Midweek update

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Several prominent Republicans jumped into the race for House speaker and pledged to unite their splintered party, a day after Kevin McCarthy was ousted in a vote orchestrated by hard-line conservatives, setting up a crowded race for the gavel.
    • “House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, announced his candidacy, as did Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a founding member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. A third member, Oklahoma Rep. Kevin Hern, told the Texas delegation that he planned to run as well as he laid the groundwork for a campaign.
    • “The House is effectively paralyzed until it picks a new speaker, raising the stakes for a successful vote next week. Members are hoping to avoid a replay of the 15 rounds of ballots in January to elect McCarthy. Major legislative fights, including Ukraine aid and border security, remain unresolved, and the next speaker will control the floor on both of those hot-button issues as well as a spending showdown with Democrats in mid-November.”
  • The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefits Security created a blog post on mental health parity.
    • “We’re proposing new regulations, committing unprecedented resources to bringing plans into compliance with the law, and reaching out to communities across the United States to ensure that more of America’s workers and families understand their rights and are better able to exercise them, including by contacting us for help when they need it.
    • “We are determined to make sure these workers and beneficiaries get their due. For example, our enforcement program has required plans to address discriminatory practices by:
      • “eliminating blanket pre-authorization requirements for mental health benefits;
      • “ensuring comparable coverage of nutrition counseling for people with eating disorders applied behavioral analysis therapy to treat autism, and medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders, and
      • “eliminating special gatekeepers for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
  • The FEHBlog is on board with mental health parity. However, he would prefer a proposed rule that sets forth clear requirements like the ones stated above rather than a convoluted process for confirming parity status.
  • Federal News Network informs us,
    • “In an effort to expand new personnel vetting procedures well beyond national security positions, agencies will soon have to begin implementing “continuous vetting” requirements for a larger subset of the federal workforce.
    • “The Office of Personnel Management is now directing agencies to ramp up preparations to start continuous vetting (CV) procedures for employees in “non-sensitive public trust positions,” beginning in fiscal 2024.
    • “OPM defines this section of the workforce as positions in both high and moderate risk levels. These include jobs involving, for instance, policymaking, public safety and health, law enforcement, fiduciary responsibilities or “other duties demanding a significant degree of public trust,” OPM said.”

From the FEHB front,

  • Govexec offers a closer look at 2024 FEHB premiums.

From the public health and research front,

  • BioPharma Dive tells us,
    • “Moderna on Wednesday announced what it described as positive data from an early-stage study of its experimental messenger RNA-based combination vaccine for COVID-19 and influenza.
    • “Moderna said the vaccine spurred similar or stronger immune responses against all four influenza strains compared to one of two flu vaccines and to its Spikevax COVID booster in older adults. Most side effects were mild in severity, the company said.
    • “The company plans to begin a Phase 3 study of the vaccine candidate later this year, and is targeting regulatory approval in 2025.”
  • STAT News lets us know
    • “The Hermitage, Pennsylvania resident has vasculitis, a genetic disease that inflames the blood vessels and stops blood from flowing to the legs. She had already lost her left leg below the knee after a sunburn on the tip of her toe got progressively worse. She was determined to keep her right one. * * *
    • “She went to Mehdi Shishehbor, an interventional cardiologist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, for help. Traditional surgical methods had failed to save her left leg, so he offered her an investigational treatment from a company called LimFlow. The device employed an old surgical technique: using a stent to connect the blocked artery to an open vein, thus allowing blood to flow through and heal injuries. Previously, that type of surgery was risky and invasive, as it involved cutting a patient’s leg open. LimFlow allows doctors to perform the surgery percutaneously via a catheter inserted in the bottom of the foot.
    • “The procedure, performed around three years ago, ultimately saved Elford’s leg. LimFlow hopes to save many more after the Food and Drug Administration approved its device last month. * * *
    • “It’s a tool in the fight to end the amputation epidemic, which disproportionately impacts Black patients — though experts cautioned to STAT that this is limited to a small subset of people with PAD and that expanding screenings to catch the disease early is the most important measure. It’s also unclear whether the most vulnerable patients will be able to access this procedure and whether it will be able to help patients retain legs in the long-term.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “Eli Lilly’s diabetes division head, Mike Mason, will retire at the end of 2023 after four years in the position. The company veteran will be replaced by immunology chief Patrik Jonsson in one of several executive changes the Indianapolis-based drugmaker announced Wednesday.
    • “The shake-ups, which also affect leadership in research, corporate affairs and customer service, come as Lilly’s newest diabetes drug, Mounjaro, is set for rapid growth with an expected Food and Drug Administration approval as a weight loss treatment.”
  • Per the American Hospital Association News,
    • “Median operating margins for nonprofit hospitals declined to 0.2% in fiscal year 2022 as labor costs and staffing shortages drive a “labordemic” expected to persist into 2024, according to the latest Fitch Ratings report, adding to a growing body of evidence that describes hospitals’ rocky recovery.”