Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Politico reports,
    • “The House cleared a stopgap spending bill on Thursday afternoon that officially keeps federal agencies funded through early March, sending the measure to President Joe Biden’s desk. * * *
    • “With parts of the government now funded through March 1 and March 8, leading appropriators have a tremendous amount of work to do in just a matter of weeks. ***
    • “Haggling over the broader spending bills can’t begin in earnest, however, until leading appropriators lock down a deal on funding totals for all 12 of them. It’s a critical next step that has consumed the last couple weeks for Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and her House counterpart, Chair Kay Granger (R-Texas).”
  • The American Hospital News informs us,
    • “The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury will reopen the public comment period for their proposed rule to improve the No Surprises Act independent dispute resolution process for 14 days beginning Jan. 22 to provide additional time for interested parties to comment.”
  • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the Innovation in Behavioral Health (IBH) Model.
    • IBH is focused on improving quality of care and behavioral and physical health outcomes for Medicaid and Medicare populations with moderate to severe mental health conditions and substance use disorder (SUD). Medicare and Medicaid populations experience disproportionately high rates of mental health conditions and/or substance use disorders (SUD), and as a result are more likely to experience poor health outcomes and experiences, like frequent visits to the emergency department and hospitalizations, or premature death. 
    • The IBH Model seeks to bridge the gap between behavioral and physical health; practice participants under the IBH Model will screen and assess patients for select health conditions, as well as mental health conditions and/or SUD, in community-based behavioral health practices. IBH is a state-based model, led by state Medicaid Agencies, with a goal of aligning payment between Medicaid and Medicare for integrated services.
    • CMS will release a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) in Spring 2024, and up to eight states will be selected to participate. The model will launch in Fall 2024 and run for eight years.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services also issued a fact sheet about steps taken over the last year to expand access to behavioral health by integrating behavioral health with primary care and other physical health and community settings.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force posted a draft research plan concerning “BRCA-Related Cancer: Risk Assessment, Genetic Counseling, and Genetic Testing” for public comment. The public comment deadline is February 14, 2024.

From the public health and medical research front

  • The Kaiser Family Foundation discusses the two healthcare cost crises facing our country.
    • “The cost of health care isn’t a single problem, it’s a multi-dimensional one. That’s one reason we often talk past each other about healthcare costs; we’re talking about different problems. There’s national health spending, consumer out-of-pocket costs, federal health spending (mostly for Medicare and Medicaid), state health spending (mostly Medicaid), employer premiums, and the cost problem currently in vogue—getting better “value” for the health care dollar. Like a Venn diagram with sets that don’t always overlap, each of these are different challenges that often have different and sometimes conflicting solutions. We work on all of these dimensions of health care costs at KFF, but two health cost problems stand out as legitimate health policy crises: Affordability, especially for people who are sick and need a lot of healthcare, and national health spending (the subject of the CMS annual report).”
  • STAT News reports,
    • Mental health care in the United States is in crisis. As the need for care surges — a longstanding trend exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic — the demand for therapists far outstrips the supply. In national surveys, more than one in five U.S. adults suffer from mental illness, yet almost half of those in need report receiving no care. People struggling with mental health challenges often spend months on a wait list despite needing immediate care. Others simply can’t afford it. And getting care is even harder for people living in rural areas and people of color. * * *
    • In the face of these issues, there’s growing interest in the use of lay counselors. One scientific journal recently announced a call for papers for a special issue on the subject. In its executive summary for a recent population health summit, the APA [American Psychological Association] declared that the “exclusive reliance on trained mental health care providers when there are severe gaps in support for training of a mental health workforce has left millions untreated.” A number of recent research articles suggest addressing the gap by innovating on the traditional model of mental health treatment, including where and how it is provided and who provides it.
    • Lynn Bufka, associate chief of practice transformation and quality at the APA, believes that an expanded approach to providing mental health care is essential to meet the current need. “We clearly cannot meet the need for mental health services in this country with the existing workforce,” she said. “We’re going have to consider those kinds of models and options in order to get to where we need to be in this country.”
  • STAT New also delves into whether recent scientific findings may lead to a test for long Covid.
    • “Long Covid has long eluded scientists looking for its cause. Not knowing what triggers its persistent and distressing symptoms makes the condition challenging to treat; it’s hard to even say definitively who has it. New research published Thursday in Science has identified proteins present in the blood of people with long Covid that could point the way to a much-needed diagnostic test and possibly to future therapeutic targets.
    • “Scientists at the University of Zurich discovered high levels of proteins involved in the complement system — an important part of the immune system bridging innate and adaptive responses — that were disrupted in people with long Covid symptoms, but not in those who got better after the initial Covid-19 infection or in those who had recovered from long Covid symptoms after six months. The team also found damaged red blood cells and platelets as well as signs of harm to the endothelial cells that line blood vessels.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Drugmakers kicked off 2024 by raising the list prices for Ozempic, Mounjaro and dozens of other widely used medicines. Companies including the maker of Ozempic, and Eli Lilly , which sells Mounjaro, raised list prices on 775 brand-name drugs during the first half of January, according to an analysis for The Wall Street Journal by 46brooklyn Research, a nonprofit drug-pricing analytics group. 
    • “The drugmakers raised prices of their medicines by a median 4.5%, though the prices of some drugs rose by around 10% or higher, according to the research group. The median increase is higher than the rate of inflation, which ticked up to 3.4% in December. * * *
    • “Among the notable increases: The price for Ozempic, a diabetes treatment that many people are taking to lose weight, went up by 3.5% to nearly $970 for a month’s supply. Mounjaro, a diabetes drug in the same class that is also widely used for weight loss, climbed 4.5% to almost $1,070 a month.”
  • Healthcare Dive identifies “Top healthcare trends in 2024; Here’s what industry experts see coming down the pike for hospitals, insurers and digital health companies this year.” The article summarizes Healthcare Dive’s 2024 trend reports from the past few weeks.
  • Healthcare Dive also informs us,
    • “Humana is the latest victim of elevated medical costs in the fourth quarter. The health insurer on Thursday lowered its 2023 profit outlook after members utilized more healthcare than expected as the year drew to a close.
    • Humana now expects $26.09 in adjusted earnings per share for full-year 2023, according to a financial filing. That’s down from its prior guidance of at least $28.25.
    • “Humana also lowered its expectations for growth in the lucrative Medicare Advantage program. The insurer now expects to increase MA membership 1.8% this year. Previously, Humana said it would outstrip expected industry growth of 6% to 8%.”
  • CVS Health posted a report highlighting opportunities for the future of community pharmacies.