Tuesday Tidbits

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front, OPM released its Open Season press announcement today. Its lede is

Thousands of Enrollees Are Leaving Valuable Savings on the Table During Open Season
Enrollees should use Open Season as a period to conduct a wellness or financial check-up and reassess their health needs and coverage

Among other guidance, OPM recommends

Below we’ve provided sample questions to help you assess how you can utilize Open Season to review your benefits and needs to make an informed decision on coverage:

What are my and/or my family’s expected health care needs for 2023? 

* Questions while reviewing your FEHB plan: Am I expecting a new baby? Do I need surgery? Will my medication need change? Does my plan provide a pharmacy mail order option for prescriptions?

* Questions while reviewing FEDVIP: Do I want coverage for my routine dental care? Will I need a crown or root canal? Does my child need braces? Do I need glasses and/or contact lenses? Am I considering laser vision correction surgery?

* Questions while reviewing FSAFEDS: Do I have out-of-pocket expenses I need to consider, such as deductibles, copays, day care, elder care, or over-the-counter drugs and medicines? Do I have medical expenses that may not be covered by my FEHB plan? Do I plan to send my children (under 13) to in-home care or summer camp? 

OPM does not mention the availability of the FEHB plan’s summary of benefits and coverage (“SBC”), an Affordable Care Act requirement. The FEHBlog recalls visiting friends in Denver who were preparing for their employers’ open season by comparing these short but comprehensive SBCs. For example, the SBCs include a broken-out estimate of the plan’s cost-sharing for having a baby, receiving diabetes treatment for a year, and fixing a broken bone. In addition, the federal government consumer tested the SBCs.

FEHB plans update their SBCs annually in advance of Open Season and post them on their websites, usually on the page with forms and brochures.

The Washington Post has an article on the 2023 Open Season, and Federal News Network offers “a few” other expert views on the 2023 Open Season. Fierce Healthcare adds

Open enrollment is coming soon, and foremost on everybody’s mind as these windows draw nearer is just how much health insurance will cost, according to a survey by Gravie and Wakefield Research.

“Consumers are concerned about the high costs of health coverage impacting their access to healthcare, increasing medical debt and the lack of mental health coverage,” according to a press release from the two companies.

From the Omicron and siblings’ front —

  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us

The CDC revised its “up to date” COVID-19 vaccination term Sept. 30 to include the primary series and the recently authorized omicron-targeting booster.  * * *

The CDC’s website still deems people who are not immunocompromised as “fully vaccinated” two weeks after their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer’s series or two weeks after receiving J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine. 

[However, last Friday’s] decision could update the “fully vaccinated” term that experts have urged regulators to update.

  • HealthLeaders Media reports “Treating COVID-19 patients with Paxlovid significantly reduces hospitalizations and deaths, according to a recent large-scale study by Epic Research.”

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 pre-exposure prophylactic Evusheld has managed to remain relevant for immunocompromised and other patients when many of its therapeutic peers haven’t with each new Omicron subvariant.

But that win streak may slowly come to a close as the FDA told healthcare providers on Monday that one of the emerging subvariants, BA.4.6, renders Evusheld almost completely useless.

Nationally, BA.4.6 currently makes up about 13% of new cases, compared to just 1% of cases at the beginning of July, according to the CDC. But in some regions, like in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, the BA.4.6 subvariant makes up more than 20% of all Covid-19 cases.

  • David Leonhardt writing in the New York Times Morning column discusses “A Public Health Success Story; We revisit the subject of Covid and racial inequities”. Check it out.
  • The NIH Directors Blog considers “Understanding Long-Term COVID-19 Symptoms and Enhancing Recovery.”

From the mental healthcare front, MedPage Today reports

Suicide risk was higher in people recently diagnosed with dementia, especially younger patients, a case-control study in England showed.

Compared with people who didn’t have dementia, suicides rose in people who received a dementia diagnosis in the past 3 months (adjusted OR 2.47, 95% CI 1.49-4.09), according to Danah Alothman, BMBCh, MPH, of the University of Nottingham in England, and colleagues.

For people under age 65, suicide risk within 3 months of diagnosis was 6.69 times (95% CI 1.49-30.12) higher than in patients without dementia, the researchers reported in JAMA Neurology

From the U.S. healthcare business front, Bloomberg reports on giant drug manufacturer Pfizer’s future

Pfizer Inc. emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic as the world’s most visible drugmaker, but its success has left investors impatient for an encore.

The windfall from the pharmaceutical giant’s Covid vaccine almost doubled its revenue in just one year. And now the shot, coupled with Pfizer’s Covid antiviral pill, is poised to make up more than half of its expected $100 billion of sales in 2022. That’s left Pfizer flush with cash — $28 billion it could spend on the kinds of deals that for decades fueled its growth into an American colossus.

The pressure is clearly on for Pfizer to show that the muscle it built during the pandemic won’t atrophy. Big Pharma companies don’t normally double revenue so quickly, and nobody expects that kind of growth to continue. But one thing’s clear: Pfizer can’t go back to the sluggish path it was on for years.

The American Hospital Association informs us

Operating margins for U.S. hospitals and health systems were down 24% in August compared to a year ago, driven in large part by a 7.2% increase in labor expenses, according to data from over 900 hospitals reported yesterday by Kaufman Hall.

“Nine months into a challenging year, margins have fluctuated wildly,” the report notes. “Although most metrics improved from July to August, organizations are still operating with negative margins and well below pre-pandemic levels.”

From the Medicare front, the American Hospital Association adds

Effective Oct. 1 for five years, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will pay average sales price plus 8%, rather than ASP plus 6%, for biosimilars whose average sales price does not exceed the price of the reference biological product. The payment increase was included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. For new biosimilars that qualify, the five-year period will begin on the first day of the calendar quarter for which ASP payment for that biosimilar begins under Medicare Part B.

From the electronic health records front, STAT News reports

Epic Systems has revamped its widely criticized sepsis prediction model in a bid to improve its accuracy and make its alerts more meaningful to clinicians trying to snuff out the deadly condition.

Corporate documents obtained by STAT show that Epic is now recommending that its model be trained on a hospital’s own data before clinical use, a major shift aimed at ensuring its predictions are relevant to the actual patient population a hospital treats. The documents also indicate Epic is changing its definition of sepsis onset to a more commonly accepted standard and reducing its reliance on clinician orders for antibiotics as a way to flag the condition.

The changes follow the publication of a series of investigations by STAT that found an earlier version of Epic’s tool resulted in high rates of false alarms at some hospitals and failed to reliably flag sepsis in advance. One of the investigations found that the model’s use of antibiotics as a prediction variable was particularly problematic, resulting in late alarms to physicians who had already recognized the condition and taken action to treat it.

Fierce Healthcare looks into “How Google, Mayo Clinic and Kaiser Permanente tackle AI bias and thorny data privacy problems.”

From the telehealth front, Healthcare Dive reports

Telehealth utilization varied by region from June to July of 2022 and rose 1.9% nationally, according to Fair Health’s monthly tracker data out Monday. 

In the West, Midwest and South, telehealth utilization rose 5.7%, 2.5% and 4.9%, respectively, from June to July. In the Northeast, telehealth use fell 3.3% during that period.

Mental health conditions remained the top diagnoses nationally, and psychiatrists also delivered more virtual care in some regions.