From our Nation’s capital, OPM released its Fiscal Year 2024 Congressional Budget Justification document, which is part of the federal budget process. Of interest to the FEHBlog is this OPM goal:
Improve customer experience by making it easier for Federal employees, annuitants, and other eligible persons to make a more informed health insurance plan selection.
By September 30, 2023, complete user-centered design and develop a minimum viable product for a new, state-of-the-art Decision Support Tool that will give eligible individuals the necessary information to compare plan benefits, provider networks, prescription costs, and other health information important to them and their families.
Federal News Network tells us about a related Office of Management and Budget analytical perspective on federal workforce issues.
The Office of Management and Budget, in one of its analytical perspectives supplementing the Biden administration’s 2024 budget request, said federal workers’ pay is “increasingly hamstrung” by statutory requirements “that curb the ability of agencies to reward talent, including for specialized occupations, in a national competitive job environment.”
From the Rx coverage front —
The Wall Street Street Journal reports
Eisai Co.’s new Alzheimer’s disease drug Leqembi will be covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the first major insurer to agree to pay for the drug since its approval by U.S. regulators earlier this year.
Eisai said Monday veterans with the early stages of Alzheimer’s would get the drug covered under criteria set by the VA.
An estimated 167,954 veterans receiving care through the VA have Alzheimer’s dementia, according to government estimates. To qualify for Leqembi, patients must be over 65, have early-stage symptoms and elevated brain amyloid, sticky protein fragments, which the drug is designed to remove.
STAT News describes the VA’s step as “unexpected,” which is an understatement because CMS does not plan to issue a Medicare national coverage decision until mid-year. STAT News adds
The [VA] published a guide on its formulary saying coverage will extend to any veteran who meets specified criteria, including an MRI scan within the previous year, amyloid PET imaging consistent with Alzheimer’s and a staging test indicating mild Alzheimer’s dementia. There is also a long list of criteria that would exclude veterans.
The agency can negotiate prices for drugs, but the price it will pay for Leqembi was not listed and the Eisai spokesperson did not offer a cost. Leqembi has an annual wholesale price of $26,500, although the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review recently said the treatment should cost between $8,900 and $21,500 per year to be considered cost effective.
Under federal law, the VA can bill other health plans (including FEHB but not Medicare) for non-service related care such as this drug. For this reason, this VA action opens the back door to FEHB coverage of Leqembi.
From the end of the public health emergency front —
The Society for Human Resource Management offers its take on how employers should prepare for the end of the PHE, now less than two months away.
The American Hospital Association points out
The Food and Drug Administration will end 22 COVID-19-related policies when the public health emergency ends May 11 and allow 22 to continue for 180 days, including temporary policies for outsourcing facilities compounding certain drugs for hospitalized patients and non-standard personal protective equipment practices for sterile compounders not registered as outsourcing facilities, the agency announced. FDA plans to retain 24 COVID-19-related policies with “appropriate changes” and four whose duration is not tied to the PHE, including its recently revised policy for COVID-19 tests.
From the Rx business front —
BioPharma Dive informs us
Pfizer has agreed to buy Seattle-based Seagen for $43 billion in a blockbuster deal that would unite the pharmaceutical giant with a biotechnology company that pioneered a new type of tumor-killing medicine.
The acquisition is the largest Pfizer has attempted since its 2009 purchase of Wyeth, and is the most sizable in the drug industry by value since AbbVie’s $63 billion buyout of Allergan in 2019.
Acquiring Seagen gives Pfizer control of the top-selling lymphoma medicine Adcetris as well as a pipeline of cancer treatments that’s yielded three new drug approvals in the past three years. Seagen specializes in a type of cancer therapy known as an antibody-drug conjugate, and has steadily improved on the technology since its founding in 1997.
STAT News relates
Sanofi said Monday that it is acquiring Provention Bio, makers of a diabetes treatment, for $2.9 billion.
The Provention drug at the centerpiece of the deal, called TZield, was approved in the U.S. last November as the first and only treatment to prevent the onset of symptomatic Type 1 diabetes. Sanofi was already co-marketing the drug under a prior licensing deal signed between the two companies.
The French pharma giant will now own TZield outright, paying $25 per share to acquire Provention — a 273% premium over Friday’s closing stock price.
In recognition of Patient Safety Awareness Week
- The HHS Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Director Robert O. Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A. explains how AHRQ is sharpening its focus on diagnostic safety.
- Beckers Hospital Review reports
- The pediatric mental health crisis is the most pressing patient safety concern in 2023, the Emergency Care Research Institute said on March 13.
- The ECRI, which conducts independent medical device evaluations, annually compiles scientific literature and patient safety events, concerns reported to or investigated by the organization, and other data sources to create its top 10 list.
- Here are the 10 patient safety concerns for 2023, according to the report:
- 1. The pediatric mental health crisis
- 2. Physical and verbal violence against healthcare staff
- 3. Clinician needs in times of uncertainty surrounding maternal-fetal medicine
- 4. Impact on clinicians expected to work outside their scope of practice and competencies
- 5. Delayed identification and treatment of sepsis
- 6. Consequences of poor care coordination for patients with complex medical conditions
- 7. Risks of not looking beyond the “five rights” to achieve medication safety
- 8. Medication errors resulting from inaccurate patient medication lists
- 9. Accidental administration of neuromuscular blocking agents
- 10. Preventable harm due to omitted care or treatment
- The U.S. Department of Labor announced on March 10
- the launch of a series of online dialogues to gather ideas and other public input on how health policies can support workers’ mental health most effectively.
- The crowdsourcing will focus on four areas of concern for people with mental health conditions, including benefits policies that meet their needs, access to workplace care and supports, the reduction of related social stigmas, disparities faced by people in underserved communities, shortages of behavioral health professionals, and the establishment of state resource systems.
- Part of the department’s ePolicyWorks initiative, the dialogues will remain open until April 3. Input received will inform the next meeting of the Mental Health Matters: National Task Force on Workforce Mental Health Policy
- Healthexec calls attention to FDA recalls of certain eyedrops.
From the value-based care front, Health Payer Intelligence notes
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst) has formed a strategic alliance with Aledade, Inc. (Aledade), offering independent primary care physicians tools and resources to improve healthcare affordability and effectiveness, supporting CareFirst member physicians in achieving value-based care goals.
Through this value-based relationship, CareFirst member physicians can leverage specialists, including onsite business support for physician practices, a technology platform that works with more than 100 different EHRs, and healthcare regulatory and policy expertise.
From the medical debt front, Healthcare Dive reports
- Hospitals are a prime source of medical debt in America that hits underserved populations hardest, despite charity care programs and financial assistance policies, according to a new analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- Of the 15% of U.S. adults with past-due medical debt, almost two-thirds owe some or all of that debt to hospitals, according to research from the Urban Institute. That medical debt disproportionately affects underserved populations, such as low-income individuals and people with disabilities, researchers found.
- While medical debt remains a persistent financial burden in the U.S., a new analysis from the Urban Institute highlights how targeting hospital billing could ameliorate the problem.