Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Govexec tells us,
    • “A House panel on Wednesday hosted another spirited hearing over the role of telework and remote work at federal agencies, with Democrats and agency officials extolling the practices’ impact in improving productivity to skeptical GOP lawmakers.
    • “The House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s subcommittee on government operations and the federal workforce held its long-awaited second hearing on federal agencies’ “post-pandemic” telework policies. In September, the subcommittee heard testimony from HR leaders at agencies that made a “good faith effort” to comply with the panel’s information requests on telework, and Republican committee leaders suggested Wednesday’s hearing was designed to hear from agencies whose submissions were found wanting.
    • “It is difficult for me to understand why [these agencies’] responses looked like nothing more than them phoning it in,” said Subcommittee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas. “This is a serious effort by the subcommittee. It has produced questions across both sides of the aisle. Either these agencies simply do not know the answers to some or all of the questions asked, or perhaps they just don’t want to share it.”
  • The American Hospital News reports,
    • The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will give healthcare providers and insurers initiating a payment dispute through Jan. 16 under the No Surprises Act’s Independent Dispute Resolution process 10 business days to select a certified IDR entity after initiating the dispute, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Nov 29. 
    • “Following the reopening of the Federal IDR portal on October 6, 2023, to certain new single disputes, including disputes involving bundled payment arrangements, but excluding disputes related to air ambulance services, the Departments extended the certified IDR entity selection timeline to 10 business days until November 3, 2023,” CMS explained. “Following the expiration of that extension and the return to the three-business-day timeline, numerous disputing parties have requested that the timeline temporarily return to 10 business days. Accordingly, the Departments are announcing that disputing parties will have 10 business days to select a certified IDR entity for all disputes through January 16, 2024. This extension will be provided automatically and does not require a request by disputing parties.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released for public comment a draft research plan for assessing the value of screening for HIV. The public comment period ends on January 3, 2024.

In FEHB Open Season news, Tammy Flanagan, writing in Govexec, discusses the Medicare Advantage plans that may FEHB carriers have integrated into their FEHB plans.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times looks back at the Omicron variant of Covid which has been with us for two years now. While the earlier commanding Covid variants caused dangerous lower respiratory infections, Omicron causes more manageable upper respiratory infections.
  • Medscape informs us about encouraging developments that may lead to long Covid tests.
    • “[A] new preprint study suggests that the elevation of certain immune system proteins are a commonality in long COVID patients and identifying them may be an accurate way to diagnose the condition.
    • “Researchers at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, tracked 166 patients, 79 of whom had been diagnosed with long COVID and 87 who had not. All participants had recovered from a severe bout of acute COVID-19.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “The rosiest of revenue projections for treatments like Wegovy and Zepbound rely on a future in which their use goes beyond diabetes and obesity and into Alzheimer’s disease and substance use disorders. But GLP-1 drugs’ pathway to pharmaceutical ubiquity is a little cloudier than it might seem.
    • “Take for example alcohol use disorder, or AUD. This week, a case study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that six patients diagnosed with AUD received Wegovy for weight loss and experienced significant reductions in their symptoms, sparking more interest in the potential of GLP-1 treatments in addiction. According to Leerink analyst David Risinger, there are at least six other mid-stage studies testing whether Novo Nordisk’s drug can treat AUD or nicotine dependence, each reading out in the coming years.
    • “The problem is that not one of those studies is sponsored by Novo, which has been noncommittal about running the costly, large-scale trials that would be required to win FDA approval in addiction. Physicians could prescribe a GLP-1 drug off-label, but manufacturers are already struggling to meet demand for patients with diabetes or obesity, leaving little supply for speculative indications.”
  • MedPage Today points out,
    • “Younger onset age of coronary heart disease was tied to higher risks of incident all-cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia, a large prospective cohort study in Great Britain showed.
    • “Each 10-year decrease in coronary heart disease onset age was associated with a 25% increased risk of all-cause dementia, a 29% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 22% increased risk of vascular dementia (all P<0.001), reported Fanfan Zheng, PhD, of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, and co-authors in the Journal of the American Heart Association.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “The United States faces a serious shortage of primary care physicians for many reasons, but one, in particular, is inescapable: compensation.
    • “Substantial disparities between what primary care physicians earn relative to specialists like orthopedists and cardiologists can weigh into medical students’ decisions about which field to choose. Plus, the system that Medicare and other health plans use to pay doctors generally places more value on doing procedures like replacing a knee or inserting a stent than on delivering the whole-person, long-term healthcare management that primary care physicians provide.
    • “As a result of those pay disparities, and the punishing workload typically faced by primary care physicians, more new doctors are becoming specialists, often leaving patients with fewer choices for primary care.
    • “There is a public out there that is dissatisfied with the lack of access to a routine source of care,” said Christopher Koller, president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, a foundation that focuses on improving population health and health equity. “That’s not going to be addressed until we pay for it.”
  • and
    • “Renton, Washington-based Providence’s operations tallied $310 million of net losses (-4.3% operating margin) during the third quarter and now sit $857.3 million in the hole (-4% operating margin) through nine months, according to filings and other financial information released this week by the nonprofit.
    • “Providence’s leadership was quick to highlight the system’s performance improvements relative to 2022, when the Catholic organization had posted a nearly $1.1 billion operating loss (-5.6% operating margin) across nine months.
    • “Rising demand, reduced length of stay, lower premium pay and better workforce retention and recruitment each helped Providence chip away at the losses, the organization wrote in an accompanying release, though lingering expense pressures and revenue roadblocks still held operations below break even.”
  • and
    • “The Cleveland Clinic logged another negative operating margin and nine figures of net losses during the three months ended Sept. 30, according to unaudited financial statements released this week.
    • “The nonprofit reported a $14.9 million operating loss (-0.4% operating margin) for the third quarter of 2023.
    • “This was an improvement over the same period in 2022, when the system logged a $28.3 million operating loss (-0.9% operating margin), and a narrow increase over the $21.4 million operating loss (-0.6% operating margin) of the immediately preceding quarter.
    • “In commentary accompanying the results, Cleveland Clinic’s management highlighted a 10.1% year-over-year rise in third-quarter operating revenue that outpaced the 9.6% bump in operating expenses.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues notes,
    • “Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is looking to the payer-provider example set by Kaiser Permanente as the Phoenix-based company expands its primary care subsidiary Prosano Health Solutions, the Phoenix Business Journal reported Nov. 20.
    • “BCBSAZ opened its first Prosano facility in Maricopa County this year, with several more locations opening in the Phoenix area in 2024. Prosano launched in January for BCBSAZ employees, with 1,800 employees and their dependents enrolling. 
    • “A new health plan, the BlueSignature Prosano PPO plan, will be offered to employer groups in 2024 and provide access to the Prosano care centers. The new care centers offer access to a primary care team, behavioral health practitioners, lab services, same-day appointments, virtual options, and a selection of the most needed prescriptions. An expansion to Tucson is planned for 2025.”
  • MedPage lets us know,
    • “Optum Health now counts 90,000 doctors — some 10% of the physician workforce — as employees or affiliates, company leadership announced.
    • “The company, which is a part of UnitedHealth Group, said during an investor conference on Wednesday that it acquired or hired nearly 20,000 doctors in 2023 alone, according to reports. It also counts an additional 40,000 advanced practice clinicians among its ranks.
    • “The figures, reported by Amar Desai, MD, CEO of UnitedHealth’s Optum Health division, make Optum Health the largest employer of physicians in the U.S., and UnitedHealth is the country’s largest private health insurer.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “AbbVie will pay $10 billion for the biotech firm Immunogen, the company said Thursday, acquiring an approved treatment for ovarian cancer and buying into a burgeoning area of oncology.
    • “Under the agreement, AbbVie will pay $31.26 per share in cash for Immunogen, a nearly 100% premium to the company’s recent trading price. Central to the deal, expected to close in the middle of next year, is Elahere, an Immunogen product that won Food and Drug Administration approval for advanced ovarian cancer in 2022.
    • “Elahere is among a surging class of cancer medicines called antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs, which are designed to deliver a targeted dose of chemotherapy directly to tumor cells while sparing healthy tissues. AbbVie’s acquisition is the latest multibillion-dollar deal in the space, following Merck’s $22 billion agreement with ADC specialist Daiichi Sankyo and Pfizer’s $43 billion buyout of Seagen earlier this year.”