Midweek Update

Mark Gongloff in Bloomberg opinion lays out the global COVID-19 situation quite clearly

Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, a sensible observer throughout this disaster, tells Michael R. Strain he sees Covid-19 becoming like the flu, both in its seasonality and fatality rate. He figures Americans will be fully back to work and school by the fall and then face a new Covid wave in the winter. But with widespread vaccinations, it shouldn’t be worse than a bad flu season. Sounds kind of nice. 

But in the developing world, vaccinations are lagging badly, giving the disease too many chances to evolve. The scariness of India’s “delta” variant may be overhyped, but it seems both more transmissible and severe than others, writes Sam Fazeli. Vaccines are effective against it. But it could make Covid more tiger-like again for unvaccinated Americans and Brits, including young people.

So developed countries must get far more serious about vaccinating the rest of the world to stem further deaths, mutations and economic damage. President Joe Biden promising to give the world 500 million Pfizer doses is a great start, but it’s only a start. 

Former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes this Friday’s G-7 meeting is a chance for countries to commit to more such concrete action and spending. The world’s biggest countries must pony up to the best of their ability, as they have with other emergencies. 

Also from the COVID-19 front

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced today that

While many Medicare beneficiaries can receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a retail pharmacy, their physician’s office, or a mass vaccination site, some beneficiaries have great difficulty leaving their homes or face a taxing effort getting around their communities easily to access vaccination in these settings. To better serve this group, Medicare is incentivizing providers and will pay an additional $35 per dose for COVID-19 vaccine administration in a beneficiary’s home, increasing the total payment amount for at-home vaccination from approximately $40 to approximately $75 per vaccine dose. For a two-dose vaccine, this results in a total payment of approximately $150 for the administration of both doses, or approximately $70 more than the current rate.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced that

The U.S. government will procure approximately 1.7 million courses of an investigational antiviral treatment, molnupiravir (MK-4482), for COVID-19 from Merck, pending emergency use authorization (EUA) or approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Molnupiravir (MK-4482) is designed to induce viral genome copying errors to prevent the virus from replicating in the human body, and evidence to date from clinical trials in patients with COVID-19 suggests that molnupiravir may reduce replication of the SAR-CoV-2 virus.

This treatment is being evaluated in an ongoing Phase 3 trial for its potential to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death in non-hospitalized patients who have symptoms for five days or less and are at high risk for severe illness. The trial plans to enroll a total of 1,850 patients globally with final data expected in the fall of 2021.

  • FedSmith offers more details on Blue Cross Federal Employee Program (FEP)’s announcement that it will offer a $50 wellness incentive to FEP members over age 18 who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Notably, “FedSmith has been advised that eligible members who have already been vaccinated for COVID-19 can also take advantage of this program and receive the $50 on their MyBlue Wellness Card. These individuals will also have to submit evidence of their COVID-19 vaccination record.”

From the general healthcare front

  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) released its Health Research Institute’s 2022 projection of medical cost trend.

PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) is projecting a 6.5% medical cost trend in 2022, slightly lower than the 7% medical cost trend in 2021 and slightly higher than it was between 2016 and 2020. Healthcare spending is expected to return to pre-pandemic baselines with some adjustments to account for the pandemic’s persistent effects.

HRI defines medical cost trend as the projected percentage increase in the cost to treat patients from one year to the next, assuming benefits remain the same. Typically, spending data from the prior year is used as an input in the projection. For 2021 and 2022, the medical cost trend is the projected percentage increase over the prior year’s spending, with the effects of the pandemic removed from the prior year’s spending.

  • Not surprisingly, the American Hospital Association sent a letter to UnitedHealthcare stating in pertinent part that

America’s hospitals and health systems are deeply concerned by UnitedHealthcare’s (UHC) recent policy announcement [recently mentioned in the FEHBlog] to allow for the retroactive denial of coverage for emergency-level care in facilities. This policy would put patients’ health and wellbeing in jeopardy, and we urge you to reverse the policy immediately.

The AHA contends that UHC’s policy violates the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that heath plans adjudicate emergency care claims using a prudent layperson standards. The FEHBlog expects that UHC has taken this legal requirement into account. The FEHBlog will continue to follow this matter.

  • mHealth Intelligence reports that “New research out of the University of California Davis finds that telehealth treatments for people with non-urgent mental health needs can be delivered via an asynchronous (store-and-forward) platform just as well as through an audio-visual platform.” This approach could make the delivery of mental healthcare more efficient.
  • According to a company press release, “Datavant, the leader in helping healthcare organizations securely connect their data, and Ciox Health, the leader in clinical data exchange, today announced that they have signed a definitive agreement to merge the two companies in a transaction valued at $7.0 billion. The combined entity, to be named Datavant, will be the nation’s largest health data ecosystem, enabling patients, providers, payers, health data analytics companies, patient-facing applications, government agencies, and life science companies to securely exchange their patient-level data. “The fragmentation of health data is one of the single greatest challenges facing the healthcare system today,” said Pete McCabe, CEO of Ciox Health. “Each of us has many dozens of interactions with the healthcare system over the course of our lives, and that information is retained in siloed databases across disparate institutions. Every informed patient decision and every major analytical question in healthcare requires the ability to pull that information from across the health data ecosystem while protecting patient privacy. We are thrilled to join forces with the Datavant team to connect health data to improve patient outcomes. Together we are well positioned to navigate the technical, operational, legal, and regulatory challenges to doing so, and are committed to acting as a neutral connectivity solution for our many customers and partners.”
  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance answers questions about the use of electronic clinical data in HEDIS reporting. For example,

Q: How does administrative reporting relate to ECDS reporting?

A: Administrative claims are considered a key data source for ECDS reporting if the data can also be made available to a member’s care team. It is one of the four major data categories for ECDS reporting. The ECDS reporting method expands the types of data permitted for HEDIS® reporting by allowing the use of structured data from electronic health records, health information exchanges and clinical registries, and case management systems in addition to administrative claims.

Q: Is NCQA going to phase out the hybrid method of data collection from HEDIS?

A: NCQA is actively assessing the appropriateness of removing the hybrid reporting method from select HEDIS measures as other data sources improve.

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