Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, we learn that “U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Fred Upton (R-MI) today introduced their highly anticipated, bipartisan Cures 2.0 legislation that some leading health care organizations are calling a potential “game changer” in how the U.S. conducts biomedical research going forward.” Here’s a link\ to a Fierce Healthcare article on the bill.

From the Food and Drug Administration front —

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that “Pfizer said it asked U.S. health regulators to authorize its oral Covid-19 drug for use in high-risk patients, putting the pill on a path that could make it available for people to take at home by the end of the year.  Clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would give patients and doctors an easy-to-use treatment to keep people out of the hospital early in the course of the disease.” Moreover, “Pfizer Inc. is licensing its experimental Covid-19 antiviral to a global health organization in an effort to make the pill more readily available to people in low- and middle-income countries. Under the licensing agreement, the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool will work with other drugmakers to manufacture the pill for use in 95 countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, Pfizer and the nonprofit said Tuesday.”
  • The agency announced that authorizing “marketing of EaseVRx, a prescription-use immersive virtual reality (VR) system that uses cognitive behavioral therapy and other behavioral methods to help with pain reduction in patients 18 years of age and older with diagnosed chronic lower back pain. “Millions of adults in the United States are living with chronic lower back pain that can affect multiple aspects of their daily life,” said Christopher M. Loftus, M.D., acting director of the Office of Neurological and Physical Medicine Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Pain reduction is a crucial component of living with chronic lower back pain. Today’s authorization offers a treatment option for pain reduction that does not include opioid pain medications when used alongside other treatment methods for chronic lower back pain.”

From the Delta variant vaccine mandate front, Reason informs us that

The ping-pong ball has been drawn, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is the winner. All of the various state, industry, and union challenges to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) mandating large employers to require vaccination or regular testing and masking of employees will be consolidated into a single proceeding in the Sixth Circuit.

Given that challenges had been filed in all twelve regional circuits, and there are over three-dozen parties, this will be one bear of a case. Red states and employer groups initially filed in the more conservative circuits, including the Fifth Circuit which issued a stay on Friday, arguing that OSHA’s action was unlawful. Blue states and progressive groups responded by filing challenges in more liberal circuits, alleging that OSHA’s ETS is too lax. Each side was trying to increase the chances that the case would be consolidated on favorable turf by increasing the number of favorable circuits in the lottery draw.

Today the Labor Department referred the case to the Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation which conducted the lottery. The Sixth Circuit’s case presenting the legality of the OSHA ETS is Kentucky v. OSHA, No 21-4031. Bloomberg adds that “Although the Fifth Circuit temporarily halted the rule before the case was transferred, the Sixth Circuit will have the authority to modify or lift that order.” The case ultimately is expected to be resolved at the Supreme Court.

From the Centers for Disease Control front

  • The CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) has created a website full of “the links to access select information from NCCDPHP on health equity and racial/ethnic disparities.”
  • The CDC also has made available a pre-diabetes risk test for consumer use along with suggestions on how to deal with this condition.

From the federal employee benefits front, Federal News Network informs us

Some same-sex spouses of deceased federal employees and retirees will have another shot at earning survivor benefits from the federal government, the Office of Personnel Management announced this week.

A new notice, scheduled for publication in the Federal Register Wednesday, describes how widows or widowers who meet a specific set of criteria can apply for federal survivor benefits that they were previously ineligible for or, in some cases, denied.

OPM also has created an online “support center” for federal retirees. Check it out.

From the prescription drug pricing front, Healthcare Dive tells us that

Price hikes taken last year by AbbVie on its anti-inflammatory drug Humira increased U.S. healthcare spending by $1.4 billion, an amount unsupported by evidence showing any new health benefits, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review said in a new report.

Humira, which treats rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases, was one of nine high-cost drugs singled out by ICER for large price increases without corresponding data proving greater effectiveness or new clinical uses.

Humira’s net price rose 9.6% in 2020, the watchdog group said in its report. The increase in net price, which reflects what insurers pay after rebates, actually exceeded AbbVie’s hike to the drug’s list price, a reversal of what usually happens during negotiations with drugmakers.

STAT news adds that

The findings, which appear amid ongoing national turmoil over the cost of prescription drugs, mark the third time that ICER has attempted to identify price hikes on big-selling drugs for which no new clinical evidence was offered. The exercise has underscored a debate over the value of medicines and the extent to which price hikes occur beyond medical inflation, even after rebates are counted.

At the same time, however, ICER also noted that overall net prices for prescription drugs in the U.S. market declined in the past several years, and even wholesale price increases have not exceeded the broader inflation rate. This helped restrain health insurance premiums, which benefited patients, although not necessarily in relation to specific medications.

Finally an intriguing telehealth tidbit from mHealth Intelligence

The number of outpatient visits after hospital discharges remained stable during the COVID-19 pandemic but telehealth use for these visits increased, suggesting that telehealth was a substitute for in-person care rather than an addition, a study published in JAMA Health Forum revealed.

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