Weekend update

The Senate has left town for a two week long State work break while the House of Representatives will continue Committee business and floor voting through Thursday July 1. The House Appropriations Committee will mark up that fiscal year 2022 financial services and general government appropriations bill on Tuesday morning, June 29. The Federal Times reports on that process here.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to wrap up its October 2020 term this week.

Last Friday, President Biden issued an executive order on “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.” Here’s a link to the accompanying fact sheet. The new OPM Director will play a key role in implementing this executive order which makes one specific mention of the FEHB Program:

Sec. 11 (c) To ensure that LGBTQ+ employees (including their beneficiaries and their eligible dependents), as well as LGBTQ+ beneficiaries and LGBTQ+ eligible dependents of all Federal employees, have equitable access to healthcare and health insurance coverage:
(i) the Director of OPM shall take actions to promote equitable healthcare coverage and services for enrolled LGBTQ+ employees (including their beneficiaries and their eligible dependents), LGBTQ+ beneficiaries, and LGBTQ+ eligible dependents, including coverage of comprehensive gender-affirming care, through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program; * * *

The 2022 OPM technical guidance for benefit and rate proposals clearly anticipated this directive.

On the COVID-19 front

  • The Hill informs us that public health experts are wondering when the Food and Drug Administration will give full approval to the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, given the fact that a sizable cadre of unvaccinated folks have expressed concern about emergency use authorization status of those vaccine.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that “In the coronavirus pandemic, a wave of mental-health crises has grown into a tsunami, flooding an already taxed system of care. As the country appears to be emerging from the worst of the Covid-19 crisis, emergency departments say they are overwhelmed by patients who deferred or couldn’t access outpatient treatment, or whose symptoms intensified or went undiagnosed during the lockdowns.”

On the new Alzheimer’s drug / Aduhelm front, STAT News offers

  • a calculator to estimate the cost of Aduhelm to Medicare depending upon utilization. “Estimates of how many seniors on Medicare will actually take Aduhelm, which has a list price of $56,000 [annually], vary wildly. Some experts have guessed at relatively low patient interest, around 500,000 people. Biogen, the company behind the drug, has put its target population far higher, around 1 million to 2 million people. But technically, since the FDA approved the drug for every Alzheimer’s patient, not just those with early-onset disease, the number could skyrocket toward 5.8 million, the number of adults over 65 with Alzheimer’s.”
  • a report that “The top House Democrats on two powerful committees on Friday announced an investigation into the approval and pricing of Biogen’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm. Both Biogen and the Food and Drug Administration will be under the microscope, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said. “We have serious concerns about the steep price of Biogen’s new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm and the process that led to its approval despite questions about the drug’s clinical benefit,” the chairs said in a joint statement.

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