Monday Roundup

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From Washington, DC (note the FEHBlog is back in Texas after a productive week in DC)

  • The Society for Human Resource Management tells us,
    • “The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced it will extend the effective date of its joint employer rule to Feb. 26, 2024, to facilitate resolution of legal challenges to the rule.
    • “The NLRB released the final rule on Oct. 26 with an implementation date of Dec. 26. The rule was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 27.
    • “U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., sent a letter informing the NLRB that it was out of compliance with the Congressional Review Act’s 60-day threshold rule, which mandates that the implementation of all major federal rules must be delayed 60 days from when they are received by Congress.
  • The Internal Revenue Service posted for public comment a draft version of the 2024 Employers’ Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Associate Press reports,
    • “The U.S. flu season is underway, with at least seven states reporting high levels of illnesses and cases rising in other parts of the country, health officials say.
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted new flu data on Friday, showing very high activity last week in Louisiana, and high activity in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and South Carolina. It was also high in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory where health officials declared an influenza epidemic earlier this month. * * *
    • “Traditionally, the winter flu season ramps up in December or January. But it took off in October last year, and is making a November entrance this year.”
  • STAT News offers its observations on this development.
    • “The early signals from influenza suggest the virus is settling back into the seasonal pattern it followed — to the degree the always mercurial bug follows any pattern — before the pandemic, said Alicia Budd, team lead for domestic flu surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “All I can say is at this point we are at a pretty typical point in flu activity,” she told STAT.
    • “Overall, the signs to date appear to portend a winter more like what we knew before the arrival of Covid, said Megan Culler Freeman, an assistant professor of pediatrics specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh.
    • “Last year as early as August, children’s hospitals across the country were full to the gills … because there were so many children with respiratory distress,” Freeman said. “And I would say that this season is starting to feel a lot more normal. Only now, as we’re getting into November — even towards mid- to late- November — we’re starting to see more of our winter volume starting to begin. * * *
    • “The scientific consensus is still out about whether Covid will be a seasonal virus, transmitting primarily during cold-and-flu season. Many experts think it is heading that way, but hasn’t yet settled into that pattern.”
  • The American Medical Association explains what doctors wish their patients knew about diabetes 2. Check it out.
  • KFF informs us,
    • Research suggests that the Novavax [Covid] vaccine is about as safe and effective as the mRNA shots. Its main disadvantage is arriving late to the scene. Vaccine uptake has plummeted since the first shots became widely available in 2021. Nearly 70% of people got the primary vaccines, compared with fewer than 20% opting for the mRNA covid boosters released last year. Numbers have dwindled further: As of Oct. 17, only 5% of people in the United States had gotten the latest covid vaccines, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
    • “Daniel Park, an epidemiologist at George Washington University, said low rates might improve if people who felt lousy after their last mRNA shots gave Novavax a try. It protects against severe illness, but researchers struggle to specify just how effective this and other vaccines are, at this point, because studies have gotten tricky to conduct: New coronavirus variants continuously emerge, and people have fluctuating levels of immunity from previous vaccines and infections.
    • “Still, a recent study in Italy suggests that Novavax is comparable to mRNA vaccines. It remained more than 50% effective at preventing symptomatic covid four months after vaccination. Some data suggests that mixing and matching different types of vaccines confers stronger protection — although other studies have found no benefit. 
    • “Given all this, Park held out for the Novavax vaccine on account of its potentially milder side effects. “Between a demanding full-time job and two young kids at home, I wanted to stay operational,” he said. His arm was sore, but he didn’t have the 24-hour malaise accompanying his last mRNA shot.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • MedCity News notes,
    • “Eli Lilly’s cardiometabolic drug portfolio is expanding with newly approved therapies. To meet demand for those therapies and additional products to come, the company is building a new $2.5 billion manufacturing site in Germany.
    • “Construction on the new plant is on track to begin next year. Lilly expects the site will start operations in 2027, becoming its sixth manufacturing site in Europe. The company said it has invested more than $11 billion in its global manufacturing capabilities in the past three years to support the production of medicines across its portfolio.
    • “Some of Lilly’s capital investments have been closer to the Indianapolis-based drugmaker’s home. Last year, the company committed more than $2 billion to two new facilities in Lebanon, Indiana for the manufacturing of existing products and future ones, the company said in its annual report. Lilly also invested more than $1 billion in a new facility in Concord, North Carolina, for the manufacturing of injectable products and devices. Earlier this year, Lilly pledged to spend an additional $450 million to expand capacity at a site in Research Triangle Park that also makes injectable products, including new blockbuster medicine Mounjaro.”
  • Healthcare Dive points out,
    • “AstraZeneca’s new health-tech business, Evinova, launched Monday, with several big-name partnerships already in place and a goal to “better meet the needs of healthcare professionals, regulators and patients.”
    • “Evinova’s main focus will be helping to optimize their clinical trials for biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical firms and CROs, or contract research organizations, in an effort to reduce the time and costs associated with developing new medicines.
    • “Two CROs, Parexel and Fortrea, have agreed to offer Evinova’s digital health solutions to their customers. Evinova is also collaborating with Accenture and Amazon Web Services to “accelerate industry adoption and sustain and expand the global reach of its digital products.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “The financial outlook for major health plans is stable in the face of notable potential headwinds heading into the end of the year, according to a new report from Moody’s Investors Service.
    • “The Moody’s analysis said earnings in the third quarter were on par with reports from the second quarter and that the industry’s stability is in line with expectations. However, the researchers said they were expecting payers to face different challenges as 2023 got underway.
    • “A notable trend that emerged in the second quarter was increased utilization in Medicare Advantage (MA), which peaked in the second quarter thanks to a boost in outpatient care. While the trend did stabilize in the third quarter, “it did not get better,” the Moody’s analysts wrote.
    • “Centene was the lone exception, and it reported a lower medical loss ratio for MA in the third quarter of 2023 compared to the prior-year quarter, according to the report.”
  • and
    • “As the industry continues to debate the promise and risks of artificial intelligence in healthcare, patients are bullish on the potential for generative AI to improve access and even lower healthcare costs.
    • “More than half (53%) of U.S. consumers believe generative AI could improve access issues and shorten wait times for medical care, according to a survey by Deloitte’s Center for Health Solutions. A little less than half of consumers (46%) say it has the potential to make healthcare more affordable.”