Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers six steps toward addressing mental health in the workplace.

From Washington, DC,

  • The Foundation provides some basics on the final rule on imposing civil monetary penalties for violations of Medicare reporting requirements imposed on group health plans, including FEHB plans, and others. The new rule, which was released today, takes effect one year from its publication in the Federal Register.
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The Biden administration on Monday has begun the queue of new regions to add to the federal government’s map where federal workers are entitled to higher pay for 2025, approving a recommendation to add Clallam and Jefferson counties in Washington state to the existing Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, locality pay area.
    • “The Office of Personnel Management on Monday published the President’s Pay Agent’s annual report on locality pay, the practice by which the federal government supplements its compensation to employees under the General Schedule to address pay disparities between federal workers and their private sector counterparts in a given region.
    • “In this year’s report, the pay agent, which is made up of OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and acts upon the recommendations of a panel of political appointees and labor leaders, approved one change to the map of locality pay regions in the form of adding Clallam and Jefferson counties to the Seattle-Tacoma locality pay area. But federal employees in line for an additional pay raise from the decision will have to wait; OPM first must craft and publish regulations implementing the pay agent’s decision, which won’t be in place until the 2025 pay raise at the earliest.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today reports,
    • “A multilevel primary care intervention that included automated electronic health record (EHR) reminders and patient outreach/navigation improved timely follow-up of overdue abnormal cancer screening test results, a cluster randomized trial showed.
    • “Among nearly 12,000 patients with an abnormal screening test result for colorectal, cervical, breast, or lung cancer, completion of follow-up testing within 120 days of study enrollment was significantly higher with EHR reminders, patient outreach, and patient navigation (31.4%) and EHR reminders and patient outreach (31.0%) compared with only EHR reminders (22.7%), and usual care (22.9%), reported Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.”
  • The NIH Director’s Blog discusses “Taking a Deep Dive into the Alzheimer’s Brain in Search of Understanding and New Targets.”
  • The Wall Street Journal informs us,
    • Getting tested for Alzheimer’s disease could one day be as easy as checking your eyesight.

    • RetiSpec has developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that it says can analyze results from an eye scanner and detect signs of Alzheimer’s 20 years before symptoms develop. The tool is part of broader work by startups and researchers to harness AI to unlock the mysteries of a disease that afflicts more than seven million Americans. 

  • Per Medscape,
    • “Damaged mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) initiates and spreads Parkinson’s disease (PD) pathology, potentially opening new avenues for early diagnosis, disease monitoring, and drug development.
    • “While defects in mitochondrial functions and in mitochondrial DNA have been implicated in PD in the past, the current study demonstrates “for the first time how damaged mitochondrial DNA can underlie the mechanisms of PD initiation and spread in brain,” lead investigator Shohreh Issazadeh-Navikas, PhD, with the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, told Medscape Medical News. 
    • “This has direct implication for clinical diagnosis” ― if damaged mtDNA can be detected in blood, it could serve as an early biomarker for disease, she explained.
    • “The study was published online October 2 in Molecular Psychiatry.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive shares information from the HLTH conference in Las Vegas.
    • “Microsoft announced a slew of new data and artificial intelligence offerings in the healthcare sector on Tuesday, including new generative AI models meant to help ameliorate administrative burden on clinicians.
    • “Microsoft’s cloud division Azure is releasing new capabilities meant to free up information for clinicians. Those include patient timelines, which use generative AI to extract specific elements from unstructured data — like medication information in an electronic health record — and organize them chronologically to give a full view of a patient’s history. Another functionality, called clinical report simplification, uses generative AI to simplify clinical jargon so patients can better understand medical information.
    • “The launches tie in with Microsoft’s ethos of developing high-impact but low-risk use cases for AI in healthcare, said David Rhew, Microsoft’s global chief medical officer and vice president of healthcare, in an interview at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas, where the offerings were announced.”
  • and
    • “Walgreens plans to launch telehealth visits on its website later this month, as the retail pharmacy giant continues its strategic pivot to healthcare services.
    • “Walgreens Virtual Healthcare will offer on-demand virtual consultations with providers for common medical needs and medication prescriptions.
    • “Walgreens is adding direct-to-consumer virtual care because “our goal is to be the most convenient health and wellness destination, whether you’re physically in our stores or virtually in our stores,” said Tracey Brown, Walgreens’ chief customer officer and president of retail, while debuting the new offering at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas on Monday.”
  • and
    • “Cigna’s health services division Evernorth has acquired the technology and clinical capabilities of asynchronous telehealth provider Bright.md for an undisclosed amount, the company announced on Tuesday at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas.
    • “Evernorth’s telehealth business MDLive plans to start offering asynchronous care using the new capabilities within its virtual urgent care platform in 2024, and eventually expand asynchronous care to chronic disease management and wellness visits.
    • “A spokesperson for the company said it was too early to share a specific timeline for the launch in virtual urgent care and the expansion to more clinical areas. Currently, more than 43 million people have access to MDLive virtual urgent care through their health plans and employers, Cigna says.”
  • Healthcare Finance points out,
    • “Aetna is modifying its commercial policy to no longer cover certain telemedicine services starting on Dec. 1, the company said in a statement.
    • “This is for audio-only and asynchronous text-based visits that were expanded under the public health emergency, the CVS subsidiary said. 
    • “The modifications are in line with the industry as a result of the expected PHE ending in May 2023,” Aetna said. “Telemedicine services that remain covered for Aetna Commercial plan sponsors are actually more extensive than what was provided pre-pandemic because of the access and value these services clearly bring to our members and providers.” 
    • “According to Aetna, currently covered telehealth services include routine care, sick visits, urgent care through walk-in clinics, prescription refills and behavioral health services.”
  • Reuters lets us know,
    • “The number of U.S. employers who cover obesity medications, including Wegovy from Novo Nordisk that belongs to a class of GLP-1 drugs, could nearly double next year, according to a survey. The survey of 502 employers by Accolade, a company that provides healthcare programs for employers, and research firm Savanta said 43% of the employers it polled could cover GLP-1 drugs in 2024 compared to 25% that cover them now.”
    • It will be helpful to the FEHB if other employers join the FEHB in covering these drugs.