Weekend update

Thanks to ACK15 for sharing their work on Unsplash.

From Washington, DC,

  • The federal marketplace open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act coverage will open on November 1. This enrollment opportunity closes on December 15.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports, “Insurers spar With Biden Administration over coverage for mental-health care; New requirements aim to reduce out-of-pocket costs for treatment; insurers cite a shortage of mental-health providers.” Per the Journal,
    • “A landmark law, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, helped curtail arbitrary annual limits imposed by insurers on mental-health coverage. Insurers aren’t supposed to put such limits on mental-health visits if they don’t also have similar limits on doctor visits for a chronic condition like asthma. They also aren’t supposed to impose higher copayments and deductibles or more restrictive prior authorization requirements for mental health care.
    • “But the promise of out-of-pocket parity remains far more elusive. The reasons are complex: There is a shortage of mental health clinicians, with an estimated 350 individuals for every one mental-health provider, according to Mental Health America.”
  • The legal issue is that the law requires parity in quantitative treatment limits (QTL), which health plan compliance with the law has created. The regulators, however, created a separate nonquantitative treatment limitation category, which includes network adequacy, prior authorization, and many, many other factors. The regulators in the proposed rule demand that the QTL parity factors be applied to all NQTLs. That is an infeasible, pointless task, in the FEHBlog’s opinion. The regulators need to try again.
  • On a related note, the Washington Post informs us,
    • “Beginning in January, Medicare [Part B], for the first time, will allow marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors to provide services. This cadre of more than 400,000 professionals makes up more than 40 percent of the licensed mental health workforce and is especially critical in rural areas.
    • “Medicare is also adding up to 19 hours a week of intensive outpatient care as a benefit, improving navigation and peer-support services for those with severe mental illness, and expanding mobile crisis services that can treat people in their homes or on the streets.”

From the public health front,

  • NBC News notes,
    • “A new Covid variant has become dominant in the U.S., but relatively few people have thus far gotten the new shots that could offer some protection against it.
    • “The variant, called HV.1, replaced EG.5 as the country’s most prevalent this week, according to data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • “The two variants are genetically similar versions of omicron.
    • “HV.1 makes up around 25% of Covid cases now, up from around 1% at the beginning of August. EG.5, meanwhile, represents nearly 22% of cases, down from 24% at the start of the month.
    • “Both are descendants of the XBB variant. The updated Covid vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which became available last month, target a different XBB descendant, called XBB.1.5.
    • “But disease experts say the new shots should offer cross-protection against the currently dominant strains. Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine, said that although the vaccine is not a “perfect match” for HV.1, “it’s still a good match because it’s still within the same family of variants.”
  • WTOP, a news radio station in Washington DC, reports,
    • “We’ve already been receiving warnings from the CDC that there are RSV cases in the Southeast, which is kind of an indication to us that it’s going to be moving our way soon,” said Dr. Christine Ashburn, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente’s Mid Atlantic Group.
    • “While an increase in RSV cases could be coming soon,  Ashburn says she doesn’t think it’ll be as bad as last year, which saw hospital systems across the region — and the country — overrun with cases in infants. * * *
    • “Ashburn says looking for early signs of this illness in infants and small children is key.
    • “Watch for fast, rapid breathing,” she said. “Sometimes in babies, you’ll even see the area around their chest sinking in as they’re breathing.”
    • “She also said flared nostrils, prolonged fever, and even rhythmic grunting — or any signs of respiratory distress — are signs your baby is struggling to get air.
    • “If you think your child could be suffering from RSV, it’s imperative you make an appointment with your health care provider,” she said.
    • “Dr. Ashburn said she’s also optimistic about a new antibody treatment for RSV, AstraZeneca’s Beyfortus™ (or nirsevimab, generically), which is designed to help prevent and mitigate the illness’s effects.”
  • Vox adds
    • Demand for Beyfortus currently exceeds supply. But as the need for the drug becomes more predictable, and as other monoclonal RSV antibodies in development make it onto the market, we can expect supply to better meet that demand. 
    • It’s more complicated to fix the fragmented US health care system that creates big barriers to Beyfortus access for some kids, [Dr. Sean] O’Leary [a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado’s medical school] said. That system is structured such that many pediatricians have to take huge financial risks to keep Beyfortus in stock. For patients who get care at those practices, access will likely be a little touch-and-go until demand also stabilizes and pediatricians can better forecast how much to stock. * * *
    • One dose costs a doctor’s office nearly $500 — and as a totally novel immunization, its popularity was hard to forecast. “For a medium-sized practice, they might have to spend $250,000 to cover their [privately insured”] patient population,” O’Leary said. “And that is not money they have lying around.”
    • “It’s not that pediatricians and family docs don’t want to do the right thing,” he added — but the financial risk of just keeping Beyfortus on the shelves is a barrier.
  • However, according to a 2018 survey about vaccine financing billing practices at medical practices serving adults
    • Of 242 practices approached, 43% (n=104) completed the survey. Reported payment levels and perceived profit varied by payer type. Only for preferred provider organizations did a plurality of respondents report profiting on adult vaccination services. Over half of respondents reported losing money vaccinating adult Medicaid beneficiaries. One-quarter to one-third of respondents reported not knowing about Medicare Part D payment levels for vaccine purchase and vaccine administration, respectively. Few respondents reported negotiating with manufacturers or insurance plans on vaccine purchase prices or payments for vaccination.
  • FEHBlog note: It’s no wonder that chain pharmacies are the principal distributors of vaccines.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Bloomberg reports,
    • AbbVie Inc. raised its profit outlook for this year and next as demand for newer biologic drugs helped fill the gap left by falling Humira sales, but investors were disappointed as Botox sales missed estimates.
    • “Adjusted earnings will be $11.19 to $11.23 a share this year, up from the earlier range of $10.86 to $11.06, AbbVie said Friday in a statement. Profit for 2024 will be at least $11 a share, up from the earlier view of at least $10.70, the drugmaker said.
    • “However, sales of Botox, Juvaderm and other aesthetics products were $1.24 billion, missing the average sales estimate by about $100 million. Shares of the North Chicago, Illinois-based drugmaker dropped as much as 5.6% at the New York market open, their biggest intraday loss since April.”
  • Reuters points out,
    • “Healthcare companies who profit from treating obese and overweight patients are trying to convince investors that powerful new weight-loss drugs won’t shrink their businesses.
    • “The global market for obesity drugs could reach as much as $100 billion within a decade due to the effectiveness of Novo Nordisk’s (NOVOb.CO) Wegovy and similar medicines.
    • “Such forecasts have prompted a sell-off in a wide range of companies from makers of bariatric surgery devices to companies whose products address the health issues created by excess weight, from diabetes to sleep apnea.”