Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Hill reports,
    • “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is ramping up the pressure on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to avoid a government shutdown by moving first on a stopgap funding bill that will pass the Senate this week, a few days before the Sept. 30 deadline.     
    • “The Senate’s plan is to send the bill to the House and put pressure on McCarthy to bring it to the floor for a vote it would pass with bipartisan support if given the chance, said senators who are calculating how the endgame will play out.”   
  • The Department of Health and Human Services released a letter from Secretary Xavier Becerra to “the health payer community.” This is the paragraph that grabbed the FEHBlog’s attention:
    • “I also know that, with the end of the public health emergency, the requirement to cover COVID-19 vaccinations furnished by out-of-network providers generally has ended. However, if a plan or issuer does not have a provider in its network who can provide a qualifying coronavirus preventive service, the plan or issuer must cover the item or service when furnished by an out-of-network provider and may not impose cost-sharing with respect to the item or service. We want to underscore the public health importance of reducing barriers to coverage however possible and urge you to consider any and all ways to reduce these barriers. It is critical to help your members navigate your network, particularly to help people understand the differences between your medical and pharmacy network as appropriate.  We know you are already looking for ways to smooth these issues and hope that will continue. In the meantime, we will do our part to urge consumers to seek in-network providers when possible.”
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us about a D.C. conference at which attendees encouraged the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to offer Medicare coverage for the new generation of anti-obesity drugs.
    • “Healthcare organizations are continuing to push the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to rethink its coverage policy for anti-obesity medications.
    • “These medicines are not covered by Medicare Part D, because existing statutory exclusion is in place for these drugs that do not cover “agents when used for anorexia, weight loss or weight gain,” according to a press release. In a joint press conference hosted by health experts at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and the Obesity Action Coalition, advocates laid out a legal basis in support of covering GLP-1s, stating that they can target obesity rather than describing the drugs solely in terms of their effects on weight.
    • “Obesity is a disease that has multiple causes and consequences not limited to weight,” said Michael Kolber, a healthcare partner at Manatt Health, to reporters. “There are many drugs that cause weight loss or weight gain, even if that’s not why they’re being prescribed.”
  • Politico helpfully points out
    • “As the Biden administration pushes to make insurers cover mental health care on par with physical care, there’s a similar push from lawmakers and advocates for electronic health records, Ben reports.
    • “Mental health and substance-use providers weren’t allowed to get billions in federal subsidies for adopting EHRs in the 2009 HITECH Act, which advocates argue has led to significant disparities in uptake between behavioral and physical health providers. While data varies, one recent federal estimate found that 49 percent of psychiatric hospitals have certified electronic health records compared to 96 percent of general and surgical hospitals.
    • “Without the funding, the behavioral health industry didn’t invest in robust behavioral health-specific electronic health systems, said Alisa Chestler, a Baker Donelson attorney with digital health expertise.
    • “Legislation from Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) and Sens. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) would add $20 million in annual grant funding through ONC for behavioral health EHR adoption. Advocates hope it will get into the final SUPPORT Act reauthorization package aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic. The package expires Sept. 30 without Congressional action.
    • “Al Guida, a lobbyist speaking on behalf of the Behavioral Health IT Coalition, said the lack of EHR adoption in behavioral health prevents such care from being integrated into primary care. David Bucciferro, chair of the HIMSS Electronic Health Record Association, added that it hurts care coordination.”

From the public health front,

  • In a surprise to the FEHBlog, MedPage Today informs us
    • “Both nirmatrelvir-ritonavir (Paxlovid) and molnupiravir (Lagevrio) were associated with a reduction in death during the COVID-19 Omicron era, a large retrospective study of electronic health records from the Cleveland Clinic showed.
    • “Compared with not receiving any treatment, nonhospitalized COVID patients who received nirmatrelvir-ritonavir saw an 84% reduction in mortality (adjusted hazard ratio 0.16, 95% CI 0.11-0.23) and those who took molnupiravir saw a 77% reduction in death (adjusted HR 0.23, 95% CI 0.16-0.34), according to Danyu Lin, PhD, of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and colleagues. * * *
    • “We show that these two drugs work very similarly,” Lin told MedPage Today. “The fact that molnupiravir works as well as Paxlovid is an interesting finding, and I would say this finding is not inconsistent with existing literature.”
    • “Indeed, earlier this week, the American College of Physicians (ACP) issued an updated version of its practice guidelines for outpatient management of COVID in the Omicron era and continued to recommend both antivirals equally.” 
    • That’s very good news.
  • Precision Vaccinations discusses the four vaccinations now available to pregnant people in their third trimester.
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Research issued “a Draft Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of sotatercept (Merck & Co) for pulmonary arterial hypertension. This preliminary draft marks the midpoint of ICER’s eight-month process of assessing these treatments, and the findings within this document should not be interpreted to be ICER’s final conclusions. * * * On October 5, 2023, as part of ICER’s Early Insights Webinar Series, ICER’s Chief Medical Officer, David Rind, MD will present the initial findings of this draft report.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “The declines in body weight that patients experience with injectables like semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro) are no exception to the concept that nothing lasts forever.
    • “Eventually, everybody reaches a “plateau,” even on newer GLP-1 receptor agonists. It’s a phase at which the body reaches a new “settling point,” specialists said, and weight, along with other metabolic markers like blood pressure and HBA1c stabilize, or fluctuate only slightly. For some, this may mean a gradual increase in appetite or “food noise”; others may be able to maintain their current state.
    • “Studies have shown that, on average, this plateau happens at a little over a year with semaglutide. Even so, physicians say some patients are surprised to learn that there’s a limit to what these medications can do.
    • “Everyone will plateau, of course. No one on my watch has disappeared. No one has vanished,” Jody Dushay, MD, an endocrinologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told MedPage Today. “It’s alarming to me that people find that surprising, but everyone will reach a plateau and there’s no way to know when you start the medication what that will be, what percent weight loss that will be, and how quickly they will reach it.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “Rite Aid proposed closing nearly a fourth of its 2,100 pharmacies and declaring bankruptcy, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal in a Sept. 22 story. 
    • “The outlet recently reported the pharmacy chain is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as it faces $3.3 billion in debt and numerous lawsuits over its alleged role in the opioid epidemic. Chapter 11 bankruptcies are commonly used to reorganize a company’s structure to continue its business while paying creditors over time. 
    • “The bankruptcy discussions include a plan to close between 400 and 500 of its stores while either having creditors take the remaining pharmacies or selling them. Rite Aid is also considering an auction to sell sections of the business, such as its Elixir pharmacy unit.”
  • Cigna announced,
    • “investing $1 million in national and community-based organizations this fall to address food insecurity among older Americans. Collectively, the funds are expected to provide more than 3 million meals to people in need, increase access to 1.88 million pounds of fresh produce, and save 21 million gallons of water and 2.89 tons of CO2e emissions in responsible food distribution, supporting better health and positively impacting the environment.”
    • “Fifty-six innovative programs spanning 12 states received critical financial support enabling them to reach thousands of seniors who face food insecurity. The organizations range from local Meals on Wheels chapters and food banks to senior- and veteran-focused coalitions and centers. The sponsorships will also fund food- and nutrition-based programs, such as food pantries, mobile food deliveries, and nutritional meal boxes.”  

In a random note, the Washington Post shares opinions on current telephone etiquette which the FEHBlog found illuminating.