Midweek Update

Thanks to ACK15 for sharing their work on Unsplash.

From Washington, DC

  • Govexec informs us,
    • “A new website has made available a database of anyone serving in a top-ranking position in the federal government, offering new insight that advocates said will boost transparency and better prepare new administrations to transition into power.  
    • “The Office of Personnel Management launched the site to comply with the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act, which so far includes the names, roles and pay levels of more than 8,000 executives in government.
    • “OPM said that figure will grow to 10,000 as it ensures compliance and updates the list over the coming months. It will include senior leaders at every federal agency, including all 4,000 political appointees, Senior Executive Service members and other top or non-competitively appointed officials. “
  • The Department of Health and Human Services tells us,
    • On Wednesday, January 3, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra met virtually with long-term care facility (LTCF) leaders to express concerns about low vaccination rates among nursing home residents and remind industry leaders of their obligations to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff.
    • Today’s conversation was a follow-up call from a previous HHS virtual meeting on December 21 with LTCF leaders to discuss the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) December 2023 report finding that just 33% of long-term care facility residents were up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires all nursing homes to offer COVID-19 vaccines to residents and staff and educate them on their benefits.
  • FedWeek notes,
    • “Fraud against the federal retirement program is continuing, an inspector general report has said, with lack of reporting to OPM on the deaths of beneficiaries the most common means.
    • “These unreported deaths may allow payments to continue because of program vulnerabilities or intentional fraud on the part of bad actors. Sometimes, CSRS or FERS improper payments continue for years and cost tens of thousands of dollars before discovery,” says the IG’s latest summary of its investigative activities.”
  • FEHBlog note — The government needs a better system to keep track of deaths.

From the U.S. public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The holidays have come and gone, and once again Americans are riding a tide of respiratory ailments, including Covid. But so far, this winter’s Covid uptick seems less deadly than last year’s, and much less so than in 2022, when the Omicron surge ground the nation to a halt.
    • “We’re not seeing the signs that would make me think that we’re heading into another severe wave,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So far, we’re in relatively good shape.”
    • “Still, * * * just a fraction of the most vulnerable people have received the latest Covid shots, she noted.
    • “It’s not too late,” Dr. Rivers added. “We have not even reached peak yet for Covid, and once you reach peak, you still have to get down the other side.” That leaves plenty of time for the vaccine to provide some protection.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review adds,
    • “COVID-19 and flu admissions continue to climb across the country, with the majority of states now reporting high levels of respiratory virus activity. 
    • “Overall, 31 states reported high levels of respiratory virus activity for the week ending Dec. 23. Included in this total are a growing number of states seeing “very high” activity levels: Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and New York City. Two weeks ago, just five states reported very high levels.” 
  • Medscape notes
    • “While COVID has now claimed more than 1 million lives in the United States alone, these aren’t the only fatalities caused at least in part by the virus. A small but growing number of Americans are surviving acute infections only to succumb months later to the lingering health problems caused by long COVID.
    • “Much of the attention on long COVID has centered on the sometimes debilitating symptoms that strike people with the condition, with no formal diagnostic tests or standard treatments available, and the effect it has on quality of life. But new figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that long COVID can also be deadly.
    • “More than 5000 Americans have died from long COVID since the start of the pandemic, according to new estimates from the CDC.”
  • STAT News alerts us,
    • “One in three heart patients live with anxiety, depression, and ongoing stress, according to a 2023 meta-analysis of over 100 studies. But even in the age of 24/7 monitoring via implantable loop recorders and wearables, many patients are without professional support for the mental and emotional social aspects of coping with heart disease.
    • “The technology of cardiology is locked down. People get that. What’s not locked down is the patient experience,” said Sam Sears, professor of health psychology at East Carolina University, and the author of over 200 research studies on psychological interventions for heart health. “The human factors in all this just don’t get addressed as a standard of care.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Cigna is in advanced talks to sell its Medicare business in an about-face for the health-insurance giant, which had been expanding its footprint in the fast-growing sector. 
    • “Cigna, which has been running an auction for the business, known as Medicare Advantage, is now in exclusive talks to sell it to Health Care Service Corp. for between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. 
    • “Should there be a deal, it would mark a major expansion for HCSC, a big nonprofit health insurer that is the parent of Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in five states including Texas and Illinois. HCSC has long been a powerful player in its home states, but the deal would give it a significant Medicare business and far broader reach. Cigna is offering Medicare plans in 29 states for 2024.
  • Drug Channels offers its annual “reality check on U.S. drug pricing.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • Solera Health, a chronic condition management platform for payers and employers, is expanding its platform to include virtual specialty care facilitated by several new clinical partners.
    • “Solera’s HALO Platform is an omni-condition management tool that aims to address high-cost chronic conditions, mostly serving commercial populations. The latest expansion into virtual specialty care furthers the company’s value-based care mission by widening access to specialist docs in a low-cost setting, executives told Fierce Healthcare.
    • “The new capabilities leverage partnerships with two new partners, 9am.health and Vori Health, as well as an existing partner, Oshi Health.
    • “Each partner specializes in addressing high-cost conditions, from obesity and diabetes to musculoskeletal pain to GI conditions. They offer a health coach, nutritionist, peer support and other support services while also coordinating with a patient’s primary or in-person care doc.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence looks at employer-sponsored plan trends for 2024.