Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a pair of measures aimed at improving federal employees’ death benefits and agency customer service more broadly.
    • “The Honoring Civil Servants Killed in the Line of Duty Act (S. 3029); sponsored by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.; would increase the amount of money the family of a federal worker who died of injuries sustained while on the job for the first time since 1997. Death gratuity payments would increase from the current $10,000 to $100,000, while the amount the federal government covers for funeral expenses would increase from $800 to $8,800. * * *
    • “The committee also voted 10-1 to advance legislation aimed at improving public-facing federal agencies’ customer service. The Improving Government Services Act (S. 2866), introduced by Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, would require agencies that provide services to members of the public to develop annual customer service action plans that outline strategies to adopt “human-centered” practices that reduce administrative burdens as well as practices already employed in the private sector like online services and call-back functions at call centers.”
  • The House Budget Committee announced,
    • “Its Health Care Task Force (HCTF) hit the ground running with its inaugural Member roundtable. This roundtable brought together Director Phillip Swagel of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), independent experts, and stakeholders to discuss CBO’s methods for analyzing policies that impact drug development in the United States, including the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
    • “Led by Rep. Michael Burgess M.D. (R-TX), the HCTF Member roundtable examined potential refinements and improvements to CBO’s drug development model to ensure future analysis is capturing additional factors and subsequent real-world effects of policies impacting medical innovation in the United States.
    • Health Care Task Force Chairman Michael Burgess (R-TX) published an op-ed in the Washington Times sharing the Task Force’s goals with the American people ahead of today’s roundtable.
  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “By a 14-0 vote, the [Centers for Disease Control’s] Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the two-dose Jynneos vaccine for mpox prevention in adults at risk for infection, which typically passes through close skin-to-skin contact, including sex. * * *
    • “Groups considered at-risk for mpox include men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender or nonbinary people who in the past 6 months have had a new diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease, multiple sex partners, engaged in sex work, or who had sex in association with a large public event in a region where mpox is circulating. Also people who anticipate exposure to those risks and the partners of these individuals.
    • “The committee also voted 10-4 in favor of recommending the newly approved pentavalent meningococcal vaccine (Penbraya) when both the MenACWY and bivalent MenB vaccines are indicated at the same visit. It’s the first vaccine to provide protection against the five meningococcal serogroups (A, B, C, W, and Y; MenABCWY) responsible for most cases of invasive meningococcal diseases globally.
    • “The pentavalent vaccine gained approval earlier this month for individuals ages 10 to 25 years, based on phase III trial data in previously unvaccinated individuals that showed non-inferior immune responses and comparable safety with MenABCWY when compared with vaccination with the MenACWY (Menveo) and MenB (Trumenba) vaccines.
    • “While meningitis is rare in the U.S., mortality is 10% to 15%. Most cases occur among children younger than 1 year, adolescents and young adults ages 16 to 23, and adults older than 85.”
  • HR Dive reports,
    • “The National Labor Relations Board published Thursday a rule updating the standard for determining when multiple employers may be considered joint employers under the National Labor Relations Act.
    • “NLRB’s new joint employer rule retains much of the same details from its 2022 proposed rule, specifying that an entity may be considered a joint employer of another employer’s employees if the two share or codetermine essential terms and conditions of employment. Per the rule, joint employers may possess or exercise direct or indirect control over one or more essential terms and conditions of employment.
    • “Changes from the proposed rule include an exhaustive list of seven categories of employment terms or conditions that the board will consider essential for the purposes of its joint employer analysis, as well as a description of those it will consider “irrelevant” for such analysis. The final rule also addresses joint employers’ bargaining obligations. The rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register tomorrow; it will take effect 60 days after that.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “Contract negotiations between payers and providers are becoming more public, and the number of communities affected across the country is growing, according to data published Oct. 25 by FTI Consulting.
    • “Notably, disputes reported in the media during the third quarter involved Medicare Advantage plans more than ever previously recorded, standing at 15 total.
    • “In whole numbers, it may not be shocking, but each of these disputes can affect a few thousand to tens of thousands of people, so it’s significant,” Adam Broder, managing director of FTI’s strategic communications segment, told Becker’s. “Medicare Advantage is being scrutinized by federal regulators, and I think these disputes are a mirror of that on the local level with some hospitals feeling the pinch.”
  • The FEHBlog notes the number of Medicare Advantage plan disputes should be hardly surprising as those plan’s premiums, etc., are constrained by CMS.
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Payers’ “increasingly aggressive behavior,” a spike in physician expenses and recruitment are front of mind for executives at Universal Health Services (UHS).
    • “The King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based for-profit system came out slightly ahead of analyst estimates this quarter with a $167 million profit ($2.55 per diluted share).
    • “Much of the success came from a continued rise in patient volumes, particularly on the acute care side of the business where patients are seeking care after delaying procedures during the pandemic, Chief Financial Officer Steve Filton told investors during a Thursday morning earnings call. 
    • “While key to the company’s 6.8% year-over-year increase in net revenues, that recaptured care was largely lower acuity services that held same-facility revenue per adjusted admission to a “somewhat more muted” 0.4% year-over-year increase, Filton explained.
    • “That trend isn’t expected to last much longer. “Over time, we would expect our volumes to moderate a little bit, but also our revenue per adjusted admission to come up,” Filton told investors.” 
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Community Health Systems missed Wall Street expectations for earnings per share in its third quarter earnings this week, despite rising patient admissions and efforts to control labor expenses.
    • “The operator posted a net loss of $91 million in the third quarter, compared to net loss of $42 million from the prior year period. [For-profit CHS, which spans 76 owned or leased affiliate hospitals and more than 1,000 sites of care, has been in the red for the past three quarters.] 
    • “The losses come even as same facility admissions, which rose 3.7% year over year, reached their highest levels since the fourth quarter of 2019, CHS CEO Tim Hingtgen said during a Thursday morning call with investors.”

In judicial news,

  • Reuters reports,
    • “A U.S. appeals court has rejected legal challenges to a $2.67 billion settlement that resolves civil antitrust claims that Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and member plans conspired to drive up health insurance costs.
    • “A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Alabama-based U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor’s August 2022 approval of the settlement, which followed nearly a decade of litigation involving allegations from individual policyholders, businesses and others.
    • “The appeals court’s order on Wednesday spurned challenges to the insurance subscribers’ deal from Home Depot and others. One objector fought the $667 million in legal fees and expenses that are part of the settlement.
    • “Writing for the panel, Chief Circuit Judge William Pryor said Home Depot had not persuaded the court that the settlement would harm the power of antitrust enforcers or others to bring claims against Blue Cross Blue Shield in the future.”