“A new bipartisan House bill aims to bolster the U.S. cybersecurity workforce by creating two training programs within the federal government, building on companion legislation introduced in the Senate earlier this year.
“The Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Expansion Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., would establish a cybersecurity registered apprenticeship program in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and a Department of Veterans Affairs pilot program that would provide cybersecurity training to veterans.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) announced,
“In the fast-paced world of cybersecurity, staying ahead of threats is essential. And while security is without a doubt a priority for businesses of all sizes, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the information available. At CISA, we have been diligently developing a solution aimed at simplifying the way our partners and potential collaborators understand their cyber risk and prioritize their investments, ensuring they can quickly navigate this complexity with ease. Our focus has been on making the process of working with us more intuitive and user-friendly so that every organization can spend more time meeting business goals and less time sifting through cybersecurity resources. We believe this approach will be especially helpful for smaller to medium sized stakeholders with fewer resources, who need help prioritizing actions to help them to reduce the likelihood and impact of damaging intrusions.
“In early 2024, we look forward to launching a new way for organizations to understand their cyber risk and receive targeted, straightforward guidance built around our Cybersecurity Performance Goals. This new tool is called ReadySetCyber. While we’re not quite ready to unveil all the details just yet, we are excited to share a glimpse of what’s on the horizon.”
“A cyberattack that disrupts everyday life in the U.S. will likely cost more than the insurance industry can afford to cover, requiring government intervention, insurers and brokers said.
“The idea of a federal backstop to help insurers cope in the event of a catastrophic cyberattack has been examined by the government in recent years, but has gained momentum with tandem efforts at the Treasury Department, the Office of the National Cyber Director and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency over the past year. Government officials and the insurance industry plan to meet in April to work out exactly what such a program would look like.
“Federal support in the event of a catastrophic attack would undoubtedly be necessary, said John Keogh, president and chief operating officer of insurer Chubb.
“While the industry could absorb a major natural disaster, the effects of a cyberattack on a similar scale would quickly overwhelm its capacity to cover losses.”
From the cybersecurity vulnerabilities and breaches front,
A cyberattack targeting Fidelity National Financial led to disruptions across its services, including title insurance and mortgage transactions, after it was forced to block access to certain systems, the company said last week in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
An investigation showed an unauthorized third party gained access to some of its systems and stole certain credentials, the company said.
“Technology like generative AI can address some key security challenges confronting organizations, but professionals that overemphasize those capabilities miss the fundamental need to put people and their unique talents first.
“Security is a people issue,” Amazon CSO Stephen Schmidt said Monday during a presentation at AWS re: Invent in Las Vegas. “Computers don’t attack each other. People are behind every single adversarial action that happens out there.”
“For Schmidt, winning in security is akin to playing chess — focusing on the board, how the pieces move and interact — while practicing psychology. Security professionals need to understand the human elements at play, including their own tendencies and opponents’ motivations.
“You’re not playing just one chess match,” Schmidt said. “You are playing dozens or hundreds of games at the same time, because you have a variety of adversaries with different motivations who are going after you.”
“This cybersecurity scrum can feel overwhelming, but many defenders view generative AI as an ally that can automate repetitive tasks. Cybersecurity vendors across the landscape have released security tools infused with the technology, and more are in the pipeline.”
Tech Republic adds that Open AI first released ChatGPT on November 30, 2022. The site explains how the technology has evolved.
“CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, said the season of respiratory syncytial virus is in “full swing” as flu slowly begins and COVID-19 leads the most hospitalizations and deaths, CNN reported Nov. 30.
“What to know about COVID-19, RSV and flu:
“COVID-19: Dr. Cohen said while COVID-19 is “relatively low,” it remains the primary reason for new respiratory admissions and deaths. In November, each week saw between 14,000 and 18,000 hospitalizations and about 1,000 deaths.
“The CDC revealed a new wastewater data tracking dashboard to track local and national trends per variant, and the dashboard also tracks mpox viruses.
“Between Nov. 1 and Nov. 20, the most recent CDC information available, the proportion of wastewater sites reporting high increases of SARS-CoV-2 samples grew from 22% to 32%. During the same time, the proportion of wastewater sites finding decreasing samples slimmed from 60% to 49%.
RSV: “Hospitalizations for RSV have been slightly rising, with RSV accounting for 0.5% of all hospitalizations in late October and 0.8% as of Nov. 18, according to the CDC. Ten states and New York City are reporting high levels of respiratory virus activity. Louisiana and South Carolina reported “very high” respiratory virus activity levels and Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas are seeing “high” levels.
Flu: “The flu season is beginning as national estimates reveal 3.9% of healthcare visits were for flu for the week ending Nov. 25, a 0.2 percentage point increase from the prior week. Most of the U.S. is reporting an increase in flu, with hot spots appearing in the South Central, Southeast, Mountain and West Coast regions. Twenty-five states and territories are reporting minimal flu activity.
“Hospitalizations for flu have grown for the third consecutive week.”
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to avoid eating certain cantaloupe products amid a salmonella outbreak that has resulted in at least two deaths in the U.S.
“At least 117 people across 34 states have become sick after eating contaminated cantaloupe since mid-October, according to the CDC. At least 61 people have been hospitalized and two have died in Minnesota. The federal agency said the number of people sickened by the outbreak is likely much higher.
“The agency said it’s particularly concerned about the outbreak because the illnesses have been severe and some have occurred in long-term-care facilities and child-care centers. Fourteen people in long-term-care facilities and seven children who attended child-care facilities have been sickened, the CDC said.”
“Advances in treatments for congenital heart abnormalities mean more patients are living into adulthood, with over 2 million adults estimated to have the condition in the U.S. But that means more are also developing heart failure as they grow older — and many aren’t receiving proper care.
“A new study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that while hospitalizations of adults with congenital heart disease stayed stable from 2010 to 2020, the proportion of admissions for those who have heart failure more than doubled from 6.6% to 14%.
“These patients with heart failure also had worse outcomes after hospitalization, with an 86% higher risk of death, a 73% higher risk of major heart and brain complications, and a 26% higher risk of hospital readmission.
“The findings suggest that adults with congenital heart disease who also have heart failure are an especially high-risk population, and they may need closer monitoring and unique treatment regimens.”
Health Day offers these key takeaways from recent study results:
“Sticking to your scheduled mammograms can significantly reduce your risk of death from breast cancer
“Women who got all their scheduled mammograms had a 66% to 72% reduced risk of breast cancer death
“Regular mammograms make it more likely that breast cancers can be caught early, when they are more treatable.”
Mercer Consulting discusses why an end to HIV in our country is in sight and shares five ways to address HIV in the workplace.
The American Hospital Association News adds
“Nine out of 10 people receiving medical care for HIV through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program in 2022 were virally suppressed, meaning they cannot sexually transmit the virus if they take their HIV medication as prescribed, according to the latest annual data from the Health Resources and Services Administration program.”
From the U.S. healthcare business front,
EBRI posted Fast Facts about the changing nature of primary care in our country.
“Among users of primary care, 95–97 percent utilized it in an office setting prior to 2020, but only 86 percent did so from 2020–2021 as employees began using telemedicine (7–8 percent) and urgent care clinics (3–4 percent) with greater frequency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There has been a consistent downward trend in the share of employees whose primary care office visits are at a general/family practice, falling from 42 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2021. In addition, primary care office visits at internal medicine providers have fallen from 21 percent in 2013 to 17 percent in 2021.
“Finally, the provision of primary care by a medical doctor has fallen from 9 percent in 2013 to 4 percent in 2021. In contrast, primary are provision by nurse practitioners and physician assistants has risen over time. The share of employees whose primary care office visits have been with a physician assistant rose from 2 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2021.
“The corresponding change for nurse practitioners has been from 4 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2021.”
“Pfizer will not advance a twice-daily dose of an experimental obesity drug into further testing after results from a mid-stage study showed high rates of gastrointestinal side effects and participant dropout.
“Treatment did lead to significant weight loss compared to placebo over the course of the Phase 2b study. Placebo-adjusted reductions in body weight ranged from 8% to 13% at 32 weeks, Pfizer said in a statement Friday. Discontinuation rates were more than 50% on some drug doses, however.
“Moving forward, Pfizer will turn its focus to a once-daily version that’s currently being tested in a study meant to determine how the drug’s processed by the body. Data are expected in the first half of next year.”
“Community Health Systems announced on Friday it has completed the sale of three Florida hospitals to Tampa General Hospital for about $294 million in cash.
“The deal includes 120-bed Bravera Health Brooksville, 124-bed Bravera Health Spring Hill and 128-bed Bravera Health Seven Rivers, as well as their associated assets, physician clinic operations and outpatient services, according to a press release.
“The sale allows the for-profit hospital operator to “deliberately focus our resources in markets that we deem as most investable and that can produce greater growth and returns over the long term,” CHS CEO Tim Hingtgen said during a call with investors shortly after the divestiture was announced this summer.”
MedCity News explains how payers can break down barriers that prevent access to value-based virtual care.
Daniel Jones, who pens the investment newsletter Crude Value Insights, wrote in an analysis that because Cigna and Humana have fairly different focuses despite both being large health plans, there is potential that the merger could be viewed as more of a vertical deal than a horizontal one, which is less likely to stymie competition.
Cigna is a far smaller player in the Medicare Advantage space while Humana’s insurance business is overwhelmingly centered in MA. Humana, meanwhile, has limited reach in the commercial market, where Cigna has a far greater footprint.
“The sale of Cigna’s Medicare Advantage business would remove one hurdle in the company’s reported goal to merge with Humana, and Health Care Service Corp. might be part of that equation, Bloomberg reported Nov. 29.”
“A House panel on Wednesday hosted another spirited hearing over the role of telework and remote work at federal agencies, with Democrats and agency officials extolling the practices’ impact in improving productivity to skeptical GOP lawmakers.
“The House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s subcommittee on government operations and the federal workforce held its long-awaited second hearing on federal agencies’ “post-pandemic” telework policies. In September, the subcommittee heard testimony from HR leaders at agencies that made a “good faith effort” to comply with the panel’s information requests on telework, and Republican committee leaders suggested Wednesday’s hearing was designed to hear from agencies whose submissions were found wanting.
“It is difficult for me to understand why [these agencies’] responses looked like nothing more than them phoning it in,” said Subcommittee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas. “This is a serious effort by the subcommittee. It has produced questions across both sides of the aisle. Either these agencies simply do not know the answers to some or all of the questions asked, or perhaps they just don’t want to share it.”
The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will give healthcare providers and insurers initiating a payment dispute through Jan. 16 under the No Surprises Act’s Independent Dispute Resolution process 10 business days to select a certified IDR entity after initiating the dispute, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Nov 29.
“Following the reopening of the Federal IDR portal on October 6, 2023, to certain new single disputes, including disputes involving bundled payment arrangements, but excluding disputes related to air ambulance services, the Departments extended the certified IDR entity selection timeline to 10 business days until November 3, 2023,” CMS explained. “Following the expiration of that extension and the return to the three-business-day timeline, numerous disputing parties have requested that the timeline temporarily return to 10 business days. Accordingly, the Departments are announcing that disputing parties will have 10 business days to select a certified IDR entity for all disputes through January 16, 2024. This extension will be provided automatically and does not require a request by disputing parties.”
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released for public comment a draft research plan for assessing the value of screening for HIV. The public comment period ends on January 3, 2024.
In FEHB Open Season news, Tammy Flanagan, writing in Govexec, discusses the Medicare Advantage plans that may FEHB carriers have integrated into their FEHB plans.
From the public health and medical research front,
The New York Times looks back at the Omicron variant of Covid which has been with us for two years now. While the earlier commanding Covid variants caused dangerous lower respiratory infections, Omicron causes more manageable upper respiratory infections.
Medscape informs us about encouraging developments that may lead to long Covid tests.
“[A] new preprint study suggests that the elevation of certain immune system proteins are a commonality in long COVID patients and identifying them may be an accurate way to diagnose the condition.
“Researchers at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom, tracked 166 patients, 79 of whom had been diagnosed with long COVID and 87 who had not. All participants had recovered from a severe bout of acute COVID-19.”
“The rosiest of revenue projections for treatments like Wegovy and Zepbound rely on a future in which their use goes beyond diabetes and obesity and into Alzheimer’s disease and substance use disorders. But GLP-1 drugs’ pathway to pharmaceutical ubiquity is a little cloudier than it might seem.
“Take for example alcohol use disorder, or AUD. This week, a case study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reported that six patients diagnosed with AUD received Wegovy for weight loss and experienced significant reductions in their symptoms, sparking more interest in the potential of GLP-1 treatments in addiction. According to Leerink analyst David Risinger, there are at least six other mid-stage studies testing whether Novo Nordisk’s drug can treat AUD or nicotine dependence, each reading out in the coming years.
“The problem is that not one of those studies is sponsored by Novo, which has been noncommittal about running the costly, large-scale trials that would be required to win FDA approval in addiction. Physicians could prescribe a GLP-1 drug off-label, but manufacturers are already struggling to meet demand for patients with diabetes or obesity, leaving little supply for speculative indications.”
“Younger onset age of coronary heart disease was tied to higher risks of incident all-cause dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and vascular dementia, a large prospective cohort study in Great Britain showed.
“Each 10-year decrease in coronary heart disease onset age was associated with a 25% increased risk of all-cause dementia, a 29% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and a 22% increased risk of vascular dementia (all P<0.001), reported Fanfan Zheng, PhD, of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, and co-authors in the Journal of the American Heart Association.”
“The United States faces a serious shortage of primary care physicians for many reasons, but one, in particular, is inescapable: compensation.
“Substantial disparities between what primary care physicians earn relative to specialists like orthopedists and cardiologists can weigh into medical students’ decisions about which field to choose. Plus, the system that Medicare and other health plans use to pay doctors generally places more value on doing procedures like replacing a knee or inserting a stent than on delivering the whole-person, long-term healthcare management that primary care physicians provide.
“As a result of those pay disparities, and the punishing workload typically faced by primary care physicians, more new doctors are becoming specialists, often leaving patients with fewer choices for primary care.
“There is a public out there that is dissatisfied with the lack of access to a routine source of care,” said Christopher Koller, president of the Milbank Memorial Fund, a foundation that focuses on improving population health and health equity. “That’s not going to be addressed until we pay for it.”
“Renton, Washington-based Providence’s operations tallied $310 million of net losses (-4.3% operating margin) during the third quarter and now sit $857.3 million in the hole (-4% operating margin) through nine months, according to filings and other financial information released this week by the nonprofit.
“Providence’s leadership was quick to highlight the system’s performance improvements relative to 2022, when the Catholic organization had posted a nearly $1.1 billion operating loss (-5.6% operating margin) across nine months.
“Rising demand, reduced length of stay, lower premium pay and better workforce retention and recruitment each helped Providence chip away at the losses, the organization wrote in an accompanying release, though lingering expense pressures and revenue roadblocks still held operations below break even.”
“The Cleveland Clinic logged another negative operating margin and nine figures of net losses during the three months ended Sept. 30, according to unaudited financial statements released this week.
“The nonprofit reported a $14.9 million operating loss (-0.4% operating margin) for the third quarter of 2023.
“This was an improvement over the same period in 2022, when the system logged a $28.3 million operating loss (-0.9% operating margin), and a narrow increase over the $21.4 million operating loss (-0.6% operating margin) of the immediately preceding quarter.
“In commentary accompanying the results, Cleveland Clinic’s management highlighted a 10.1% year-over-year rise in third-quarter operating revenue that outpaced the 9.6% bump in operating expenses.”
“Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona is looking to the payer-provider example set by Kaiser Permanente as the Phoenix-based company expands its primary care subsidiary Prosano Health Solutions, the Phoenix Business Journal reported Nov. 20.
“BCBSAZ opened its first Prosano facility in Maricopa County this year, with several more locations opening in the Phoenix area in 2024. Prosano launched in January for BCBSAZ employees, with 1,800 employees and their dependents enrolling.
“A new health plan, the BlueSignature Prosano PPO plan, will be offered to employer groups in 2024 and provide access to the Prosano care centers. The new care centers offer access to a primary care team, behavioral health practitioners, lab services, same-day appointments, virtual options, and a selection of the most needed prescriptions. An expansion to Tucson is planned for 2025.”
“Optum Health now counts 90,000 doctors — some 10% of the physician workforce — as employees or affiliates, company leadership announced.
“The company, which is a part of UnitedHealth Group, said during an investor conference on Wednesday that it acquired or hired nearly 20,000 doctors in 2023 alone, according to reports. It also counts an additional 40,000 advanced practice clinicians among its ranks.
“The figures, reported by Amar Desai, MD, CEO of UnitedHealth’s Optum Health division, make Optum Health the largest employer of physicians in the U.S., and UnitedHealth is the country’s largest private health insurer.”
“AbbVie will pay $10 billion for the biotech firm Immunogen, the company said Thursday, acquiring an approved treatment for ovarian cancer and buying into a burgeoning area of oncology.
“Under the agreement, AbbVie will pay $31.26 per share in cash for Immunogen, a nearly 100% premium to the company’s recent trading price. Central to the deal, expected to close in the middle of next year, is Elahere, an Immunogen product that won Food and Drug Administration approval for advanced ovarian cancer in 2022.
“Elahere is among a surging class of cancer medicines called antibody-drug conjugates, or ADCs, which are designed to deliver a targeted dose of chemotherapy directly to tumor cells while sparing healthy tissues. AbbVie’s acquisition is the latest multibillion-dollar deal in the space, following Merck’s $22 billion agreement with ADC specialist Daiichi Sankyo and Pfizer’s $43 billion buyout of Seagen earlier this year.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., will convene a committee hearing on Tuesday, December 5, 2023 titled “Drug Shortages: Examining Supply Challenges, Impacts, and Policy Solutions from a Federal Health Program Perspective.” The hearing will take place at 10:00 a.m. in Room 215 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.
“The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Nov. 29 held a hearing to explore how medical devices and hospitals are using artificial intelligence and what Congress should consider as AI in health care evolves.”
“Among Bumpus’ priorities when she assumes the role will be “creating a new model” for the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, the branch that conducts inspections, monitors drug imports, and issues recalls, market withdrawals and safety alerts, Commissioner Robert Califf said in a memo to agency staff.”
“Beginning in 2024, group health plans and carriers will be required to include all covered items and services in their self-service internet-based price comparison tool, as required under the Transparency in Coverage (TIC) Final Rules.
“As background, plans must provide participants and beneficiaries with out-of-pocket cost estimates via a user-friendly online self-service tool (and by paper upon request). The intent of this requirement is to provide individuals with real-time cost-sharing information to support making informed health care decisions. Implemented in two phases, the first phase of the price comparison tool required the first 500 items and services (as defined by the DOL) to be published in the tool effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2023, and the second phase will require all other services covered by the plan to be included in the tool effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2024.”
From the public health and medical research front,
“CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics released two reports today examining provisional mortality data from 2022. While analysis shows the number and rate of suicides increased for the second year in a row from, overall life expectancy at birth increased by just over a year. This increase regains some of the 2.4 years of life expectancy lost between 2019 and 2021.
“The increase of 1.1 years in life expectancy from 2021 to 2022 primarily resulted from decreases in mortality due to COVID-19, heart disease, unintentional injuries, cancer, and homicide. Declines in COVID-19 mortality accounted for approximately 84% of the increase in life expectancy. * * *
“The percentage increase in the number of suicides was greater for females (4%) than males (2%), but the provisional 2022 suicide number for males (39,255) was nearly four times that of females (10,194).”
“The prevalence of a highly mutated COVID variant has tripled in the past two weeks, new government data shows.
“Now, nearly 1 in 10 new COVID cases are fueled by the BA.2.86 variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday.
“The variant is spreading the fastest in the Northeast: Just over 13% of cases in the New York and New Jersey region are blamed on BA.2.86. * * *
“So far, preliminary data on the variant suggests it does not trigger more severe illness than previous variants, the WHO said in a recent , but the international agency still noted a recent and “substantial rise” in BA.2.86 cases.
“The CDC also noted that BA.2.86 variant poses a “low” public health risk.”
“Personal trainers can help people increase their strength and their fitness.
“Could a “brain coach” be just as useful in preventing Alzheimer’s’ disease?
“A new study suggests that personalized health and lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent memory loss for older adults at high risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“People who received personal coaching experienced a 74% boost in their thinking and memory tests compared with those who didn’t receive such attention.
“This is the first personalized intervention, focusing on multiple areas of cognition, in which risk factor targets are based on a participant’s risk profile, preferences and priorities, which we think may be more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach,” said co-lead researcher Dr. Kristine Yaffe, vice chair of research in psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).”
“One in four adults relied solely on medications to manage chronic pain, highlighting an opportunity to increase use of nonpharmacologic therapies, particularly in men, older adults and those with public insurance, according to researchers.
“Findings from this study contribute important information about use of over-the-counter pain relievers, prescriptions nonopioids and exercise, which were found to be some of the most common pain management therapies used by adults with chronic pain,” Stephanie Michaela Rikard, PhD, a health scientist at the CDC, told Healio.
“A law designed to protect patients from surprise medical bills is contributing to the financial distress of some medical-service providers, which say lengthy billing disputes and payment delays with insurers are hurting their ability to stay afloat.
“The No Surprises Act, which took effect last year, aims to protect patients from surprise medical bills from out-of-network healthcare providers when there are disagreements over reimbursements between insurers and providers. Previously, providers often billed patients to make up for the amounts insurers were unwilling to pay.
“Numerous healthcare businesses, some owned by private equity, said the legislation is contributing to delays and reductions in payments by insurance companies, hurting their cash flows and earnings. A handful of major healthcare-service providers already have filed for chapter 11 protection this year, specifically naming the law as a major reason for their bankruptcies. These include physician-staffing companies Envision Healthcare and American Physician Partners as well as helicopter-ambulance operator Air Methods.”
“There are five tech companies valued at over $1 trillion. In healthcare, the closest contender is Eli Lilly.
.”This year it became the first big pharmaceutical to surpass a market capitalization of $500 billion thanks to the popularity of its obesity and diabetes medications and, to a lesser extent, its experimental Alzheimer’s drug. But hanging over Lilly and rival Novo Nordisk is a reality that puts the brakes on big pharma’s ascent: the patent cliff.
“There are several reasons why there isn’t a big pharma company in the trillion-dollar club, but the boom-and-bust nature of drug development is high on the list. Unlike Apple, which hypothetically can make huge margins off the iPhone for perpetuity, U.S. drug companies have a limited period from which to profit from their innovation. As their patents expire and generic competitors enter the market, sales plunge. Pharma executives, overly focused on short-term growth, don’t often prepare their companies for that.”
FEHBlog notes on the Journal articles,
Cigna and Humana are undoubtedly aware of the firebreathing nature of anti-trust enforcers in the federal government. Cigna is focused on the commercial market while Humana currently is pulling out of that market to focus on government business. Time will tell.
Out-of-network doctors and air ambulance companies flying the pirate flag can avoid No Surprises Act problems by joining health plan networks.
“UnitedHealth Group on Tuesday forecast 2024 profit broadly in line with Wall Street expectations, indicating that medical costs are likely to remain elevated for the health insurance giant.
“The healthcare sector has this year seen a recovery in demand, especially among older patients who started returning to doctors’ clinics and hospitals for procedures they had delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Healthcare insurers could get a slight respite from rising medical costs next year. Global costs are expected to rise 9.9% year over year in 2024, down from a 10.7% increase in 2023, according to a new survey from consultancy WTW released on Tuesday.
“However, that decline might not last long. Nearly three-fifths of insurers surveyed anticipate higher medical cost growth over the next three years as new medical technologies, overuse of care and members’ poor health habits drive increased spend.
“Many insurers told WTW they are leaning on deductibles, contracted provider networksand telehealth options to manage costs. Others are excluding coverage for healthcare such as fertility treatments or gender re-affirming care.”
Beckers Hospital CFO Report identifies the states with the most rural hospital closures.
“Since 2005, 104 rural hospitals have closed and more than 600 additional rural hospitals — 30% of all rural hospitals in the U.S. — are at risk of closing in the near future, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform.”
Beckers Hospital Review calls attention to this development,
“Mayo Clinic’s board of trustees has given the green light to an initiative dubbed “Bold. Forward. Unbound.,” which involves a $5 billion redesign of Mayo Clinic’s downtown Rochester, Minn., campus.
“The redesign will introduce new facilities that incorporate innovative care approaches and digital technologies, according to a Nov. 28 news release from Mayo, with a pivotal element of these being specialized “neighborhoods.” According to the health system, the neighborhood concept will offer patients a centralized location for all required services related to their specific condition, eliminating the need for navigating between different departments.”
“Accountable care organizations do not positively influence treatment and outcomes for chronic mental health conditions for Medicare patients, according to a study in Health Affairs.
“For patients newly enrolled in ACOs, they saw no improvements in their depression and anxiety symptoms after one year. These patients were also 24% less likely to have their depression or anxiety treated than patients unenrolled in ACOs, and 9.8% less likely to have an evaluation and management visit for depression or anxiety with a primary care clinician.
“Since mental health conditions in Medicare patients are often underdiagnosed and undertreated, some have suspected that mental health illnesses are ideal conditions for ACOs to handle, but the study found that there were no significant differences in any other measures of mental health treatment.”
Beckers Hospital Review also names the winners of Forbes 30 under 30 in healthcare for 2024.
This morning, the federal government filed a notice appealing to the D.C. Circuit the HIV and Hepatitis Foundation’s successful challenge to the Trump administration’s co-pay accumulator rule.
Yesterday, the federal government moved for the district court to modify its decision to state that the Trump administration rule would remain effective until the ACA regulators reconsidered it in compliance with the court’s order. The plaintiffs reportedly oppose the government’s motion.
The FAQs concern the claims batching limitations under the No Surprises Act and the update to CLAS requirements that health plans, including FEHB plans must use in certain plan publications. The FEHBlog noticed that the ACA regulators have added new languages to CLAS requirements. The CLAS changes will take effect for the 2025 plan year.
In response to recent court decisions that set aside certain regulations implementing the No Surprises Act’s Independent Dispute Resolution process, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Nov. 28 released [ACA] FAQs  explaining how certified IDR entities may determine whether a dispute is appropriately batched and clarifying certain other provisions and its policy for extending existing IDR deadlines once the federal IDR portal reopens to all batched disputes and single disputes involving air ambulance services. CMS also rescheduled to Nov. 30 at 3 p.m. ET its webinar to review the FAQs for health care providers and insurers submitting batched or air ambulance claims. To attend the webinar, register here.
A bipartisan group of House members Nov. 28 introduced AHA-supported legislation that would prohibit health insurers from charging fees for standard electronic fund transfers to pay health care providers for services. Commercial insurers often automatically charge health care providers a percentage-based fee for EFT payments.
FEHBlog note — EFT transactions are not free. If the entire cost is shifted onto the insurer, then premiums go up.
From the public health and medical research front,
“The Food and Drug Adminsitration is investigating whether CAR-T cell therapies like Novartis’ Kymriah or Gilead’s Yescarta are linked to the risk of new blood cancers after receiving reports of so-called T cell malignancies in people who have received the treatments.
“In a statement Tuesday, the agency said it’s weighing “the need for regulatory action” in response to the reports, which came from both clinical testing and safety monitoring tied to commercial use. The identified risk is applicable to all approved CAR-T therapies, although the agency noted that “the overall benefits of these products continue to outweigh their potential risks for their approved uses.”
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned of an emerging safety issue involving a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine made by Philips.
“The FDA issued a safety communication about thermal issues with the Philips Respironics’ DreamStation 2 CPAP machines, which are used to treat forms of sleep apnea, and recommended patients monitor machines.
“The agency said it had received reports of issues such as fire, smoke, burns and other signs of overheating. The FDA said it is in discussions with the company about strategies to address the safety issue.”
“Scientists have discovered a new type of stem cell in the spine that appears crucial to resolving a long-standing mystery: why far more cancer cells spread to the spine than to other bones in the body.
“When breast, lung and prostate cancers metastasize to multiple bones in the body, three to five times more cancer winds up in the spine than in the lower and upper limbs. Scientists have known of this disparity for decades, but the reason for it has remained unclear.
“One theory held that differences in blood flow might be the cause. But the new findings suggest an alternative that could have implications for cancer care, spine fusion surgery and osteoporosis, a bone-weakening disease that afflicts about 10 million Americans.”
The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) announced,
“releasing a Draft Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of xanomeline tartrate/trospium chloride (KarXT, Karuna Therapeutics) for the treatment of schizophrenia. This preliminary draft marks the midpoint of ICER’s eight-month process of assessing these treatments, and the findings within this document should not be interpreted to be ICER’s final conclusions.“
The ICER announcement also explains how to submit public comments and participate in virtual public meeting on February 9, 2024.
From the U.S. healthcare business front,
The Business Group on Health issued a report on nine healthcare cost trends to watch in 2024.
“Kaufman Hall said the 1.2% year-to-date median operating margin for October reflects “continued stabilization” among hospitals. In the first 10 months of 2023, hospitals’ net operating revenue per calendar day was up 6%, and total expense per calendar day was up 4% compared to the same time period in 2022.”
Roll Call offers a preview of Congress’s actions over the next month, after which point the first session of this 118th Congress will come to a close.
Bloomberg provides an update on ongoing efforts to revamp the Nation’s organ transplant system. Here are the highlights:
“First contract bid solicitations from HHS expected this fall, and
“Multiple vendors to run transplant system for first time.”
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published in today’s Federal Register corrections to its Section 111 reporting civil monetary penalty rule which was issued on October 11, 2023. CMS asserts that the corrections fix “typographical and technical errors in the final rule, and it does not make substantive changes to the policies or the implementing regulations that were adopted in the final rule.”
The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
“As part of the inaugural meeting of the White House Council on Supply Chain Resilience, President Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra today announced new efforts to bolster the domestic supply chain for essential medicines and medical countermeasures.
“President Biden will issue a Presidential Determination broadening HHS’ authorities under Title III of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to enable investment in domestic manufacturing of essential medicines, medical countermeasures, and other critical inputs that have been deemed by the President as essential to the national defense. In addition, HHS will designate a new Supply Chain Resilience and Shortage Coordinator for efforts to strengthen the resilience of critical medical product and food supply chains, and to address related shortages.”
“approv[ing] Ogsiveo (nirogacestat) tablets for adult patients with progressing desmoid tumors who require systemic treatment. Ogsiveo is the first drug to be approved for the treatment of patients with desmoid tumors, a rare subtype of soft tissue sarcomas.
“Desmoid tumors are non-cancerous but can be locally aggressive. The tumors may invade into surrounding structures and organs, resulting in pain, issues with being able to move, and decreased quality of life. Although surgical removal has historically been the treatment of choice, there is a high risk that the tumor will return or that other health challenges will occur after removal; therefore, systemic therapies (cancer treatment targeting the entire body) are being increasingly evaluated in clinical trials.”
The HHS Inspector General concluded that “The Risk of Misuse and Diversion of Buprenorphine for Opioid Use Disorder in Medicare Part D Continues to Appear Low: 2022.”
“The U.S. Postal Service is planning to hire just 10,000 temporary employees during the current holiday season as part of a new approach that management has acknowledged comes with some risks.
“The seasonal hiring marks a 64% reduction from the employees brought on in 2022 during what USPS calls its “peak season” when the agency made 28,000 temporary hires. The agency had said it would bring on just 20,000 seasonal workers that year, but a recent USPS inspector general report found it reached a higher tally.
“This will mark the second consecutive year in which the Postal Service significantly reduces its seasonal hiring. In 2021, USPS added 45,000 non-permanent staff for the holiday rush. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said additions to the permanent, career workforce has lessened the need for such a surge. In the last two years, the agency has converted 150,000 employees from part-time workers to full-time, career personnel.”
“Participants in [OPM’s] Thrift Savings Plan felt less content with the TSP this year, according to the latest results of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board’s annual satisfaction survey.
“Currently, 82% of TSP participants are satisfied with the plan, compared with an 87% satisfaction rate in 2022, the board’s survey of tens of thousands of TSP participants showed.
“The slumping satisfaction scores may not come as a surprise after the TSP’s tumultuous transition to a new recordkeeper in June 2022. The 2023 survey, conducted between March and May of this year, was the first time the major update was reflected in the annual participant satisfaction survey.”
From the public health and medical research front,
“The World Health Organization (WHO) today reported that the multi-country mpox outbreak continues at a low transmission level in the European Region and the Americas.
“The 30th WHO Situation Report, published on November 25, 2023, offers insights regarding the latest epidemiology and a particular focus on the ongoing and evolving epidemiology of mpox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“The WHO confirmed that from January 2022 through October 31, 2023, a cumulative total of 91,788 laboratory-confirmed cases of mpox, including 167 deaths, have been reported from 116 countries/territories/areas.
“The countries that have reported the highest cumulative number of mpox cases are the United States (30,771), Brazil (10,967), and Spain (7,647).”
“Eating disorder claims in the United States rose 65% as a percentage of all medical claims over the last 5 years, according to a report from FAIR Health, a health care claims repository.
“Researchers at FAIR Health evaluated more than 43 billion private health care claims records to investigate trends in eating disorders from 2018 to 2022 based on regional and national levels, demographic and socioeconomic factors and other health conditions. * * *
“Patients aged 14 to 18 years accounted for most eating disorder claims in 2022.
“Overall, 72% of patients with eating disorders were diagnosed with at least one co-occurring mental illness.”
“Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro helped patients lose weight more effectively than Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, according to a preprint study that included more than 40,000 patients.
“The research evaluated 41,223 EHRs of overweight or obese patients taking Mounjaro (tirzepatide) or Ozempic (semaglutide) for Type 2 diabetes. The cohort was restricted to patients with available weight data and those who had not received a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist prior to May 2022.
“Although about 77% of the patients took Ozempic, those who took Mounjaro “were significantly more likely to achieve 5%, 10% and 15% weight loss and experience larger reductions in weight at 3, 6, and 12 months,” the study found.
“Truveta, a healthcare data company that collects EHR information from more than 30 systems, conducted the research. It is the first real-world comparative effectiveness study between Mounjaro and Ozempic, Truveta said in a Nov. 27 news release.”
“The inflammation-targeting therapy Dupixent succeeded in a Phase 3 trial in patients with the chronic lung disease COPD, its developers said Monday, results that could propel the blockbuster medicine into a massive new market.
“Dupixent, which is jointly developed by Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, has already racked up approvals for several indications, including asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eosinophilic esophagitis. If approved for COPD, it would be the first biologic treatment for the condition.
“The trial, dubbed Notus, was the second Phase 3 trial for Dupixent in COPD, with the companies announcing similarly positive results from the Boreas trial earlier this year. The full data from Boreas were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.”
From the U.S. healthcare business front,
Employee Benefit News offers tips on PBM contracting.
“Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company has inked its latest partnership, joining forces with Expion Health to address the rising cost of specialty drugs.
“Cost Plus Drugs’ pricing model will integrate into Expion’s dynamic pricing technology, harnessing the power of both for speciality medications. Expion’s tool and Cost Plus Drugs’ approach together “equips payers with a sophisticated tool for navigating this modern landscape,” the companies said in the announcement.”
“AI startup Hoppr teamed up with AWS to launch a new foundation model to help bring more generative AI solutions into medical imaging, the companies announced on Sunday at RSNA 2023, the annual radiology and medical imaging conference in Chicago.
“The new product, named Grace, is a B2B model designed to help application developers build better AI solutions for medical images — and to build them more quickly. Along with the launch of Grace, Hoppr also announced that it received “a multi-million dollar investment” from Health2047, the American Medical Association’s venture studio.”
Axios brings us a dental coverage update for Affordable Care Act plans and Medicare. Of note, Axios tells us that “earlier this month, the Biden administration expanded all Medicare beneficiaries’ access to dental services when they’re necessary for other medical care, like cancer treatment.”
“The big picture: In the two years since Omicron emerged, it has continued to rank as the predominant strain in the U.S., and its subvariants are now driving most of the country’s coronavirus infections.
“State of play: COVID-19 is circulating in every country and remains a threat, Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said in an update Tuesday.
“Infection from the variants now in circulation can cause anything from asymptomatic infection to severe disease, pneumonia and death, she explained.”Infection from the variants now in circulation can cause anything from asymptomatic infection to severe disease, pneumonia and death, she explained.
“Luckily, she added, most people are experiencing less severe symptoms because they have population-level immunity from vaccination, prior infection, or both.
“Zoom in: Case rates are not as high as this summer, but experts expect they may rise during the winter as they have the past three years, given colder weather that drives people indoors and holiday gatherings.”
“Flu and RSV killed thousands of people on their own during typical winters before the pandemic. Covid isn’t killing people as it once did, but it remains the deadliest of the three—in part because it is more active year-round.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts hospitalizations this year will be about the same as last year: well above pre-pandemic levels. Even a milder season with the three viruses circulating together would likely mean more hospitalizations than a severe season of just flu and RSV, said Jason Asher, who directs a CDC forecasting department.
“More illness means more disruptions to life and work. The flu alone is responsible for billions of dollars in medical and economic costsand millions of lost workdays. Covid has added to worker absences in recent winters. * * *
“There’s one more virus out there for you to get,” said Justin Lessler, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina. “Your risk of getting sick has probably gone up.”
“About half of all people are in hospice at the end of their lives, but more than 25 percent of hospice patients enroll in the final week, according to 2021 data from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare issues.
“Others among the 1.7 million Medicare patients who used hospice that year availed themselves of its services for much longer. That is reflected in data that reveal the dual nature of hospice: The median stay is only 17 days, meaning half of patients were in hospice less than 17 days and half longer than that. But the average is 92 days, which shows that some patients were in hospice for many months.”
Healthcare providers—including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and doctors’ offices—accounted for 30% of U.S. job gains in the six months through October, though less than 11% of the country’s total employment, Labor Department figures show.
“As behavior returns to normal—as kids go back to germ-factory indoor play spaces and daycare centers, and as people schedule elective procedures and catch up on routine scans delayed during the height of the pandemic—providers are having to staff up to keep up with demand,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at Ziprecruiter.”
From the cybersecurity vulnerabilities and breaches front,
HHS’s Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center posted a Sector Alert about a “Critical Vulnerability in Fortinet FortiSIEM Platform” on November 22, 2023.
“Fortinet has identified a vulnerability in its FortiSIEM platform, which is utilized by the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) sector. This vulnerability enables a threat actor to execute commands on the target system, allowing for a potentially wide-scale and impactful cyberattack. HC3 recommends that all healthcare organizations operating FortiSIEM prioritize the upgrade of these platforms in a timely manner.”
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency added one more known exploited vulnerability to its catalog on November 21, 2023.
“A widely popular social engineering campaign previously only targeting Windows systems has expanded and is now using fake browser updates to distribute Atomic Stealer, a dangerous information stealer, to macOS systems.
“Experts say this could be the first time they’ve observed a dominant social engineering scam previously aimed specifically at Windows make the shift to macOS.
“The malware, also referred to as AMOS, surfaced earlier this year on a dedicated Telegram channel. Criminals, who can rent the malware on a subscription basis for about $1,000 a month, have used a variety of means to distribute the malware since then. The most common tactic has been to distribute the malware via installers for popular apps or via purportedly cracked versions of Microsoft Office and other widely used applications.”
“The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) completed a HIPAA investigation into New York-based Saint Joseph’s Medical Center following claims that the organization had impermissibly disclosed COVID-19 patients’ protected health information (PHI) to a news reporter. Saint Joseph’s Medical Center agreed to pay $80,000 to OCR and implement corrective actions.
“OCR launched the investigation following the publication of an article by the Associated Press about the academic medical center’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article included photographs and information about three COVID-19 patients, including diagnoses, current medical statuses and prognoses, vital signs, and treatment plans.
“Further investigation determined that Saint Joseph’s had provided the information to the Associated Press without first obtaining written consent from the three patients.”
The HHS Inspector General warns us “about a fraud scheme involving monthly billing for remote patient monitoring.”
“Affiliates of LockBit 3.0 exploited the vulnerability — dubbed CitrixBleed by researchers — to gain access into Boeing’s parts and distribution unit and exfiltrate data, as part of a suspected ransomware attack, according to federal authorities.
“CISA, through its ransomware vulnerability warning program, has notified almost 300 organizations they were running vulnerable instances of the devices and needed to take mitigation measures before they were attacked, Eric Goldstein, executive assistant director of cybersecurity at CISA, said during a conference call with reporters.”
Here is a link to the CISA analysis of CitrixBleed.
Cyberscoop provides its perspective on this and related schemes.
“Jon DiMaggio, the chief security strategist with Analyst1 who has written extensively on the internal workings of LockBit, said that while there are only a few groups with the “skill and talent and creative ability to do some of these more advanced attacks,” these crews, particularly those associated with the AlphV attacks, are becoming much better at social engineering.
“Many major companies still have problems with the cybersecurity basics, DiMaggio said, let alone building help desks that are tough to manipulate. “It’s tough, but they have to change,” DiMaggio said. “Trying to focus on helping people and helping your clients can’t always be number one anymore.”
“That might slow response times, he noted, but that’s “a lot better than having to lose ungodly amounts of money, having your reputation destroyed and everything else.”
From the cybersecurity defenses front,
CISA discusses how the agency has re-envisioned its Cybersecurity Insurance and Data Analysis Working Group to help reduce cybersecurity risk.
“When we re-launch the CIDAWG in December, the working group will partner with Stanford’s Empirical Security Research Group, a research lab in Stanford’s Computer Science Department, with the intent to correlate data with cybersecurity controls to understand their effectiveness. CISA will ask working group members to collaborate with Stanford to improve analysis of the aggregated, anonymized loss data and link it with controls effectiveness. This analysis will be a resource both for insurers to inform their risk analysis and for CISA to better understand whether efforts like the Cyber Performance Goals (CPGs) and the Secure by Design initiative are translating to reduced cyber risk exposure for organizations that adopt them.”
The Wall Street Journal explains why storytelling can improve cybersecurity training.
“I recently wrote about the “phishing tests” that many companies use to train (well, scare) employees into being more cyber-vigilant. They send around a phony phishing email, and measure how many people click on it. But my research shows that these tests can actually be harmful. They create fear, stress and distrust among employees, and in the end they don’t improve phishing resistance much.
“When I wrote that article, a number of readers wrote in asking a simple question: If phishing tests don’t work, what does?
“I believe a better way to train people is to have their peers tell them stories about their experience with scams. Humans have an innate ability to learn from stories about other people—even if they are just casual stories that fall into the middle of a conversation. My research on the topic has found just how effective stories can be when applied to cybercrime: Hearing about somebody else getting snagged by phishing, or narrowly avoiding it, makes people more likely to take security seriously and avoid the mistakes they have heard about.”
The Hackers News recommends six steps to accelerate cybersecurity incident response.
ISACA offers a report on optimizing risk transfer for systematic resilience.
“As it’s the middle of open season, those eligible have until Dec. 12 to enroll or make changes to their plans under TRICARE – the Defense Department’s healthcare system – for 2024.
“The two main plans eligible for enrollment are TRICARE Prime, which includes the U.S. Family Health Plan, and TRICARE Select. TRICARE Open Season does not apply to its premium plans – TRICARE Young Adult, TRICARE Reserve Select and TRICARE Retired Reserve. TRICARE Open Season also does not apply to those who are eligible for Medicare or those using TRICARE For Life. It also does not apply to active duty service members. These groups do not have to do anything during the Open Season.
“Open Season is an opportunity for you to evaluate the health care coverage that your family has and to see if you need to change plans or if you want to stay in the current plan that you’re in,” Zelle Zim, who’s on TRICARE’s policy and programs team, said at a TRICARE event on Wednesday. “You also have the opportunity to enroll in a new plan during TRICARE Open Season.”
“Rates of completion for high-risk diagnostic tests and referrals were lower when ordered during a telehealth visit compared with an in-person appointment, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open.
“For telehealth orders, 43% were completed during the designated time frame compared with 58% of tests and referrals requested during in-person appointments, and 57% of those ordered without any visit at all.
“Failure to get tests or complete referrals is a leading cause of diagnostic errors, and safety risks can be a particular concern in primary care due to the large number of potential diagnoses, researchers said.”
“Overdose deaths among pregnant or postpartum people skyrocketed between 2018 and 2021, according to new research published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.
“The study, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health, compared the incidence of maternal deaths for overdose of commonly misused psychotropic drugs (such as heroin and other opioids, including synthetic ones, or cocaine) among girls and women aged 10 to 44.
“The spike in overdose deaths was especially high among women ages 35 to 44. In 2018, the rate was 4.9 overdose maternal deaths per 100,000 mothers with a live birth; in 2021, the rate was 15.8 per 100,000. The rate of overdose death for all age groups also increased significantly, from 6.9 per 100,000 mothers in the first half of 2018 to 12.2 in the second half of 2021.”
Beckers Hospital Review reports, “There’s been a slight slowdown in reports of new drug shortages before the winter holiday season, but six medications recently entered the list of ongoing shortages, which includes about 300 drugs.” Becker’s article lists those six drugs.
From the U.S. healthcare business front,
Beckers Payer Issues notes that Blue Cross licensees are “diving into” direct healthcare delivery. “BCBS plans have spent 2023 reorganizing to better compete with larger insurers through corporate restructuring, M&A or the launch of healthcare delivery subsidiaries.”
“Pharmacy benefit management giant Optum Rx is aiming to address maternal and fetal health by leaning on the power of independent pharmacies.
“The Road to Healthy Baby program launched earlier this year in three states—Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico—and offers pregnant patients prenatal checkups and vitamins at an independent pharmacy. The initiative is part of a broader push by the PBM that seeks to harness the power of these pharmacies.
“Through the program, a pregnant person who maintains their prenatal vitamins across three prescriptions or a 90-day supply will receive a care kit with key items that help during pregnancy and after the baby is born.
“Optum has also deployed grants to local diaper banks to ensure new mothers have access to necessary supplies. Katie McCarey, vice president of pharmacy strategy and product innovation at Optum Rx, told Fierce Healthcare that the company has found in some markets that new mothers often have just one or two diapers available each day for their babies.”
“UPMC’s operations dipped into the red this quarter as volumes and their associated care delivery costs and insurance claims continue to climb.
“The Pittsburgh-based integrated nonprofit system reported Tuesday a $191 million operating loss (-2.8% operating margin) and a $421.8 million change in net assets (without donor restrictions) for the three months ended Sept. 30. During the same time a year prior, UPMC had logged a $114.5 million operating income (1.8% operating margin) and $272.6 million drop in its net assets (without donor restrictions).
“The organization is now sitting at a $176.5 million operating loss (-0.9%) year to date despite its strong start to 2023. Its bottom line reflects a $244.7 million net decline over nine months.
“In a release announcing the financial results, UPMC Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer stressed that the system is “staying to true its commitments” surrounding capital investments ($517 million year to date) despite industry-wide workforce challenges and other headwinds.”
Healthcare Dive highlights five major healthcare company bankruptcy filings in 2023. “Bankruptcies have spiked this year as federal COVID-19 funding lapsed and heightened interest rates, regulatory changes and labor shortages squeezed the sector.”
Following this post, The FEHBlog will reappear on Saturday for Cybersecurity Saturday. The FEHBlog wishes his readers a Happy Thanksgiving.
From Washington DC
Thanks to Bloomberg, the FEHBlog learned about this Congressional Research Service report on FY 2024 USPS Appropriations. To wit,
“On September 30, 2023, Congress passed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2024 and Other Extensions Act (H.R. 5860; P.L. 118-15), which provides continuing FY2024 appropriations to federal agencies through November 17,
“Section 126 of the act increases the rate of funding for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to approximately $219.1 million, which is about $28.3 million above its FY2023 funding.
“The additional OPM funding is provided for the implementation of the Postal Service Health Benefits Program (PSHBP), a new health benefit program for eligible postal employees and retirees. Under the PSRA, OPM is required to establish and administer the PSHBP.”
FEHBlog note — The Postal Service also is on the financial hook for funding implementation of the PSHBP.
“Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on Tuesday mounted a public pressure campaign to get the executives of Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and Bristol Myers Squibb to testify in a January hearing on why the United States pays more for prescription drugs than other countries.
“All three companies have sued the Biden administration over the new Medicare drug price negotiation that congressional Democrats passed last year. Bristol Myers Squibb’s blood thinner Eliquis; Johnson & Johnson’s blood thinner Xarelto, anti-inflammatory medicine Stelara, and blood cancer treatment Imbruvica; and Merck’s diabetes drug Januvia were selected as part of the first 10 drugs to go through the negotiation process.
“It’s unclear whether the executives will agree to testify at the hearing, which is titled “Why “Does the United States Pay, By Far, The Highest Prices In The World For Prescription Drugs?” Sanders also put out a fundraising email just before the letter was announced, with the subject line: “The greed of the pharmaceutical industry is out of control.” It featured an op-ed he wrote for the Guardian Monday.”
“In 2022, cost rose by 3.2%, well below general inflation, which averaged 8% that year. Because healthcare providers typically have multi-year contracts with health plans, employers did not feel the full brunt of inflation last year. “Rather, inflation-driven cost increases are phasing in as contracts are renewed,” says Sunit Patel, Chief Health Actuary, Mercer. The survey shows employers project another sharp increase of 5.2% for 2024.
“It may take another couple of years for price increases stemming from higher healthcare sector wages and medical supply costs to be felt across all health plans,” Mr. Patel says.
“At the same time, inflation is only one factor behind this year’s higher cost increases. In 2023, spending on prescription drugs rose sharply. “While the effects of inflation may be relatively short-lived, new and ongoing developments in the pharmaceutical market seem likely to have a longer-term impact on health benefit cost.”
“Federal employees’ retirement applications take almost twice as long to process when they contain errors, leading to further delays in processing and dispensing annuities, according to a watchdog report published Monday.
“The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general found that “healthy” application packages took on average 53 days to process, and “unhealthy” ones containing errors took more than 108 days, according to a random sample of applications the inspector general studied.
“That discrepancy needs be reflected in the data OPM reports monthly to accurately monitor whether retirement processing is improving, the IG report said.
“The lack of transparency for healthy versus unhealthy ‘incomplete’ application packages limits the quality of information being provided to external parties as the main cause for why Retirement Services has not met its goal for processing retirement application packages within 60 days,” according to the report.”
From the public health and medical research front,
“Hospital and public health officials are urging people to take precautions and be mindful of where they seek care to limit capacity strain on emergency departments as respiratory virus activity heats up heading into the holiday season.
“Since early September, COVID-19 metrics had mostly been trending downward or remained flat. Now they are on the rise again, though they remain far below levels seen in previous surges. There were 16,239 new admissions for the week ending Nov. 11, up 8.6% from the previous week.
“Meanwhile, most of the country is seeing an uptick of flu and respiratory syncytial virus cases. Hospitalizations associated with the two infections are also ticking up, particularly among children and older adults.
“The more concerning thing is the severity of some of the illness,” Hany Atallah, MD, chief medical officer Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, told ABC affiliate WPLG. “And we are also seeing some patients come in with more than one viral infection, so they may have RSV and flu, for example. We’re constantly trying to follow the science and encourage people to get vaccines.”
“That conversation lands on Thanksgiving tables this week, where some people say the drugs have boosted their confidence around food, and others say they are worried about facing questions about what they’re eating, what they’re not eating, and changes in their appearance.
“It’s a hot topic, and people have a lot of judgments,” says Dr. Gauri Khurana, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and a clinical instructor at Yale University who has prescribed the medications and helped patients manage them. * * *
“Doctors advise people to listen to their bodies—not their family members—when it comes to serving sizes. A balanced plate that gives priority to protein and high-fiber foods over carbohydrates and fatty foods, which tend to sit in the stomach and exacerbate the medication’s effects of delayed gastric emptying, can help patients avoid filling up too quickly or feeling nauseous.”
“A new survey of 158 hospital executives, conducted by the Sepsis Alliance, found that 90% see antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a threat, and 88% think the problem is getting worse. The survey, conducted by Sage Growth Partners on behalf of the Sepsis Alliance, also dug into executives’ views on other related AMR issues. An 11-page report on the findings was published on the Sepsis Alliance websiteon November 17.
“Another top concern is the public’s lack of knowledge about AMR, with 59% of executives saying that public education of clinicians as well as patients is the largest barrier to antibiotic stewardship. Respondents recommend public service announcements covering the need for early treatment, the importance of completing treatment, and storing the drugs properly.”
The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review announced,
“[I]t will assess the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of ensifentrine for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“The assessment will be publicly discussed during a meeting of the Midwest CEPAC (Midwest CEPAC) in June 2024, where the independent evidence review panel will deliberate and vote on evidence presented in ICER’s report.
Healthcare Dive asks “Where are all the nurses? Hospitals, advocates disagree on crisis; Hospitals and nursing unions disagree about what’s driving sluggish application rates for open registered nurse positions — a lack of qualified candidates or a lack of interest.”
“Roche’s Genentech unit is partnering with computing giant Nvidia in a multiyear deal that highlights the pharmaceutical industry’s growing hopes of using artificial intelligence to speed up the process of designing and developing new drugs.
“By collaborating with Nvidia, Genentech expects to “significantly enhance” its existing AI research and potentially improve on the chip designer’s own software, such as its “BioNemo” platform for drug discovery.
“Our teams will be continuously exchanging expertise on the advancement of science and the state-of-the-art methods emerging in accelerated computing, AI and simulation across this entire drug discovery process,” said Kimberly Powell, vice president of healthcare at Nvidia, in a briefing with reporters.”