Friday Factoids

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    From Washington DC

    • The Wall Street Journal reports,
      • “House Republicans chose Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) as their nominee for speaker, but it remained uncertain whether the fiery ally of former President Donald Trump could avoid the fate of Steve Scalise (R., La.), who also won an internal ballot but then failed to win enough broad party support to claim the gavel. * * *
      • “House Republicans will now break for the weekend with a plan to bring a vote on elevating Jordan to the speakership once they get back, giving him a few days to win over his critics.
      • “I think I can unite the conference,” Jordan said, with supporters pointing to his popularity among grass-roots Republicans.”
    • Govexec informs us,
      • “A bipartisan pair of senators on Thursday proposed legislation that would codify federal employees’ use of remote work in federal law, as well as establish stronger reporting and training requirements for telework and authorize the noncompetitive hiring of military and law enforcement spouses into remote work positions.
      • “The Telework Reform Act (S. 3015), introduced by Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., codifies the Office of Personnel Management’s administratively determined definitions of telework and remote work—including the requirement that teleworkers commute to their traditional worksite at least twice per pay period—and institutes a barrage of new reporting requirements for agencies.”
    • The Department of Health and Human Services tells us,
      • “HHS and Pfizer have reached an agreement that extends patient access to Paxlovid, maximizes taxpayer investment, and begins Paxlovid’s transition to the commercial market in November 2023. This agreement builds on HHS and Pfizer’s strong partnership over the last three years that enabled the development, manufacture, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics at a record pace.
      • “HHS has consistently expressed a shared interest in jointly transitioning Paxlovid to the commercial market while ensuring that the United States taxpayer continues to receive fair and reasonable benefit from the HHS procurement of this product, with a focus on ensuring affordable access for beneficiaries in public programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as for those who are uninsured. Per the agreement announced today, HHS and Pfizer will begin preparations for Pfizer to transition Paxlovid to the commercial market in November 2023.”
    • NBC News adds
      • “A consensus has emerged among experts who study and treat long Covid: Paxlovid seems to reduce the risk of lingering symptoms among those eligible to take it.
      • “The idea is intuitive, experts say. Paxlovid prevents the coronavirus from replicating, so researchers think it may also reduce the risk of an infection causing inflammation or organ damage, which in turn can lead to chronic illness.
      • “Clinical observations and a large study published in March support that theory. Among the 282,000 people in the study who were eligible for Paxlovid, the drug was associated with a 26% lower risk of long Covid. 
      • “Research definitely backs up that it helps prevent lingering symptoms — it helps prevent long Covid,” said Ashley Drapeau, director of the Long Covid Clinic at the GW Center for Integrative Medicine.”
    • In preparation for the beginning of the Medicare Open Enrollment period on October 15, 2023, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “released the 2024 Star Ratings for Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) and Medicare Part D to help people with Medicare compare health and prescription drug plans * * *.
    • Fierce Healthcare adds,
      • “Approximately 42% of Medicare Advantage plans that offer prescription drug coverage will have a star rating of four or more in 2024, marking yet another substantial decrease from 51% in 2023 and 68% in 2022.”

    In FEHB open season news,

    • The Federal Times offers advice on how to prepare for making Open Season decisions. Surprisingly, the report does not suggest comparing summaries of benefits and coverage which are a product of the Affordable Care Act.
    • Federal News Network provides a helpful interview with John Hatton, a knowledgeable NARFE executive.

    From the public health service front,

    • The New York Times reports,
      • “Over the last several decades, the rates of new cases of lung cancer have fallen in the United States. There were roughly 65 new cases of lung cancer for every 100,000 people in 1992. By 2019, that number had dropped to about 42.
      • “But for all that progress, a disparity is emerging: Women between the ages of 35 and 54 are being diagnosed with lung cancer at higher rates than men in that same age group, according to a report published Thursday by researchers at the American Cancer Society. The disparity is small — one or two more cases among every 100,000 women in that age range than among men — but it is significant enough that researchers want to know more.
      • “The report adds to a mounting body of evidence that emphasizes the lung cancer risks for women in particular.
    • BioPharma Dive points out,
      • “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved Pfizer’s Velsipity to treat ulcerative colitis, making it the second pill of its type cleared for use in inflammatory bowel disease, the company said. Velsipity enters a market with several oral and injectable drugs which block the immune response that causes the disease, including one in its class, Bristol Myers Squibb’s Zeposia.
      • “Pfizer acquired the medicine through its $6.7 billion buyout of Arena Pharmaceuticals in 2021. The big drugmaker hopes Velisipity, which slows the entry of white blood cells into the bloodstream, can also work in other immune-related conditions like Crohn’s disease, alopecia areata and eczema.
      • Pfizer expects to add $25 billion in revenue by 2030 from new products acquired through biotech buyouts and licensings. The additional revenue will help cushion the company against revenue declines from its COVID-19 products as well as loss of patent protection for older drugs.”
    • Per Fierce Healthcare,
      • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has decided to remove the national coverage determination (NCD) that limits patients’ ability to qualify for new drugs, giving people with Alzheimer’s symptoms a better path to treating the condition.
      • “The policy means that amyloid PET scans will no longer be limited and will give patients a better chance of being prescribed a drug like Leqembi or Eisai, which clears beta amyloid proteins from the brain to slow the advances of Alzheimer’s.”
    • The National Institutes of Health announced,
      • Reducing overall calorie intake may rejuvenate your muscles and activate biological pathways important for good health, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and their colleagues. Decreasing calories without depriving the body of essential vitamins and minerals, known as calorie restriction, has long been known to delay the progression of age-related diseases in animal models. This new study, published in Aging Cell, suggests the same biological mechanisms may also apply to humans.
      • “Researchers analyzed data from participants in the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE), a study supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) that examined whether moderate calorie restriction conveys the same health benefits seen in animal studies. They found that during a two-year span, the goal for participants was to reduce their daily caloric intake by 25%, but the highest the group was able to reach was a 12% reduction. Even so, this slight reduction in calories was enough to activate most of the biological pathways that are important in healthy aging.
      • “A 12% reduction in calorie intake is very modest,” said corresponding author and NIA Scientific Director Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D. “This kind of small reduction in calorie intake is doable and may make a big difference in your health.”
    • Health IT Analytics notes,
      • The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) announced its Data for Better Health initiative, which aims to revolutionize healthcare through the use of social determinants of health (SDOH) data, this week at the organization’s annual conference, AHIMA23.”

    From the U.S. healthcare business front,

    • Mercer Consulting calls our attention to the “Top 10 health, leave benefit compliance and policy issues in 2024.”
    • Per Healthcare Dive,
      • “UnitedHealth Group reported third-quarter earnings on Friday that beat Wall Street expectations as the payer posted a lower-than-feared medical loss ratio. The insurer’s stabilizing medical costs followed an unexpected surge in outpatient utilization for seniors earlier this year that spooked investors.
      • “The payer’s MLR — the share of premiums spent on healthcare costs — was 82.3%. Medical costs were up compared to 81.6% last year but lower than 83.2% in the second quarter. UnitedHealth expects its medical costs to rise in the fourth quarter as patients weather seasonal illnesses and other factors, said UnitedHealth CFO John Rex on a Friday earnings call.
      • “UnitedHealth raised its 2023 adjusted net earnings per share outlook by about 1% to $24.85 to $25, up from its prior projections of $24.70 to $25. The insurer reported $8.5 billion of profit on revenue of $92.4 billion for the third quarter.”
    • The Wall Street Journal reports,
      • “Health system Kaiser Permanente reached a tentative agreement with unions that would raise wages and increase investment in staffing.
      • “The deal, which the sides announced Friday, would increase wages by 21% over four years, the unions and employer said. Now, it must be ratified by the workers before terms take effect.
      • “If the workers go along, the agreement would end a dispute that led to the largest healthcare labor action on record and prevent a second work stoppage at one of the biggest health systems in the U.S.”