Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, the Wall Street Journal reports

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va..) on Tuesday threw in the towel on including his contentious proposal to speed up permitting of energy projects in a must-pass funding bill, clearing the way for the Senate to advance the legislation needed to keep the government open

With the permitting language out, the Senate voted 72 to 23 to advance the stopgap bill, which would extend current government funding levels until Dec. 16 and prevent a partial shutdown this weekend, when the fiscal year ends. The bill now moves to final passage in the Senate and will also need approval in the House, which returns Wednesday, before heading to President Biden’s desk. * * *

The resolution would also reauthorize the Food and Drug Administration’s user-fee agreements for prescription drugs, generic drugs and medical devices, preserving their access to U.S. patients. The legislation has to pass by the end of September to avoid funding gaps for the FDA.

The resolution includes funding for assistance to Ukraine but not for Covid and monkeypox expenses, also requested by the White House.

From the monkeypox front, STAT News reports that responding to the disease is stretching thin the resources of public health clinics serving the LGBTQ+ communities.

Today was filled with surprises.

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services beat OPM to the punch by announcing 2023 Medicare Part B premiums before OPM announced 2023 FEHB and FEDVIP premiums. “The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will be $164.90 for 2023, a decrease of $5.20 from $170.10 in 2022. The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries is $226 in 2023, a decrease of $7 from the annual deductible of $233 in 2022.”
  • BioPharma Dive reports “In a surprise result, Alzheimer’s drug from Eisai and Biogen shows benefit in a large trial; The drug, called lecanemab, met the study’s main and secondary goals, reducing clinical decline [by 27%] over 18 months compared to a placebo.” The announcement’s timing is exquisite because, for 2022, CMS jacked up the Medicare premiums in anticipation of massive costs from what turned out to be a failed Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm, also from Biogen. The popping of the Aduhelm balloon resulted in the Medicare Part B premium and deductible decreases for 2023. FEHB carriers need to keep an eye on this drug’s progress because FEHB plans have large cadres of annuitants with Part A but not Part B due to IRMAA.

From the No Surprises Act front, the American Hospital Association reports

The AHA, American Medical Association and Medical Group Management Association today urged the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services not to include a convening/co-provider framework when implementing the Advanced Explanation of Benefits and insured good faith estimate provisions under the No Surprises Act. The groups urged the agency to instead allow each billing provider to submit their own good faith estimate to the health plan to create an AEOB; and to leverage existing provider and health plan workflows, standards and technologies for claim submission and adjudication to support accurate AEOBs for patients.

“Our organizations appreciate the opportunity to work with CMS on the No Surprises Act’s price transparency provisions implementation, and we are committed to working closely with our members to ensure that they have the information and tools to successfully implement the new requirements,” the letter adds. “Additionally, we remain committed to ensuring that patients have access to complete and accurate out-of-pocket cost information for scheduled care and working with you to develop efficient methods of delivering this information.”

This sensible idea would align the GFI with regular EOBs, thereby facilitating the use of electronic claims technology.

From the benefit design front, Fierce Healthcare reports

Walmart, the largest employer in the U.S., is teaming up with fertility startup Kindbody to offer benefits under its insurance plan that will help its workers expand their families.

Walmart Associates and their dependents who are enrolled in a self-insured Walmart medical plan will now have access to Kindbody’s services including fertility assessments and education, fertility preservation, genetic testing, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI).

Walmart’s employees will have access to more than 30 state-of-the-art Kindbody clinics across the U.S., including a new clinic and IVF lab in Rogers, Arkansas that will provide comprehensive virtual, at-home and in-clinic care. The new facility is expected to open later this year.

The expanded services build on Walmart’s Center of Excellence (COE) model, which provides benefit support and coverage for certain heart, spine and joint surgeries and cancer treatments.

“Providing access to high-quality health care is very important to us, and we’ve heard from our associates that improved access to fertility, surrogacy and adoption support is a priority for them and their families,” said Kim Lupo, senior vice president, Walmart Global Total Rewards in a statement. “Through Kindbody, Walmart associates in every corner of the country will have access to a variety of services to aid in their family-planning journey.

From the studies/research department

  • Beckers Payer Issues informs us, “Alabama, Hawaii, Florida, New York and New Jersey are the states with the highest incidences of low-value care, a new study published in Health Affairs found.”
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced “a new program to better understand the function of every human gene and generate a catalog of the molecular and cellular consequences of inactivating each gene. The Molecular Phenotypes of Null Alleles in Cells (MorPhiC) program, managed by the National Human Genome Research Institute, aims to systematically investigate the function of each gene through multiple phases that will each build upon the work of the previous.” Wow.
  • NIH also tells us, “People with opioid use disorder who received telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic were more likely to stay on their medications and less likely to overdose. The findings support continuing the expanded telehealth access that began during the pandemic.”

From the tidbits department

  • The US Preventive Services Task Force today reaffirmed an A grade recommendation for screening for syphilis infection in asymptomatic, nonpregnant adolescents and adults who are at increased risk for infection. The initial recommendation for this screening was made in 2016.
  • Beckers Health IT explores the significant business benefits of United Healthcare’s recent antitrust litigation victory, which allows UHC’s acquisition of change healthcare to proceed.
  • Healthcare Dive reports

The American Hospital Association, along with a coalition of other healthcare organizations, wants the HHS to postpone an information blocking deadline slated to start Oct. 6, according to a Monday letter sent to Secretary Xavier Becerra.

By that date, providers, health IT developers and others must start sharing all electronic protected health information in a designated record,effectively prohibiting entities from information blocking.

The groups warn they’re not prepared to meet the deadline and are struggling to interpret a clear definition of electronic health information or technical infrastructure to support secure exchanges, according to the release.