Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Think Advisor lets us know,
    • “The U.S. House of Representatives voted 211-208 on Wednesday to pass H.R. 485, the Protecting Health Care for All Patients Act of 2023.
    • “The bill would prohibit federal health programs — including Medicare, Medicaid and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program — from using a “quality-adjusted life year” measure or similar measures when allocating resources.
    • “All Republicans who voted supported the bill, and all Democrats who voted opposed it.
    • “The bill was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Ore.”
  • Roll Call reports,
    • “House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a 10-term Republican from Washington state who has been a strong advocate for people with disabilities, announced Thursday she would not seek reelection this year.
    • “It’s been the honor and privilege of my life to represent the people of Eastern Washington in Congress. They inspire me every day,’’ Rodgers said in a statement. “After much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided the time has come to serve them in new ways. I will not be running for re-election to the People’s House.”
    • “The announcement comes as Rodgers is leading negotiations with the Senate on a wide-ranging health care package that touches all parts of the industry. The legislation would implement more transparency in data and pricing for prescription drugs and other medical services.”
  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • “The CEOs of three major drugmakers defended the prices they charge U.S. patients in a Senate [Health Education Labor and Pensions] committee hearing Thursday, claiming Americans gain access to cutting-edge medicines months or years earlier than people in countries that pay a fraction of the U.S. costs. * * *
    • “Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., asked the CEOs to pledge to not block entry of generics or biosimilars to the respective drugs in the spotlight when their primary patents expire, which Merck and Bristol Myers agreed to. That question in the case of Bristol Myers Squibb was focused Opdivo, its cancer immunotherapy rival to Keytruda.
    • “For Merck, Davis committed to open competition with any forthcoming biosimilars of intravenous Keytruda. But he didn’t mention the company is trying to develop and launch a subcutaneous, or under-the-skin, version that would likely extend its market advantage beyond the anticipated 2028 expiration of its main patent. Bristol Myers is also working on subcutaneous Opdivo.
    • “Questioned by Luján on settlements that have pushed the launch of biosimilar Stelara to 2025, J&J’s Duato said the price of the drug will be lower when that happens and added that prices net of rebates have dropped ahead of biosimilar competition.”
  • Bloomberg reports,
    • “The pharmaceutical industry, Trump and Obama administration officials, and others are urging the Biden administration to reconsider a controversial plan for seizing patents on a drug when its cost gets too high, claiming the approach misinterprets decades-old law and threatens the delicate pipeline that produces innovative, life-saving drugs.
    • “Over 500 comments were filed by the Feb. 6 deadline for groups and individuals to weigh in on the Biden administration’s framework for the federal government to use its march-in rights. The proposal lays out the Biden administration’s stance in a longstanding debate over whether price is a justifiable reason for the government to “march in” and take over a patent on technology developed with the help of taxpayer dollars and then license it to an outside manufacturer.
    • “The Biden plan is already drawing blowback from a broad swath of players in the innovation space. A collection of former US Patent and Trademark Office directors and other government officials under the George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations wrote to warn that the proposed framework, if adopted, would prove destabilizing.”
  • Per an HHS press release
    • “The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs (IEA) will be hosting a stakeholder webinar TOMORROW, February 9, 2024, from 2 – 3 PM ET to provide an update on patient privacy.  
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), finalized modifications to the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Patient Records regulations at 42 CFR part 2 (“Part 2”), which protect the privacy of patients’ SUD treatment records. Specifically, today’s final rule increases coordination among providers treating patients for SUDs, strengthens confidentiality protections through civil enforcement, and enhances integration of behavioral health information with other medical records to improve patient health outcomes.
    • “Today’s rule was informed by the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that, among other things, required HHS to bring the Part 2 program into closer alignment with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Breach Notification, and Enforcement Rules.
    • “The final rule includes the following modifications to Part 2:
      • “Permits use and disclosure of Part 2 records based on a single patient consent given once for all future uses and disclosures for treatment, payment, and health care operations.
      • “Permits redisclosure of Part 2 records by HIPAA covered entities and business associates in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule, with certain exceptions.
      • “Provides new rights for patients under Part 2 to obtain an accounting of disclosures and to request restrictions on certain disclosures, as also granted by the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
      • “Expands prohibitions on the use and disclosure of Part 2 records in civil, criminal, administrative, and legislative proceedings.
      • “Provides HHS enforcement authority, including the potential imposition of civil money penalties for violations of Part 2.
      • “Outlines new breach notification requirements applying to Part 2 records.”
    • “A fact sheet on the final rule may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/regulatory-initiatives/fact-sheet-42-cfr-part-2-final-rule/index.html
    • Register in advance for this webinar: REGISTER HERE  
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The U.S. Postal Service was $2 billion in the red in the first three months of fiscal 2024—typically its busiest and most profitable period of the year—doubling its loss from the same period in the previous year. 
    • “The accelerated losses during the holiday season continue a longstanding trend of poor financial performance for the mailing agency, but mark a troubling sign as its leadership team undertakes significant operational transformations with a promise to right the ship.
    • “In a positive development, however, USPS turned a net profit of $472 million when accounting only for the part of the ledger postal management deems within its control. That figure, which does not include fluctuations in workers’ compensation and amortized payments toward employee retirement accounts, grew from $187 million in the first quarter of the prior year.” 
  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced,
    • “[t]he Finalists for this year’s Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, the federal government’s premier leadership development program. In total, 825 Finalists were selected from more than 7,000 applicants from around the world. 
    • “Presidential Management Fellows are the next generation of federal government leaders,” said Kiran Ahuja, Director of OPM. “The PMF Program gives Fellows the leadership skills and exposure they need to make a difference in government and an impact within their community. Congratulations to all the 2024 PMF finalists. We cannot wait to see what you will accomplish in public service.” 

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Medscape points out,
    • “Brain fog is one of the most common, persistent complaints in patients with long COVID. It affects as many as 46% of patients who also deal with other cognitive concerns like memory loss and difficulty concentrating. 
    • “Now, researchers believe they know why. A new study has found that these symptoms may be the result of a viral-borne brain injury that may cause cognitive and mental health issues that persist for years.
    • “Researchers found that 351 patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had evidence of a long-term brain injury a year after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The findings were based on a series of cognitive tests, self-reported symptoms, brain scans, and biomarkers.” 
  • STAT News reports,
    • “People receiving a double dose of naloxone are no more likely to survive an opioid overdose than people receiving a standard, 4-milligram nasal spray, according to a new study.
    • “The new paper, published Thursday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, showed no significant difference in survival rates between people who were revived using 4- and 8-milligram sprays of naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan. People receiving the smaller dose also did not require a higher total number of sprays, despite having received just half the initial amount. The researchers found only one major contrast between those receiving different dose sizes: Those who received a double dose were over 2.5 times more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, like vomiting.
    • “The study comes as pharmaceutical companies continue to market expensive high-dose formulations of naloxone, arguing that amid record drug death levels resulting from potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl, it’s essential to deliver as much of the overdose-reversal medication as possible. Public health experts and harm-reduction groups have pushed back, however, charging that the companies have used Americans’ fear of fentanyl as an excuse to sell needlessly expensive naloxone products to cash-strapped public health agencies.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review reports,
    • “Patients who take Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy are less likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression compared to those who don’t receive the popular diabetes and weight loss drugs, according to a new study
    • “A review of more than 4 million patient records conducted by Epic Research found that diabetic patients are less likely to have anxiety if they are taking any glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist. 
    • “The researchers analyzed five different GLP-1s: tirzepatide (Mounjaro, Zepbound), semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy, Rybelsus), dulaglutide (Trulicity), liraglutide (Saxenda, Victoza) and exenatide (Byetta, Bydureon). 
    • “The patients taking GLP-1s for weight loss were compared with those receiving another kind of weight loss drug, and diabetic patients were compared with people not taking a GLP-1.”
  • The American Hospital Association News notes how you can “[l’earn how hospitals and health systems are improving maternal and child health outcomes in this synopsis of the latest resources from AHA’s Better Health for Mothers and Babies initiative. READ MORE.”
  • The NIH Director discusses in her blog “What’s Behind that Morning Migraine? Community-Based Study Points to Differences in Perceived Sleep Quality, Energy on the Previous Day.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • AstraZeneca sees its revenue and core earnings per share growing by double-digit percentages in 2024, the pharmaceuticals major said as it reported fourth-quarter core earnings per share below expectations on higher costs, sending the stock lower.
  • CNBC discusses how “Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly are tackling weight loss drug supply woes.”
    • “Last week, the Danish drugmaker [Novo Nordisk] said it had more than doubled its supply of lower-dose versions of its weight loss injection Wegovy in January compared to previous months. Supply shortages forced Novo Nordisk to restrict the availability of those lower doses in the U.S. since May. 
    • “But why are those lower doses important? It’s because people are supposed to start Wegovy at a low dose and gradually increase the size over time to mitigate side effects such as nausea. So, more of those low “starter” doses means more new patients can begin treatment with Wegovy. 
    • “The company plans to “gradually” increase the overall supply of Wegovy throughout the rest of the year, executives added on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call Wednesday.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “UnitedHealth’s chief operating officer Dirk McMahon is retiring after more than two decades at the company.
    • McMahon plans to retire on April 1, the payer said in a Wednesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.
    • “UnitedHealth has yet to name a replacement for McMahon.”
  • and
    • “Walgreens has named a new head of its healthcare unit as the pharmacy chain works to improve its halting finances and shift to delivering more healthcare services.
    • “John Driscoll, the current executive vice president and president of the U.S. Healthcare segment, will be replaced by Mary Langowski, who previously held the chief executive role at chronic condition management company Solera Health. Driscoll will serve in a senior advisory role, Walgreens announced Thursday.”
  • and
    • “Molina Healthcare lost half a million Medicaid members due to redeterminations by the end of 2023, executives said Thursday.
    • “States resumed checking beneficiaries’ eligibility for the safety-net program in April following a pause during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Some 16 million Americans have been disenrolled from Medicaid to date because of the redeterminations. The process is disproportionately impacting insurers with a heavy Medicaid presence like Molina, which brings in 80% of its revenue from the program.
    • “Molina still expects to retain 40% of its Medicaid membership once redeterminations are complete. However, on Thursday the insurer raised its estimate of members gained during COVID from 800,000 to 1 million because of new business adds. That implies a net member loss of 600,000 once redeterminations are complete.” 
  • and
    • “Tenet Healthcare beat Wall Street expectations for revenue in the fourth quarter of 2023 on continued cost control measures and sustained demand for services, particularly in its ambulatory care unit, executives said during an earnings call on Thursday.
    • “CEO Saum Sutaria told investors that Tenet was entering a “new era” in which a higher proportion of its performance was generated by its ambulatory surgical business. Same-facility revenue for ambulatory services grew 9.2% during 2023, above Tenet’s long-term goal of 4% to 6% top line growth.
    • “The Dallas-based for-profit will continue a careful watch on its debt levels, executives said. The company has recently taken steps to reduce its leverage, last week finalizing the sale of three hospitals to Novant Health and announcing the sale of four additional hospitals to UCI Health.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues discusses why it appears that insurers are split in two camps over rising Medicare Advantage costs.

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