Midweek Update

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Congress.gov tells us that the House Appropriations Committee’s markup of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, which funds OPM and FEHB, has been postponed to June 13 at 11 am ET.
  • Modern Healthcare reports,
    • “National health expenditures rose 4.1% to $4.5 trillion in 2022, according to data the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary published in the journal Health Affairs Wednesday.
    • “Healthcare accounted for 17.3% of gross domestic product last year, down from 18.2% in 2021. The independent, nonpartisan CMS analysts previously projected healthcare spending would rise to $7.17 trillion, or 19.6% of gross domestic product, by 2031.
    • “Expenditures and their rate of change have stabilized since the worst phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 caused spending to spike and healthcare as a share of GDP to increase, the actuaries’ report showed.”
  • Axios lets us know,
    • “Almost two years after the debut of a revamped national suicide hotline, its promise of a quicker, more seamless crisis response across the country is still a work in progress.
    • Why it matters: Congress gave states $1 billion to build out the 988 hotline, amid nationwide concern over worsening mental health, with the expectation that states would establish their own own long-term funding to operate call centers and crisis services.”
    • “But those efforts have been uneven, contributing to significantly lower response times in certain states. As with much of the health care system, the level of crisis services available to people depends greatly on where they live.
    • What they’re saying: “We want a system where everybody has a comparable experience. It seems to me we’re still a few years from that,” said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
    • “He and other advocates and experts Axios spoke with said 988 implementation has been improving.”
  • Per the Department of Health and Human Services,
    • “Over the past decade, syphilis rates and case numbers in the U.S. have increased across all populations. In response to this surge in syphilis cases, HHS formed the National Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis Syndemic Federal Task Force led by HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine.
    • “Today, this task force issued new considerations for health care providers who test patients for syphilis. The new HHS document “Considerations for the Implementation of Point of Care Tests for Syphilis – PDF,” outlines four main differences between syphilis point of care tests and laboratory-based serologic syphilis tests and highlights the best settings to consider use of point-of-care tests. It also examines parameters for point of care testing program implementation and management, provides answers to common questions, and lists links to related resources.
    • “Syphilis testing is crucial, as syphilis infections can be difficult to diagnose because many of those infected may not have symptoms,” said Admiral Rachel L. Levine, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health. “The Food and Drug Administration has authorized two point-of-care tests for syphilis that can provide rapid test results during the same visit in about 15 minutes. This can help overcome barriers in our ability to timely diagnose patients in communities across the nation.”
  • Here’s a link to a new Health Affairs Forefront article on the Biden Administration’s ACA Section 1557 final rule.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “A new study linking the low-calorie sugar substitute xylitol to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke has once again raised questions about the risks and benefits of sugar substitutes.
    • “Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in fruits and vegetables, and even produced in the human body at very low levels. But it is often synthetically produced and is increasingly being added to processed foods, like candies and “low-sugar” baked goods, because it has 40 percent fewer calories than regular sugar does and doesn’t cause blood glucose to spike after a meal. The study authors said this rise in consumption was concerning, as the people most likely to turn to the sugar substitute may already be trying to manage conditions like obesity and diabetes that also increase the risk of cardiovascular issues.
    • “They may think they’re making a healthy choice by picking xylitol over sugar, yet the data argues that it is not the case.” said Dr. Stanley Hazen, the chair of cardiovascular and metabolic sciences at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute and an author of the study. Last year, Dr. Hazen and his colleagues found a similar association with another sugar alcohol, called erythritol.”
  • Per the National Institutes of Health,
    • “Researchers have identified inherited genetic variants that may predict the loss of one copy of a woman’s two X chromosomes as she ages, a phenomenon known as mosaic loss of chromosome X, or mLOX. These genetic variants may play a role in promoting abnormal blood cells (that have only a single copy of chromosome X) to multiply, which may lead to several health conditions, including cancer. The study, co-led by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute, was published June 12, 2024, in Nature. * * *
    • “The scientists suggest that future research should focus on how mLOX interacts with other types of genetic variation and age-related changes to potentially alter disease risk.”
  • Following up on a FEHBlog post from last week, Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has proposed a more precise definition of long COVID-19.
    • “In its latest report, the group said long COVID needs to be understood as “an infection-associated chronic condition that occurs after COVID-19 infection and is present for at least three months as a continuous, relapsing and remitting, or progressive disease state that affects one or more organ systems.” 
    • “This comes after the National Academies published research detailing more than 200 symptoms related to long COVID. 
    • “Our committee hopes this single definition, crafted with input from across research and patient communities, will help to educate the public about this widespread and highly consequential disease state,” Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, chair of the report’s authoring committee and president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, said in a June 11 news release.
    • “The new definition also says long COVID:
      • “Can involve any organ system and present with a range of symptoms.
      • “Can come after asymptomatic, mild, or severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.
      • “Can affect children and adults.
      • “Can be clinically diagnosed even without a biomarker.
      • “Can exacerbate preexisting conditions or present new ones.
      • “Can be delayed in onset for weeks or months following acute infection.
      • “Can resolve over a period of months or take years to resolve fully.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • MedCity News tells us,
    • “In 2021, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries spent about $2,541 less in out-of-pocket costs and premiums than beneficiaries with fee-for-service Medicare, a new report discovered.
    • “The report, released Monday, was conducted by healthcare research firm ATI Advisory and commissioned by Better Medicare Alliance, a research and lobby group for Medicare Advantage (MA). To conduct the study, the researchers used the 2019 to 2021 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey and Cost Supplement files. The results of the study show an increase from last year’s report, which found that MA beneficiaries spent about $2,400 less than traditional Medicare on average in 2020.
    • “The researchers also found reduced spending among Medicare Advantage beneficiaries across racial and ethnic groups in 2021. Black MA beneficiaries paid $1,617 less in out-of-pocket costs and premiums than those in traditional Medicare, while Latino MA beneficiaries paid $1,593 less and White MA beneficiaries paid $2,371 less. In 2021, 25% of MA beneficiaries were Black or Latino, compared to 14% of traditional Medicare enrollees.”
  • Healthcare Dive lets us know,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission’s case aiming to block Novant Health from acquiring two Community Health Systems-owned North Carolina hospitals was dealt a series of blows this week. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Bell ruled to deny the antitrust agency’s latest preliminary injunction against the deal. * * *
    • “Bell ruled last week the sale could go forward as planned, reasoning that the hospitals were likely to shutter entirely absent a sale, which could harm care access in the region. The judge further argued that the deal could have a net positive impact on competition in the region by allowing Novant to better compete with the area’s largest healthcare provider, Atrium Health.
    • “The FTC intends to fight that ruling in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The antitrust agency filed its notice of appeal on Sunday, and petitioned a district court on Monday to pause the transaction during the appellate review.
    • “However, Bell denied the FTC’s latest request for a preliminary injunction, again citing the risk of hospital closures.”
  • Here’s a link to a law firm’s updated list of important takeaways for employees about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which took effect last June.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
    • Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Administration for Community Living, released “Aging in the United States: A Strategic Framework for a National Plan on Aging – PDF.” The report lays the groundwork for a coordinated effort – across the private and public sectors and in partnership with older adults, family caregivers, the aging services network, and other stakeholders – to create a national set of recommendations for advancing healthy aging and age-friendly communities that value and truly include older adults. The national plan on aging will advance best practices for service delivery, support development and strengthening of partnerships within and across sectors, identify solutions for removing barriers to health and independence for older adults, and more. Developed by leaders and experts from 16 federal agencies and departments working together through the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) on Healthy Aging and Age-Friendly Communities, the report also reflects input from community partners and leaders in the aging services network.
  • The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefit Security, Lisa Gomez, reminds us,
    • “May is Mental Health Awareness Month, reminding us of the critical need to prioritize mental well-being – especially in the workplace where many spend a significant portion of their time. Did you know that more than 1 in 5 adults in America live with a mental illness? Mental health issues can affect job performance, relationships and overall well-being. Understanding your rights and support systems can make a world of difference. 
    • “Here are three actions you can take to get the mental health care you deserve through your job-based health plan: 
    • Use your benefits: * * * For more information, read our publication “Understanding Your Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits.”
    • Don’t take no for an answer: * * * You also can look at our publication “Filing a Claim for Your Benefits” for steps to help navigate this process. 
    • Contact the Department for help:  Know that support for your mental health journey is available – you don’t have to go through it alone. One source of support is found by contacting a benefits advisor with the Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration at askebsa.dol.gov or by calling 1-866-444-3272 for assistance with any questions or problems you encounter when trying to use the mental health and substance use disorder benefits under your job-based health plan. The benefits advisors can help you understand your rights, your health plan and its appeal process.”
  • The American Hospital News lets us know,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention May 29 published a blog co-authored by AHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, highlighting efforts by federal agencies and the hospital field to address the mental health and well-being of health care workers following incidents of workplace violence. The blog contains several resources, such as AHA’s Hospitals Against Violence Initiative, the Building a Safer Workplace and Community infographic, and information about #HAVhope Friday on June 7 * * *.
  • HR Dive informs us,
    • “Employers run afoul of federal law when they fire someone for not disclosing a disability during a job interview or for waiting until after they were hired to ask for an accommodation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned in a May 21 lawsuit.
    • “Per the complaint in EEOC v. All Day Medical Care Clinic, LLC, on her first day of work, a scheduling assistant for a Maryland-based healthcare provider notified the CEO she had a vision impairment and needed a magnifier and Zoomtext software as an accommodation. The CEO allegedly advised her that things would have been different if she’d mentioned her disability and accommodation needs during her interview and told her to leave, according to court documents.
    • “The EEOC sued the healthcare provider for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, “job applicants do not need to reveal their disabilities before being hired,” Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia district office, explained in a press release. “When an employer penalizes an employee for not raising issues of disability and reasonable accommodation, it is requiring the employee to reveal information the employee legally does not have to divulge,” Lawrence said. All Day Medical Care did not respond to a request for a comment prior to press time.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “A third farmworker in the United States has been found to be infected with bird flu, heightening concerns about an outbreak among dairy cattle first identified in March.”A third farmworker in the United States has been found to be infected with bird flu, heightening concerns about an outbreak among dairy cattle first identified in March.
    • “The worker is the first in this outbreak to have respiratory symptoms, including a cough, sore throat and watery eyes, which generally increase the likelihood of transmission to other people, federal officials said on Thursday.
    • “The other two people had only severe eye infections, possibly because of exposure to contaminated milk.
    • “All three individuals had direct exposure to dairy cows, and so far none has spread the virus to other people, Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news briefing.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Using a combination of cutting-edge immunologic technologies, researchers have successfully stimulated animals’ immune systems to induce rare precursor B cells of a class of HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs). The findings, published today in Nature Immunology, are an encouraging, incremental step in developing a preventive HIV vaccine.”
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review released,
    • “its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of ensifentrine (Verona Pharma) for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of ensifentrine (Verona Pharma) for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • “COPD is a common cause of severe respiratory problems,” said ICER’s Chief Medical Officer, David Rind, MD. “People with COPD can experience persistent shortness of breath and fatigue that can significantly affect their daily activities. Current evidence shows that ensifentrine decreases exacerbations when used in combination with some current inhaled therapies and is well-tolerated by patients, but there are uncertainties about how much benefit it may add to unstudied combinations of inhaled treatments.” * * *
    • Key Clinical FindingsKey Clinical Findings
      • “ICER does not have significant concerns about harms with ensifentrine. We have high certainty that ensifentrine added to maintenance therapy, compared with maintenance therapy alone, results in at least a small net health benefit, and may result in substantial net health benefit (“B+”). We have somewhat greater certainty in the benefits when ensifentrine is added to the regimens studied in the clinical trials than when added to optimized modern inhaler therapies for COPD.
    • Key Cost-Effectiveness Findings
      • “Ensifentrine has not yet been approved by the FDA, and the manufacturer has not announced a US price if approved. ICER has calculated a health-benefit price benchmark (HBPB) for ensifentrine to be between $7,500 to $12,700 per year.”
  • The Centers for Medicare Services is contemplating moving coverage of PreExposure Prophylaxsis using Antiviral Therapy to prevent HIV infection from Medicare Part D to Medicare Part B.
  • The Wall Street Journal relates,
    • “Screens are inherently harmful to our sleep, right?
    • “It isn’t that black and white, some sleep experts now say.
    • “Spurred by recent research, sleep scientists and doctors are rethinking the conventional wisdom. In some cases, they are backing away from dogmatic approaches such as cutting out screens two hours before bedtime. And they are questioning how much the dreaded “blue light” actually delays sleep.
    • “It is becoming more evident that the tech in and of itself isn’t always the problem,” says Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine in New York. “We need to figure out how to tailor the recommendations to the person.”
  • Mercer Consulting discusses “Help for opioid addiction: Some progress, much more to do.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Payer Issues shares the views of 32 payer executives about changes to healthcare delivery in the next ten years. For example,
    • Bruce Rogen, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan: Longitudinal patient records on each patient accessible by providers caring for the patient having a complete history of clinical data sourced from multiple EMRs and across payers and over time going back years if not decades.
    • AI platforms that are able to access the longitudinal patient record to engage the patient in preventive care, filling gaps in care, managing medication refills, enhancing medication compliance, and obtaining prior authorization from payers when indicated.
    • Teams of healthcare providers using the longitudinal patient record and the AI platforms to provide care anywhere and everywhere (hospital, post-acute, home care, remote, virtual) and focusing on prevention. The team includes physicians, nurses, navigators, care coordinators, pharmacists, social workers, behavioral health psychologists and counselors, community healthcare workers and home care workers.
    • Ilan Shapiro, MD. Chief Health Correspondent, Medical Affairs Officer and Senior Vice President at AltaMed (Los Angeles): In 10 years, healthcare delivery will likely be more patient-centric and value-based, with AI technology playing a crucial role in both treatment and prevention of illnesses. Patients will be incentivized for proactive wellness steps, fostering a culture of health promotion. Nationwide care coordination will be streamlined, reducing constraints and enhancing accessibility. This transformation will empower patients and healthcare teams, ensuring that care is brought back to the community level.
  • Per FierceHealthcare
    • “Well-being programs continue to be a central focus for employers, and they’re evolving the reach of these offerings into new areas such as the social determinants of health, according to a new survey.
    • “The Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments released their annual look at employers’ strategies around wellness on Wednesday, and found nearly all of the 160 surveyed firms said they view well-being programs as a being key to their overall strategy. These employers said they intend to continue funding these programs at current levels.
    • “In addition, more than half (51%) said they plan to build out their well-being programs to tackle social needs in the next three to five years.”
  • The Wall Street Journal examines the connection between private equity investments and growing healthcare costs.
    • “Consolidation is as American as apple pie.
    • “When a business gets bigger, it forces mom-and-pop players out of the market, but it can boost profits and bring down costs, too. Think about the pros and cons of Walmart and “Every Day Low Prices.” In a complex, multitrillion-dollar system like America’s healthcare market, though, that principle has turned into a harmful arms race that has helped drive prices increasingly higher without improving care. 
    • “Years of dealmaking has led to sprawling hospital systems, vertically integrated health insurance companies, and highly concentrated private equity-owned practices resulting in diminished competition and even the closure of vital health facilities. As this three-part Heard on the Street series will show, the rich rewards and lax oversight ultimately create pain for both patients and the doctors who treat them. Belatedly, state and federal regulators and lawmakers are zeroing in on consolidation, creating uncertainty for the investors who have long profited from the healthcare merger boom.”
  • STAT News considers the lack of consensus over the meaning of value-based care. Sigh.
    • “Mai Pham, president of the Institute for Exceptional Care, said her benchmark for success is not how health care providers are feeling. It’s what is actually happening to the nation’s health, and the status quo in her view is unacceptable. Life expectancy among Americans has plateaued, and life expectancy for Americans in the prime years of their lives is falling. This trend, Pham noted, started before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s happening across races and geography.
    • “It’s difficult to say whether value-based care has been a success. Medicare has tried a broad range of programs and strategies, each of which has involved a broad range of organizations. Some have done well, others have not.
    • “So it’s not a binary answer,” Pham said. “What I would say is that it has not lived up to the hype.”
  • mHealth Intelligence tells us,
    • “Though telehealth use skyrocketed among United States adults with private health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research reveals that rural residents utilized telehealth less than their urban peers.
    • “The research, published by the AARP Public Policy Institute last week, examined changes in telehealth use from 2019 to 2021 among people younger than 65 enrolled in private, employer-sponsored health insurance plans.”

Happy Memorial Day!

From Washington, DC —

  • Congress is not in session this week of Memorial Day.
  • FEHB and for the first time PSHBP plans must submit their 2025 benefit and rate proposals no later than this coming Friday May 31.
  • The No Surprises Act RxDC reporting deadline for the 2023 calendar year is this coming Saturday, June 1.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post warns us,
    • “Summer offers a reminder of why covid is unlike the flu, a more predictable fall and winter respiratory virus. Coronavirus ebbs and flows throughout the year, and hospitalizations have always risen in summer months when people travel more and hot weather drives people indoors. For now, covid activity is low nationally, the CDC said Friday. The number of Americans dying of covid is less than half what it was a year ago, with a death toll around 2,000 in April. The virus poses a graver threat to the severely immunocompromised and elderly. But it can still surprise younger healthy people, for whom a bout of covid can range from negligible sniffles to rarer long-term debilitating effects. * * *
    • “The CDC and health authorities continue to promote the coronavirus vaccine, last updated in fall 2023 for a subvariant no longer in circulation, as the best form of protection against the disease. Just 23 percent of adults have received a dose of the latest vaccine, the CDC estimates. Experts say the existing formula should still confer protection against severe illness from the FLiRT variants. People 65 and older qualify for a second dose, but only 7 percent have received two shots.”
  • The Post also lets us know,
    • “When asked, 75 percent of survey respondents said they felt mental health conditions are identified and treated worse than physical health issues, according to a new survey from West Health and Gallup.
    • “The poll surveyed a random sample of 2,266 U.S. adults 18 and older. In addition to perceptions about treatment, the survey also gauged mental health conditions among participants. Of the respondents: 51 percent reported experiencing depression, anxiety or another mental health condition in the previous 12 months. * * *
    • “The main barriers, according to those surveyed, were affordability and difficulty in finding an adequate provider. Participants also cited shame and embarrassment as keeping them from treatment. This was particularly felt among participants who had experienced a mental health issue in the past year: 74 percent of those respondents thought people with mental health conditions are viewed negatively. 
    • “Additionally, 75 percent of adults 65 or older thought mental health conditions carry a negative stigma, but 53 percent of the participants felt psychological counseling or therapy is “very effective” or “effective.” Fewer adults felt medication was effective.”
  • Fortune Well tells us,
    • “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, and it’s usually diagnosed in kids. But ADHD tends to be underdiagnosed in women and people of color, which can lead to some people reaching adulthood before realizing they may have the condition.” 
    • The article delves into the signs and symptoms of ADHD in adults and treatment options.
  • Fortune Well also considers,
    • “Could Ozempic be the answer to a longer life?
    • “It’s the question many scientists are asking about the controversial drug, a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1), as some research suggests it could help humans age with less chronic diseases. The same goes for glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide receptor agonists (GIP) such as Zepbound and Mounjaro, leaving some experts to start seeing them as potential longevity pills and considering how in the future they can be prescribed safely to more people, especially as rates of obesity continue to rise.
    • “The singular most effective and consistent way of extending lifespan in animals is caloric restriction,” says Dr. Douglas Vaughan, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University and director of the Potocsnak Longevity Institute. “That’s been demonstrated to work on everything from worms to flies to mice to monkeys. If you can find a way to get people to chronically reduce their caloric intake, it sort of makes sense that it might have an effect on aging. It’s probably not as simple as that and there could be unexpected effects of these drugs that might negate or prevent the anti aging effect, but it’s a great hypothesis and it needs to be tested rigorously.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare notes,
    • “Elevance Health’s philanthropic arm is launching a new initiative that aims to provide loans to small businesses and other organizations in a bid to address health equity.
    • “The Elevance Health Foundation has made a $10 million commitment to the “impact investing” effort, according to an announcement. The loans offered through the program will be offered at below Prime rates, and the partners will deploy the funds to address key social needs like access to care, food insecurity and health disparities.
    • “The foundation also intends to seek out purpose-driven businesses that may not be able to access traditional banking, particularly those owned by women and people of color, who can impact equity in their communities.
    • “Shantanu Agrawal, chief health officer at Elevance Health, told Fierce Healthcare that the foundation has historically offered grant-based programs, which does limit the reach of its work to non-profit organizations. The team “took a step back” and examined other ways it could invest in communities before landing on this loan program, he said.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that
    • “the debt-collection spree is an example of how some hospitals in recent years have become more aggressive in recouping bills from the estimated more than 15 million Americans who have medical debt. The issue can be particularly acute in rural areas like Pratt, where residents are more likely to be older and uninsured, and hospitals are under financial stress
    • “A nationwide increase in debt-collection cases has drawn scrutiny from some attorneys and judges who say they eat up court and law-enforcement resources. In nine states with easy-to-access court data, debt cases—including those for medical bills, credit cards, and auto and student loans—made up 29% of civil dockets in 2013, compared with 42% in 2021; debt claims were the most common civil cases in 13 of 16 states that year, according to the nonprofit Pew Charitable Trusts.”

Midweek Update

From Washington, DC

  • Modern Healthcare tells us,
    • “Congress took the first step Wednesday to extend expiring telehealth rules, hospital at home services and other programs aimed at rural hospitals.
    • “The House Ways and Means Committee passed the Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act of 2024 by a vote of 31-0, setting it up for passage by the full House later this year. * * *
    • “One potentially controversial provision in the bill requires pharmacy benefit managers that work with Medicare Part D plans to de-link the compensationthey pay themselves from the rebates they secure based on drugs’ high list prices. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said the provision will save the government about $500 million, although official estimates were not yet available. The provision does not apply to the broader commercial market, though Schneider and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) both called for expansion of the provision to the commercial market. Large PBMs oppose such provisions.”
  • Govexec lets us know,
    • “A new report from the Congressional Budget Office found that a gap between the combined pay and benefits of federal workers and their private sector counterparts has nearly disappeared between 2015 and 2022, raising new questions about President Biden’s proposed 2% average pay raise for the federal workforce in 2025.
    • “Federal policymakers generally rely on one of two reports comparing the compensation of federal and private sector workers. First is an annual analysis compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for review by the Federal Salary Council, which compares only the wages of similar jobs, is the preferred citation of Democrats and federal employee unions. * * *
    • “CBO’s analysis, which is typically conducted every five years and is preferred by conservatives, compares “total compensation”—wages plus the cost of benefits like health care, paid leave and retirement—of federal and private sector employees with similar educational backgrounds. This model has traditionally concluded that the cost of federal employees’ pay and benefits is moderately higher than their counterparts in the private sector, although federal workers with master’s or professional degrees still tend to earn less.
    • “The latest version of CBO’s report, which was released last month, covers only 2022, rather than the traditional 2015-2020 period, due to the economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that the total compensation gap between federal and private sector jobs cratered between 2015 and 2022, falling from 17% in its last analysis to just 5%.”
  • Per May 8 HHS press releases,
    • “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is announcing the Increasing Organ Transplant Access (IOTA) Model. The proposed model, which would be implemented by the CMS Innovation Center, aims to increase access to kidney transplants for all people living with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), improve the quality of care for people seeking kidney transplants, reduce disparities among individuals undergoing the process to receive a kidney transplant, and increase the efficiency and capability of transplant hospitals selected to participate. This proposed model would build on the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of improving the kidney transplant system and the collaborative efforts between CMS and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to increase organ donation and improve clinical outcomes, system improvement, quality measurement, transparency, and regulatory oversight.” * * *
    • “The proposed rule on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model can be accessed from the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/current. Standard provisions are included in the proposed rule that would be applicable to all Innovation Center model participants that begin participation in a model on or after January 1, 2025.
    • View – PDF a fact sheet on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model.
    • “More information on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model is available on the model webpage.”
  • and
    • “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), announced $46.8 million in notices of funding opportunities to promote youth mental health, grow the behavioral health workforce, improve access to culturally competent behavioral care across the country, and strengthen peer recovery and recovery support. President Biden made tackling the mental health crisis and beating the opioid epidemic key pillars in his Unity Agenda for the nation. Today’s announcement will help communities transform how they address behavioral health.”
  • Beckers Clinical Leadership notes,
    • “Starting this summer, rural health clinics seeking Medicare reimbursement can apply through a new accreditation program from The Joint Commission. 
    • “On May 7, The Joint Commission said it has received deeming authority from CMS for a new rural health clinic accreditation program, which is meant to support patient safety improvements by reducing variation and risks in the delivery of primary care and personal health services.” 

From the Food and Drug Administration front,

  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “Geneoscopy received Food and Drug Administration approval for its Colosense noninvasive colorectal cancer screening test, the company said Monday.
    • “The stool-based test, which Labcorp will offer, is approved for screening people aged 45 years or older who are at average risk of developing colorectal cancer. The indication puts Geneoscopy in competition with Exact Sciences’ Cologuard test.
    • “Geneoscopy focused on the opportunity in people aged under 50 years in its statement about the approval. Around 2% of people in that cohort used a stool-based test in 2021, but Evercore ISI and TD Cowen analysts expect Colosense to have a limited impact on Exact.”
  • STAT News points out,
    • “The Apple Watch has secured a new qualification from the Food and Drug Administration that could make the smartwatch an appealing tool for medical device companies hoping to illustrate the benefits of a common heart procedure.
    • “Last week, the Apple Watch’s Atrial Fibrillation History feature became the first digital tool qualified under the Medical Device Development Tools (MDDT) program. Released in 2022, the feature estimates a user’s A-fib burden, or how much time they spend in atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heart rhythm that can cause shortness of breath and fatigue, and is also linked to an increased risk of stroke.
    • “The qualification means that FDA has determined in advance that sponsors can use the feature as a secondary endpoint in clinical trials without having to do additional work. Specifically, the Apple Watch is qualified for use as a secondary endpoint in clinical trials for cardiac ablation devices, which reduce the electrical signals that cause A-fib by scarring the heart with extreme heat or cold energy. Pulsed field ablation is the latest version of the technology, using a controlled electric field to scar tissue rather than the riskier thermal energy.”
  • Regulatory Focus notes,
    • “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is piloting a program to enhance communication between drugmakers, investigators, and its drug shortage team during inspections to prevent facilities from unnecessarily shutting down and potentially contributing to shortages of essential drugs, said Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, director of the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).
    • “Cavazzoni made these remarks during a webinar hosted by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA on Monday, during which, she said “we strongly encourage manufacturers not to stop manufacturing as the result of an inspection.” She added that manufacturers sometimes shut down production lines based on what they are hearing during the inspection, which she said could worsen shortages.”

From the public health and medical research front

  •  The Washington Post reports that “Olive oil use [is] associated with lower risk of dying from dementia. An observational study has found that regular olive oil consumption may have cognitive health benefits.”
    • Vasilis Vasiliou, a professor and the chair of the department of environmental health sciences at Yale School of Public Health, said the Harvard study “has been done very carefully,” and there is a broader effort to try to “find a mechanism” as to why olive oil, or other parts of the plant, could be beneficial to cardiovascular or cognitive health.”Vasilis Vasiliou, a professor and the chair of the department of environmental health sciences at Yale School of Public Health, said the Harvard study “has been done very carefully,” and there is a broader effort to try to “find a mechanism” as to why olive oil, or other parts of the plant, could be beneficial to cardiovascular or cognitive health.
    • “We don’t believe it’s one compound or two. The olive oil has the phenolic antioxidants, which are very important for protecting against oxidative stress,” Vasiliou said. “But there is a lot of other stuff that’s going on there.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “Use of cannabis and nicotine together during pregnancy was associated with higher risks for infant death and maternal and neonatal morbidity compared with no exposure to either substance, with dual-use risk estimates higher than with either substance alone, a retrospective population-based cohort study.
    • “Compared with use of neither substance, the risk of infant death was more than twice as high with combined use in pregnancy after controlling for possible confounders (adjusted risk ratio [aRR] 2.18, 95% CI 1.82-2.62), reported Jamie O. Lo, MD, MCR, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and colleagues.
    • “By comparison, risks were 65% higher with cannabis use only (aRR 1.65, 95% CI 1.41-1.93) and 62% higher with nicotine use only (aRR 1.62, 95% CI 1.45-1.80) versus no exposure, the researchers detailed in JAMA Network Open.
    • “Lo told MedPage Today in an email that she and her colleagues were surprised to see the increased infant death rate in the combined cannabis and nicotine users compared with those using each substance alone.
    • “We also did not expect so many maternal and neonatal/infant outcomes to be worse with combined cannabis/nicotine use,” she added.”
  • The National Cancer Institute posted its periodic cancer information highlights.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will launch clinical trials to investigate potential treatments for long-term symptoms after COVID-19 infection, including sleep disturbances, exercise intolerance and the worsening of symptoms following physical or mental exertion known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). The mid-stage trials, part of NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, will join six other RECOVER studies currently enrolling participants across the United States testing treatments to address viral persistence, neurological symptoms, including cognitive dysfunction (like brain fog) and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. The new trials will enroll approximately 1,660 people across 50 study sites to investigate potential treatments for some of the most frequent and burdensome symptoms reported by people suffering from long COVID.
    • “People 18 years of age and older who are interested in learning more about these trials can visit trials.RECOVERCovid.org(link is external) or ClinicalTrials.gov and search identifiers NCT06404047NCT06404060NCT06404073NCT06404086NCT06404099NCT06404112.” 
  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “A profoundly deaf baby who received Regeneron’s experimental gene therapy was able to hear normally within six months, the company announced Wednesday.
    • “The data, presented at a medical conference, build on initially promising research released in October. The baby was dosed at 11 months of age, one of the youngest children in the world to receive gene therapy for genetic deafness, Regeneron said. A second patient, treated at age 4, also showed hearing improvements at a six-week assessment, the company said.
    • “Both children suffer from a type of deafness caused by mutations in a gene known as otoferlin. The initial research on Regeneron’s DB-OTO therapy is part of an ongoing Phase 1/2 trial known as CHORD enrolling infants and children in the U.S., U.K. and Spain.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • MedCity News informs us,
    • “About a third of employers are integrating value-based care into their employer-sponsored insurance, according to a new survey. Another third of employers are determining the “best-fit strategies for their organization” when it comes to accountable care.
    • “The report was published Sunday by the Milken Institute with support from Morgan Health, a JPMorgan Chase healthcare unit for employer-sponsored insurance. The Milken Institute is a nonprofit think tank focused on financial, physical, mental and environmental health. The survey received responses from 72 employers of varying sizes and industry types.
    • “The researchers found that when making health benefit decisions, expanding preventive care, improving access to primary care and focusing on whole-person health are the top three tenets of accountable care. The lowest-ranked tenets are reducing health outcome disparities and increasing access to digital care.”
  • Fierce Healthcare adds,
    • “Employers are in a strong position to lead the charge in changing the conversation around obesity care, according to a new report from the Milken Institute.
    • “The group released a how-to guide employers of all sizes can use to push for obesity to be recognized as a chronic condition, driving a more multifaceted model for care and addressing the stigma that exists around weight.
    • “The guidebook notes that obesity and conditions related to it are having a major impact on healthcare costs, accounting for $425.5 billion in costs for the civilian workforce, according to a recent study. This includes higher medical costs for both employers and employees as well as costs related to absenteeism.
    • “Sarah Wells Kocsis, director of the Center for Public Health at the Milken Institute and one of the paper’s authors, told Fierce Healthcare that employers are starting to take notice of this issue and lead a conversation that’s “decades in the making.”
    • “We’re really at an inflection point,” she said. “Our goal here is to put this in writing and explain what a strong case there is to think about obesity as a chronic disease.”
  • HealthDay explains,
    • “Worries over health-related costs are plaguing the minds of older Americans of all backgrounds, a new poll suggests.
    • “Five of the six health-related issues that most people found very concerning had to do with health care costs, according to results from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. 
    • “And the sixth issue – financial scams and fraud – also had to do with money, results show.
    • “In this election year, these findings offer a striking reminder of how much health care costs matter to older adults,” Dr. John Ayanian, director of the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, where the poll is based, said in a news release. The poll is supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.
    • “Overall, 56% of people over 50 said they’re concerned about the cost of medical care for older adults, poll results show.”
  • Per mHealth Intelligence,
    • New research reveals that a text message and telephone-based virtual care approach can improve rates of screening, identification, and treatment of maternal mental health conditions.
    • Published in Health Affairs, the study assessed an intervention that addresses various barriers to adopting maternal mental health screening and referral to treatment. Medical University of South Carolina researchers noted that perinatal mental health disorders, perinatal substance use disorders (SUDs), and intimate partner violence are common during pregnancy and the postpartum year. According to data from the Mental Health Leadership Alliance, maternal mental health conditions affect 800,000 families each year in the United States.
  • BioPharma Dive offers a helpful database of patent expiration dates for thirty top-selling medicines.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DCm

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “House Democratic leaders said they would block any effort to remove Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.), moving to protect the Republican leader from retaliation by his hard-right flank following the passage of a sweeping foreign-aid package that included funding for Ukraine.”
  • This is a smart move because accord to what the FEHBlog has been reading, the Democrats are likely to retake the House of Representatives in the fall election.
  • The Journal also relates,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission is challenging hundreds of pharmaceutical patent listings in an effort to smooth the path to more affordable alternatives to brand-name drugs—including blockbusters such as Ozempic and Victoza.
      • “The crackdown is the latest assault against what the agency regards as drugmakers’ patent ploys intended to stall generic competition.
      • “At issue is what is called the Orange Book, a document published by the Food and Drug Administration that lists patents relevant to brand-name pharmaceuticals. Under a law meant to encourage generics, if a generics maker can successfully challenge listed patents, it can be granted a period of exclusivity before other generics are approved. But a challenge to an Orange Book patent, should a brand-name manufacturer decide to fight in court, also delays a generic’s approval for 30 months.
      • “The FTC says that drugmakers needlessly list oodles of extra patents in the Orange Book, delaying generic alternatives and artificially keeping prices high.”
  • HealthLeaders Media adds,
    • “Medicare Part D saved nearly $15 billion over six years with the use of “skinny label” generics, a new report says.
    • “However, the program is imperiled by a lawsuit claiming patent infringement, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said in a research letter published on Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine.
    • “The researchers are urging Congress to “reinforce the skinny-label pathway by creating a safe harbor that protects manufacturers engaged in skinny labeling from induced patent infringement laws.”
    • Skinny labels permit the use of generics for conditions that are not specified by brand-name drug makers and allow the cheaper generics to enter the market before the patent of the brand-name drug expires. 
  •  The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force finalized a breast cancer screening recommendation today.
    • The Task Force now recommends that all women get screened for breast cancer every other year starting at age 40 [previously age 50 for USPSTF purposes and 40 for Affordable Care Act purposes] and continuing through age 74. This is a B grade. More research is needed about whether and how additional screening might help women with dense breasts stay healthy and on the benefits and harms of screening in women older than 75. These are I statements.
  • The New York Times adds,
    • “In 2009, the task force raised the age for starting routine mammograms to 50 from 40, sparking wide controversy. At the time, researchers were concerned that earlier screening would do more harm than good, leading to unnecessary treatment in younger women, including alarming findings that lead to anxiety-producing procedures that are invasive but ultimately unnecessary.
    • “But now breast cancer rates among women in their 40s are on the rise, increasing by 2 percent a year between 2015 and 2019, said Dr. John Wong, vice chair of the task force. The panel continues to recommend screening every two years for women at average risk of breast cancer, though many patients and providers prefer annual screening. * * *
    • “Weighing in again on a hotly debated topic, the task force also said there was not enough evidence to endorse extra scans, such as ultrasounds or magnetic resonance imaging, for women with dense breast tissue.
    • “That means that insurers do not have to provide full coverage of additional screening for these women, whose cancers can be missed by mammograms alone and who are at higher risk for breast cancer to begin with. About half of all women aged 40 and older fall into this category.”
  • For Affordable Care Act preventive services coverage purposes, HHS’s Human Resources and Services Administration, not the USPSTF, is the final decision maker regarding the scope of women’s healthcare preventive services.

From the public health and medical research fronts,

  • STAT News lets us know today.
    • “Research is still being done to determine if all pasteurization techniques — there are multiple approaches — inactivate the [H5N1] virus. But the findings so far are reassuring. Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., have reported that while they could find genetic evidence of the virus in milk bought in stores, they could not grow live viruses from that milk, suggesting pasteurization kills H5N1. * * *
    • “But given the concentration of virus that researchers are seeing in milk from infected cows, they believe that raw milk — milk that has not been pasteurized — is an entirely different story.
    • “If cows that produce milk destined for the raw milk market got infected with H5N1, people who consume that milk could drink a large dose of the virus, scientists say. Thijs Kuiken, a pathologist in the department of viroscience at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said he’s heard of concentrations that would be the equivalent of a billion virus particles per milliliter of milk. He told STAT he thought authorities should ban raw milk sales while the outbreak is underway.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Postpartum depression is a leading cause of maternal death, but its diagnosis and treatment is spotty at best, negligent at worst.
    • “Now San Diego-based start-up Dionysus Digital Health is pitching a blood test to check for the condition, even before symptoms appear. The company says it has pinpointed a gene linking a person’s moods more closely to hormonal changes. The test uses machine learning to compare epigenetics — how genes are expressed — in your blood sample with benchmarks developed during a decade of research into pregnant people who did and didn’t develop postpartum depression.
    • “Researchers at Dionysus’s academic partners, the Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research and UVA Health, have published peer-reviewedpapers affirming their findings, and the company is partnering with the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health for clinical trials, with the eventual goal of making the $250 test widely available and covered by insurance.” 
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • Sleep apnea and low oxygen levels while sleeping are associated with epilepsy that first occurs after 60 years of age, known as late-onset epilepsy, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Sleep. The link was independent of other known risk factors for late-onset epilepsy and sleep apnea including hypertension and stroke. The findings may help to better understand the relationship between sleep disorders and late-onset epilepsy, as well as identify potential targets for treatment.
    • “There’s increasing evidence that late-onset epilepsy may be indicative of underlying vascular disease, or neurodegenerative disease, even potentially as a preclinical marker of neurodegenerative disease,” said Rebecca Gottesman, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Stroke Branch at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and an author on the study. “Compared to other age groups, older adults have the highest incidence of new cases of epilepsy – up to half of which have no clear cause. Sleep apnea is common among people with epilepsy, but the association is not well understood.”
  • and
    • “Researchers have discovered that the smooth muscle cells that line the arteries of people with atherosclerosis can change into new cell types and develop traits similar to cancer that worsen the disease. Atherosclerosis is characterized by a narrowing of arterial walls and can increase risk of coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, or kidney disorders. The findings, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), could pave the way for the use of anti-cancer drugs to counteract the tumor-like mechanisms driving the buildup of plaque in the arteries, the major cause of cardiovascular disease.
    • “This discovery opens up a whole new dimension for our understanding about therapeutic strategies for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis,” said Ahmed Hasan, M.D., Ph.D., program director in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH. “Previous research has suggested that atherosclerosis and cancer may share some similarities, but this association has not been fully described until now.”
  • The Wall Street Journal tells us,
    • “An emerging field of research called chrononutrition indicates that choosing the right foods and meal times may improve our sleep. Some key findings: Eat dinner early. Keep consistent schedules. And, yes, drink milk.
    • You already know that fruits, veggies and lean protein are good for your health. But they can boost your sleep, too. These foods are the basis for the Mediterranean diet, which research shows may improve sleep quality, reduce sleep disturbances and boost sleep efficiency—the amount of time you spend asleep when you are in bed.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Walmart is closing its network of health clinics after failing to make them profitable, in a major setback for the retail giant’s push into healthcare.”Walmart is closing its network of health clinics after failing to make them profitable, in a major setback for the retail giant’s push into healthcare.
    • “Walmart Health launched as a one-store pilot in Georgia in 2019, and has since grown to 51 centers in five states, along with a virtual care offering. Yet the network has shown recent signs of trouble: Earlier this month, Walmart decelerated its expansion plans for the centers, which offer inexpensive, fixed-cost medical services like primary and dental care.
    • “Walmart is now closing the clinics entirely due to a challenging reimbursement environment and escalating operating costs resulting in a lack of profitability, according to a Tuesday press release. * * *
    • “In the end of Walmart Health illustrates that size alone is not a recipe for success in providing health services, according to Forrester’s Trzcinski. Walmart is the largest retailer in the U.S., with revenue of $648 billion in its most recent fiscal year.
    • “Despite building out the clinics, Walmart didn’t invest in driving adoption, including through digital health and customer experience, Trzcinski said. That caused it to fall behind other retailers that are surging ahead, such as Amazon and CVS.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Eli Lilly raised its revenue forecast for the year by $2 billion as sales of its GLP-1 medicines for diabetes and obesity continue to climb rapidly amid surging demand.
    • “The Indianapolis drugmaker currently can’t make its drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound fast enough, indicating in an earnings statement Tuesday that sales growth will “primarily be a function of the quantity the company can produce and ship.”
    • “Lilly is expanding manufacturing and expects greater capacity in the second half of the year. Revenue from Mounjaro, which is sold for diabetes, totaled $1.8 billion in the first quarter, while Zepbound revenue hit $517 million in its first full quarter on the U.S. market as an obesity treatment.”
  • and
    • “Lilly and Novo [Nordisk] aim to maintain their current hold on the market. Both companies are testing several experimental drugs with the goal of launching oral versions or even more effective treatments than their current products.
    • “Novo is already close to completing a Phase 3 trial program testing an oral form of Wegovy. It also has in late-stage development a combination of Wegovy with a compound called cagrilintide that acts on a gut hormone called amylin.
    • “Lilly has two drugs in Phase 3: an oral GLP-1 dubbed orforglipron that is approaching key data readouts next year and an injectable treatment called retatrutide that stimulates GLP-1, GIP and a third hormone known as glucagon. Results in obesity are due in 2026.
    • “Lilly has four experimental drugs in Phase 1 or 2, while Novo has five.
    • “[Lilly and Novo] cover all the bases,” said Clive Meanwell, CEO of Metsera, a newly launched startup that has two obesity drugs in clinical testing. “Our belief is it’s going to be a portfolio play, with mix and match, with different clinical circumstances and different markets.”
    • The article discusses similar projects from other companies.
  • Beckers Payer Issues reports,
    • “CMS and the NCQA are extending the quality data submission deadline for health plans by two weeks due to “extraordinary circumstances” caused by the cyberattack on Change Healthcare in late February.
    • “Payers will now have until 5pm Eastern Time on June 28 to report their performance on Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) measures to the two organizations, according to an April 29 memo from CMS. * * *
    • “The Change Healthcare cyberattack has created unprecedented challenges to healthcare organizations across the country,” Eric Schneider, MD, EVP, Quality Measurement and Research Group at NCQA, said in a statement to Becker’s. “This disruptive incident, falling in the middle of the substantial effort and commitment required for quality reporting efforts, has significantly strained resources. Recognizing these extraordinary circumstances and in alignment with CMS, we are granting a deadline extension for the submission of HEDIS Measurement Year 2023 results.” 

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • MedTech Dive reports
    • “The Food and Drug Administration released a final rule on Mondaystrengthening its authority over laboratory developed tests (LDTs), advancing a policy that has drawn fierce opposition from healthcare industry groups.
    • “The rule amends agency regulations to make explicit that in vitro diagnostics are devices under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, including when the manufacturer of the IVD is a laboratory.
    • “The FDA said it will phase out its enforcement discretion approach for LDTs so that in vitro diagnostics manufactured by a laboratory will generally fall under the same enforcement policy as other tests.”
  • HHS’s Office for Civil Rights issued frequently asked questions about the final ACA Section 1557 rule issued on Friday.
  • Bloomberg lets us know,
    • “The US Department of Labor has rescinded a Trump-era rule that made it easier for small businesses and self-employed people to use cheaper association health plans that don’t comply with all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. 
    • “The final Biden rule (RIN:1210-AC16) on association health plans was issued by the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Monday after clearing White House review, and will take effect 60 days after its April 30 publication in the Federal Register.”
  • HHS announced,
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced $105 million in funding to support more than 100 community-based organizations working to improve maternal and infant health. HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson highlighted the news during a visit to Southside Medical Center, a new Healthy Start awardee, in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia is the second stop on HRSA’s national Enhancing Maternal Health Initiative tour. Today’s Healthy Start funding announcement will support the health care and social needs of moms and babies in high need communities to help improve community health and tackle the unacceptable disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. * * *
    • “For the full list of award recipients, visit the Healthy Start awards page.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “After decreasing for 27 years, the number of U.S. residents with tuberculosis has increased every year since 2020, with 9,615 cases recorded last year in the 50 states and D.C., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”After decreasing for 27 years, the number of U.S. residents with tuberculosis has increased every year since 2020, with 9,615 cases recorded last year in the 50 states and D.C., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • “The finding was based on data from the agency’s National Tuberculosis Surveillance System, which collects information from state and local health departments.
    • Caused by bacteria, tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs and spreads easily from person to person through the air. People who have the disease can spread the bacteria when they cough, sneeze or simply talk. * * *
    • “The latest numbers reflect a 16 percent increase in U.S. tuberculosis cases from 2022 to 2023, and the highest number of TB cases in the country since 2013, the CDC report says. The tally also reflects increases in all age groups and among people born in the United States as well as those born elsewhere, although the report found a larger increase among people born outside the United States vs. U.S.-born individuals (18 percent vs. 9 percent).
    • “Despite the recent increases, the CDC report describes the incidence of TB in the United States as “among the lowest in the world.”
  • The New York Times tells us,
    • “Physical fitness among children and adolescents may protect against developing depressive symptoms, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a study published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
    • “The study also found that better performance in cardiovascular activities, strength and muscular endurance were each associated with greater protection against such mental health conditions. The researchers deemed this linkage “dose-dependent”, suggesting that a child or adolescent who is more fit may be accordingly less likely to experience the onset of a mental health disorder.”
  • The CDC updated its online guidance about action to fight antimicrobial resistance.
    • Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. Antimicrobial resistance has been found in every U.S. state and country. Addressing this threat requires continued aggressive action to:
      • Prevent infections in the first place
      • Improve antibiotic and antifungal use to slow the development of resistance
      • Stop the spread of resistance when it does develop
    • We all have a role to play, from travelers, animal owners, and care givers to patients and healthcare providers. Find out how you can help.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare relates,
    • “Inpatient volume growth across HCA Healthcare’s entire hospital portfolio and other steady gains on payer mix, length of stay and operating expenses have set the large chain on a strong trajectory for 2024, executives told investors Friday.
    • “The 188-hospital for-profit reported first-quarter net income of $1.59 billion ($5.93 per diluted share) and $17.34 billion in revenues.
    • “Those numbers are up from the $1.36 billion ($4.85 per diluted share) and $15.59 billion of the same period last year, and squarely ahead of consensus estimates of $5.09 earnings per share and $16.82 billion in revenues.”
  • and
    • “Teladoc acting CEO Mala Murthy sought to assure investors Thursday that the virtual care giant is poised for future growth even as it faces pressure in a saturated telehealth market.
    • “Following the abrupt departure of longtime CEO Jason Gorevic earlier this month, Teladoc is focused on boosting its top- and bottom-line performance as its shares have come under pressure, down more than 40% year-to-date.
    • “Teladoc is in a time of transition. And, as part of this evolution, the board of directors decided that it was time to look for a new leader for our company, someone to help us write the next chapter in our growth story,” Murthy, also Teladoc’s chief financial officer, said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call Thursday.”
  • Per Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Increased reliance on imaging for diagnosis and efficient patient care mixed with higher volumes of patients has left hospitals scrambling to meet demand with the few radiologists they have.
    • “There are over 1,400 vacant radiologist positions posted on the American College of Radiology’s job board, according to a bulletin posted on its website. The total number of active radiology and diagnostic radiology physicians has dropped by 1% between 2007 and 2021, but the number of people in the U.S. per active physician in radiology grew nearly 10%, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. An increase in the Medicare population and a declining number of people with health insurance adds to the problem.”
  • and
    • Demand for Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic is high across the U.S., but interest varies by state, according to research conducted by Bison Pharmacy
    • Bison Pharmacy, a Canadian-based prescription referral service, analyzed monthly volume data on Google searches for “Ozempic” and “Ozempic price” in each state. 
    • New York is at the top of the list and Mississippi is on the bottom.

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Perhaps the most convoluted provision in the Affordable Care Act is its individual non-discrimimination clause, Section 1557. The Obama Administration issued an implementing rule. The Trump Administration replaced the Obama Administration’s rule, and today the Biden Administration has replaced the Trump Administration rule.
    • Of note, “[f]or the first time, the Department will consider Medicare Part B payments as a form of Federal financial assistance for purposes of triggering civil rights laws enforced by the Department, ensuring that health care providers and suppliers receiving Part B funds are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, sex and disability.”
    • HHS will refer FEHB and FEDVIP complaints to OPM.
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Medtronic said Friday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new spinal-cord implant that relieves chronic pain, a bid to expand into a patient population that relies heavily on medications like opioids.
    • “The new device works by delivering an electrical pulse to the spinal cord, interrupting pain signals before they reach the brain in patients suffering from back, cervical and nerve damage. While earlier versions of the device provided a constant level of stimulation, Medtronic’s new product can read signals from nerve fibers and automatically adjust the intensity — a feature designed to avoid uncomfortable jolts when a patient sneezes, coughs or laughs.
    • “It’s like listening for whispers at a rock concert,” David Carr, a Medtronic vice president, said in an interview. * * *
    • “Medtronic’s Inceptiv contains a lithium battery that can be recharged through the skin, and two leads with electrodes — some to read the signals from nerve fibers, and others to deliver the electrical pulse. The device can adjust the level of stimulation 50 times a second, according to the company.
    • “Inceptiv is “the world’s smallest and thinnest fully implantable” spinal-cord stimulator, Medtronic said.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new gene therapy for hemophilia, clearing Pfizer’s Beqvez for certain people with the less common “B” form of the bleeding condition.
    • “Beqvez is for adults with moderate to severe hemophilia B who currently use drugs to prevent bleeds or have repeated, spontaneous bleeding. Eligible individuals also must be tested to determine whether they have antibodies that neutralize Beqvez’s effects.
    • “Pfizer set the treatment’s list price at $3.5 million, a company spokesperson confirmed. That matches the cost of Hemgenix, the other available gene therapy for hemophilia B. Pfizer will offer insurers a warranty providing “financial protections” if Beqvez doesn’t work or its effects don’t last, the spokesperson wrote in an email, without providing details.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control lets us know today,
    • “The amount of respiratory illness (fever plus cough or sore throat) causing people to seek healthcare continues to decrease across most areas of the country. This week, 0 jurisdictions experienced high activity compared to 1 jurisdiction experiencing high activity the previous week. No jurisdictions experienced very high activity. 
    • “Nationally, emergency department visits with diagnosed influenza are decreasing. Emergency department visits with COVID-19 and RSV remain stable at low levels.  
    • “Nationally, COVID-19, influenza, and RSV test positivity decreased compared to the previous week. 
    • “Nationally, the COVID-19 wastewater viral activity level, which reflects both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, remains low.” 
  • American Hospital Association News adds,
    • “Adults age 65 and older are encouraged to receive an updated dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced April 25. The update provides protection against the JN.1 and other circulating variants of the virus, and should be administered at least four months following the previous dosage. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended the additional dose in February.”
  • On a related note, the CDC reports today
    • H5N1 bird flu is widespread in wild birds worldwide and is causing outbreaks in poultry and U.S. dairy cows with one recent human case in a U.S. dairy worker.
    • While the current public health risk is low, CDC is watching the situation carefully and working with states to monitor people with animal exposures.
    • CDC is using its flu surveillance systems to monitor for H5N1 activity in people.
  • Medscape tells us,
    • “The glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist semaglutide (Wegovy) not only induced weight loss but also improved knee pain in people with knee osteoarthritis (OA) and obesity, according to results from the STEP 9 study reported at the World Congress on Osteoarthritis (OARSI 2024).
    • “From baseline to week 68, the mean change in knee pain assessed using the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Arthritis Index (WOMAC) pain score was a reduction of 41.7 points for semaglutide and a decrease of 27.5 points for a matching placebo. The estimated treatment difference of 14.1 points between the groups was statistically significant (< .001).
    • “As for weight loss, this also fell by a significantly greater amount in the people treated with semaglutide vs those given placebo, with respective reductions of 13.7% and 3.2% from baseline, with an estimated 10.5% greater weight loss with semaglutide.
    • “The interesting thing is whether there’s a specific action of GLP-1 receptor agonists on the joint, not through the weight loss but by itself,” principal study investigator Henning Bliddal, MD, DMSc, told Medscape Medical News ahead of reporting the results at OARSI 2024.”
  • The National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) Director writes in her blog,
    • “In Alzheimer’s disease, a buildup of sticky amyloid proteins in the brain clump together to form plaques, causing damage that gradually leads to worsening dementia symptoms. A promising way to change the course of this disease is with treatments that clear away damaging amyloid plaques or stop them from forming in the first place. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first drug for early Alzheimer’s that moderately slows cognitive decline by reducing amyloid plaques. Still, more progress is needed to combat this devastating disease that as many as 6.7 million Americans were living with in 2023.
    • Recent findings from a study in mice, supported in part by NIH and reported in Science Translational Medicine , offer another potential way to clear amyloid plaques in the brain. The key component of this strategy is using the brain’s built-in cleanup crew for amyloid plaques and other waste products: immune cells known as microglia that naturally help to limit the progression of Alzheimer’s. The findings suggest it may be possible to develop immunotherapies—treatments that use the body’s immune system to fight disease—to activate microglia in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and clear amyloid plaques more effectively.
    • In their report, the research team—including Marco Colonna , Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Jinchao Hou, now at Children’s Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Zhejiang Province, China—wrote that microglia in the brain surround plaques to create a barrier that controls their spread. Microglia can also destroy amyloid plaques directly. But how microglia work in the brain depends on a fine-tuned balance of signals that activate or inhibit them. In people with Alzheimer’s, microglia don’t do their job well enough.  * * *
    • [O]verall, these findings add to evidence that immunotherapies of this kind could be a promising way to treat Alzheimer’s. This strategy may also have implications for treating other neurodegenerative conditions characterized by toxic debris in the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Huntington’s disease. The hope is that this kind of research will ultimately lead to more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s and other conditions affecting the brain.
  • NIH announced
    • “One injected dose of an experimental malaria monoclonal antibody was 77% effective against malaria disease in children in Mali during the country’s six-month malaria season, according to the results of a mid-stage clinical trial. The trial assessed an investigational monoclonal antibody developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and results appear in The New England Journal of Medicine.
    • “A long-acting monoclonal antibody delivered at a single health care visit that rapidly provides high-level protection against malaria in these vulnerable populations would fulfill an unmet public health need,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of NIH.”
  • and
    • “In a new analysis of genetic susceptibility to kidney cancer, an international team of researchers has identified 50 new areas across the genome(link is external) that are associated with the risk of developing kidney cancer. These insights could one day be used to advance our understanding of the molecular basis of kidney cancer, inform screening efforts for those at highest risk, and identify new drug targets. The study was led by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Berkeley Public Health informs us,
    • “Does paying more to have your outpatient surgery done at a hospital, rather than at a freestanding surgical center, lead to better care? A new study led by James C. Robinson, professor of health economics at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, says no.
    • “In an investigation published in the April issue of The American Journal of Managed Care, Robinson and his team found that the higher prices typically charged by hospitals for four common surgeries were not justified by higher quality, as measured by the rate of post-surgical complications.
    • “The researchers analyzed more than 2 million national Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance claims from 2019-2020 for patients aged 18 to 65 who received a colonoscopy, knee or shoulder arthroscopy, or cataract removal surgery, and calculated the prices and rates of complications for each procedure.
    • “They found large differences in price, but very little difference in the rate of post-surgery complications.”
  • Health IT Analytics tells us about the top twelve ways that artificial intelligence will be used in healthcare.
  • HR Dive offers a tracker of state and local laws requiring employers to disclose pay or pay ranges.
    • “Pay disclosure laws have taken several forms. Some require employers to provide the minimum and maximum pay, or a pay range, for a given job upon the request of an applicant. Others mandate this practice without requiring candidates to ask first. The latest wave of laws now require employers to include this information in all applicable job postings.”
  • Per Biopharma Dive,
    • “U.S. Humira sales fell 40% year over year during the first three months of 2024, to about $1.8 billion, as biosimilar copycats put pressure on AbbVie’s top-selling drug, the company said Friday in its first quarter earnings report.
    • “The declines were “in line” with what the company had anticipated for its inflammatory disease drug, AbbVie commercial chief Jeffrey Stewart said in a call with investors. Humira now faces 10 copycat competitors in the U.S., the first of which launched Jan. 31, 2023.
    • “Stewart said the company also expected a recent decision by CVS Health, whose pharmacy benefit manager is the country’s largest by prescription claims, to remove Humira from its national pharmacy effective April 1. Although that has meant Humira’s market share dropped from 96% to 81% over two weeks, Stewart said some of the shift went to other branded medicines, like AbbVie’s products Skyrizi and Rinvoq.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues points out,
    • Centene reported nearly $1.2 billion in net income in the first quarter and a more than 18% decrease in Medicaid membership year over year, according to its first-quarter earnings posted April 26.
    • Total revenues in the first quarter were $40.4 billion, up 3.9% year over year.
    • Total net earnings in the first quarter were nearly $1.2 billion, up 2.9% since the same period last year.
    • The company raised its year-end adjusted EPS guidance to at least $6.80.
    • The company’s medical loss ratio was 87.1% in the first quarter and 87% during the same period last year.”
  • According to Fierce Healthcare,
    • “The new year is “off to a good start,” for Community Health Systems, which reported a somewhat narrowed $41 million net loss (-$0.32 per diluted share) and a solid uptick in operating revenues for its first quarter.
    • “The 71-hospital for-profit system had logged a $51 million net loss during the same period last year, which, at the time, CHS attributed to a bump in Medicare Advantage patient volume.
    • “After excluding adjustments related to impairment losses and business transformation costs, the company landed at a net loss of $0.14 per share, which was about in line with consensus estimates.
    • “However, CHS shared a rosier picture when it came to operating revenues. Its three-month net of $3.14 billion beat estimates by about $50 million and was a 1% increase over last year.”
  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “Universal Health Services delivered first quarter earnings results Wednesday that beat analysts’ estimates on stronger than expected revenue and volume metrics across its behavioral health and acute service lines.”Universal Health Services delivered first quarter earnings results Wednesday that beat analysts’ estimates on stronger than expected revenue and volume metrics across its behavioral health and acute service lines.
    • “UHS increased its same facility net revenues for its acute care and behavioral care service lines by 9.6% and 10.4%, respectively, during the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same period last year.
    • “However, the operator could suffer a “material” financial hit should the operator fail to lower a March $535 million judgment against a subsidiary, UHS disclosed in its earnings report. The for-profit health system is currently appealing the judgment in post-trial motions, said CFO Steve Filton during the earnings call.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Per HHS press releases
    • Today, the Biden-Harris Administration, through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), announced policies for the Affordable Care Act Marketplaces that make it easier for low-income people to enroll in coverage, provides states the ability to increase access to routine adult dental services, and sets network adequacy standards for the time and distance people travel for appointments with in-network providers. Finally, the rule will standardize certain operations across the Marketplaces to increase reliability and consistency for consumers. The 2025 [ACA] Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters final rule builds on the Administration’s previous work expanding access to quality, affordable health care and raising standards for Marketplace plans nationwide.
  • and
    • Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) released new research showing how key Inflation Reduction Act provisions will lower costs for women enrolled in Medicare, including nearly 30 million women enrolled in Part D. Also, today, HHS announced that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) responded to counteroffers from all manufacturers participating in Medicare drug price negotiations – which the Inflation Reduction Act made possible – and invited them to participate in further discussions.
  • and
    • Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a white paper highlighting steps HHS has taken to prevent and mitigate drug shortages and proposing additional solutions for policymakers to consider. Drug shortages have occurred in the nation’s health care system for several decades, largely due to market failures and misaligned incentives. With today’s white paper, HHS offers solutions and stands ready to work with Congress to ensure no patient faces the devastating consequences of drug shortages or goes without needed medicines.
  • With respect to the 2025 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters, here is a link to the CMS fact sheet and a related ACA FAQ 66.
    • “FAQ 66 puts large group market plans (all FEHB plans are large market plans) and self funder ERISA plans on notice that the regulators will be subjecting these plans and the small group and individual market plans to a new rule applying the prohibition against lifetime and annual dollar limits to prescription drugs classified as essential health benefits.  
    • “Under the law, large group market and self funded ERISA plans must select a state benchmark to apply this limit to essential health benefits other than prescription drugs. For 2025, the EHB prescription drugs also must be considered.” 
  • CMS posted the Final 2025 Actuarial Value Calculator Methodology.
  • CMS also issued an update to its Section 111 Group Health Plan User Guide. The update seeks to prevent overlapping drug records.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Health Affairs Forefront gives us access to “The CMS Innovation Center’s Strategy To Support Person-Centered, Value-Based Specialty Care: 2024 Update.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “An AI algorithm to detect heart failure, embedded in a digital stethoscope, earned clearance from the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday. The goal is to help primary care doctors more easily identify the often-hidden condition.
    • “The stethoscope is the result of a collaboration between Mayo Clinic researchers, who built the algorithm, and the startup Eko Health, which built the hardware. Mayo Clinic is an investor in Eko, which has raised $128 million over the past six years. Eko’s stethoscopes currently use two predictive AI algorithms: one for atrial fibrillation and one for structural heart murmur. The difference with heart failure, though, is how much more difficult it is for doctors to catch. 
    • Nearly 6.5 million Americans have heart failure, meaning their hearts are unable to pump blood properly. The illness is typically visible via heart ultrasounds, or echocardiograms, but these tests are expensive. Catching the condition early and non-invasively at a primary care checkup could save lives. 
    • “We’re moving from what’s human visible to what’s almost human invisible,” said Connor Landgraf, CEO of Eko Health. “The signals that we’re identifying in the heart sounds in an ECG are so subtle that humans wouldn’t even be able to pick them up.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “Among nearly 1 million patients who underwent upper or lower endoscopy procedures, those prescribed GLP-1s, such as Ozempic or Wegovy, were 33% more likely to experience aspiration pneumonia than other patients. 
    • “This finding was detailed in a study conducted by researchers at Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai. The risk of GLP-1 patients aspirating and regurgitating under anesthesia was first addressed in June 2023, when the American Society of Anesthesiologists recommended halting a patient’s last dose before an elective surgery. 
    • “The recommendation was based on anecdotal evidence at the time, and physicians across the U.S. soon implemented new perioperative workflows. Now, data from January 2018 through December 2020 shows an association between GLP-1 use and aspiration pneumonia, or pneumonia caused by foreign objects entering the lungs, according to a Cedars-Sinai news release.
    • “The researchers considered other variables that could affect surgery outcomes, the release said. Results were published March 27 in Gastroenterology.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “A few simple interventions boosted flu vaccine uptake for patients waiting at the emergency department [ED], according to the cluster-randomized, controlled PROFLUVAXED trial.
    • “People in ED waiting areas who consented to view a 3-minute video with a scripted message, read a one-page flyer, and have a short discussion with an ED clinician about the flu vaccine had a 30-day follow-up vaccination rate of 41% versus 15% among patients that received no messaging about the vaccine.
    • “Even just asking people in the ED “Would you accept the influenza vaccine in the emergency department today if your doctor asked you to get it?” resulted in a 30-day vaccination rate of 32%, Robert Rodriguez, MD, of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues reported in NEJM Evidence.”
  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports discuss “What to know about 6 important blood tests for your health.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare informs us,
    • “Kaiser Permanente’s Risant Health has closed its acquisition of Geisinger Health, notching the first step on its ambitious plan to form a multisystem, multiregional value-based care organization.
    • “Oakland, California-based Kaiser Permanente announced the deal alongside the formation of Risant Health and its broader strategy nearly a year ago. The acquisition has been approved by state and federal regulatory agencies and closed March 31, Kaiser Permanente said in a Tuesday release.
    • “Danville, Pennsylvania-based Geisinger, which runs 10 hospitals, was highlighted as an ideal inaugural partner for the budding value-based care platform due to the system’s experience running a roughly 600,000-member health plan.
    • “Through Risant Health, we will leverage our industry-leading expertise and innovation to increase the country’s access to high-quality and evidence-based health care, which we know improves care quality and the patient and member experience,” Kaiser Permanente CEO Greg A. Adams, who is also the board chair of Risant Health, said in Tuesday’s announcement. “We will also learn and benefit from Geisinger and the additional health systems that become part of Risant Health in the future, to help them grow in new ways, be more affordable and bring value-based care to more people.”
    • “Jaewon Ryu, M.D., Geisinger’s president and CEO since 2019, is now stepping into the role of Risant Health CEO, according to the announcement. Terry Gilliland, M.D., will fill Ryu’s post at Geisinger once the transition is complete.”
  • and
    • “Intermountain Health shuttered Saltzer Health, a multispecialty group the system acquired less than four years ago, after it failed to find a buyer for the provider.
    • “Based in southwest Idaho, Saltzer Health had been one of the state’s oldest and largest primary care groups. in operation for 63 years, the company had 450 employees and clinicians spread across 11 locations.” 
  • Per Biopharma Dive,
    • “Abbott said Tuesday it received the Food and Drug Administration’s approval to market a transcatheter device for repairing the tricuspid valve in patients who are unable to withstand open-heart surgery.
    • “The go-ahead from the FDA paves the way for Abbott’s Triclip repair system to compete in the U.S. against Edwards Lifesciences’ recently approved transcatheter tricuspid valve replacement device, Evoque.
    • “Triclip uses the same clip-based technology to treat tricuspid regurgitation as Abbott’s Mitraclip for mitral valve regurgitation, a device the company has credited with driving double-digit growth in its structural heart business.”
  • USA Today reports,
    • “Costco and its low-cost health care partner are expanding into weight-loss management.
    • “Costco will begin offering its members in the U.S. access to a weight loss program through Sesame, a health care marketplace, Sesame exclusively told USA TODAY. The service, which will cost $179 every three months, is scheduled to become available April 2.”
  • Medical Economist notes,
    • “Data exchange, or interoperability, among electronic health records (EHRs) is getting easier but still has a long way to go before primary care doctors are completely satisfied with it, a new study concludes. * * *
    • “Broken down by information type, the highest level of satisfaction—34%– was ability to receive lab reports from external organizations. The lowest level—21%—was for information on preventive care. Overall, 11% said they were not at all satisfied with at least half the information types they received, about 25% reported they were very satisfied with at least half the information types and 11% were very satisfied with all the information types.
    • “Fewer than one in ten (8%) said information from EHR developers different from their own was very easy to use, compared with 38% who said data from the same EHR developer was very easy to use.
    • “The authors say their findings highlight the need for different initiatives to improve interoperability depending on the challenges faced by different physician populations. For example, physicians serving vulnerable populations said they often lack the resources to address patients’ social needs, and thus could benefit from initiatives making it easier for them to join an exchange network.”
    • “Taken together,” they conclude, “these data suggest a need for diverse and targeted approaches to complete progress toward universal, high-value interoperability.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “House lawmakers approved a $1.2 trillion package of spending bills Friday over significant Republican opposition in the GOP-led chamber—sending the bill to the Senate, where lawmakers were working to pass the measure by a midnight deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown.
    • “The House vote was 286 to 134, barely exceeding the two-thirds supermajority needed to approve the bill under a special procedure needed by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) to bypass internal GOP divisions in his razor-thin majority.” * * *
    • “With the House done with the measure, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer(D., N.Y.) took steps to begin the process of considering the bills. This typically takes several days, but could happen within hours if all 100 senators agree to a quicker voting timeline. Funding is scheduled to run out for the Defense Department and several other agencies at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, which would force them to shut down nonessential operations.
    • “President Biden has said he would sign the legislation.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues informs us,
    • “A group of Republican lawmakers are asking CMS to reconsider its proposed 2025 rates for Medicare Advantage. 
    • “Forty-five lawmakers signed a letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure expressing concerns the proposed rates could lead health plans to cut benefits for older adults and harm the viability of the program. 
    • “It is baffling that CMS has proposed a nearly 0.2% cut to the Medicare Advantage insurer reimbursement rate for 2025,” the lawmakers wrote. 
    • “CMS proposed cutting benchmark payments for Medicare Advantage plans by 0.2% in 2025. The agency says plans should expect to see 3.7% higher revenue overall, with an MA risk score trend of 3.86% — the average increase in risk adjustment payments year over year — offsetting risk model revisions and a projected decline in star rating bonuses. 
    • “The insurance industry has decried the rate notice, calling it insufficient to cover rising medical costs among MA beneficiaries. Some insurers have said they will likely cut supplemental benefits for beneficiaries to offset decreasing benchmark payments.” 
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced,
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued four new reports showing that President Biden’s efforts to strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are linked to historic gains in Americans’ health insurance coverage. Today’s announcements include a report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) showing that over 21 million consumers selected or were automatically re-enrolled in health insurance coverage through HealthCare.gov and State-based Marketplaces during 2024’s Open Enrollment Period (OEP). Three reports from HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) highlight current enrollment trends, enrollment trends broken down by race and ethnicity, and how the ACA Marketplaces have evolved and strengthened during the first ten years. ASPE analysis shows that today over 45 million people have coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s Marketplaces and Medicaid expansion.” 
    • People buy it because of the low price but do they use it effectively?

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control inform us
    • “The amount of respiratory illness (fever plus cough or sore throat) causing people to seek healthcare remains elevated nationally but is decreasing across many areas of the country. This week, 9 jurisdictions experienced high or very high activity compared to 17 jurisdictions the previous week.
    • “Nationally, emergency department visits with diagnosed COVID-19, influenza, and RSV are decreasing.
    • “Nationally, COVID-19, influenza, and RSV test positivity decreased compared to the previous week.
    • “Nationally, COVID-19 wastewater viral activity levels, which reflects both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, is low.
    • “Reported on Friday, March 22nd, 2024.”
  • The New York Times considers “What’s Next for the Coronavirus? Scientists studying the virus’s continuing evolution, and the body’s immune responses, hope to head off a resurgence and to better understand long Covid.”
    • “We’re not in the acute phases of a pandemic anymore, and I think it’s understandable and probably a good thing” that most people, including scientists, have returned to their prepandemic lives, said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.
    • “That said, the virus is still evolving, it’s still infecting large numbers of people,” he added. “We need to keep tracking this.”
  • That’s a reassuring statement.
  • The Wall Street Journal tells us,
    • “Grief is well recognized as a process people go through after losing a loved one. But less attention is paid to the grief of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities for the losses they’ve suffered. 
    • “The grief of those with chronic health issues—for the loss of capabilities, for changed or ruptured relationships, for changes in appearance, for the forced end of a career, or for former dreams for the future—can last for long periods and recur often, as losses and uncertainty become a constant feature of life.
    • “What’s the next thing that [my conditions are] going to take from me?” asks Andrew Gurza, a disability-awareness consultant who has cerebral palsy and chronic illness. “What’s the next thing that I’m not able to do anymore?”
    • “People who have intimate knowledge of the grief that comes with chronic health issues say it has a trajectory all its own—a trajectory that many mental-health professionals, friends and family often don’t understand. The idea that everyone goes through five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—doesn’t ring true for many disabled people. Chronic illness, other disabilities and the grief they bring often run an unpredictable course, easing but then flaring up again, a cycle that can recur over time. * * *
    • “Mel Sebastiani, an end-of-life doula and former chaplain who is seeking diagnosis for her own neurological illness, says that with her clients, she emphasizes “deep listening and finding out what that person likes, misses—and [finding] a way to weave it back into their lives in a way that they can manage.” 
    • “For Sebastiani herself, that meant coping with new symptoms by switching from steep mountain-trail hikes to walks on the beach to collect and photograph sea glass and other natural treasures near her home in Rehoboth Beach, Del.  
    • “While grief will persist, it may not always be a negative or debilitating experience. “You can be in grief and be a strong person,” Sebastiani says.
    • “Grief is a powerful tool and coping mechanism to realize where you are in the moment, where your life is a reflection on your life in the past,” she says. “And it’s kind of a gift in that sense, because many healthy people never reflect on any of that.”
  • The International End of Life Doula Association discusses their profession.
    • “A doula can become involved any time in a person’s life. We offer support when people are impacted by a life changing illness, after a terminal diagnosis, when death is imminent, or even after a death—to help with light grief support. Sometimes family members or loved ones of the person dying seek support and guidance from end-of-life doulas.
    • “Doulas normalize deathcare by creating spaces to hold conversations leading to increased communication and increased spiritual and emotional well being. When individuals plan for death, they have autonomy over their decisions and are able to clearly define their end-of-life wishes with family and loved ones. While there are alternative names for end-of-life doulas like death doula, death midwife, death coach, end-of-life coach—we all seek to provide compassionate deathcare.”
  • Medscape lets us know,
    • “Use of statin drugs was associated with improved mortality in older nursing home residents, regardless of dementia status, a new study showed.
    • “The study is among the first to explore whether statin use in older nursing home residents offers a mortality benefit, especially among individuals with dementia, a group largely excluded from earlier statin trials.
    • “Investigators’ analysis of 4 years of data on nearly 300,000 nursing home residents revealed that statin use was associated with a 40% lower risk for all-cause mortality than statin nonuse in those without dementia and a 20% lower risk in those with dementia.
    • “These findings may provide evidence that supports the continued use of statins in older nursing home patients with multiple medical conditions,” lead author Julie Lorraine O’Sullivan, PhD, of the Charité – Universitatsmedizin Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, German Center for Mental Health, Berlin, Germany, and colleagues wrote.
    • “The study was published online on February 27 in Neurology.”
  • and
    • “A new way of using artificial intelligence (AI) can predict breast cancer five years in advance with impressive accuracy — and unlike previous AI models, we know how this one works.
    • “The new AI system, called AsymMirai, simplifies previous models by solely comparing differences between right and left breasts to predict risk. It could potentially save lives, prevent unnecessary testing, and save the healthcare system money, its creators say.
    • “With traditional AI, you ask it a question and it spits out an answer, but no one really knows how it makes its decisions. It’s a black box,” said Jon Donnelly, a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and first author on a new paper in Radiology describing the model.
    • “With our approach, people know how the algorithm comes up with its output so they can fact-check it and trust it,” he said.”
  • mHealth Intelligence relates,
    • “Direct-to-consumer (DTC) telehealth visits resulted in higher rates of antibiotic prescriptions for pediatric patients than telehealth visits conducted by primary care physicians (PCPs), according to a new study by UPMC.
    • “Published in JAMA Open Network, the study aimed to assess antibiotic prescriptions for pediatric acute respiratory tract infections during telehealth visits with PCPs compared with virtual visits conducted by commercial DTC telehealth companies.
    • “High rates of antibiotic prescriptions raise concerns about antibiotic resistance, which occurs when germs develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant infections can be challenging to treat, often requiring second- and third-line treatments that can have harmful side effects. In some cases, these infections have no treatment options.”

From the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) front,

  • Per an FDA press release,
    • “Today, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for Pemgarda (pemivibart) for the pre-exposure prophylaxis (prevention) of COVID-19 in certain adults and adolescents (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms [about 88 pounds]). 
      Pemgarda is authorized for individuals:
      • “who are not currently infected with SARS-CoV-2 and who have not had a known recent exposure to an individual infected with SARS-CoV-2; 
      • “and who have moderate-to-severe immune compromise due to a medical condition or due to taking immunosuppressive medications or treatments and are unlikely to mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination. 
    • “For more information about Pemgarda and its authorization, please see the resources available on the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization webpage.”
  • Per Medpage Today,
    • “The FDA approved label expansions for bempedoic acid (Nexletol) and bempedoic acid/ezetimibe (Nexlizet) so they can be used more broadly as cardiovascular prevention drugs, Esperion announced Fridayopens in a new tab or window.
    • “Based on the CLEAR Outcomes trialopens in a new tab or window, the two adenosine triphosphate (ATP) citrate lyase inhibitor drugs are now indicated for adults with either established atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD) or high risk for a CVD event to reduce the risk of myocardial infarction (MI) and coronary revascularization. Approval does not require patients to be on existing statin therapy.”
  • Per MedTech Dive,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration’s plan to expand oversight of laboratory-developed tests threatens to prevent or delay patient access to innovative diagnostics, industry groups warned in congressional testimony Thursday.
    • “The FDA’s final rule on LDT regulation, which could come as soon as April, has unleashed a fierce debate over how to protect the health and safety of patients by ensuring tests developed in a single laboratory are accurate and reliable but still reach the market quickly. The agency received nearly 7,000 comments on the proposed rule, which would broaden its authority to regulate the tests.
    • “Laboratory-developed tests really are the cutting edge when it comes to leading the foundational work for personalized medicine,” Susan Van Meter, president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, told a House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee hearing. The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program certifies LDTs under the current regulatory framework.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • Jellico (Tenn.) Regional Hospital, a 25-bed critical access facility, closed March 9, making it the 36th rural hospital to shutter or no longer provide inpatient services since 2020, according to data compiled by the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. 
    • The closures highlight the heightened financial challenges that rural hospitals face amid persisting workforce shortages, rising costs and leveling reimbursement. In addition, only 45% of rural hospitals now offer labor and delivery services, and in 10 states, less than 33% do, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform.
    • The article lists the rural hospitals that have closed.
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Uncomfortable waiting rooms. Revealing hospital gowns. Confusing insurance. Exhausting travel between appointments.
    • “These are just some reasons cancer is in desperate need of a rebrand, experts said at this year’s SXSW conference.
    • “Oncology was a major focus across multiple sessions, where clinicians and patient advocates called for better access to specialty care, more thoughtful communication with patients and continued collaboration across stakeholders.”
  • Per HR Dive,
    • “Seventy-one percent of senior finance leaders plan to give raises of at least 4% in 2024, outpacing inflation in most areas, according to the results of a survey by Gartner, Inc., which were released March 20. The majority (58%) said they intended to raise compensation by between 4% and 9% this year. 
    • “Compensation ranked second among the areas where leaders said they planned to increase budgets this year, beaten only by technology investments, which were a priority for 82% of the 296 CFOs and senior finance leaders surveyed in December. However, fewer leaders intended to award raises of 10% or more, the survey found. 
    • “Even with tighter economic policy and pressure from boards and investors on profitable growth and employee productivity, CFOs are outpacing inflation that has now almost returned to a neutral rate below 3%,” Alexander Bant, chief of research in the Gartner finance practice, said in a statement. “The fact that most CFOs are planning for pay growth that exceeds the level of inflation indicates how tight the labor market is right now and how important it is to find and retain top talent.”
  • Mercer Consulting informs us,
    • “Gen Z is redefining the employer-employee relationship and that includes how voluntary benefits are structured and offered.  
    • “By 2025, Gen Z (those born 1997−2021) will comprise 27% of the workforce, and this group has far different expectations than their older peers. With voluntary benefits supporting all aspects of total rewards, the right solutions can help solve the most pressing talent questions — including how to resonate with the newbies in the workplace. Mercer’s latest National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans found that as employers have broadened the range of voluntary benefits offered, a growing portion of their workers are choosing to enroll in them – 45% of eligible employees on average, up sharply from 36% in 2022. * * *
    • “Gen Z respondents in the survey were more likely than older workers to say that benefits are a reason to stay with their employer. Designing the right benefits program is a way to partner with Gen Z on improving their physical, mental and emotional health and their financial well-being — and it shows that their employer is listening and cares about their holistic experience.”   
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Consumers are willing to share their health data, but they’re becoming pickier about which entities they’ll provide that information to, according to a survey from consultancy and digital health venture capital firm Rock Health. 
    • “Ninety percent of respondents said they’d share their data with at least one healthcare entity, the survey found. While 64% reported they’d offer data to a doctor or clinician, only 7% would share with a technology company.
    • “Consumers were also willing to share data with fewer entities in 2023 compared with 2020. The wariness is a warning for the sector, as data sharing is key to informing new treatments, studying disease trends and training healthcare artificial intelligence models, the report said.” 

Thursday Miscellany

As you may be able to tell, it’s a late FEHBlog post because the FEHBlog was returning home to Dripping Springs, TX, last night from our Nation’s capital.

In case, here are some highlights from Washington DC.

  • The GAO released a troubling report on our country’s fiscal health this week. Here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal Opinion Watch podcast about the report. The podcast is about 20 minutes long, and it may make your hair stand on edge.
  • Mercer Consulting discusses changes to the RxDC reports due annually on June 1.
    • “CMS released instructions for the third prescription drug data collection (RxDC) reports due June 1, 2024 – and they may cause plan sponsors to reconsider whether they need to make “plan level” submissions, instead of relying on their vendors to make “aggregate” submissions on their behalf. The good news is that the instructions largely mirror prior versions, so plan sponsors should be able to build off prior RxDC reporting efforts. However, for the first time, CMS plans to enforce the “aggregation restriction”—a provision in the 2021 regulations that CMS suspended for the first two reporting cycles. As explained [in the article], the reinstated aggregation restriction may cause headaches for some plan sponsors, who find that they can no longer rely on their PBM’s aggregate submission of pharmacy data but must instead submit plan level data. Other plan sponsors may welcome the opportunity to do a plan level submission so they can obtain otherwise unavailable prescription drug data.”
  • Per Govexec,
    • “With federal budget talks still unresolved less than a month away from Congress’ latest deadline, the Office of Personnel Management said Friday that the decade-long pay freeze for senior political appointees like Vice President Kamala Harris and others will remain in effect.
    • “In a Feb. 9 post, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said that under January’s continuing resolution that extended federal funding to agencies until March 1 and 8, certain senior political appointees will continue to see their payable pay rates remain at current levels at least through the latter budget deadline, when Congress will have to decide whether it will continue to fund the federal government. 
    • “Future Congressional action will determine whether the pay freeze continues beyond March 8, 2024,” Ahuja said. “Until such time, the OPM guidance issued on Dec. 21, 2023, regarding the pay freeze for certain senior political officials continues to be generally applicable in applying the pay freeze in 2024.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “There isn’t a silver bullet to maintaining mental acuity or warding off dementia [as we age], scientists of aging say. But a combination of genetics, healthy lifestyle habits and factors such as cleaner air and good education have been linked to prolonged mental agility.  * * *
    • “Genetics is thought to play a role in brain maintenance, as does diet, exercise and a person’s risk of vascular disease. More education, mental stimulation and social connectivity have been associated with improved cognitive reserve.
    • “Better brain maintenance and cognitive reserve might help keep symptoms of dementia at bay. Almost 50% of people 40 and older think they will likely develop dementia, according to a 2021 AARP survey. The actual number of U.S. adults 65 and older with dementia is closer to 10%, a 2022 study found. * * *
    • “Sleeping too little—or too much—can also lead to cognitive problems. Activities including yoga and tai chi, the Chinese martial art, could help improve cognitive function, research suggests. 
    • “Hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia, too. Lost hearing might cause the brain to atrophy more quickly and can make people more isolated, said Dr. Dung Trinh, chief medical officer of the Healthy Brain Clinic. Hearing aids can help preserve mental fitness.”
  • AHA News adds,
    • “About half of U.S. health care workers have witnessed racial discrimination against patients and say discrimination against patients is a crisis or major problem, according to a survey released Feb. 15 by the Commonwealth Fund and African American Research Collaborative. Younger workers and workers of color were more likely than their older or white counterparts to say they witnessed discrimination, as were workers at facilities with more patients of color. About six in 10 Black health care workers and four in 10 Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander workers say they have been discriminated against because of their race or ethnicity. 
    • “While most health care workers see positive efforts from employers to address discrimination, a majority of Black, Latino, and AAPI workers worry about retaliation if they raise discrimination concerns. When asked about potential solutions, more than two-thirds of health care workers thought the following could help: providing an easy way to anonymously report situations involving racism or discrimination; creating opportunities to listen to patients and health care professionals of color; examining treatment of non-English-speaking patients; and training health care staff to spot discrimination.” 
  • Employee Benefit News offers three suggestions on how employers can help employees hold cancer at bay with preventive screenings.
    • “A new report from healthcare platform Color Health shows that although 80% of employers are concerned by rising cancer costs and 96% of benefits leaders agree early detection is the best solution, the majority of focus is devoted to post-diagnosis treatment, rather than evidence-based screenings. 
    • “According to the report, three out of four employers say they are placing more emphasis on screening, early detection and risk prevention efforts, but they are going to have to go beyond their current benefits setup: Only a quarter believe their current health plans meet the screening needs of their workforce, and three-quarters say employees are not being adequately screened by their primary care provider. Leaders report that 40% of employees are not compliant with screenings in general, and for the most deadly forms of cancer — lung and bronchus — the American Lung Association reports that only 6% of people eligible get screened. 
    • “The assumption [has been that] if we cover mammograms and colonoscopies and lung CTs, then people will actually get them, and that’s turned out to be false,” says Othman Laraki, Color Health’s CEO. “The big driver for that is that for non-acute care services, availability is not the same thing as access.”