Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The House passed legislation on Tuesday to keep federal funding flowing into early 2024, after Democrats stepped in to rescue a plan opposed by many Republicans to avert a government shutdown at the end of the week.
    • “A coalition of Democrats and mainstream Republicans overcame the opposition of G.O.P. conservatives to approve the bill under special expedited procedures that required a supermajority. That approach, hatched by Speaker Mike Johnson, amounted to a gamble that a substantial number of Democrats would rally to help pass a package that Mr. Johnson’s own party was unwilling to back.
    • “The vote was 336 to 95, clearing the two-thirds threshold required for passage. In the end, 209 Democrats and 127 Republicans joined to pass the bill. Ninety-three Republicans opposed it, as did two Democrats.
    • “Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, told reporters that he wanted the Senate to vote on the bill “as soon as possible.”
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics News announced,
    • “The advisory was issued after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received 22 reports of high blood lead levels (BLLs) in children who consumed recalled fruit pouches that contain high levels of lead. The recall includes WanaBana brand apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks brand cinnamon applesauce pouches and Weis brand cinnamon applesauce pouches.”
  • ICD Monitor points out that “the new Healthcare Common Procedural Coding System (HCPCS) codes were released on Nov. 6. These codes include supplies, medications, implants, surgeries, etc. The latest release contained 553 changes and updates to the coding system . . . .
  • The Acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak released his farewell issue of the NIH Directors blog.
    • “I congratulate Dr. Monica Bertagnolli as she takes the helm as the next permanent NIH director. Dr. Bertagnolli—an outstanding physician scientist—is a strong leader who will bring fresh, bold new ideas to NIH and the biomedical research enterprise. I know she’ll be in good hands thanks to the outstanding staff across NIH and the leadership in the Department of Health and Human Services. I look forward to supporting her efforts and continuing to ensure that NIH research optimizes health for all people.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today informs us that early detection is the key to longer survival rates for people afflicted with pancreatic cancer.
  • NPR tells us,
    • “If your hearing begins to decline, your risk of falling may rise.
    • “Research shows older adults with mild hearing loss are at a greater risk — more than double — of falling. Though it’s not exactly clear how hearing loss increases the risk, it’s known that falls are the top cause of death from injury among people 65 and older.
    • “Now, new evidence shows that restoring hearing through the use of hearing aids may be protective, especially when people wear them consistently. That’s according to a study published this summer in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Millions of adults struggle for years with chronic low-back pain—a disabling ailment that has no easy fix.
    • “Common causes include injury, arthritis and degenerative changes in the spine. It tends to start at midlife with the natural wear and tear of aging. But often there is no clearly identifiable physical cause, leaving patients to veer from one ineffective treatment to another—including highly addictive prescription opioids.
    • “Now, researchers are working on personalized treatment plans that can address physical, emotional and psychological traits in individual patients that influence the pain they are experiencing. Physical therapy, exercise, diet and lifestyle choices often play a role. Some research is also looking at ways to retrain the brain to think differently about pain.
    • “To be sure, low-back pain can be a sign of something life-threatening, such as cancer, or a severe spine condition that requires surgery. As a result, chronic low-back pain needs to be fully evaluated. But once “red flags” are eliminated, doctors need a more precise way to determine what will work for individual patients, says Dr. Matt Mauck, a researcher and pain-medicine physician at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s UNC Pain Management Center.”
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review “posted its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of sotatercept (Merck & Co) for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).”
    • “This Evidence Report will be reviewed at a virtual public meeting of the Midwest CEPAC (Midwest CEPAC) on December 1, 2023. The Midwest CEPAC is one of ICER’s three independent evidence appraisal committees comprising medical evidence experts, practicing clinicians, methodologists, and leaders in patient engagement and advocacy.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans announced,
    • “A new survey report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reveals U.S. employer coverage and considerations surrounding glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) drugs, which have historically been used to treat diabetes. These drugs were also found to cause weight loss and have been subsequently used to treat obesity.
    • “Among survey respondents, 76% provide GLP-1 drug coverage for diabetes, 27% provide coverage for weight loss, and 13% are considering covering for weight loss.
    • “In 2023, the average representation of GLP-1 drugs used for weight loss in employers’ total annual claims was 6.9%, according to survey respondents. Those who are covering GLP-1 drugs are relying heavily on utilization management (79%) to control costs. A less common approach (32%) is step therapy. Fourteen percent of employers have no cost control mechanism in place.
    • “Though GLP-1 drugs have a high price tag, they currently represent only 6.9% of annual claims, according to survey respondents,” said Julie Stich, CEBS, Vice President of Content at the International Foundation. “Employers can take this information into account when designing long-and short-term benefit strategies.”
  • Bloomberg reports,
    • Cigna Group is taking a page from billionaire Mark Cuban’s playbook to sell medicines for a set markup, the latest sign that companies that manage drug benefits are responding to pressure from upstart competitors.
    • “Next year Cigna’s Express Scripts subsidiary will offer employers and health plans the option to pay pharmacies up to 15% above their wholesale costs, plus an extra fee for dispensing the medicines. Employers now typically pay pharmacies based on an average discount, which can result in them paying more for drugs than a pharmacy charges.”
  • Reuters notes,
    • “Elevance Health (ELV.N) and Cigna Group’s (CI.N) Express Scripts unit on Monday settled the last pending claim in a long-running contract dispute, clearing the way for Elevance to appeal the dismissal of its $14.8 billion lawsuit accusing Express Scripts of overcharging it for prescription drugs.”
  • The Albany Times-Union reports that Empire Blue Cross is changing its name to Anthem Blue Cross.
    • “The company retains the Blue Cross Blue Shield name and remains part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which serves one in three insured Americans. * * *
    • “Empire joined Anthem in 2006, and the new name represents the next stage in the company’s journey to merge with the national brand, benefiting from combined resources and capabilities of its parent company and affiliates, company executives said.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • BeMe, a digital behavioral health app aimed at teenagers, has inked several partnerships with major payers, including $1.5 million in investment from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas (BCBSKS).
    • “Through the investment, BeMe’s platform will be made available to 20,000 teenagers across the Sunflower State. Executives said in an announcement that tools like BeMe will become increasingly critical as youth mental health issues continue to worsen.”