Midweek Update

Midweek Update

Happy First Day of Autumn!

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call discusses the Senate Majority Leader’s plans for successfully passing the continuing resolution funding the federal government through December 16, 2022.

[I]n theory the tentative plan to start the process this Thursday could lead to a final Senate vote by next Friday, when the current fiscal year expires. It might even enable the House to take up the Senate-passed bill and clear it in time to beat the midnight deadline.

All that assumes everything goes according to plan and that there’s an acceptable stopgap funding package that can pass in both chambers. None of those details have been released, but top appropriators and other lawmakers said Wednesday there’s no talk yet of a very short-term CR to buy more time.

From the Omicron and siblings’ front —

  • Fierce Healthcare tells us about the possible blossoming of another Omicron variant BF.7
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the rollout of nasal Covid vaccines in Asia “though just how effective they are remains to be seen.” These are adenovirus, not mRNA-based, vaccines. Nonetheless

Delivering a vaccine through the nose has the potential to build up a type of immune response known as mucosal immunity, or immunity in the upper airway tract, said David Curiel, professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine who co-developed the Bharat vaccine. That is important because mucosal immunity could more effectively block infection and transmission of the coronavirus than the type of immunity induced by injected vaccines, he said.

In other virus news, Forbes offers an illuminating article by Gayle Smith, the CEO of the ONE Campaign, which fights to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. Ms. Smith writes on the emergence of polio.

The re-emergence of polio is worrisome, particularly considering the politicization of and uneven response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Panic, however, is unwise. What is needed is vigilance and vaccination coverage. Fortunately, there are millions of people who are living proof that polio vaccines work.

This is a moment when the world can do the right thing and eradicate a preventable disease. Since the mid-1950s, a concerted global effort has confined endemic polio to only two countries and proven that this is a virus we can defeat. 

Going all the way is a moonshot and a win for the world. It is not without its challenges, of course. But it is far easier right now than defeating Covid, or malaria, or AIDS. One can only hope that ridding the world of a disease known as “infantile paralysis” might be something we can all agree on — if not for ourselves then for the children whose lives continue to be at risk.

Also, from the public health front, the National Institutes of Health helpfully informs us

In a large clinical trial that directly compared four drugs commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, researchers found that insulin glargine and liraglutide performed the best of four medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to maintain blood glucose levels in the recommended range. Blood glucose management is a key component of keeping people with type 2 diabetes healthy. All four medications evaluated were added to treatment with metformin, which is the first-line drug to treat type 2 diabetes. The trial was funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health.

More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and approximately 90 to 95% of them have type 2 diabetes. People with diabetes who keep their blood glucose levels in the near-normal range generally have a much lower risk of developing diabetes complications such as nerve, kidney, and eye diseases. Most people with type 2 diabetes require more than one medication to control blood sugar levels over time. 

While there is general agreement among health care professionals that metformin combined with diet and exercise is the best early approach in diabetes care, there is no consensus on what to do next to best keep high blood glucose in check.

From the wellness front, Fierce Health relates that United Healthcare is expanding its relationship with exercise machine marker Peleton. As a result, UHC will be making Pelton’s fitness services available to as many as 10 million of its members.

From the federal compensation and benefits front

  • Govexec reports on locality pay developments, and Social Security changes that Congress may approve this year.
  • Reg Jones writing in FedWeek provides a personal story about federal survivor benefits worth a gander.

Monday Roundup

From Capitol Hill, Govexec informs us that

Congress is looking to fund federal agencies at their current spending levels through mid-December, with momentum growing for a 10-week stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. 

Lawmakers must clear several hurdles before voting on a continuing resolution to kick off fiscal 2023, but they could act as soon as this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week he would work with Republicans to “avoid even a hint of a shutdown,” though several disagreements remain. Negotiations appear to have settled on a CR that would fund agencies through approximately Dec. 16, but lawmakers have yet to determine exactly which provisions will be added to it. 

From the federal appointment front, STAT News reports

President Joe Biden on Monday appointed longtime biologist and former government scientist Renee Wegrzyn as the first director of the nascent Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.

Biden’s announcement comes as ARPA-H advocates debate where the multibillion-dollar agency should be headquartered and which elusive disease areas should be prioritized. The president officially launched the agency in March with $1 billion in initial funding allotted by Congress, but the search for its inaugural director has taken months.

Wegrzyn, 45, currently works at Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, a company focused on biological engineering, but has prior experience in two government agencies Biden has said he hopes to emulate with ARPA-H — the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

Good luck, Dr. Wegryzn.

From the omicron and siblings front

The American Hospital Association tells us

Insured and uninsured Americans can receive the new bivalent Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 booster and other COVID-19 vaccines at no cost as long as the federal government continues to purchase and distribute them, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced today.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month recommended Pfizer’s updated COVID-19 vaccine booster for Americans aged 12 and older and Moderna’s updated COVID-19 vaccine booster for Americans aged 18 and older at least two months after completing a primary COVID-19 vaccine series or booster. Authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, the updated boosters are bivalent, meaning they help protect against the most recently circulating omicron variants as well as the original virus strain.

Americans can find local sites administering the new COVID-19 vaccine booster here. For more on provider requirements and payment, visit the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program and CMS toolkit.

The Wall Street Journal reports

Illness caused by Covid-19 shrank the U.S. labor force by around 500,000 people, a hit that is likely to continue if the virus continues to sicken workers at current rates, according to a new study released Monday.

Millions of people left the labor force—the number of people working or looking for work—during the pandemic for various reasons, including retirement, lack of child care and fear of Covid. The total size of the labor force reached 164.7 million people in August, exceeding the February 2020 prepandemic level for the first time. The labor force would have 500,000 more members if not for the people sickened by Covid, according to the study’s authors, economists Gopi Shah Goda of Stanford University and Evan J. Soltas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If we stay where we are with Covid infection rates going forward, we expect that 500,000-person loss to persist until either exposure goes down or severity goes down,” said Mr. Soltas. That assumes that some of those previously sickened eventually return to work.

The authors “provide the most credible evidence to date about labor-market impacts for a large set of workers,” said Aaron Sojourner, an economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, who wasn’t involved in the study.

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

Healthcare Dive relates

Escalating costs for labor, drugs, supplies and equipment are adding to the long-term pressures facing rural hospitals, raising the risk of more closures that could jeopardize patient access to care, the American Hospital Association warned in a new report

Many hospitals were already in difficult financial positions before the COVID-19 pandemic began, due to challenges including low patient volume and reimbursement, geographic isolation, staffing shortages and aging infrastructure, the AHA said. From 2010 through 2021, 136 rural hospitals closed, according to data from the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, a record 19 rural hospitals closed.

The public health emergency put additional pressure on margins and patient volumes. “While rural hospitals were partially buoyed by the Provider Relief Fund and other sources of COVID-19 assistance that limited closures in 2021, the financial outlook for many rural hospitals moving forward is precarious,” the AHA said.

Revcycle Intelligence reports

Private equity acquisition of physician practices in dermatology, gastroenterology, and ophthalmology was associated with increased healthcare spending and utilization, according to a study published in JAMA Health Forum. * * *

Following a private equity acquisition, physician practices saw consistent growth in spending during the next eight quarters. Acquired practices saw a mean increase of $71 in charges per claim or a 20.2 percent increase. In addition, practices saw an increase of $23 in the allowed amount per claim—an 11 percent increase.

Patient utilization of healthcare services grew as well after practices underwent acquisitions.

Across the eight post-acquisition quarters, the mean number of unique patients increased by 25.8 percent. This increase was mainly driven by more new patient visits, which rose by 37.9 percent. The number of encounters grew by 16.3 percent and the number of evaluation and management (E/M) visits increased by 37.1 percent.

The increase in patient visits may reflect changes in management and practice operations or overutilization of profitable services and low-value care, the study suggested. This could lead to higher healthcare spending without corresponding benefits.

Additionally, researchers said the growing number of visits was consistent with private equity firms’ common strategy to maximize revenue through a fee-for-service delivery system.

Ruh roh on both counts.

Healthcare Finance adds

Quality can go a long way in determining if a consumer is willing to pay more for their healthcare, as indicated by new survey responses published by revenue cycle company AKASA.

Out of more than 2,000 respondents, the survey found that 57% would pay more for a higher quality of care. Out of all categories in the survey, care quality was the only area in which a majority said they would be willing to pay more.

Forty-seven percent said they would pay more for the ability to work with the care team of their choice. Forty-one percent said they would pay more for the ability to work with hospitals of their choice, while the same percentage said they’d pony up more cash for better location proximity or convenience.

In public health news, the American Hospital Association celebrates the fact that

The United Network for Organ Sharing, which serves as the nation’s transplant system under contract with the federal government, Friday reported its millionth U.S. organ transplant. UNOS and the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance credited the organ donation and transplantation community, including transplant hospitals, with making the historic milestone possible. The first successful transplant took place at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women’s Hospital) in Boston in 1954.

UNOS and the Alliance encourage the transplant community to join Living It Forward, a national initiative to commemorate the achievement and accelerate the path forward to the next million transplants. They also encourage members of the public to register as organ donors, noting that each donor can save up to eight lives and help up to 75 people through tissue donation. Over 100,000 people remain on the transplant waitlist.

From the Rx coverage front, BioPharma Dive tells us that

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved Bristol Myers Squibb’s psoriasis pill Sotyktu, the first medicine of its type and the last of three potential blockbuster drugs the company sought to bring to market this year.

Sotyktu will compete with biologic drugs like AbbVie’s Humira and Amgen’s Enbrel, but as a pill could be more attractive to patients who don’t want to inject themselves regularly. Importantly, Sotyktu’s labeling doesn’t require patients to first try biologic drugs, giving doctors an opportunity to prescribe it widely.

Approval came after Phase 3 testing in which the pill, also known as deucravacitinib, was tested against a placebo as well as another oral therapy, Amgen’s Otezla. In patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis, Sotyktu outperformed both on two commonly used measures for assessing skin clearing: PASI and sPGA.

“All in all, the overall efficacy and safety profile as a new first-in-class agent for plaque psoriasis bodes well for it becoming the standard of care,” said Samit Hirawat, Bristol Myers Squibb’s chief medical officer, setting a high bar for his company’s commercial expectations.

In wellness news, Healio informs us that

Widespread adoption of simple lifestyle changes, including switching to a well-known eating plan, could reduce risk for CV events and death for millions of adults with stage 1 hypertension, researchers reported.

“Millions of working-age people are walking around with elevated BP, which is symptomless but is also a leading preventable cause of disability and death,” Kendra D. Sims, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine who presented the findings at the American Heart Association Hypertension Scientific Sessions, told Healio. “Our study found that 27,000 CVD events and 2,800 deaths could be prevented during the next 10 years if people with elevated BP follow through with recommended lifestyle changes. We would then save $1.6 billion in associated health care costs. The largest benefit comes from eating more fruits and vegetables and less salt, as outlined in the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

Democrats may need to make some changes to the tax portion of their budget reconciliation package to earn the support of Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, including possible removal of a tax increase on investment fund managers and softening a new minimum tax on the biggest corporations.

The bill could also undergo other tweaks as Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough continues her review of the bill. Changes to the prescription drug pricing provisions are already in the works, but many pieces of the package have yet to go through the formal “Byrd bath” to determine whether the language complies with budget rules.

Despite all the work still underway, several Democratic senators said they anticipated voting on the motion to proceed to the reconciliation package as soon as Thursday and beginning the “vote-a-rama” process, in which senators can offer unlimited amendments to the measure, as soon as this weekend. 

“As soon as possible, but don’t count on going home on the weekend,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, said. “We’re probably going to be here all weekend, so get lots of sleep.

From the OPM front, Federal News Digest tells us

The Office of Personnel Management is getting a second in command.

President Joe Biden nominated Rob Shriver to be the OPM deputy director on Aug. 3. * * *

Shriver is a political appointee already, having been the associate director for employee services since January 2021.

If confirmed by the Senate, Shriver would be OPM’s first deputy director since Michael Rigas, who held the job from March 2018 to January 2021, but worked in other administration positions from March 2020 until January 2021.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

Bloomberg informs us

[Israeli] Hospital workers who got a fourth dose of Pfizer Inc.’s messenger RNA vaccine were far less likely to get Covid than triple-vaccinated peers in a study. 

The findings published Tuesday in the American Medical Association’s open access journal are the latest to confirm the benefits of a second booster against breakthrough infections caused by omicron. The study’s authors pointed to an extra dose as a tool to prevent medical staff shortages and spare health systems in times of strain.  * * *

Doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who got a fourth mRNA shot in January showed a 7% rate of breakthrough infections. Those with three doses — the third having been administered by the end of September — saw an infection rate of 20%.  

The Department of Health and Human Services released two reports on long Covid to support patients and further research.

From the monkeypox front

  • Beckers Hospital Review explains that the Centers for Disease Control have released isolation guidance “as cases near 6,000.”

The New York Times delves into various aspects of the disease, including what people can do the stay safe.

From the U.S. healthcare business front

Healthcare Dive reports

CVS Health raised its full-year guidance in its second quarter earnings report despite a $77 million decrease in adjusted operating income primarily due to declines in its retail segment.

The company’s Aetna subsidiary boosted earnings with reported gains of 922,000 covered lives compared to the second quarter of last year and growth in all product lines contributing to a nearly 11% rise in revenues year over year.

Adjusted operating income was 9.1% lower in its retail division compared to the year prior due to a decrease in coronavirus vaccinations, “continued pharmacy reimbursement pressure” and the lack of an antitrust legal settlement gain that was recorded in the second quarter last year, according to the earnings report. * * *

In its race to add more primary care services, the executive team further teased acquisition plans, with [CVS Health CEO Karen] Lynch adding that the company could take the “next step on this journey” by the end of this year.

“We can’t be in … primary care without M&A. We’ve been very clear about that,” Lynch said.

[Larry] McGrath [CVS Health senior vice president of business development and investor relations] added that the company has been active in evaluating a wide range of assets around the care delivery space. CVS also signaled that it could potentially pursue multiple acquisitions, adding that there was “no one and done asset” in the market.

Biopharma Dive informs us

Gilead’s cell therapy business outperformed Wall Street expectations during the second quarter. The unit — which currently consists of two products, Yescarta and Tecartus, used to treat various blood cancers — generated $368 million in the three-month period, an increase of 68% year over year, earnings numbers released Tuesday show.

Key to that growth was a recent, first-of-its-kind approval from the Food and Drug Administration. In April, the agency cleared Yescarta as a so-called second line therapy for large B-cell lymphoma that resists or returns within a year of initial treatment with chemoimmunotherapy. Before, Yescarta was used only when patients either relapsed after or hadn’t responded to at least two other kinds of therapies.

Fierce Healthcare adds

CivicaScript’s first product is hitting the market.

The public benefits company and sister to Civica Rx is making its first generic available: 250-mg abiraterone acetate tablets. The drug is used in combination with the steroid medication prednisone as a treatment for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts in the body.

CivicaScript will make the drug available to pharmacies at $160 per bottle of 120 tablets, a typical one-month supply. The company suggests pharmacies sell it to patients at no more than $171 for each bottle. This price is about $3,000 less per month than the average cost for people enrolled in Medicare Part D, which is the largest portion of patients with this type of cancer.

Using CivicaScript’s abiraterone will lead to significant savings for patients both in the deductible phase and in the Part D “donut hole,” where they face the highest out-of-pocket costs, the company said in an announcement (PDF). * * *

“We’re proud the first lower-cost generic drug of our partnership with CivicaScript is entering the market,” said Kim Keck, president and CEO of BCBSA. “This is an important milestone in our shared commitment to help make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of Americans. No one should have to face breaking the bank from buying a life-saving medication.”

From the Affordable Care front, Prof. Katie Keith takes a deep dive into last week’s ACA FAQ 54 on mandated contraceptive coverage under that law.

From the research front —

Benefits Pro points to

A survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. healthcare consumers by PYMNTS.com offered more proof that this remains a barrier to consumer trust of the healthcareThe survey revealed that many consumers continue to under budget for their health care –probably because most have little idea about the cost of various procedures and appointments. * * *

For instance, nearly 20% of those surveyed said they “experienced financial distress due to health care costs because they spent more than they could afford in the past 12 months.” A quarter of respondents who said their advance notice cost estimates were accurate said they still spent more than they could really afford. Not surprisingly, 43% of those who received inaccurate cost estimates said they spent more than they could afford. system. PYMNTS.com, a provider of data, news and insights on innovation in payments and the payment-related, conducted the survey to learn how many respondents fell into the unexpectedly high and inaccurate estimate category, and what the outcome for them was in the aftermath. * * *

Medscape reports

Regular exercise, regardless of intensity level, appears to slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), new research from the largest study of its kind suggests.

Topline results from the EXERT trial showed patients with MCI who participated regularly in either aerobic exercise or stretching/balance/range-of-motion exercises maintained stable global cognitive function over 12 months of follow-up — with no differences between the two types of exercise.

“We’re excited about these findings, because these types of exercises that we’re seeing can protect against cognitive decline are accessible to everyone and therefore scalable to the public,” study investigator Laura Baker, PhD, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said at a press briefing.

The topline results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2022.

Weekend Update

Photo by Tomasz Filipek on Unsplash

Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week following a two-week-long break. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate will be engaged in Committee business and floor voting.

The Wall Street Journal adds

Congress returns on Monday with Democrats aiming to revive central pieces of President Biden’s stalled economic agenda while trying to keep on track a separate, bipartisan bill targeted at boosting competitiveness with China that top Republicans are threatening to block.

House Democrats also are set to roll out legislation responding to the Supreme Court ruling ending federal abortion protections. The push could include legislation to write into law the right to an abortion before fetal viability, as well as a bill intended to block any state attempts to criminalize travel for the purpose of getting an abortion. The bills wouldn’t have enough support to pass the Senate.

The three-week work period may be the last chance lawmakers have for a legislative victory before campaigning begins in earnest for midterm election races across the country. Republicans are heavily favored to win back control of the House this fall, while the Senate is seen as a tossup.

From the Omicron and siblings front, MedTecHDive Dive informs us

A single antigen test may only be able to correctly identify the virus 60% of the time in patients who have the omicron variant and who display symptoms of the disease, Tim Stenzel, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health, said during a [recent[ meeting on testing. 

The FDA is seeing an increase in samples with the omicron variant that have a relatively low viral load, also referred to as a low positive. “Instead of seeing the usual 10% to 20% low positives in clinical studies last year, we saw a jump to 30% to 40% low positives,” Stenzel said. “When you have 40% low positives… you’re going to see a really big hit in sensitivity.”

The lower sensitivity means people testing for Covid should use multiple antigen tests to rule out a negative result, with 24 to 48 hours between tests, according to the regulator.

From the unusual viruses front, Medpage Today discusses the ties between cases of monkeypox and syphillis.

Syphilis is a known sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can manifest in lesions in the groin area and can transmit through bodily fluid. The genital sores associated with syphilis can make it easier to transmit other diseases such as HIV — and especially pressing at the current moment, genital sores or lesions are also common transmission pathways for the current B1 monkeypox outbreak. While monkeypox has not technically been categorized as an STI, there have been reports of some monkeypox patients also having STIs.

By scaling up testing and treatment for syphilis, we can better identify people who may be more likely to get and transmit monkeypox. Additionally, because the lesions in the genital region can be difficult to distinguish from those associated with syphilis, testing for both conditions is important.

The incidence of syphilis has been increasing in the U.S. In 2020 alone, there were more than 130,000 new cases of syphilis. While 43% of the new infections occur in men who have sex with men, cases have also been rising in heterosexual men and women, and over 50% of the new infections were in people ages 15 to 24. 

From the U.S. healthcare front, Fierce Healthcare tells us

Optum is still on an acquisition hot streak, scooping up Healthcare Associates of Texas, Axios reported Wednesday. * * *

HCAT has a large footprint in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area and has also invested heavily in value-based care, both of which make it an attractive buy for Optum.

Webster bought HCAT in 2016. Neither UnitedHealth nor HCAT has verified the veracity of the deal.

and

UnitedHealth Group [Optum’s parent] is aiming to address 600 million gaps in care for its members by 2025.

The healthcare and insurance giant released its annual Sustainability Report last week, where it outlined three strategic goals to improve health outcomes and affordability.

Alongside addressing care gaps, the company said it wants to ensure at least 85% of its members receive preventive care each year by 2030 as well as to make sure 55% of outpatient surgeries and radiology services are provided in high-quality, cost-efficient sites of care by 2030.

From the SDOH front, Healthcare Dive reports

The CMS’ innovation center has found evidence of implicit bias in three payment models as the agency takes an harder internal look at how its policies might perpetuate health disparities.

The use of certain risk assessment and screening tools, provider processes and payment design algorithms caused some beneficiaries to be unintentionally excluded from the Kidney Care Choices Model, Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model and Million Hearts Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Model, according to a new article published in Health Affairs from Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation researchers.

“These findings are troubling” due to limiting access to model participation and stymied efforts to evaluate the models, researchers wrote. CMMI has taken initial steps to address existing bias, and has begun developing a guide to screen and mitigate bias in existing and future models prior to launch, according to the article.

From the nutrition front, Fortune Well offers “7 expert-backed strategies to avoid overeating when you’re working from home” and “4 expert-backed foods for a good night’s sleep.”

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

The FEHBlog should rename Monday’s column COVID-19 Vaccine Good News because for the fourth Monday in a row that news leads the FEHBlog.

Healthcare Dive reports that “Moderna on Monday released new study results showing the [messenger RNA based] coronavirus vaccine it developed with U.S. government scientists to be 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 in a large clinical trial, data the company will use to request emergency approval” from the Food and Drug Administration.

According to Moderna’s announcement

[P]rimary analysis was based on 196 cases [of COVID-19 within the test group of 30,000 individuals, half of whom received the vaccine and the other half of whom received a placebo]. 185 cases of COVID-19 were observed in the placebo group versus 11 cases observed in the mRNA-1273 [vaccine] group, resulting in a point estimate of vaccine efficacy of 94.1%. A secondary endpoint analyzed severe cases of COVID-19 and included 30 severe cases (as defined in the study protocol) in this analysis. All 30 cases occurred in the placebo group and none in the mRNA-1273 vaccinated group. There was one COVID-19-related death in the study to date, which occurred in the placebo group.

Efficacy was consistent across age, race and ethnicity, and gender demographics. The 196 COVID-19 cases included 33 older adults (ages 65+) and 42 participants identifying as being from diverse communities (including 29 Hispanic or LatinX, 6 Black or African Americans, 4 Asian Americans and 3 multiracial participants).

The safety profile of the Phase 3 study of mRNA-1273 was previously described on November 16. A continuous review of safety data is ongoing and no new serious safety concerns have been identified by the Company. Based on prior analysis, the most common solicited adverse reactions included injection site pain, fatigue, myalgia, arthralgia, headache, and erythema/redness at the injection site. Solicited adverse reactions increased in frequency and severity in the mRNA-1273 group after the second dose.

Healthcare Dive adds that

Moderna said it will submit on Monday [today] an application for emergency use authorization in the U.S. and for conditional marketing approval in Europe. The FDA will convene a panel of independent advisers to publicly review Moderna’s application, likely on Dec. 17. * * *

An authorization for either vaccine [Pfizer – BioNTech or Moderna] would kick off a mass immunization campaign in the U.S. But supplies of each shot will be extremely limited for months. Moderna expects to have just 20 million doses available in the U.S. this year, and between 500 million to 1 billion in 2021. [Two doses protect one person. The Wall Street Journal notes that Pfizer and BioNTech said they would deliver about 25 million doses by year’s end, potentially enough for about 12.5 million people in the U.S.]

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee will meet on Tuesday to vote on how vaccine doses will allocated. Healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic will likely be vaccinated first.

The Wall Street Journal expands on this last point:

Expected to be first in line: health workers treating coronavirus patients and in something of a surprise, nursing-home residents.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the outside medical experts advising the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will vote on who should get the first doses, after discussing plans for distributing the shots and monitoring for potential side effects.

In other news

  • The FEHBlog overlooked the CDC’s Antibiotic Awareness Week which was held from November 18 – 24. Better late than never right. This is an important public health cause and the link provides useful resources.
  • The FEHBlog noticed a Health Payer Intelligence article about a health plan that “has reduced out-of-pocket healthcare spending by collectively giving members millions of dollars in rewards through their My Health Pays program.” The FEHBlog did a little investigative work and he discovered that the health plan in question participates in the ACA marketplace. It is crazy that individual health plans have no limits on wellness reward uses while group health plans generally must limit their wellness rewards to reimbursing medical services and supplies or Medicare premiums. Congress should level the playing field.

Midweek Update

Health Payer Intelligence discusses a Kaiser Family Foundation survey on deferred healthcare due to the COVID-19 emergency. “Almost 50 percent of American adults deferred care themselves or have a household member who deferred care due to the coronavirus, but more than two-thirds of those who deferred (32 percent of the total adult population) plan to get care in the next couple of months” Wow. Bear in mind that this backlog developed over the past three months. The FEHBlog therefore expects that providers will have the capacity to provide all of this deferred care quickly. But no doubt they will try to do so safely.

Speaking of patient safety, the Choosing Wisely program explains a successful program to improve patient care while reducing costs.

Choosing Wisely serves as the foundational underpinning for all of our discussions with clinicians regarding how we can deliver the highest value care to our patients,” said Alistair Aaronson, MD, MHA, FACP, who joined St. Jude (part of Providence St. Joseph Health System) in 2017 as its Executive Medical Director for Operations and High-Value Care.

Under Dr. Aaronson’s leadership, the 320-bed hospital launched a series of “bite-size projects” to reduce overutilization. Clinicians would pick a topic where there was anecdotal evidence of overutilization and then select a Choosing Wisely recommendation related to that topic. They would then compare their practice patterns against the recommendation; if the results were not positive, they would develop a project to address the overuse.

That’s a sensible solution that can be applied to other nagging problems that face us.

The FEHBlog took note of this Wall Street Journal article on progress being made in the convalescent plasma program to treat COVID-19. The article explains how proponents of this treatment are recruiting COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma in order produce the treatment.

Finding qualified plasma is more complicated than it might seem. Potential donors must meet the requirements of all blood donors, such as weight, age, and underlying health. Some don’t show up for their appointments; others find they are unable to give a sufficient amount.

“These are all challenges we have to recognize along the way in getting a donation from someone to an actual product,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of biomedical services at the American Red Cross. “We are building the plane as we fly it.”

The Red Cross has collected plasma from 4,000 recovered Covid-19 donors to date through its website RedCrossBlood.org/plasma4covid, according to a spokeswoman. She said the organization supports the efforts of the coalition but didn’t join it. “At this time, the Red Cross is fortunate to be able to meet the needs of our hospital partners,” she said. “We also have the capacity to ramp up our supply if necessary.”

[Moreover,] for-profit companies in the coalition [such as Microsoft] also continue to look for donors on their own through digital advertising and other online outreach, according to industry experts.

Surprisingly, one dose of the treatment may require donations from more than one survivor. The developers are fine tuning this issue now as studies continue.

UPI reports that “Workplace wellness programs designed to encourage employees to engage in activities and monitor their health might have negligible benefits, according to a study published Tuesday by JAMA Internal Medicine.”

[The researchers] compared healthcare outcomes and attitudes among [3,300] employees enrolled in the [generous wellness program] to those of 1,584 staff members not included in the initiative. [The study was conducted over a two year period.]

Overall, they found that participants in the wellness program were 5 percent more likely to have a regular primary care physician and more likely to have a positive attitude about their own health, compared to employees who did not participate in wellness-related initiatives.

The FEHBlog cannot understand why increased adoption of primary care physicians did not produce

significant effects on participants’ height, weight, waist circumference, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol or blood-sugar levels.

In addition, the risk for high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity was roughly the same for participants and non-participants after one and two years, researchers said.

Similarly, there were no differences between the two groups in terms of doctors’ office visits, hospital visits or emergency department visits.

That is one sobering study.

In other news, OPM today posted a “Fact Sheet: The Use of Flexible Work Schedules in Response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” and Govexec.com reports that the Postal Service like many other businesses is struggling with the COVID-19 emergency. But to their credit the mail continues to be delivered.

Weekend update

OPM directs us to the National & Community Service website for ideas on how to celebrate tomorrow’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. The FEHBlog believes that our country is indebted to Dr. King for his bold, essential leadership.

The House of Representatives has a district work period this week, while the Senate will be holding a trial on the House’s impeachment of the President.

Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control announced updates to its vaping restriction recommendations in light of the subsiding vaping-related lung injury known as EVALI crisis. The FEHBlog appreciates the caution that the CDC has shown in handling this crisis.

Fierce Healthcare recently announced its Fierce 15 of 2019.

Big and small, high-tech and not, we’re honoring this collection of companies across the U.S. that are trying to change the world by changing the healthcare industry. 

The FEHBlog is not familiar with any of these companies but in time?

Healthcare Dive helpfully summarizes five key trends fo providers and payers. The FEHBlog is familiar with all of these.

Kaiser Health News discuss the latest hot item in wellness programs — helping employees sleep.