Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Roll Call brings us up to date on the FY 2024 appropriations discussions on Capitol Hill.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
    • “As part of continuing efforts by the Biden-Harris Administration to help people access comprehensive, high-quality health coverage, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new, online and user-friendly hub for partners to access critical Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) renewal and transition resources.”
  • Tammy Flanagan, writing in Govexec, explains 2024 benefit changes for federal employees and annuitants.
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “The FDA has issued temporary authorization for the importation of a syphilis drug that’s been in short supply since last April. 
    • “Federal regulators have cleared French drugmaker Laboratoires Delbert to import penicillin G benzathine, Bloomberg reported Jan. 10. A shortage of Pfizer’s version of the drug, Bicillin L-A, is estimated to last through June and is the only treatment for congenital syphilis. 
    • “Last April, the CDC said syphilis rates are at their highest since 1950, with nearly 177,000 cases reported in 2021.” 
  • The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) reports
    • “[Canadian] Health Minister Mark Holland says Florida’s plan to import cheaper Canadian pharmaceuticals is a non-starter and the federal government will use its regulatory power to ensure the national drug supply does not face any shortages due to actions by a foreign state.
    • “There is no way we will allow any jurisdiction, be it a state or another foreign jurisdiction, to endanger the Canadian drug supply. That is not an appropriate solution to whatever challenges they may be facing,” Holland said during an official announcement in Nova Scotia of a bilateral health-care deal with the province.
    • “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that another country cannot be given the ability to pillage our health system for its own benefit.”
    • “Holland said he will soon travel to Washington, D.C. to make it known to officials there that Canada will not stand idle if Florida or other U.S. states pursue bulk imports that threaten Canadians’ access to medication in any way.”
  • KFF analyzes the Affordable Care Act’s latest open enrollment period.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal lets us know,
    • “Cancer is hitting more young people in the U.S. and around the globe, baffling doctors. Diagnosis rates in the U.S. rose in 2019 to 107.8 cases per 100,000 people under 50, up 12.8% from 95.6 in 2000, federal data show. A study in BMJ Oncology last year reported a sharp global rise in cancers in people under 50, with the highest rates in North America, Australia and Western Europe. 
    • “Doctors are racing to figure out what is making them sick, and how to identify young people who are at high risk. They suspect that changes in the way we live—less physical activity, more ultra-processed foods, new toxins—have raised the risk for younger generations.
    • “The patients are getting younger,” said Dr. Andrea Cercek, who co-directs a program for early-onset gastrointestinal cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where Keen was treated. “It’s likely some environmental change, whether it’s something in our food, our medications or something we have not yet identified.” 
  • The National Institutes of Health’s Directors Blog points out “A New Target to Improve the Health and Lives of Childhood Cancer Survivors: Diabetes Prevention.”
  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has updated its adult immunization schedule for 2024 to include recommendations on new vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and meningitis, the mpox (formerly known as monkeypox) vaccine, and the updated COVID-19 vaccines.”
    • The article notes the 2024 changes in this schedule.
    • “In an accompanying editorial, Scott Ratzan, MD, and other members of the Council for Quality Health Communication offered scathing criticism of the CDC’s complex written and visual presentation of the recommendations.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association will lead an effort to improve maternity care in about 600 acute care and pediatric hospitals across the nation, including a push to address racial and ethnic disparities.
    • “Health equity in maternal care will be added to the list of conditions that the insurer’s Blue Distinction Centers focus on, the company said in an announcement. The effectiveness of that care will be measured against industry standards. Blue Distinction Centers comprise hospitals and other providers that the insurer deems deliver high quality care.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Researchers have linked a decade-long decline in the blood lead levels of American Indian adults to long-term cardiovascular health benefits, including reduced blood pressure levels and a reduction in a marker associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and heart failure. The research, supported by the National Institutes of Health, found that adults who had the greatest reductions in blood lead levels saw their systolic blood pressure fall by about 7 mm Hg, an amount comparable to the effects of blood pressure-lowering medication. Lead exposure is known to harm the health of children by damaging the brain and nervous system and slowing growth and development. It has also been associated with increased risks for heart disease in adults. The findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
    • “This is a huge win for public health, especially since many American Indians can face higher risks for elevated lead levels,” said Anne E. Nigra, Ph.D., the senior study author and an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York City. “Compared to the general U.S. population, American Indian communities experience both a higher burden of cardiovascular disease and elevated metal exposure. We saw that even small decreases in a person’s blood lead levels can have meaningful health outcomes.”
  • Medscape tells us,
    • “In addition to better-known risk factors such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and depression, findings of a large study suggested vitamin D deficiency, elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels and social isolation increase the risk for young-onset dementia (YOD).”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News, Fierce Healthcare, and Precision Medicine Online offer summaries of the fourth and final day of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, which was held in San Francisco.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Novartis has backed away from its pursuit of Cytokinetics putting a damper on the prospects of a deal for the promising heart-drug developer. 
    • “The Swiss drug giant had been closing in on a purchase of South San Francisco-based Cytokinetics, with an agreement expected as soon as this week, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. But Novartis, which had been pursuing the biotech for several months, backed away sometime in the past day or two, according to the people.” 
  • The Segal Company offers a helpful white paper on key factors impacting healthcare costs. trends.
  • Beckers Hospital Review notes,
    • “The Cigna Group is getting ready to launch a new program that offers employers and health plan sponsors a way to manage obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease using weight loss drugs, or GLP-1s.
    • EncircleRx is set to launch in the first quarter of 2024 under Evernorth, Cigna’s health services arm. On the company’s website, it describes the program as “the first-ever GLP-1 financial guarantee from a PBM.”
    • “The program works to target the individuals who are at the highest risk, would have the most benefit from meaningful changes from access to the GLP-1, and supports it with the right ongoing clinical and behavioral support,” Eric Palmer, CEO of Evernorth, told investors at the JPMorgan Healthcare Conference Jan. 9. “[The program] makes sure that an individual is prepared to work through all of the effects of going through this kind of life-changing set of therapies and is also set up with the right value-based reimbursement as well.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • Billing for patient messages sent to providers has risen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published in JAMA. 
    • “Charging for e-visits, or asynchronous messages that require medical decision making and take at least five minutes of clinician time over the course of a week, spiked at the beginning of the pandemic as health systems shifted to virtual care. But billing fell after the early pandemic peak before beginning to steadily increase again in mid-2021. 
    • “More than 470 healthcare organizations billed at least 50 e-visits in the third quarter of 2022, an increase of nearly 40% compared with the same period in the previous year. The upturn suggests organizations now see e-visits as a long-term source of potential revenue, researchers said.”