Thursday Miscellany and Friday Factoids

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The FEHBlog failed to hit publish last night, so Thursday Miscellany was not emailed Friday morning. To correct the problem, Friday Factoids will follow Thursday September 21’s post. Lo siento

From Washington, DC,

  • The Hill reports
    • “Faced with the House stalemate over a government stopgap funding bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday set up a path for the Senate to move first on a bill to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.  
    • “Schumer filed cloture on a motion to proceed to H.R. 3935, the House-passed bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which could serve as a legislative vehicle to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through the Senate.   * * *
    • “Senators will spend next week debating and voting on the legislation in hopes of sending it to the House by Wednesday or Thursday of next week.”  
  • Roll Call adds
    • “The [new] plan [from the House of Representatives] is to ready more of the chamber’s 11 remaining full-year appropriations bills for votes, focusing on passing those to establish a firm negotiating position for talks with the bigger-spending Senate.”
  • Yesterday, the Affordable Care Act regulators extended the public comment deadline for the proposed mental health parity rule revisions from October 2 to October 17, 2023.
  • Today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted a new announcement on its No Surprises Act website:
    • “Effective September 21, 2023, the Departments have directed certified IDR entities to resume processing all single and bundled disputes already submitted to the IDR portal and assigned to a certified IDR entity.  The ability to initiate new disputes involving air ambulance items or services as well as batched disputes for air ambulance and non-air ambulance items and services is currently unavailable. IDR portal functionalities related to previously initiated batched disputes are also unavailable. Disputing parties should continue to engage in open negotiation according to the required timeframes.”
  • CMS also updated its website with No Surprises Act rules and fact sheets.
  • Also today, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
    • “released the Federal Workforce Competency Initiative (FWCI) General Competencies and Competency Models for a broad set of occupational series. The FWCI is a governmentwide effort led by OPM that updates a selection of general competencies from OPM’s MOSAIC (Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory—Closed-Ended) studies.  
    • “The FWCI competencies provide a common language for 214 occupational series. OPM has published 80 occupation-specific competency models representing work governmentwide that may be used for selection, evaluation, and training activities. The FWCI is a resource for agencies to leverage in their skills-based hiring practices. 
    • “OPM will continue to support agencies and collect critical data that strengthens our workforce and enables us to deliver services for the American people,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja. “This update to the Federal Workforce Competency Initiative will help agencies hire the talent they need and expand opportunities for positions that do not require certain degrees.” 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission posted its new strategic enforcement plan for 2024 through 2028.

From the public health front,

  • The American Medical Association identifies eight things doctors wish their patients knew about the flu shot.
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Poor oral hygiene is associated with an increased risk for myriad health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and early death. The state of our teeth and gums, though, may be vital for our well-being beyond the mouth and body.
    • “Emerging evidence suggests that what goes on in our mouth can affect what goes on in our brain — and may even potentially affect our risk for dementia.
    • “People should really be aware that oral health is really important,” said Anita Visser, professor in geriatric dentistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.”
  • Per a CVS Health press release,
    • “A recent CVS Health®/Harris Poll survey of Americans 18 years and older found that nearly one in five (18%) U.S. adults say they were plagued with suicidal thoughts in the past year.  
    • “Other key findings from the survey include:
      • “More than a third of younger adults aged 18-34 (36%) say they had moments in the past year where they contemplated suicide.
      • “An overwhelming nine in ten (89%) U.S. adults deem suicide prevention efforts a major priority in our society.
      • “However, less than a third (32%) strongly agree they can recognize the warning signs of someone potentially at risk, and only four in ten (43%) are strongly aware of resources that offer support and information on suicide prevention.
      • “Nearly eight in ten (77%) U.S. adults believe healthcare providers have a crucial role in suicide prevention, and there is an opportunity for providers to have more discussions about suicide with patients.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission is suing anesthesia provider U.S. Anesthesia Partners and private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe, alleging the two colluded to consolidate anesthesiology practices in Texas, driving up prices to boost their profits.
    • “Welsh Carson created USAP in 2012 before acquiring over a dozen anesthesia providers over the next decade to create a single dominant provider in the state, regulators allege. The PE firm and USAP also made price-setting agreements with independent anesthesiology practices while sidelining a potential competitor by striking a deal to keep them out of USAP’s market, the FTC said.
    • “The complaint filed Thursday in federal district court says the actions have cost Texans “tens of millions of dollars” more each year in anesthesiology services.”
  • MedCity News offers insights on value-based care from an executive at the HealthPartners HMO in Minnesota. “The commercial market has struggled to adopt value-based care, but HealthPartners has had some success, according to Mark Hansberry, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the company. During a conference, he shared five rules for scaling value-based care, including creating trust and providing real-time data.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “Nearly 1,900 U.S. physicians have applied to become certified in obesity medicine — a record number — according to data from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. 
    • “In October, 1,889 physicians will take the exam to become certified in the specialty area. That’s up from 1,001 exam candidates in 2020, marking an 88.7 percent jump. Physicians’ growing interest in the certification comes amid booming patient demand for GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy. As of August, 2023, sales for Ozempic in the U.S. topped $3 billion. 
    • “More than 6,700 physicians are certified in obesity medicine, a certification that first became available in 2012. For the upcoming exam in October, 38 percent of exam candidates are internal medicine physicians and 30 percent family medicine. To sit for the exam, physicians must have completed a minimum of 60 continuing medical education credits on the topic of obesity.” 
  • The FEHBlog notes that if you build it, they will come.
  • Fierce Healthcare looks inside Walgreens’ pharmacy and primary care model.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Novo Nordisk found bacteria in batches of the main ingredient for a diabetes pill that is a cousin to popular diabetes and weight-loss drugs and was made at a North Carolina plant earlier this year, according to a federal inspection report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
    • “The Food and Drug Administration inspected the Clayton, N.C., plant in July and issued a report saying that Novo Nordisk had failed to investigate the cause thoroughly and that the plant’s microbial controls were deficient.  
    • “The plant makes the drug ingredient semaglutide, which is used in the diabetes pill Rybelsus. Semaglutide is also the main ingredient in Novo Nordisk’s popular injections Ozempic and Wegovy, but the company said the semaglutide for those products isn’t made at the same plant.
    • “The Danish company said the Clayton plant is still running and producing for the market and wouldn’t share details of its interactions with the FDA.
    • “The agency said Thursday that based on Novo’s responses to its inspection findings, the FDA isn’t aware of ongoing compliance issues that raise any concerns about the quality of drugs made at the plant.”

Friday, September 23, 2023 Post

From Washington DC,

  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R Iowa) announced
    • “A bipartisan bill led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to improve access to lifesaving organ donations became law today. The Securing the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Act will improve the management of the U.S. organ donation system by breaking up the contract for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and encouraging participation from competent and transparent contractors. U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are original cosponsors of the legislation.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “The collapse this week of efforts to pass spending bills through the House has ignited a long-shot push to head off a government shutdown, with a bipartisan group of senators floating legislation that provides carrots and sticks to force lawmakers to reach a deal.
    • “The lawmakers’ novel approach would aim to ensure Congress completes its work on all 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government, without the threat of a shutdown that would furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers and leave government contractors unpaid. Major government functions will stop on Oct. 1 at 12:01 a.m. unless Congress acts.
    • “The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. James Lankford (R., Okla.) and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), would set in motion 14-day continuing resolutions, which keep the government funded at the prior year’s levels, while Congress works exclusively on passing appropriations bills.” 
  • Bloomberg points out
    • “The threat of a massive tax is enough to push drugmakers such as Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Novartis AG to comply with the Biden administration’s landmark drug pricing law and negotiate with Medicare.
    • “Companies who manufacture the first 10 drugs selected to negotiate prices with Medicare have until Oct. 1 to officially agree to enter price talks. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, those who refuse to comply with the negotiations must pay a tax starting at 65% of the US sales of a product. The fines would increase by 10% every quarter, with a maximum of 95%.”
  • That’s a lot of leverage.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has “announced it is beginning a rulemaking process to remove medical bills from Americans’ credit reports. The CFPB outlined proposals under consideration that would help families financially recover from medical crises, stop debt collectors from coercing people into paying bills they may not even owe, and ensure that creditors are not relying on data that is often plagued with inaccuracies and mistakes.” In the FEHBlog’s view, this approach is bound to backfire as lenders lose faith in credit reports.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today informs us
    • “Nearly half of U.S. states had an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35% in 2022, according to CDC.
    • “The 22 states that met this mark — a small jump from the 19 states just the year prior — included Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”
  • and
    • The CDC’s advisors on Friday recommended a maternal respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine to protect infants from serious infections.
    • By an 11-1 vote, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that pregnant women receive a single dose of Pfizer’s prefusion F protein (RSVpreF) vaccine (Abrysvo) at 32 to 36 weeks gestation to prevent lower respiratory tract RSV infection in infants.
    • After decades without an option for protecting most infants against the annual respiratory scourge, providers now have two options: the maternal vaccine and the monoclonal antibody nirsevimab (Beyfortus), which the ACIP last month recommended for all infants younger than 8 months born during or entering their first RSV season.
  • STAT News adds, “The recommendation was accepted by CDC Director Mandy Cohen shortly after the conclusion of the panel’s meeting.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “A new cancer drug developed by Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca met one of its two main goals in a breast cancer trial, helping patients who had progressed on earlier-line treatments live longer than those receiving chemotherapy without their disease getting worse, the companies said Friday.
    • “The trial tested the drug, known as datopotamab deruxtecan, in HER2-low or -negative patients whose tumors were sensitive to hormone treatments before their cancer returned. AstraZeneca and Daiichi didn’t release detailed data and stated that the trial hadn’t gone on long enough to tell if patients given their treatment lived longer overall, the trial’s other main goal.
    • “The data suggest the companies’ drug could present a threat to Gilead’s similarly acting medicine Trodelvy, which gained approval in a similar setting earlier this year. HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer is the most common form of the disease.”
  • and
    • “A combination of cancer drugs from Seagen and Merck & Co. has shown early success in a large clinical trial, results that help confirm the pairing’s ability to treat a wide range of bladder cancer patients.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “A clinical trial has launched to test whether early intensive immune modulation for hospitalized COVID-19 patients with relatively mild illness is beneficial. The placebo-controlled study, part of the global clinical trials consortium known as Strategies and Treatments for Respiratory Infections and Viral Emergencies (STRIVE), will enroll approximately 1,500 people at research sites around the world. It is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in partnership with NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).
    • “Immune modulators—treatments for modifying the immune system to better respond to disease or illness—are lifesaving for certain hospitalized COVID-19 patients. However, the optimal timing for administering the medicines to achieve the best outcomes has not been defined.”
  • The Wall Street Journal poses ten questions about experimental drugs that can be made available to seriously ill patients.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare lets us know,
    • “Catholic healthcare giant CommonSpirit Health has reported a $1.4 billion operating loss (-4.1% operating margin) and a net loss of $259 million for its 2023 fiscal year, which ended June 30, according to financial statements released Thursday.
    • “The nonprofit, which currently operates 145 hospitals across 24 states, had logged a $1.3 billion operating loss (-3.8% operating margin) and a $1.8 billion deficit of revenues over expenses during its prior fiscal year.
    • “This time around, the organization enjoyed patient volumes that “reached pre-pandemic levels in many of the health system’s markets” but was dragged by “private and government reimbursements [that] did not keep pace with increased costs of providing care to patients,” CommonSpirit said in a release accompanying the latest financial filings. The most recent year’s operating performance also included a $160 million adverse impact from a fall 2022 cybersecurity breach that affected numerous locations.”
  • Healthcare Dive tells us,
    • The CMS is poised to crack down further on health insurers in the Medicare Advantage program, according to new comments from a top agency official.

    • MA plans — which now cover more than half of Medicare beneficiaries — have faced rising criticism over care denials and access, along with improper coding practices that inflate the program’s cost.

    • “You will see CMS in the future be a much tougher payer and much tougher regulator to ensure that, for every beneficiary and taxpayer who pay more for it, the value is there, the service is there and beneficiaries have full information for the choices that they’re making,” CMS Deputy Administrator Jon Blum said Thursday at the National Association of ACOs’ fall conference in Washington, D.C.