Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The House Republicans have not settled on a new Speaker yet. Roll Call adds, “The delay in the effort to get 217 Republicans to back anyone for speaker is leading some House members to start reconsidering the idea that Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry is little more than a placeholder.”
  • This morning, the Social Security Administration announced
    • “Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 71 million Americans will increase 3.2 percent in 2024. * * *
    • “The maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $168,600.”
  • Federal News Network explains how the Social Security announcement impacts federal annuitant cost of living adjustments for 2024.
  • This afternoon, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Medicare Part B premiums for 2024 and more, e.g., income-adjusted premiums for Parts B and D.
    • “The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B enrollees will be $174.70 for 2024, an increase of $9.80 from $164.90 in 2023. The annual deductible for all Medicare Part B beneficiaries will be $240 in 2024, an increase of $14 from the annual deductible of $226 in 2023. 
    • “The increase in the 2024 Part B standard premium and deductible is mainly due to projected increases in health care spending and, to a lesser degree, the remedy for the 340B-acquired drug payment policy for the 2018-2022 period under the Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System.
    • “Beginning in 2023, individuals whose full Medicare coverage ended 36 months after a kidney transplant and who do not have certain other types of insurance coverage can elect to continue Part B coverage of immunosuppressive drugs by paying a premium. For 2024, the standard immunosuppressive drug premium is $103.00.”
  • FedSmith shares Medicare basics for federal employees and annuitants.
  • Fierce Healthcare reports on a discussion of Medicare Advantage at the HLTH conference held in Las Vegas this week.

From the public health and research front,

  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force published a draft research plan on prostate cancer screening. The draft plan is open for public comment through November 8, 2023.
  • STAT News informs us,
    • “The brain remains both the body’s most important organ and its least understood. But a draft atlas of the human brain published on Thursday gives scientists important insights into how it works and may pave the way for big advances in disease treatment and diagnosis.
    • This brain map, pieced together by hundreds of researchers from San Diego to Seattle to Stockholm, is essentially a cellular “parts list” of the human brain and a guide to how those pieces are arranged and work together. Scientists say that what they’ve already learned — including a stunning diversity of cell types in the brain — and what they’ll discover in the years to come will improve our understanding of deadly neurological diseases. * * *
    • “The recent findings, reported across 21 studies published in the journals Science, Science Advances, and Science Translational Medicine, offer some early clues. And there’s more to come. These papers are part of an ongoing undertaking researchers openly compare to the Human Genome Project in both its scope and ambition. That project sequenced the DNA of a dozen blood donors from Buffalo, N.Y. The new brain atlas was constructed from the brains of more than 100 people, including deceased donors and surgical patients.”
  • The Wall Street Journal seeks to explain the secret of living to 100 years old.
    • “If you want to live to your 100th birthday, healthy habits can only get you so far.”If you want to live to your 100th birthday, healthy habits can only get you so far.
    • “Research is making clearer the role that genes play in living to very old age. Habits like getting enough sleepexercising and eating a healthy diet can help you stave off disease and live longer, yet when it comes to living beyond 90, genetics start to play a trump card, say researchers who study aging.
    • “Some people have this idea: ‘If I do everything right, diet and exercise, I can live to be 150.’ And that’s really not correct,” says Robert Young, who directs a team of researchers at the nonprofit scientific organization Gerontology Research Group. 
    • “About 25% of your ability to live to 90 is determined by genetics, says Dr. Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at Boston University who leads the New England Centenarian Study, which has followed centenarians and their family members since 1995. By age 100, it’s roughly 50% genetic, he estimates, and by around 106, it’s 75%.” 
  • Beckers Clinical Research points out
    • “Researchers at Boston-based Harvard Medical School and University of Oxford in England have created an AI tool to forecast which COVID-19 strains will grow in dominance, according to an Oct. 11 article in Nature
    • “The tool, called EVEscape, predicts how the virus can evolve through a model of evolutionary sequences alongside biological and structural data, according to an Oct. 11 Harvard news release. EVEscape works to forecast which future COVID-19 strains are most likely to occur. 
    • “Every two weeks, the researchers will release a ranking of COVID-19 variants. 
    • “The rankings are available here.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Reuters tells us,
    • Shares of dialysis service providers fell sharply on Wednesday after Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic showed early signs of success in delaying the progression of kidney disease in diabetes patients.
    • Colorado-based DaVita’s shares closed down about 17% and U.S.-listed shares of German rival Fresenius Medical ended 17.6% lower.
    • Novo’s announcement is the latest sign of disruption caused by the success of GLP-1 drugs, which have hit shares of food companies, providers of bariatric surgery and glucose-monitoring device makers.
    • FEHBlog note: That is wiggly whack.
  • Healthcare Dive informs us
    • “Walgreens announced a 2024 earnings outlook below Wall Street expectations on Thursday, two days after announcing a new chief executive officer who the beleaguered retailer says will help with its strategic pivot to healthcare services.
    • “Along with the release of its fourth-quarter earnings, Walgreens said it expects adjusted earnings per share for its 2024 fiscal year to be between $3.20 to $3.50, below the analyst consensus of $3.71, due to lower profit from COVID-19 testing and vaccines among other factors.
    • “On a call with investors Thursday morning, Walgreens leadership said the Deerfield, Illinois-based retailer is focused on accelerating the profitability of its U.S. Healthcare division, which includes value-based medical group VillageMD. As part of that, Walgreens plans to close 60 underperforming VillageMD clinics next year.”
  • Per Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Nearly two years after Mark Cuban launched a mail-order pharmacy with low-cost medications, the entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” star has secured more than a dozen collaborators. 
    • “In September, Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. penned a deal with Avanlee Care, which runs an app designed to help caregivers for elderly patients. The app, called Ava, will feature an option for its users to order medications from Cost Plus Drugs. Mr. Cuban’s company also teamed up with two fertility health companies to reduce the burden of the pink tax, or inflated prices on women’s products.
    • “Cost Plus Drugs has also expanded its in-person services by signing deals with pharmacies spanning multiple states and grocery chain pharmacies, such as Kroger. The affiliate network aligns Cost Plus Drugs’ pricing with medications at independent pharmacies. 
    • “In an insurance industry shake-up, Blue Shield of California chose Cost Plus Drugs and a few other vendors to take over services historically filled by CVS Caremark, CVS Health’s pharmacy benefit manager. Mark Cuban’s company is now a preferred pharmacy network for the insurer serving 4.8 million members.”  
  • and
    • “St. Louis-based Ascension is focused on rebounding from a $3 billion operating loss (-5.6 percent operating margin) in fiscal year 2023 amid negative outlooks from two ratings agencies. 
    • “Fitch Ratings recently lowered Ascension’s outlook from stable to negative while S&P Global Ratings affirmed its negative outlook for the health system. 
    • “Despite “real progress” to resume a more typical level of operations through significant and durable cost savings initiatives, Ascension saw a new set of operational challenges in FY 2023, Fitch said in a Sept. 26 report. The system hit its 2022 operational goals largely through improved efficiencies and contract labor and productivity initiatives, but additional challenges continued to hinder operations in FY 2023.
    • “One caveat on the $3 billion operating loss is that it included a one-time, non-cash impairment loss of $1.5 billion as the carrying value of certain assets within Ascension’s markets may not be fully recoverable, according to the health system. When normalized to exclude one-time items, Ascension’s operating loss for FY 2023 was $1.39 billion (-4.9 percent margin) compared to a $1.17 billion loss (-4.2 percent margin) in FY 2022.”