Weekend update

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Happy New Year. Shanah Tovah.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to be in session this week for Committee business and floor voting. Congress is set to go on an election break on September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. Due to the incentive to get on the campaign trail, the FEHBlog expects Congress to wrap up by the end of next weekend a continuing resolution funding the federal government through December 16. The Senate version of the continuing resolution will be released tomorrow as negotiations are ongoing.

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Department of Health and Human Services announced how the federal government supports the Covid treatment market as its funding shifts to the private sector.

From the Rx coverage front, STAT News tells us

Brand-name drugmakers increased wholesale prices by 4.9% in the second quarter this year, up slightly from 4.4% a year ago. But when accounting for inflation, wholesale prices fell by 3.7%. Inflationary pressures are likely to push wholesale prices still higher, STAT writes, citing a new analysis. At the same time, net prices that health plans paid for medicines — after subtracting rebates, discounts, and fees — dropped by 0.8%, but after considering inflation, net prices actually fell 7.9% compared with 3.8% in this year’s first quarter. This was the largest quarterly decline in real terms seen by analysts at SSR Health, which conducted the analysis.

From the litigation front, Health Affairs Forefront provides helpful background on a September 7 decision from a Texas district federal court holding the Appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution bars the federal government from treating U.S Preventive Services Task Force recommendations as binding on health plans. The lawsuit also involves a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”)claim. The Court has reserved a ruling on appropriate remedies. The FEHBlog expects that the Appointments clause challenge will not survive appellate review but who knows what can happen with an RFRA claim. Another remaining issue is the plaintiffs’ challenge to the contraceptive mandate.

From the maternal care front, MedCity News informs us

Racial disparities in maternal health complications grew amid Covid-19, BCBS report finds
Pregnancy-related complications increased 9% between 2018 and 2020 among all women, but the rate of change is even more significant among women of color. The disparities exist regardless of having commercial insurance or Medicaid. * * *

The fact that racial disparities exist regardless of commercial insurance or Medicaid coverage suggests that the issues are due to broader health challenges, including underlying conditions, racial inequities and biases in the healthcare system, according to the report.

To combat these disparities, BCBS listed several actions players in the healthcare industry can take. This includes adding nurse-midwives and birthing centers to provider networks, expanding coverage for postpartum care to one year after giving birth and using value-based contracts for maternal health.

BCBS doesn’t just call on healthcare leaders to act, but the government as well. In the report, the payer urges Congress to pass the Congressional Black Maternal Health Caucus’ Momnibus package, which provides steps to improve health outcomes for pregnant women and mothers of color. BCBS also asks for states to extend Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a full year postpartum, an option provided through the American Rescue Plan Act.

One’s race or ethnicity should not determine how likely you are to suffer from pregnancy-related complications. We must address deep-rooted issues like implicit bias and systemic racism that cause these disparities in the first place,” [Dr. Adam] Myers said in a news release.