Midweek Update

President Biden announced today that June will be a month of action to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. The President has set a goal of 70% of adult Americans having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Independence Day. As of today we are 62.9% according to the CDC. The fact sheet on the announcement lists many private-public efforts underway to provide convenient access to and incentivize people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The FEHBlog ran across today a CDC COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy map of our country. The New York Times adds that

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that about a third of unvaccinated adults were unsure whether insurance covered the new vaccine and were concerned they might need to pay for the shot. The concern was especially pronounced among Hispanic and Black survey respondents.

“The conversations we have are like: ‘Yes, I know it’s good. Yes, I want it, but I don’t have insurance,’” said Ilan Shapiro, medical director of AltaMed, a community health network in Southern California that serves a large Hispanic population. “We’re trying to make sure everyone knows it’s free.”

The confusion may represent a lack of information, or skepticism that a bill won’t follow a visit to the doctor. Liz Hamel, director of survey research at Kaiser, said it could reflect people’s experience with the health system: “People may have heard it’s available for free, but not believe it.”

The FEHBlog is concerned that, notwithstanding encouraging press accounts last week, the Food and Drug Administration and Emergent Biosolutions have not yet reached an agreement allowing Emergent to resume manufacturing the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at its Baltimore, MD plant. Kaiser Health News projects no shipments of the one dose vaccine next week (June 7). It seems to the FEHBlog that the one dose vaccine is best suited for pop-up vaccination sites. Hopefully, distribution will resume soon.

Yesterday the FDA issued

safety communication to warn the public to stop using the Lepu Medical Technology SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test Kit and the Leccurate SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Rapid Test Kit (Colloidal Gold Immunochromatography) because the FDA has serious concerns about the performance of the tests and believes there is likely a high risk of false results when using these tests. Neither test has been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA. The FDA has identified this issue as a class I recall, which is the most serious type of recall. The FDA is aware that these unauthorized tests were distributed to pharmacies to be sold for at-home testing by consumers, as well as offered for sale directly to consumers.

Importantly, HealthDay reports that COVID-19 does not pose a threat to the safety of the United States’ blood supply under existing donor screening guidelines, researchers report.

In FEHB news, the National Federation for the Blind announced on May 19 that

Under a consent decree entered in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois last week [May 13], the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has agreed to take steps to ensure that health benefit information is accessible to blind federal employees, retirees, and other plan participants.

The consent decree resolves a lawsuit brought in 2019 by Jamal Mazrui, a retired blind federal employee, and the National Federation of the Blind, America’s civil rights organization of the blind.

Among other steps, OPM will ensure that health-benefit information on opm.gov is accessible and will notify all providers of federal employee health benefits that they must make their own federal employee benefits websites and mobile apps accessible or face potential consequences to their contracts.

For more details, here’s a link to consent decree which advises FEHB plan carriers to expect an OPM carrier letter on the settlement this month. With regard to timing the consent decree states (pp. 8 – 9) that

The carrier letter will utilize a phased-in approach, instructing carriers to either submit a certification that the Carrier FEHB Electronic Content on their websites and mobile applications is conformant with WCAG 2.0 AA or submit work plans pursuant to which (in the absence of any relevant legal exception(s)), logins, secure messaging, Explanations of Benefits, and ID cards would be conformant with WCAG Requirements by January 1, 2023, with a requirement of full conformance of the carrier’s Carrier FEHB Electronic Content with WCAG 2.0 AA on their mobile applications and their websites by January 1, 2024.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) has “announced a refreshed brand and updated mission that better aligns with its work, goals, and commitments. Moving forward, the industry trade association will go simply by AHIP. The organization has also unveiled a new logo, conveying a more modern, more inclusive and even more active AHIP, along with a new tagline: Guiding Greater Health. AHIP believes that health insurance providers play a critical role in making health care better and coverage more affordable and accessible for everyone. Its new mission and brand reflect AHIP’s commitment to innovation, solutions, equity and delivering results for every patient in every community.” Good luck.

In an encouraging medical test development, MedPage Today reports that

A simple blood test, coupled with brief memory tests, showed who will develop Alzheimer’s disease in the future with a high degree of accuracy.

Combining plasma phosphorylated tau (p-tau), APOE genotype, and scores from 10-minute executive function and memory tests predicted Alzheimer’s disease onset within 2 to 6 years among people with memory complaints with 90% certainty, reported Oskar Hansson, MD, PhD, and Sebastian Palmqvist, MD, PhD, both at Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues.

When dementia experts examined the same patients, they were about 71% accurate, the researchers noted in Nature Medicine. * * *

As of now, it’s been tested only on patients who have been examined in memory clinics, he added. “Our hope is that it will also be validated for use in primary healthcare as well as in developing countries with limited resources.”

The Society for Human Resource Management points out four take aways from last week’s EEOC guidance to employers about COVID-19 vaccination inquiries and incentives.

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