Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call informs us,
    • “House Republicans are aiming to reach a consensus this week on a stopgap funding measure that would get a vote next week before the current continuing resolution runs out on Nov. 17.
    • “During a Monday night leadership meeting, Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., floated a “laddered CR” that would extend funding for four bills through Dec. 7 and the rest through Jan. 19. Johnson said Tuesday after meeting with the GOP conference that a stopgap bill running into January “with certain stipulations” is also on the table.
    • “The new speaker said he would be revealing his spending plan “in short order” but did not share any details Tuesday morning after House Republicans met to discuss the options. However, Senate Democrats are pushing for a stopgap measure into early December, with Dec. 8 as the preferred end date, according to sources familiar with the consideration.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “The Senate on Tuesday voted 62 to 36 to confirm cancer surgeon Monica M. Bertagnolli as the director of the National Institutes of Health, ensuring that America’s flagship biomedical agency will have a permanent leader following a months-long dispute involving a key senator that threatened to derail her nomination.
    • “Bertagnolli will be the second woman ever to lead the nearly $48 billion agency, which plays a central role in the U.S. scientific agenda by funding grants to hundreds of thousands of researchers, overseeing clinical trials on its Maryland campus and supporting other endeavors to develop drugs and therapeutics.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gave brand new “inconclusive” recommendations to the following services:
    • The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of routine screening performed by primary care clinicians for oral health conditions, including dental caries or periodontal-related disease, in adults.
    • The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of routine screening performed by primary care clinicians for oral health conditions, including dental caries, in children and adolescents aged 5 to 17 years.
  • Federal News Network points out,
    • “In October, 6,924 new [federal and postal retirement] claims were filed, an increase of 156 more than September. OPM also processed fewer retirement claims last month. The agency said it processed 6,098 claims, a  2,781 drop from the previous month.
    • “Initial retirement cases in October completed in less than 60 days on average took 42 days to process, up 2 days from the previous month, while initial cases that were processed in more than 60 days on average took 113 days.  That’s a 9 day improvement from September.
    • “Along with the increase of the claims backlog, the monthly average processing time in days grew from 70 to 73. But there is some good news: The fiscal year-to-date average processing time in days decreased from 77 to 73 days in October.”

In FEHBP news,

  • Per the Federal Times,
    • “Millions of federal employees and their family members will be able to shop for health benefits beginning Monday. 
    • “Open enrollment, spanning for four weeks, could overlap with a government shutdown if Congress fails to extend the current continuing resolution or pass a spending package by next Friday. More than a month into fiscal 2024, the government is still operating on last year’s funding levels after Congress passed a last-minute stopgap bill on Sept. 30.
    • “As the name implies, a shutdown means that many agency offices close and employees whose work is outside of national security, health and “life or death” services are sent home without pay. However, the office that oversees the Federal Employee Health Benefits program and open season is funded by a trust that does not rely on annual appropriations.
    • “There are sufficient amounts in these trust funds to operate them throughout the duration of any lapse in appropriations,” according to the White House’s Office of Personnel Management.
    • “Thus, employees will be able to participate in open season in the event of a shutdown. And coverage will not lapse during this time either, either for medical or dental and vision.”
  • Federal News Network considers, in consultation with Kevin Moss from Consumers’ Checkbook, “six reasons feds why should take a look [at available FEHB plans] during Open Season this year.”

From the public health and research front,

  • The American Hospital Association News tells us,
    • “Over 3,700 babies were born with syphilis in 2022, 32% more than in 2021 and 10 times more than in 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Nov. 7. Almost 9 in 10 cases last year could have been prevented with timely testing and adequate treatment, the agency said, and urged emergency departments, syringe service programs, prisons/jails and maternal and child health programs to use rapid syphilis testing and treatment during pregnancy and other settings to consider immediate treatment if a patient tests positive and faces obstacles to ongoing care.
    • “The congenital syphilis crisis in the United States has skyrocketed at a heartbreaking rate,” said CDC Chief Medical Officer Debra Houry, M.D. “New actions are needed to prevent more family tragedies. We’re calling on healthcare providers, public health systems, and communities to take additional steps to connect mothers and babies with the care they need.” 
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “In a small study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the heart may identify people who will go on to develop Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia among those at-risk for these diseases. The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and led by scientists at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH, may advance efforts to detect the earliest changes that years later lead to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.
    • “In 34 people with Parkinson’s disease risk factors, researchers conducted PET scans of the heart to gain insight into levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. They found that the scans could distinguish individuals who would later be diagnosed with Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia—both are brain diseases caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein that form clumps known as Lewy bodies. The research was conducted at the NIH Clinical Center, currently the only location for F-dopamine PET scanning.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on ways to control sugar consumption
    • People assume they can build up the willpower to completely avoid sweets or restrict them to tiny amounts, but cutting them out increases the chances of overeating later, says Dr. Judson Brewer, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist at Brown University and author of a forthcoming book about eating habits. 
    • “Willpower is more myth than muscle,” says Brewer.
    • “Unsurprisingly, a fully permissive approach to sugar won’t work for kids, says Crystal Karges, a San Diego-based dietitian who works with families. Still, she doesn’t encourage restriction. One strategy she suggests is to offer sweets alongside regular meals in order to normalize the treats. 
    • “Brewer, the neuroscientist, suggests another alternative to restricting yourself: Find your “pleasure plateau.” Rather than cutting out treats entirely, train yourself to pay close attention to how a treat is tasting as you eat it and note when you stop enjoying the taste of it. 
    • “Practicing attentive eating or mindfulness over time can help your body feel the rewards of limiting sugar consumption, which can be anything from having more energy to fewer cravings to weight loss, Brewer says. 
    • “Keeping your home well-stocked with healthy snacks, alongside indulgent treats, is helpful. In her own home, [University of Minnesota professor Dianne] Neumark-Sztainer says roughly 70% of the food options are nutritious and lack added sugar, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables. 
    • “She doesn’t recommend most people count the amount of sugar they eat each day, which can increase anxiety. “Try to look at the whole picture and not to make a big deal about it,” she says.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per STAT News,
    • Sage Therapeutics set the price of Zurzuvae, its recently approved treatment for postpartum depression, at $15,900 for a 14-day course of therapy. The once-daily pill will be launched in December, co-marketed with Biogen. 
    • “Eisai reported sales of 300 million yen ($2 million) for Leqembi, its treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, in the company’s fiscal second quarter. Approximately 800 people were receiving treatment with Leqembi as of Oct. 27, the company said.” 
  • Beckers Payer Issues ranks the major health insurers by third-quarter medical loss ratios.
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “E-prescribing giant Surescripts has acquired ActiveRADAR, a company that aims to find cheaper medication alternatives.
    • “ActiveRADAR, formerly known as RxTE Health, evaluates drugs in 165 therapeutic categories to identify clinical equivalents, then uses health plan-specific data to determine alternative medications that could reduce costs for employers and patients, according to the company.
    • “The deal, announced on Monday, makes ActiveRADAR a wholly owned subsidiary of Surescripts, according to a company spokesperson. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.”
  • Forbes offers “Five considerations for health plan leaders using AI-enabled prior authorization and utilization management.”