Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From the Delta variant front —

  • The Wall Street Journal reports “Federal officials said they would do more to get over-the-counter Covid-19 tests to consumers, after some manufacturers have struggled to meet demand after the Delta surge drove increased demand from individuals, schools and businesses.” Better late, etc. Here’s a link to the HHS press release.
  • The Journal also reports that “Moderna Inc.’s MRNA 7.05% Covid-19 vaccine was generally safe and induced the desired immune responses in children ages 6 to 11 in a clinical trial, according to the company. The Cambridge, Mass., company said Monday that it would submit the results to health regulators in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere in seeking authorization to widen the use of its shots to include this younger age group. The company announced the interim data in a press release, and results haven’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. * * * An FDA decision on the Pfizer vaccine in children [ages 5 to 11] could come soon, following an advisory panel meeting scheduled for Tuesday. 
  • The Centers for Disease Control informs us in a newly issued study on Delta variant cases

What is already known about this topic?

The SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant is highly transmissible; however, whether it causes more severe disease in adults has been uncertain.

What is added by this report?

Analysis of COVID-NET data from 14 states found no significant increases in the proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 patients with severe outcomes during the Delta period. The proportion of hospitalized unvaccinated COVID-19 patients aged 18–49 years significantly increased during the Delta period.

What are the implications for public health practice?

Lower vaccination coverage in adults aged 18–49 years likely contributed to the increase in hospitalized patients during the Delta period. COVID-19 vaccination is critical for all eligible adults, including adults aged <50 years who have relatively low vaccination rates compared with older adults.

From the COVID vaccine mandate front

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new FAQ guidance on “Vaccinations – Title VII and Religious Objections to COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates.”
  • The Senate today confirmed the President’s nominee, Douglas Parker as Assistant Secretary of Labor in charge of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration by a 50 to 41 vote. Govexec adds that “Douglas Parker, most recently chief of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, [will lead] the workplace safety agency that has about 1,800 employees. Parker previously served as deputy assistant secretary for policy in the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration under the Obama administration and was part of the Biden transition team on worker health and safety issues.” OSHA is responsible for the pending vaccination screening program rule applicable to private sector employers with 100 or more employees.

On a related note, Federal News Network tell us that

The federal workforce used just slightly more than half of the funds Congress set aside earlier this year for a special emergency leave program.

The American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed into law in March, created a $570 million emergency paid leave fund that allowed federal employees to take time off for a variety of pandemic-related reasons.

Employees were each eligible for 600 hours, or 15 weeks, of paid leave to quarantine, recover from a personal infection or care for a family member sick with COVID-19. They could also use the emergency paid leave to recover from adverse symptoms after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Office of Personnel Management was responsible for administering the fund on behalf of the executive branch and U.S. Postal Service. OPM formally launched the program at the end of April.

Eligible federal employees had until Sept. 30 to request emergency paid leave, per the sunset date in the American Rescue Plan, or earlier if the funds were exhausted before that date.

From the cost and frequency of healthcare front —

  • The American Hospital Association issued a report about the cost of healthcare over the past decade / the first decade of the Affordable Care Act, particularly the cost of hospital care versus health insurance premiums.
  • Fierce Healthcare reports that “Common elective surgeries are starting to recover volume lost during COVID-19 lockdown measures, according to a new study by Epic Health Research Network. No common elective surgery is back at pre-pandemic volumes, though some are nearing it, the study found.”

From the Rx coverage front —

  • Healthcare Dive informs us that “National employer group the Purchaser Business Group on Health is starting a new company to develop healthcare products for large employers, frustrated by unmet need and rising costs. The venture, called Emsana Health, launched on Monday with its first business unit, a pharmacy benefit manager called EmsanaRx. Emsana will develop products designed with and for PBGH member organizations, which include Walmart, Costco, Microsoft, Intel and Tesla, among others, but products will be available to outside companies as well, a PBGH spokesperson confirmed.”
  • Fierce Healthcare adds that “The Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company PBC also launched its own PBM this week, The Wall Street Journal reported. Cuban’s company aims to sell generic drugs at a transparent, fixed rate, and to achieve this united manufacturing, distribution and pharmacy services under one roof, according to the article. Cuban, a billionaire investor, told the WSJ he agreed to back the venture after receiving a pitch via email from its now-CEO, Alex Oshmyansky M.D., Ph.D. The PBM will begin to bid for clients next year and aims to be fully up and running by 2023, Oshmyansky told WSJ. “The supply chain for distributing pharmaceuticals to patients is so cumbersome and broken,” he told the outlet. “We decided the only way to get our drugs to the people who need them is to build a parallel supply chain where we have control of all the intermediary players and ensure the same level of transparency at every level.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence reports that “Prescription digital therapeutics (PDTs) coverage remains nascent, as the adoption rate is only at 40 percent among the minority of payers who have familiarity with PDTs, according to a survey that Avalere conducted for Pear Therapeutics. A post from the Institute for Patient Access defined PDTs most succinctly. ‘Prescription digital therapeutics are software programs that physicians prescribe as a form of treatment,’ the post explained. ‘The software captures patients’ information about symptoms or progress that can then be shared or remotely accessed by their providers. The technology has been found to help patients adhere to their treatment plans.’”

From the FEHB Open Season front, OPM today released a spreadsheet identifying those FEHB plans for which the 2022 employee contribution for self and one coverage will be more than the 2022 employee contribution for self and family coverage. In all cases the total premium for self and family coverage is more the total premium for self plus one coverage. The employee contributions become upside down due to the vagaries of the government contribution formula. It was a Congressional mistake to add the self plus one tier to FEHB given the relatively small family size in FEHB plans.

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