Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

Yesterday, the FEHBlog welcomed the first day of autumn when the autumnal equinox was at 9:04 pm today. To compound his error, the FEHBlog overlooked that yesterday was World Gratitude Day. The FEHBlog is grateful for his readers.

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports on the state of the continuing resolution to fund the federal government into mid-December.

Congressional leaders and appropriators are expected to spend the weekend haggling over the last details of the text Schumer is aiming to unveil Tuesday [following the Jewish New Year holiday], which he would offer as a substitute amendment.

On Thursday, authorizing committees agreed on a five-year reauthorization of FDA user fee programs, which could potentially be attached to the continuing resolution. Numerous other authorizations, funding “anomalies” and a supplemental aid package for Ukraine and other purposes were still being negotiated. 

The House of Representatives is capable of acting quickly.

From the Omicron and siblings’ front

  • Beckers Hospital Review reports, “Retooled COVID-19 booster shots that target omicron subvariants could be authorized and available for children to receive within a month, the CDC said in a vaccination planning guide released Sept. 20.”

In other public health news, STAT News tells us

As some of us wonder how we’ll know when the coronavirus pandemic is over, a new report from the WHO called “Invisible Numbers” reminds us that noncommunicable diseases take more lives than infectious diseases (and make Covid-19 worse). To wit: Cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, and mental illness cause nearly three-quarters of deaths in the world and kill 41 million people every year. Some of the more striking findings:

* Every year 17 million people under age 70 die of noncommunicable diseases, 86% of whom live in low- or middle-income countries.

* Preventable risk factors include tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and air pollution.

* NCDs cause 74% of all deaths, but interventions known to work could avert at least 39 million NCD deaths by 2030.

In that regard, ABC News reports

Cancer deaths in the United States are continuing to decline, according to a new report from the American Association for Cancer Research.

The report, published Wednesday, found that deaths from cancer have decreased by 2.3% every year between 2016 and 2019.

Overall, there has been a 32% reduction in the U.S. cancer death rate since 1991, which translates into approximately 3.5 million lives being saved, the report said.

Additionally, in 2022, there are more than 18 million cancer survivors living in the U.S., equivalent to 5.4% of the population, the report found. Fifty years earlier, there were just 3 million cancer survivors.

That’s remarkable.

In related medical research news,

Medscape reports

New results from a large prospective trial give a better idea of how a blood test that can detect multiple cancers performs in a “real-life” setting.

“As this technology develops, people must continue with their standard cancer screening, but this is a glimpse of what the future may hold,” commented study investigator Deborah Schrag, MD, MPH, chair, Department of Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

STAT News relates

The National Institutes of Health on Thursday announced more than $600 million in fresh funding for an expansive and ongoing push to unravel the mysteries of the human brain, bankrolling efforts to create a detailed map of the whole brain, and devise new ways to target therapeutics and other molecules to specific brain cell populations.

Scientists across the country are involved, from teams at the Salk Institute to Duke University to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, among other places. If successful, they will help answer fundamental questions about the body’s most complex organ. What are all the cell types in the brain? How are they connected to one another? How do the workings of the brain change during disease, and what can we do about that?

So far, those questions have proven easier to ask than to answer, with researchers gleaning bits of information from individual studies, but the hope is that a broad-based effort will jump-start new revelations.

Hope springs eternal.

From the mental healthcare front —

Health Payer Intelligence explains

CVS Health is making progress toward its behavioral health goal of decreasing the suicide rate among Aetna members by 20 percent by 2025, but progress among adolescent members is lagging, the healthcare organization announced.

“Our members are not immune to the national suicide crisis reported by the CDC. Though we are on track lowering suicide attempts in adults, our goal will not be reached until we can say the same for adolescents,” said Sree Chaguturu, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer at CVS Health.

The organization has been working toward this goal since 2017, its work running parallel to that of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) which had the same goal.

As of March 2022, CVS Health saw suicide attempts among Aetna members drop by 15.7 percent when compared to the company’s 2019 rate.

CVS Health broke down the overall rate by age and found that the reductions were largely driven by decreases among members ages 18 and older. For individuals in this age range, suicide attempts dropped by 17.5 percent in 2021 and dropped another 34.1 percent through March 2022.

Having made progress toward the goal, however, the organization does not intend to slow down.

“We are doubling down on efforts to prevent suicide in teens by identifying those most at-risk and in need of intervention, reaching out to those discharged from the ER after a suicide attempt with resources and supporting parents and loved ones in prioritizing the mental health of their kids,” Chaguturu explained.

Specifically, Aetna saw an upward trend in suicide attempts among its adolescent members.

Members between the ages of 13 and 17 saw increases in suicide attempts. In 2021, the suicide rate among this population grew 43 percent. In the first three months of 2022, the suicide rate jumped another 32 percent.

“We are implementing evidence-based therapies and outreach programs to prevent suicidal ideation before it starts and get adolescents the clinical care they need when they are at risk,” said Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health and mental well-being at CVS Health. “Every suicide attempt prevented, life saved, and mental health resource sought is an important step to reducing death by suicide in the United States.”

Mazaal Tov to CVS Health for those successful and ongoing efforts.

The Society for Human Resources offers guidance on suicide prevention in the workplace.

From the No Surprises Act litigation front, STAT News explains

During a hearing yesterday, the Association of Air Medical Services indicated it was following in the footsteps of AHA and AMA and would likewise dismiss its claims now that the final rules are out. But the AAMS also said it was deliberating whether it would file a different lawsuit in a different court, while attorneys for AMA and AHA backpedaled and said they have no intentions of filing any new lawsuits anywhere.

Today we got some clarity when the Texas Medical Association filed a new lawsuit challenging the revised final independent dispute resolution rule issued in the summer. In addition, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association have announced that they are joining the case as friends of the court in support of the Texas Medical Association. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. And the beat goes on.

From the U.S. healthcare business front, the Wall Street Journal reports

Humana Inc. HUM 0.67%▲ and CVS Health Corp. CVS 0.06%▲ are circling Cano Health Inc., CANO 32.17%▲ according to people familiar with the situation, as healthcare heavyweights scramble to snap up primary-care providers.

The talks are serious and a deal to purchase Cano could be struck in the next several weeks, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, some of the people said. Cano shares, which had been down nearly 7%, turned positive and closed up 32% after The Wall Street Journal reported on the talks with Humana and other unnamed parties, giving the company a market value of roughly $4 billion.

Bloomberg subsequently reported CVS’s interest.

It couldn’t be learned which other potential buyers might be in the mix, but Cano could be Humana’s to lose as the health insurer has a right of first refusal on any sale, part of an agreement that was originally struck in 2019.

Miami-based Cano operates primary-care centers in California, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, according to documentation from the company. It mainly serves Medicare Advantage members, a private-sector alternative to Medicare for seniors.

Beckers Payer Issues tells us

Healthcare startup Curative, best-known for providing COVID-19 testing, is introducing a health plan with no copays or deductibles. 

The company is offering the new plan in the Austin, Texas, area, with plans to expand throughout Texas over the next year, Curative said Sept. 21. The announcement comes as the startup lays off 109 employees from its testing business in California.

In a news release, Fred Turner, co-founder and CEO of Curative, said the startup is on a mission to “drastically remake” the U.S. healthcare system. 

“The only way to achieve true cost transparency is for all in-network services to be covered at $0 cost, so members actually know where they stand and can get the care they need without surprise bills or medical debt,” Mr. Turner said in the release. 

According to the news release, Curative plan members will not owe any copay costs if they complete a baseline visit to evaluate preventive care and health literacy. 

From the Postal Service front, Federal News Network reports

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Wednesday that all Executive and Administrative Schedule (EAS) and Pay Band Non-bargaining unit employees will soon receive a 3% salary increase, “regardless of their current salary maximum.”

DeJoy, in a memo to USPS officers Wednesday, said the pay increase will go into effect Sept. 24 and will reflect on the employees’ Oct. 14 pay statement.