Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

Democrats may need to make some changes to the tax portion of their budget reconciliation package to earn the support of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, including possible removal of a tax increase on investment fund managers and softening a new minimum tax on the biggest corporations.

The bill could also undergo other tweaks as Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough continues her review of the bill. Changes to the prescription drug pricing provisions are already in the works, but many pieces of the package have yet to go through the formal “Byrd bath” to determine whether the language complies with budget rules.

Despite all the work still underway, several Democratic senators said they anticipated voting on the motion to proceed to the reconciliation package as soon as Thursday and beginning the “vote-a-rama” process, in which senators can offer unlimited amendments to the measure, as soon as this weekend. 

“As soon as possible, but don’t count on going home on the weekend,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, said. “We’re probably going to be here all weekend, so get lots of sleep.

From the OPM front, Federal News Digest tells us

The Office of Personnel Management is getting a second in command.

President Joe Biden nominated Rob Shriver to be the OPM deputy director on Aug. 3. * * *

Shriver is a political appointee already, having been the associate director for employee services since January 2021.

If confirmed by the Senate, Shriver would be OPM’s first deputy director since Michael Rigas, who held the job from March 2018 to January 2021, but worked in other administration positions from March 2020 until January 2021.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

Bloomberg informs us

[Israeli] Hospital workers who got a fourth dose of Pfizer Inc.’s messenger RNA vaccine were far less likely to get Covid than triple-vaccinated peers in a study. 

The findings published Tuesday in the American Medical Association’s open access journal are the latest to confirm the benefits of a second booster against breakthrough infections caused by omicron. The study’s authors pointed to an extra dose as a tool to prevent medical staff shortages and spare health systems in times of strain.  * * *

Doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who got a fourth mRNA shot in January showed a 7% rate of breakthrough infections. Those with three doses — the third having been administered by the end of September — saw an infection rate of 20%.  

The Department of Health and Human Services released two reports on long Covid to support patients and further research.

From the monkeypox front

  • Beckers Hospital Review explains that the Centers for Disease Control have released isolation guidance “as cases near 6,000.”

The New York Times delves into various aspects of the disease, including what people can do the stay safe.

From the U.S. healthcare business front

Healthcare Dive reports

CVS Health raised its full-year guidance in its second quarter earnings report despite a $77 million decrease in adjusted operating income primarily due to declines in its retail segment.

The company’s Aetna subsidiary boosted earnings with reported gains of 922,000 covered lives compared to the second quarter of last year and growth in all product lines contributing to a nearly 11% rise in revenues year over year.

Adjusted operating income was 9.1% lower in its retail division compared to the year prior due to a decrease in coronavirus vaccinations, “continued pharmacy reimbursement pressure” and the lack of an antitrust legal settlement gain that was recorded in the second quarter last year, according to the earnings report. * * *

In its race to add more primary care services, the executive team further teased acquisition plans, with [CVS Health CEO Karen] Lynch adding that the company could take the “next step on this journey” by the end of this year.

“We can’t be in … primary care without M&A. We’ve been very clear about that,” Lynch said.

[Larry] McGrath [CVS Health senior vice president of business development and investor relations] added that the company has been active in evaluating a wide range of assets around the care delivery space. CVS also signaled that it could potentially pursue multiple acquisitions, adding that there was “no one and done asset” in the market.

Biopharma Dive informs us

Gilead’s cell therapy business outperformed Wall Street expectations during the second quarter. The unit — which currently consists of two products, Yescarta and Tecartus, used to treat various blood cancers — generated $368 million in the three-month period, an increase of 68% year over year, earnings numbers released Tuesday show.

Key to that growth was a recent, first-of-its-kind approval from the Food and Drug Administration. In April, the agency cleared Yescarta as a so-called second line therapy for large B-cell lymphoma that resists or returns within a year of initial treatment with chemoimmunotherapy. Before, Yescarta was used only when patients either relapsed after or hadn’t responded to at least two other kinds of therapies.

Fierce Healthcare adds

CivicaScript’s first product is hitting the market.

The public benefits company and sister to Civica Rx is making its first generic available: 250-mg abiraterone acetate tablets. The drug is used in combination with the steroid medication prednisone as a treatment for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts in the body.

CivicaScript will make the drug available to pharmacies at $160 per bottle of 120 tablets, a typical one-month supply. The company suggests pharmacies sell it to patients at no more than $171 for each bottle. This price is about $3,000 less per month than the average cost for people enrolled in Medicare Part D, which is the largest portion of patients with this type of cancer.

Using CivicaScript’s abiraterone will lead to significant savings for patients both in the deductible phase and in the Part D “donut hole,” where they face the highest out-of-pocket costs, the company said in an announcement (PDF). * * *

“We’re proud the first lower-cost generic drug of our partnership with CivicaScript is entering the market,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “This is an important milestone in our shared commitment to help make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of Americans. No one should have to face breaking the bank from buying a life-saving medication.”

From the Affordable Care front, Prof. Katie Keith takes a deep dive into last week’s ACA FAQ 54 on mandated contraceptive coverage under that law.

From the research front —

Benefits Pro points to

A survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. healthcare consumers by PYMNTS.com offered more proof that this remains a barrier to consumer trust of the healthcareThe survey revealed that many consumers continue to under budget for their health care –probably because most have little idea about the cost of various procedures and appointments. * * *

For instance, nearly 20% of those surveyed said they “experienced financial distress due to health care costs because they spent more than they could afford in the past 12 months.” A quarter of respondents who said their advance notice cost estimates were accurate said they still spent more than they could really afford. Not surprisingly, 43% of those who received inaccurate cost estimates said they spent more than they could afford. system. PYMNTS.com, a provider of data, news and insights on innovation in payments and the payment-related, conducted the survey to learn how many respondents fell into the unexpectedly high and inaccurate estimate category, and what the outcome for them was in the aftermath. * * *

Medscape reports

Regular exercise, regardless of intensity level, appears to slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), new research from the largest study of its kind suggests.

Topline results from the EXERT trial showed patients with MCI who participated regularly in either aerobic exercise or stretching/balance/range-of-motion exercises maintained stable global cognitive function over 12 months of follow-up — with no differences between the two types of exercise.

“We’re excited about these findings, because these types of exercises that we’re seeing can protect against cognitive decline are accessible to everyone and therefore scalable to the public,” study investigator Laura Baker, PhD, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said at a press briefing.

The topline results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2022.

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