Monday Roundup

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From the Omicron front, STAT News reports that

The Omicron variant now accounts for 73% of Covid-19 infections being diagnosed in the United States, and in some parts of the country 90% of infections are caused by viruses from the Omicron strain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said late Monday.

Though it’s been clear from Omicron’s astonishing spread elsewhere that it would rapidly take over from Delta as the dominant variant in this country, the speed is nevertheless startling to witness.

“What we are watching unfold is microbial evolution. This is remarkable,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy. “But this is what these viruses can do.”

The Centers for Disease Control updated its Omicron website today.

This Wall Street Journal article indicates the obtaining an mRNA booster (Moderna or Pfizer) will provide protection against Omicron as well as Delta.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services today updated their “vaccine toolkit designed for issuers of group and individual health insurance and Medicare Advantage health plans.”

From the COVID vaccine mandate litigation front, the American Hospital Association reports that

Over the weekend, and as of this writing, eight groups of challengers to the OSHA vaccine mandate filed emergency applications with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to once again stay the mandate following the Sixth Circuit’s Dec. 17 decision to lift the Fifth Circuit’s previously entered stay.
Today, the Supreme Court asked the federal government for a response to the challengers’ applications by Dec. 30 by 4 p.m. If that sounds familiar, it is because Dec. 30 at 4 p.m. is also the date and time the challengers to the CMS vaccine mandate will be filing their responses to the federal government’s Supreme Court application asking the court to stay the Missouri and Louisiana preliminary injunctions enjoining the CMS mandate. Both sets of applications will be briefed at the same time and the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to rule on the fate of both the CMS and OSHA vaccine mandates at the same time, if it so chooses.

The FEHBlog can find no word about whether the government has appealed to the Supreme Court the 11th Circuit’s decision last Friday to maintain in force the stay on the federal government contractor COVID vaccine mandate. The FEHBlog will keep looking.

From the healthcare business front —

  • Fierce Healthcare informs us that “Amazon has consolidated its healthcare efforts under one central organization and tapped a former Prime executive to run the businesses. The tech giant elevated Neil Lindsay to the new role of senior vice president of health and brand within Amazon’s worldwide consumer business, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Fierce Healthcare.”
  • mHealth Intelligence reports that “Supermarket retailer Hy-Vee, Inc. has launched a telehealth platform that allows individuals to receive treatments and prescriptions through the mail. The new service, RedBox Rx, offers virtual health consultations through a partnership with Reliant Immune Diagnostics’ telehealth platform MDbox.”
  • Healthcare Dive tells us that

Software giant Oracle is acquiring EHR vendor Cerner for $28.3 billion, the two companies announced Monday. The deal is expected to close sometime next year.

It will be Oracle’s largest acquisition to date, with the next highest being the 2005 purchase of PeopleSoft Inc. for $10 billion. The deal further pushes Oracle into the healthcare market, where its presence is mostly in data use efficiency for payers and providers. Oracle’s areas of focus include database software and cloud systems.

Cerner will be a dedicated business unit within Oracle, according to the Monday press release. Voice-enabled user interfaces will be a key focus with a goal to “deliver zero unplanned downtime in the medical environment.”

From the too little too late front, STAT News tells us that

Biogen said Monday that it has reduced the price of its Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm by half and is planning a series of cost-cutting measures across the company next year that aim to save $500 million.

The moves follow a disappointing commercial launch of Aduhelm, as well as anger over the drug’s high price. 

The new, lower price for Aduhelm is $28,200, or roughly half what the drug cost when it launched in June. Insurance companies balked at its original list price, averaging $56,000 a year per patient, while physicians have fervently questioned whether Biogen’s supporting evidence merited the drug’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration, let alone widespread use. * * *

Biogen is announcing the Aduhelm price cut less than one month before Medicare is expected to make an all-important decision on whether and how widely to pay for the drug. A draft ruling is expected in January, followed by a final decision in the spring.

But with Aduhelm delivering paltry revenue, Biogen is also being forced to downsize the company. On Monday, Biogen said it would implement a series of cost-cutting measures in 2022 that are expected to total approximately $500 million. Details will be announced in the first quarter. 

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