Happy Thanksgiving!

Following this post, The FEHBlog will reappear on Saturday for Cybersecurity Saturday. The FEHBlog wishes his readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

From Washington DC

  • Thanks to Bloomberg, the FEHBlog learned about this Congressional Research Service report on FY 2024 USPS Appropriations. To wit,
    • “On September 30, 2023, Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2024 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 5860; P.L. 118-15), which provides continuing FY2024 appropriations to federal agencies through November 17,
    • “Section 126 of the act increases the rate of funding for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to approximately $219.1 million, which is about $28.3 million above its FY2023 funding.
    • “The additional OPM funding is provided for the implementation of the Postal Service Health Benefits Program (PSHBP), a new health benefit program for eligible postal employees and retirees. Under the PSRA, OPM is required to establish and administer the PSHBP.”
  • FEHBlog note — The Postal Service also is on the financial hook for funding implementation of the PSHBP.
  • STAT News reports,
    • “Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on Tuesday mounted a public pressure campaign to get the executives of Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol Myers Squibb to testify in a January hearing on why the United States pays more for prescription drugs than other countries.
    • “All three companies have sued the Biden administration over the new Medicare drug price negotiation that congressional Democrats passed last year. Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Eliquis; Johnson & Johnson’s blood thinner Xarelto, anti-inflammatory medicine Stelara, and blood cancer treatment Imbruvica; and Merck’s diabetes drug Januvia were selected as part of the first 10 drugs to go through the negotiation process.
    • “It’s unclear whether the executives will agree to testify at the hearing, which is titled “Why “Does the United States Pay, By Far, The Highest Prices In The World For Prescription Drugs?” Sanders also put out a fundraising email just before the letter was announced, with the subject line: “The greed of the pharmaceutical industry is out of control.” It featured an op-ed he wrote for the Guardian Monday.”

In FEHB Open Season and federal retirement news,

  • Fedweek provides Reg Jones’ observations on FEHBP and Medicare Parts A and B. The Federal Times offers articles titled “A Procrastinator’s Checklist for Choosing Open Season Benefits” and “What’s driving rate hikes for federal employee health premiums?
  • The second Federal Times article is a topic that the FEHBlog follows throughout the year. In that regard, Mercer Consulting released the following survey findings last week:
    • “Mercer, a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), released the findings of its 2023 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, which found the average per-employee cost of employer-sponsored health insurance rose by 5.2% in 2023 to reach $15,797. * * *
    • “In 2022, cost rose by 3.2%, well below general inflation, which averaged 8% that year. Because healthcare providers typically have multi-year contracts with health plans, employers did not feel the full brunt of inflation last year. “Rather, inflation-driven cost increases are phasing in as contracts are renewed,” says Sunit Patel, Chief Health Actuary, Mercer. The survey shows employers project another sharp increase of 5.2% for 2024.
    • “It may take another couple of years for price increases stemming from higher healthcare sector wages and medical supply costs to be felt across all health plans,” Mr. Patel says.
    • “At the same time, inflation is only one factor behind this year’s higher cost increases. In 2023, spending on prescription drugs rose sharply. “While the effects of inflation may be relatively short-lived, new and ongoing developments in the pharmaceutical market seem likely to have a longer-term impact on health benefit cost.”
  • The Federal Times adds,
    • “Federal employees’ retirement applications take almost twice as long to process when they contain errors, leading to further delays in processing and dispensing annuities, according to a watchdog report published Monday.
    • “The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general found that “healthy” application packages took on average 53 days to process, and “unhealthy” ones containing errors took more than 108 days, according to a random sample of applications the inspector general studied.
    • “That discrepancy needs be reflected in the data OPM reports monthly to accurately monitor whether retirement processing is improving, the IG report said.
    • “The lack of transparency for healthy versus unhealthy ‘incomplete’ application packages limits the quality of information being provided to external parties as the main cause for why Retirement Services has not met its goal for processing retirement application packages within 60 days,” according to the report.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Beckers Clinical Leadership tells us,
    • “Hospital and public health officials are urging people to take precautions and be mindful of where they seek care to limit capacity strain on emergency departments as respiratory virus activity heats up heading into the holiday season. 
    • “Since early September, COVID-19 metrics had mostly been trending downward or remained flat. Now they are on the rise again, though they remain far below levels seen in previous surges. There were 16,239 new admissions for the week ending Nov. 11, up 8.6% from the previous week. 
    • “Meanwhile, most of the country is seeing an uptick of flu and respiratory syncytial virus cases. Hospitalizations associated with the two infections are also ticking up, particularly among children and older adults. 
    • “The more concerning thing is the severity of some of the illness,” Hany Atallah, MD, chief medical officer Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, told ABC affiliate WPLG. “And we are also seeing some patients come in with more than one viral infection, so they may have RSV and flu, for example. We’re constantly trying to follow the science and encourage people to get vaccines.” 
  • The Wall Street Journal points out,
    • “Ozempic, Wegovy and their counterparts have exploded in popularity over the past year, earning billions for the drugs’ makers, transforming the American approach to weight-loss, and sparking widespread cultural discussion in a country that is already obsessed with weight
    • “That conversation lands on Thanksgiving tables this week, where some people say the drugs have boosted their confidence around food, and others say they are worried about facing questions about what they’re eating, what they’re not eating, and changes in their appearance.
    • “It’s a hot topic, and people have a lot of judgments,” says Dr. Gauri Khurana, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and a clinical instructor at Yale University who has prescribed the medications and helped patients manage them. * * *
    • “Doctors advise people to listen to their bodies—not their family members—when it comes to serving sizes. A balanced plate that gives priority to protein and high-fiber foods over carbohydrates and fatty foods, which tend to sit in the stomach and exacerbate the medication’s effects of delayed gastric emptying, can help patients avoid filling up too quickly or feeling nauseous.”
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “Just in time for the holiday season, the Biden administration is offering Americans a fresh round of free at-home coronavirus tests through the Postal Service.
    • “The administration revived the dormant program in September, announcing then that households could order four free tests through a federal website, covidtests.gov.
    • “Beginning Monday, households may order an additional four tests. Households that have not placed an order since the program resumed can submit two orders, for eight tests in total.”
  • The University of Minnesota informs us,
    • “A new survey of 158 hospital executives, conducted by the Sepsis Alliance, found that 90% see antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a threat, and 88% think the problem is getting worse. The survey, conducted by Sage Growth Partners on behalf of the Sepsis Alliance, also dug into executives’ views on other related AMR issues. An 11-page report on the findings was published on the Sepsis Alliance websiteon November 17.
    • “Another top concern is the public’s lack of knowledge about AMR, with 59% of executives saying that public education of clinicians as well as patients is the largest barrier to antibiotic stewardship. Respondents recommend public service announcements covering the need for early treatment, the importance of completing treatment, and storing the drugs properly.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive asks “Where are all the nurses? Hospitals, advocates disagree on crisis; Hospitals and nursing unions disagree about what’s driving sluggish application rates for open registered nurse positions — a lack of qualified candidates or a lack of interest.”
  • BioPharma Dive notes,
    • “Roche’s Genentech unit is partnering with computing giant Nvidia in a multiyear deal that highlights the pharmaceutical industry’s growing hopes of using artificial intelligence to speed up the process of designing and developing new drugs. 
    • “By collaborating with Nvidia, Genentech expects to “significantly enhance” its existing AI research and potentially improve on the chip designer’s own software, such as its “BioNemo” platform for drug discovery. 
    • “Our teams will be continuously exchanging expertise on the advancement of science and the state-of-the-art methods emerging in accelerated computing, AI and simulation across this entire drug discovery process,” said Kimberly Powell, vice president of healthcare at Nvidia, in a briefing with reporters.”