Friday Factoids

From Washington, DC

  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management released its call letter for benefit and rate proposals for 2025 FEHB and Postal Service Health Benefit (PSHB) plans. Not surprisingly, the 2025 call letter focuses on the launch of the PSHB Program on January 1, 2025. The next step will be for OPM to issue its technical guidance. The benefit and rate proposals are due on May 31, 2024.
  • Fierce Healthcare reports,
    • “A bipartisan group of senators announced Friday that it is working on new legislation for “long-term reforms” to physician payments under Medicare and other program changes.
    • “In a joint release, U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee; John Barrasso, R-Wyoming; Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan; Mark Warner, D-Virginia; and Minority Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota said they have formed a “Medicare payment reform working group.”
    • “The lawmakers plan to proposes changes to the physician fee schedule and “make necessary updates” to 2015’s Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), they said, and “in the coming weeks” will be seeking feedback from stakeholders.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
    • “On Thursday, February 8, 2024, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for its historic Headliners Luncheon.
    • “During his address, he urged the nation to shift from an “illness-care system” to a “wellness-care system.” He also highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to increase access to quality, affordable health care, lower health care costs, including the cost of prescription drugs, and protect access to reproductive health care.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control tells us,
    • What CDC knows
      • BA.2.87.1, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was identified in South Africa by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. CDC is closely tracking this variant because of the large number of mutations when compared to previous variants. At this time, BA.2.87.1 has not been identified in clinical specimens outside South Africa. Because this is a newly emerging variant, there is not as much additional data about its potential impact. So far, the public health risk for this new variant appears low.
    • What CDC is doing
      • CDC continues to track the appearance and spread of new variants around the world through genomic surveillance. CDC is working closely with partners in South Africa to gather the latest information on BA.2.87.1. CDC and its partners are continually assessing potential impacts to vaccines, tests, and treatments.
    • Keep reading: CDC Tracks New SARS-CoV-2 Variant, BA.2.87.1
  • Here is a link to the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker.
  • ABC News adds,
    • “The flu virus is hanging on in the U.S., intensifying in some areas of the country after weeks of an apparent national decline. 
    • “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Friday showed a continued national drop in flu hospitalizations, but other indicators were up — including the number of states with high or very high levels for respiratory illnesses.
    • ““Nationally, we can say we’ve peaked, but on a regional level it varies,” said the CDC’s Alicia Budd. “A couple of regions haven’t peaked yet.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “The CDC has published its first comprehensive laboratory recommendations for syphilis testing.
    • “Published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reportopens in a new tab or window, the new recommendations include approaches for laboratory-based tests, point-of-care tests, sample processing, and how laboratories should report test results to clinicians and health departments.
    • “The recommendations are primarily for clinical laboratory or disease control personnel, but also for clinicians to understand how to collect and process specimens, interpret test results, and counsel and treat patients, according to CDC researchers led by John Papp, PhD, of the agency’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in Atlanta.”
  • Mercer Consulting suggests that rising cancer rates call for a comprehensive strategy.
    • “A comprehensive cancer strategy includes both support for employees as they cope with the physical and emotional stresses of a cancer diagnosis, and effective care management to help ensure the patient receives quality care quickly in the most appropriate setting — which can lead to better outcomes and better use of healthcare dollars. Just over a third of large employers (34%) provide a specialized cancer care management program. These programs assist with care coordination, support compliance with treatment regimens, find applicable clinical trials, and connect families to local community resources and to other solutions the employer offers.  
    • “Centers of Excellence or site-of-care navigation programs, offered by 24% of large employers, help ensure that members are treated by quality providers with relevant experience and expertise. Hotlines, caregiver and family advocacy services, and financial planning services can help employees and their families deal with the day-to-day challenges of the cancer journey.”
  • Milliman Consulting offers some use cases for AI in healthcare and their implications for health insurers.
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • Takeda Pharmaceutical plans to quickly begin late-stage testing of an experimental drug for narcolepsy, which, if successful, could help the company enter what Wall Street analysts see as a multibillion-dollar market.
    • There are two kinds of narcolepsy, with a key difference being that “Type 1” can involve a sudden loss of muscle control. Takeda has been testing its drug, known as TAK-861, as a potential treatment for both, and on Friday disclosed high-level results from a pair of studies that each focused on one type.
    • “Takeda said the Type 1 trial, which evaluated 112 patients, found those given its drug as opposed to a placebo experienced statistically significant and “clinically meaningful” improvements in wakefulness at the eight-week mark. The company now intends to begin Phase 3 trials in the first half of its fiscal year, which begins April 1.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Primary care providers Indianapolis-based Marathon Health and Denver-based Everside Health completed their merger on Thursday, and will operate as Marathon Health.
    • “The Marathon executive team — CEO Jeff Wells and executive chairman Ben Evans — will stay intact post-merger, while Everside Health CEO Chris Miller will depart the company, according to a company spokesperson. Marathon declined to disclose financial details of the deal.
    • “The new Marathon Health will have a physical presence in 41 states at 680 health centers and provide virtual healthcare in all 50 states.” 
  • and
    • “One Medical is closing several offices and moving its chief financial officer to a role focused on growth as Amazon attempts to reallocate internal resources to cut costs.
    • “One Medical plans to close offices in New York City, Minneapolis and St. Petersburg, Florida, by the end of February, according to an internal email obtained by Business Insider. The company will also downsize its San Francisco office space to one floor.
    • “An Amazon spokesperson confirmed the changes to Healthcare Dive and said the company is reducing its investment in corporate office space given many One Medical corporate employees work remotely.”
  • MedTech Dive informs us,
    • “Fresenius Medical Care has received 510(k) clearance for its high-volume hemodiafiltration dialysis therapy system, the company said Thursday.
    • “The device, the 5008X Hemodialysis System, uses both diffusion and convection to remove waste products from the blood of kidney disease patients. Using diffusion, the standard mechanism for hemodialysis, and convection is intended to improve the removal of larger waste products.
    • “Fresenius plans to start a broad market launch next year and push to establish hemodiafiltration, which is already widely used in Europe, as the new standard of care in the U.S.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence points out “KLAS Report Reveals Top-Performing Vendors for Payer Services. The top-performing vendors varied across payer services, with Zelis ranking high for payment accuracy and integrity and ZeOmega succeeding in care management.”

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