said. Adolescents accounted for 9% of reported cases in April, a larger proportion than cases involving people 65 years and older as more adults have been vaccinated, she said.

According to the CARES Act of 2020, health plans, including FEHB plans, must begin to cover the Pfizer vaccine without member cost sharing for this age group no later than fifteen days from today, May 27, 2021. According to the Journal, “Pfizer anticipates asking the FDA in September to authorize its vaccine’s use in children 2 to 11 years old should ongoing studies prove positive. The company said It plans to make a similar request for children 6 months to 2 years of age in the fourth quarter.”

In Biden Administration news, the American Hospital Association reports that

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra today swore in Andrea Palm as deputy secretary. Confirmed by the Senate yesterday, Palm previously served as secretary-designee of Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services and in several leadership roles at HHS during the Obama-Biden administration.  
“My focus will be on improving the lives and livelihoods of the American people: tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, efficiently and equitably distributing vaccines, expanding access to affordable health care, addressing the epidemic of substance use disorders, and improving mental health care,” she said. 
Biden’s nominee to serve as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, today moved one-step closer to confirmation with the Senate voting 51-48 to discharge the nomination. The Senate could hold a final vote on her confirmation next week.  

STAT News informs us

  • “Telehealth companies, flush with cash after the Covid-19 pandemic spiked both demand and investment, are now embarking on massive lobbying efforts to secure their interests on Capitol Hill. The goal is clear: Lawmakers are weighing whether to permanently loosen regulations that were temporarily eased during the pandemic. Among other changes, providers have been allowed to practice in states where they are not licensed, and Medicare has been permitted to pay providers the same for virtual visits as in-person ones. Lobbyists for the rapidly growing industry are determined to keep those changes intact.” Watch for this result the big infrastructure bill.
  • Amazon’s objectives for its nascent pharmacy business are straightforward: “better selection, better convenience, and better prices,” according to TJ Parker, the vice president of pharmacy at the company.“ It really is the Amazon playbook,” he said during a Wednesday panel at STAT’s Health Tech Summit. * * * “Customers really want more Amazon and less pharmacy and so our work from here is to make pharmacy truly as seamless to us as amazon.com [is] for other categories,” Parker said. Among Amazon’s latest offerings: a new price-comparison tool for medications, which launched Tuesday. Now, when someone searches for a prescription drug on Amazon, Amazon Pharmacy’s price for a drug is listed alongside the cost for Prime members at other pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and Costco.” Watch out GoodRx.

On a related note, the Drug Channels blog assesses how Cigna’s growing pharmacy platform expands its channel power.

Last week, Cigna released its earnings for the first quarter of 2021. I was struck by how quickly Cigna’s Express Scripts PBM business has increased revenues and prescriptions from its retail pharmacy network. Our second chart below highlights this growth. The businesses in Cigna’s Evernorth segment—especially Express Scripts, Ascent Health Services, and InsideRx—are already providing rebate negotiation, network management, and/or a sourcing platform for Prime Therapeutics, Kroger, Humana, GoodRx, and Amazon.”