Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington DC, Roll Call informs us,

“Negotiators tapped by President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy to hash out a debt limit compromise were racing against the clock Wednesday to get some principles down on paper that could be written into legislative text in time for votes as early as next week.

“Both the president and his chief GOP counterpart on Capitol Hill said they thought a deal was possible. Biden is scheduled to return Sunday from his trip to Japan for the G-7 summit, telling reporters at the White House on Wednesday he’d be back for “final negotiations” and that he’d hold a press conference upon his return.

“I’m confident that we will get the agreement on the budget, that America will not default,” Biden said. “Every leader in the room understands the consequences if we fail to pay our bills.”

The FEHBlog offers less encouraging news from the public health front —

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “For decades, advances in healthcare and safety steadily drove down death rates among American children. In an alarming reversal, rates have now risen to the highest level in nearly 15 years, particularly driven by homicidesdrug overdoses, car accidents and suicides.
    • “The uptick among younger Americans accelerated in 2020. Though Covid-19 itself wasn’t a major cause of death for young people, researchers say social disruption caused by the pandemic exacerbated public-health problems, including worsening anxiety and depression. Greater access to firearms, dangerous driving and more lethal narcotics also helped push up death rates.
    • “Between 2019 and 2020, the overall mortality rate for ages 1 to 19 rose by 10.7%, and increased by an additional 8.3% the following year, according to an analysis of federal death statistics led by Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, published in JAMA in March. That’s the highest increase for two consecutive years in the half-century that the government has publicly tracked such figures, according to Woolf’s analysis. * * *
    • “Many public-health experts say they don’t think the end of the pandemic will reverse the rise in death rates among young people. Rivara predicts these problems will continue due to persistent issues around mental health and the accessibility of guns.
    • “[Dr. Elizabeth] Wolf said demand for child and adolescent psychiatric services still outstrips supply in her Richmond, Va., office. Patients are on months long waiting lists to see a psychiatrist that accepts insurance.”  
  • Digging deeper, the Journal informs us,
    • “Overdose deaths in the U.S. edged higher in 2022, a federal estimate showed, marking only the second time drugs killed more than 100,000 people in a year. 
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday released a provisional count of overdose deaths last year that indicated the toll of the fentanyl crisis leveling off after two years of surges during the Covid-19 pandemic. The CDC counted 109,680 overdose deaths in 2022 compared with 109,179 deaths from a similar 2021 projection. For overdose deaths to hover at such a high level demonstrates how fentanyl’s ubiquity and potency continue to threaten the lives of illicit drug users. 
    • “I’m glad to see us not get worse, but it’s hard to celebrate,” said Dr. Chad Brummett, an anesthesiologist and co-director of the Opioid Research Institute at the University of Michigan.”
  • STAT News adds
    • “More than a quarter of American adults are depressed, a 10% surge from nearly a decade ago, according to the latest Gallup survey.
    • “The data come as the Biden administration tries to overhaul mental health care costs and boost the number of health care workers licensed to practice behavioral health care. Congress in this year’s budget also allotted hundreds of millions of dollars to mental health care grants and programs, many of them trained on children or substance misuse.”
  • On a related note
    • McKinsey Consulting explores how virtual hospitals could offer respites to overwhelmed health systems.
    • Health Affairs Forefront discusses approaches to integrating behavioral health with primary care.
    • Employee Benefits News identifies three coverage categories that can reduce healthcare disparities and lower costs — 1) Colon cancer screening (Hey OPM, the article suggests giving a free day off to employees who undergo screening colonoscopies); 2) Basic dental care, and 3) fertility coverage.

From the Rx coverage front, the New York Times reports,

“Thousands of patients are facing delays in getting treatments for cancer and other life-threatening diseases, with drug shortages in the United States approaching record levels.

“Hospitals are scouring shelves for supplies of a drug that reverses lead poisoning and for a sterile fluid needed to stop the heart for bypass surgery. Some antibiotics are still scarce following the winter flu season when doctors and patients frantically chased medicines for ailments like strep throat. Even children’s Tylenol was hard to find.

“Hundreds of drugs are on the list of medications in short supply in the United States, as officials grapple with an opaque and sometimes interrupted supply chain, quality and financial issues that are leading to manufacturing shutdowns.

“The shortages are so acute that they are commanding the attention of the White House and Congress, which are examining the underlying causes of the faltering generic drug market, which accounts for about 90 percent of domestic prescriptions.”

No bueno.

From the human resources front, HR Dive relates,

  • “Employers cannot automatically revoke reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19, despite the dissolution of the “public health emergency” status for the pandemic, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cautioned employers Monday. “Employers may evaluate accommodations granted during the public health emergency, and, in consultation with the employee, assess whether there continues to be a need for reasonable accommodation based on individualized circumstances,” the agency said. 
  • “The warning came as EEOC announced updates to its technical guidance, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” including additional accommodation examples and tips for preventing COVID-related harassment.
  • “The EEOC highlighted that accommodations include low-cost or free measures, such as uninterrupted work time, a quiet workspace or noise-canceling headphones to facilitate that.”