Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Roll Call reports,
    • ​”Speaker Mike Johnson dropped his adamant opposition to any more short-term funding patches on Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t rule out a continuing resolution even though that’s not his preference.
    • “Johnson, R-La., said it was still “pedal to the metal” on trying to get the fiscal 2024 spending bills done, including the first batch, which is due Jan. 19. But in comments to reporters after a House GOP conference meeting, he appeared to soften his tone on a CR.
    • “I’m not ruling out anything, committing to anything, other than getting these appropriations done,” Johnson said. “And I think we can and we’re pushing everybody hard.” 
    • “Senators on both sides of the aisle Tuesday said it was clear another temporary patch was needed because there just wouldn’t be enough time next week to beat the first deadline, particularly given the cumbersome Senate floor process.
    • “Sources familiar with the discussions said they expect the Senate to move first on a stopgap spending measure, which could make it easier for Johnson to put it on the floor in his chamber if it looks like there’s little choice and time is running out. A March end date is under consideration, sources said.”
  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R Iowa) announced,
    • Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) introduced bipartisan legislation to codify rules directing hospitals and insurers to disclose cash prices and negotiated rates to patients before they receive medical care. The Health Care PRICE Transparency Act 2.0 stems from policies implemented via executive order in 2019, and builds on a bill and related effort Grassley pushed last Congress. 
    • “Patients should be able to compare and shop for health care services. However, the pricing information they need when visiting the hospital or working with insurance companies isn’t always available. By strengthening transparency and accountability requirements, our bill would help lower costs for patients through more competition and added sunlight in the health care industry,” Grassley said
    • “It’s wrong that the same procedure can be 20 times more expensive in one hospital than in another, and there’s no other industry where consumers are in the dark on the price of what they’re buying. Knowing what health care services cost will lower health care prices because Americans can shop around and get the best deal rather than relying on insurers to negotiate with providers which drives the price up for everything. The Health Care PRICE Transparency Act 2.0 will pull the curtain back and put the power back in the hands of the American people, introducing real market competition into the health care industry and bringing down prices,” Braun said.
    • “Grassley and Braun are joined by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.). 
  • Chief Investment Officer tells us,
    • “President Joe Biden re-nominated Julie Su for Secretary of Labor on Monday. Su has been acting secretary of Labor since March 2023.
    • “Su’s nomination passed through the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in April by an 11 to 10 vote. Her nomination then stalled in the Senate, and a full vote was never held. Presidential nominations must be renewed at the start of a new year.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management adds,
    • “The new independent contractor rule from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) could spark an increase in misclassification lawsuits and make businesses less likely to hire gig workers, according to some legal experts.
    • “The final rule restores an earlier standard that required companies to weigh a variety of economic factors together to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor. It will take effect on March 11.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
    • “Under the Biden-Harris Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced today that over 20 million people have selected an Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace plan since the 2024 Marketplace Open Enrollment Period launched on November 1 — a record number of enrollments.
    • “Today’s data represents activity through December 23 (Week 8) for the 32 states using HealthCare.gov and for the 18 states and the District of Columbia with State-based Marketplaces. Total plan selections include more than 3.7 million people (18% of total) who are new to the Marketplaces for 2024, and 16.6 million people (82% of total) who had active 2023 coverage and selected a plan for 2024 coverage or were automatically re-enrolled.  Plan selections so far represent an impressive increase of over 8 million more people who have coverage since President Biden took office.
    • “The 2024 Marketplace Open Enrollment Period runs from November 1, 2023, to January 16, 2024, for states using the HealthCare.gov platform. Consumers who enroll by midnight on January 16 can get coverage that starts February 1, 2024. State-based Marketplace enrollment deadlines vary. State-specific deadlines and other information are available in the State-based Marketplace Open Enrollment Fact Sheet – PDF.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • ABC News points out,
    • “More than three years into the pandemic, hundreds of Americans are still dying from COVID-19 every week.
    • “For the week ending Dec. 9, the last week of complete data, there were 1,614 deaths from COVID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The last four weeks of complete data show an average of 1,488 weekly deaths.
    • “By comparison, there were 163 weekly deaths from the flu for the week ending Dec. 9, according to CDC data.
    • “While high, these COVID death figures are still lower than the high of 25,974 deaths recorded the week ending Jan. 9, 2021, as well as weekly deaths seen in previous winters, CDC data shows.”
  • Medscape reports,
    • “Medication people with type 2 diabetes use to manage their blood sugar also appear to protect their hearts and kidneys, according to a new study in JAMA Network Open
    • “These pills, known as sodium-glucose cotransport protein 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, reduce the amount of blood sugar in a kidney by causing more glucose to be excreted in urine.
    • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) cannot be cured and often leads to renal failure. SGLT2 inhibitor drugs can help stave off this possibility. Acute kidney disease (AKD), on the other hand, is potentially reversible. It typically occurs after an acute kidney injury, lasts for up to 90 days, and can progress to CKD if left unchecked. 
    • “There has been a notable absence of targeted pharmacotherapy to offer protection to these patients,” said Vin-Cent Wu, MD, PhD, a nephrologist at National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei, and an author of the study.” 
  • Per STAT News,
    • “More hopeful news on the menopause front: Bayer announced on Monday encouraging results in two Phase 3 trials for its non-hormonal drug candidate, elinzanetant, meant to treat hot flashes. The results follow the recent market launch of Veozah, Astellas Pharma’s groundbreaking non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last spring and received approval in the U.K., under the name Veozah, in December.
    • “Elinzanetant is a neurokinin-1 and 3 receptor antagonist, and works by calming down the estrogen receptors in the brain that become hyperactive around menopause, causing hot flashes. The drug, a pill administered once a day, was shown to reduce both the frequency and intensity of hot flashes, and also met the secondary endpoints for improving sleep and quality of life, according to JoAnn Pinkerton, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Midlife Health at UVA Health, who is a clinical investigator for Bayer’s drug candidate.”

Per the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review discusses expert concerns about Eli Lilly’s new platform to market their drugs directly to consumers and provides four Ozempic updates.
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Healthcare providers have kept an eye on rising costs as nationwide labor shortages, inflation and dried up COVID-19 relief funds have pushed health systems’ operating margins into the red.
    • “But, despite hospital executives’ best efforts at cost management, 2024 will not bring a reprieve from razor-thin operating margins for most systems, experts warn.
    • “2024 will not be markedly better and certainly not the V-shaped recovery we’re hoping for,” said Kevin Holloran, senior director at credit agency Fitch Ratings. “Not-for-profit hospital margins are still below both pre-pandemic levels — but more importantly they will trend below the ‘magic number’ operating margin of 3%.”
    • “Analysts are split on how bleak the picture is for the provider sector. The major three major credit agencies — Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and S&P Global Ratings — have forecast negative to stable conditions for the year.
    • “However, neither credit agencies nor industry experts predict a full financial turnaround for the embattled industry in 2024. Providers’ individual outlooks hinge on their ability to pull the right combination of levers that lift revenue and shrink costs, experts said.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence explains how one payer tackled the No Surprises Acts’ provider directory accuracy requirements.