Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call reports,
    • “Republicans yanked another fiscal 2024 spending bill before a final vote scheduled for Thursday morning, leaving them empty-handed for the week and stuck at seven out of 12 annual appropriations bills passed.
    • “The $25 billion Financial Services bill [which funds OPM and the FEHBP] ran into trouble with GOP moderates over language that would block the District of Columbia from implementing its 2014 law preventing employment discrimination based on reproductive health decisions, including taking birth control or having an abortion.
    • “The simple analogy is they didn’t have the votes. Shocking,” said Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., who backs the bill. “Monday, we’ll see if we can have a consensus over the weekend for those people that have a problem with what I think is a very straightforward bill.”
    • “Another issue which contributed to the measure’s demise Thursday, according to a source familiar with the decision, was conservative opposition to allowing the General Services Administration to implement its plan to build a new FBI headquarters in Greenbelt, Md.”
  • As Rosanna Rosannadana would say, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management informs us,
    • Employees can funnel an extra $150 into their health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) next year, the IRS announced Nov. 9.
    • “The annual contribution limit is rising to $3,200 in 2024, up from $3,050 in 2023. The hike is still significant, although it’s a smaller boost than the $200 hike seen this year.
    • “If the employer’s plan permits the carryover of unused health FSA amounts, employees can carry over up to $640 in 2024. That’s up $30 over the 2023 carryover amount, which is $610.”
  • Here’s a link to the IRS’s complete list of 2024 inflation adjustments to tax items.
  • STAT News tells us that the Ground Ambulance Committee created by the No Surprises Act wants to cap the cost-sharing for people who use ground ambulances at $100 per trip. The catch is that they have difficulty deciding how much health plans should pay for ground ambulance services.
    • “Some experts say a Medicare benchmark is the simplest administrative solution. Medicare’s payment system for ambulances is outdated, but it’s based on some measure of costs. But that shift would result in a lot of upheaval, especially for ambulance providers that currently are able to bill and collect large sums of money from the biggest insurance companies. * * *
    • “Early next year, the federal ambulance committee will deliver its recommendations to Congress. Key lawmakers have not shown a lot of interest in taking up surprise billing again because it requires a lot of political capital to confront the ambulance and insurance industries.”

In FEHBP news,

  • FedSmith offers its strategy for approaching the FEHB open season which begins next Monday.
  • FedWeek discusses coordinating benefits between FEHB plans and Medicare. The best resource is OPM’s chart found in Section 9 of every FEHB plan’s brochure.

From the public health and research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “A team of New York surgeons has performed the world’s first whole-eye transplant on a human, a breakthrough that could change vision treatments even though the patient hasn’t regained sight in the grafted eye. 
    • “In the six months since the eye surgery was performed, in conjunction with a partial face transplant, the 46-year-old patient has shown promising signs of health in the eye, the surgical team at NYU Langone Health said Thursday. 
    • “The grafted eye is maintaining normal ocular pressure and has direct blood flow to the retina, the area at the back of the eye that receives light and sends images to the brain. It isn’t known if the patient will regain his sight, but the transplant is still a significant accomplishment, according to Dr. Eduardo D. Rodriguez, director of the Face Transplant Program at NYU Langone.  
    • “We’ve made one major step forward and have paved the way for the next chapter to restore vision,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez led the May surgery, which lasted 21 hours and included more than 140 surgeons, nurses and other healthcare professionals.” 
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced,
    • “approving Adzynma, the first recombinant (genetically engineered) protein product indicated for prophylactic (preventive) or on demand enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) in adult and pediatric patients with congenital thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (cTTP), a rare and life-threatening blood clotting disorder.”
  • and
    • “approving Ixchiq, the first chikungunya vaccine. Ixchiq is approved for individuals 18 years of age and older who are at increased risk of exposure to chikungunya virus.
    • “The chikungunya virus is primarily transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya is an emerging global health threat with at least 5 million cases of chikungunya virus infection reported during the past 15 years. The highest risk of infection is in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Americas where chikungunya virus-carrying mosquitos are endemic. However, chikungunya virus has spread to new geographical areas causing a rise in global prevalence of the disease.” 
  • and
    • clearing for marketing the first over-the-counter (OTC) antigen test for COVID-19. ACON Laboratories’ Flowflex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test, originally authorized for emergency use in 2021, is now the second home COVID-19 test to successfully complete a traditional FDA premarket review pathway, and the first indicated for use in children under 18. Today’s announcement follows clearance of a molecular home test earlier this year.
  • Per Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Pneumonia patients who took an antibiotic that’s typically reserved as an alternative were less likely to develop Clostridioides difficile infections compared to those taking the recommended drug, according to a study from Veterans Affairs Hospitals. 
    • “The retrospective study analyzed 156,107 patients treated for pneumonia at a VA hospital between 2009 and 2022. Overall, less than 1% of pneumonia patients were diagnosed with a C. diff infection, but among those who had C. diff in the year before contracting pneumonia, 12% developed a new C. diff infection associated with their antibiotic treatment. 
    • “Clinical guidelines recommend azithromycin, and nearly 9 in 10 of the patient cohort received the drug. Of the 13% who received doxycycline, the alternative antibiotic, the drug was associated with reducing C. diff infections by 45%. 
    • “The researchers concluded that, if Legionella pneumonia can be ruled out, clinicians might consider doxycycline as a first-line treatment over azithromycin.”
  • The Wall Street Journal notes,
    • “There is hope for those of us who live (and sleep) in the real world: Getting less than 8 hours of shut-eye a night doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an early grave.
    • “A recent study looking at sleep and longevity found that sleep “regularity”—going to bed and waking up at consistent times with few mid-slumber interruptions—matters more than how long you sleep. Sleeping six hours every night on a consistent schedule was associated with a lower risk of early death than sleeping eight hours with very irregular habits.
    • “The study adds to a growing understanding of the links between sleep and longevity. Research in recent years has shown not only how important sleep is for health and lifespan, but also that the duration of sleep isn’t the only thing that matters.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive points out,
    • “For-profit hospital operators strained by physician fees, payer relations in the third quarter of 2023. Except for HCA, the biggest U.S. health systems all reported lower year-over-year profits in the third quarter.”
  • and
    • “More than 85,000 Kaiser Permanente healthcare workers have a new four-year contract with the nonprofit system after union members overwhelmingly voted to ratify a compromise reached in October following months of labor negotiations and a high-profile strike.”
  • and
    • “Virgin Pulse announced on Thursday it closed its merger with third-party health plan administrator HealthComp. Private equity firms New Mountain Capital and Marlin Equity Partners are new majority and minority owners of the company, respectively, according to a release.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Optum Rx is shifting eight different insulin products to its preferred formulary in a bid to address affordability, the company said Thursday.
    • “The product selection includes all rapid-acting and short-acting insulin products and some long-acting insulins, according to the announcement. It includes insulins manufactured by Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly.
    • “Optum’s Tier 1 includes the lowest cash prices that its members will pay, the company said.”
  • and
    • A BCBSA study concludes that the Affordable Care Act’s risk adjustment system works, notwithstanding noteworthy failures.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • AstraZeneca raised its full-year guidance for core earnings per share and total revenue excluding Covid-19 medicines despite a lower third-quarter profit that missed forecasts after booking a tax charge compared with a credit for the comparable period.
    • “The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant said Thursday that it expects core earnings per share to increase by a low double-digit percentage compared with previous guidance of a high single-digit to low double-digit percentage increase.
    • “Total revenue excluding COVID-19 medicines is now expected to increase by a low-teens percentage at constant-exchange rates compared with previous expectations of low double-digit percentage growth.
    • “Total revenue is expected to increase by a mid-single-digit percentage compared with previous guidance of low-to-mid single-digit, it said.”