Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • American Hospital Association (AHA) News reports,
    • “AHA Feb. 22 voiced support for the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act (H.R. 7265), legislation that would provide funding for training programs to help health care workers identify patients at high risk for suicide or self-harm. The bill would also provide grants to facilitate suicide prevention training at health professions schools.”  
  • and
    • “Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Ranking Member Bill Cassidy, R-La., Feb. 21 released a report proposing ways to modernize the existing HIPAA framework and protect health and other data not covered by HIPAA. Responding to Cassidy’s request for information on the issue last year, AHA asked Congress to urge the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights to immediately withdraw a rule that would violate HIPAA and its implementing regulations; explore how to better require entities not covered by HIPAA to protect patient privacy; and strengthen HIPAA preemption.”
  • Roll Call tells us,
    • “The House Democratic Women’s Caucus has asked the biggest insurance association to urge insurers to comply with contraceptive coverage requirements and Biden administration guidance issued in January, according to a letter shared first with CQ Roll Call. * * *
    • “The Democratic Women’s Caucus wrote to AHIP President and CEO Mike Tuffin on Thursday urging the group to have its members follow the suggestions HHS outlined. 
    • “Despite repeated clarification of these requirements from the Departments, multiple investigations — including by the House Oversight Committee — have revealed that plans routinely violate the [2010 health care law] by refusing to cover certain products, imposing administrative hurdles like prior authorizations and step therapy (fail first protocols), and requiring patient cost-sharing,” wrote the 143 House members as well as 13 senators.
    • “The members asked Tuffin to respond if insurance plans will be adopting the standard and when; how plans that will not adopt the standard intend to comply with the coverage requirement and if any member plans have been using techniques to deny coverage as described in the HHS guidance. 
    • “The letter also seeks clarity on which plans have an exceptions process publicly available on their websites for when a therapeutically equivalent product does not work for a patient.
    • “The letter requests a response by March 1.”
  • MedTech Dive notes,
    • Better Therapeutics has received breakthrough device status for a digital therapeutic designed to treat adults with advanced liver disease, the company said Tuesday.
    • The Food and Drug Administration awarded the designation after seeing the results of a clinical trial that linked the digital cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to reductions in liver fat.
    • Better Therapeutics won FDA authorization in Type 2 diabetes in July but, like the wider digital therapeutics sector, has struggled to allay concerns about commercialization. The company has discussed substantial doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern. 
  • Mercer Consulting projects “the 2025 inflation-adjusted amounts for health savings accounts (HSAs), high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and excepted-benefit health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) will all rise from 2024 levels. These unofficial 2025 amounts are determined using the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)’s cost-of-living adjustment methods, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) published Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U) values through January 2024, and Mercer’s projected C-CPI-U values for February and March.”
  • “The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force posted today a final research plan on screening for HIV. The draft research plan for this topic was posted for public comment from November 30, 2023, to January 3, 2024. The Task Force reviewed all of the comments that were submitted and took them into consideration as it finalized the research plan. To view the final research plan, please go here.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today calls our attention to the following
    • “More than 134,000 cancers might have gone undiagnosed during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study of national trends in cancer incidence.
    • “Annual cancer incidence fell almost 30% short of the expected rate from March through December 2020. The difference represented potentially 134,395 undiagnosed cancers during that period. Diagnosis of early- and late-stage cancers declined. Prostate, breast, and lung cancers accounted for the most potential missed cases. Overall, rates of “screenable” cancers decreased by 13.9% versus expected rates. * * *
    • “It is important that we continue to evaluate the trends identified in this study as U.S. cancer incidence data for years after 2020 become available,” the authors wrote. “Pandemic-associated disruptions will continue to affect rates of cancer incidence, and how long it will be until we fully recover is still unknown.”
    • “Beyond incidence, it is important that we measure the pandemic’s contribution to future trends in cancer mortality and survival,” they added. “With a near 10% reduction from expected rates in overall late-stage incidence from March to December 2020, there will undoubtedly — and unfortunately — be a subsequent rise in cancer mortality. How substantial a rise and for how long will provide a more complete picture of the consequences of COVID-19 disruptions on the burden of cancer in the U.S.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that “There’s No Easy Way to Stop Taking Ozempic. Those who go off weight-loss drugs risk regaining weight, but staying on them forever isn’t always a realistic option.” Quite a conundrum. The article discusses approaches to stopping the medicine and alternatives, such as bariatric surgery.

  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “A research project supported by the National Institutes of Health has developed a tool to rapidly and inexpensively diagnose sarcoidosis, a chronic inflammatory disease marked by the growth of tiny lumps called granulomas in the lungs and other organs in the body. The tool, which uses a simple blood test, could allow for selective use of more invasive diagnostic tests often used to identify the disease. The findings published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
    • “Currently, diagnosing sarcoidosis isn’t a straightforward process, and requires tissue removal and testing with additional screenings to rule out other diseases, such as tuberculosis or lung cancer,” said James Kiley, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH. “Using a blood test will help diagnose faster, particularly in those organs that are more challenging to biopsy and with less harm to the patient.”
  • The NIH Director, in her blog discusses “A Potential New Way to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss: Trapping Excess Zinc.”
    • “Hearing loss is a pervasive problem, affecting one in eight people aged 12 and up in the U.S.1 While hearing loss has multiple causes, an important one for millions of people is exposure to loud noises, which can lead to gradual hearing loss, or people can lose their hearing all at once. The only methods used to prevent noise-induced hearing loss today are avoiding loud noises altogether or wearing earplugs or other protective devices during loud activities. But findings from an intriguing new NIH-supported study  exploring the underlying causes of this form of hearing loss suggest it may be possible to protect hearing in a different way: with treatments targeting excess and damaging levels of zinc in the inner ear.”
  • STAT News points out “Embryo loss is integral to [in vitro fertilization] IVF. [The] Alabama ]Supreme Court]’s ruling equating embryos with children jeopardizes its practice.” For more information, listen to this Advisory Opinions podcast from the Dispatch.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Fourteen organizations representing providers, payers, consumer technology companies and employers are teaming up to cut through the noise and raise higher standards for finding digital health solutions that work and are worth the investment.
    • “The new Digital Health Collaborative, supported by the Peterson Health Technology Institute, brings together provider groups, purchasers and end users and initial work will focus on pulling together a national purchaser survey, grantmaking and convenings, the organization said.
    • “The Peterson Health Technology Institute formed in July 2023, armed with $50 million in funding, to evaluate digital health technologies and help cut through the hype to identify innovations that actually benefit patients. PHTI focused on providing independent, evidence-based assessments of emerging products, something that is currently lacking in the market.”
  • BioPharma Dive tells us,
    • “Moderna shares rose by as much as 10% Thursday morning after the COVID-19 vaccine developer reported fourth quarter profit that beat Wall Street expectations of a net loss during the final three months of 2023.
    • “Full-year sales of $6.7 billion matched estimated numbers Moderna disclosed in January, but were down by about two-thirds versus 2022 as COVID vaccination rates declined substantially last year. The company has restructured its manufacturing operations in response to match the lower demand.
    • “Moderna forecasts $4 billion in sales this year, with some expected to come from an experimental vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus that’s under regulatory review in the U.S. and several other countries.”
  • McKnight’s Long Term Care News lets us know,
    • “A shortage of registered nurses in the first two years of the pandemic was probably temporary, according to a new report. That’s because the workforce rebounded in 2022 and 2023, the authors said. Even still, a lot of RNs aren’t going back to hospitals and are moving into other settings including nursing homes and long-term care communities, authors of the report said.
    • “The study, published on Feb. 16 in JAMA Health Forum, noted that the workforce of RNs fell by about 100,000 employees in 2021. That decrease was the largest drop in a single year in the past 40 years. In 2022, hiring started to go back up, according to data from the US Bureau of the Census Current Population Survey. 
    • “The data included RNs between the ages of 23 and 69 who were employed between 1982 and 2023. The researchers also used another cohort of data on employment trends by birth year and age to project the age distribution and employment of RNs through the year 2035. There were 455,085 RNs included in the study. In 2022 and 2023, there were 3.35 million full-time RNs, which is 6% higher than in 2019 when there were 3.16 million nurses.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Walgreens is planning to close its remaining VillageMD clinics in Florida as the beleaguered retail giant continues to cut costs.
    • VillageMD operated 52 clinics in Florida, but 14 have closed to date. The remainder will shutter by March 15, according to multiple news reports citing Walgreens. The closures fully exit VillageMD from Florida, one of its largest markets and a key target for value-based primary care chains given the state’s large population of elderly patients with chronic health needs.
    • “Walgreens did not share details of what’s driving the closures. But analysts say Walgreens may have struggled getting enough doctors and patients into the smaller clinics, which are co-located within Walgreens stores.”
  • Beckers Hospital News notes,
    • “Grubhub has teamed up with CVS Pharmacy to deliver health and wellness products to consumers in 48 states. 
    • “Grubhub users can now access thousands of products on the mobile ordering and delivery platform from more than 6,000 CVS locations nationwide. * * *
    • “CVS is the second national drugstore chain to partner with Grubhub, behind Rite Aid. Walgreens has also teamed up with Doordash and Uber to deliver medications and other health products.”
  • Per HR Dive,
    • “Business advocates and the U.S. Department of Labor can resume their fight over independent contractor regulations, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Monday (Coalition v. Su).
    • “The litigation began after the Biden administration in 2021 nixed a Trump-era rule on the issue. Business groups challenged that withdrawal, arguing DOL overstepped its authority. A federal district court judge agreed, and the Biden administration appealed that ruling to the 5th Circuit. The appeals court issued a stay pending DOL’s publication of a new rule.
    • “Biden’s DOL finalized its own version of the regulations in January, with a March 11 effective date, leading the 5th Circuit to lift its stay Monday at the request of the business groups. The court also vacated the lower court’s opinion at DOL’s request, sending it back for the court to revisit.
    • “Considering this and other litigation related to the new regulations, a court could very well put the upcoming rules on hold, an employment law attorney told HR Dive last month; but with the effective date just weeks away, employers should monitor developments closely, he said.”