Friday Factoids

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Providers and drugmakers are once again at odds over the 340B drug discount program: this time, over a rule finalized by the Biden administration on Thursday making changes to its dispute resolution process.
    • “The final rule, which will become effective in mid-June, is meant to make dispute resolution more accessible and efficient, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, the agency that oversees 340B. Along with lowering barriers to enter the process, the rule requires parties to make a good faith effort to resolve disputes before bringing them to arbiters and creates an appeals process if either party doesn’t like the result.
    • “Provider groups the American Hospital Association and 340B Health said the rule should streamline the arbitration process and preserve the integrity of the controversial program. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical lobby PhRMA said the new process “panders to 340B hospitals” while ignoring drugmakers’ concerns.”
  • KFF lets us know,
    • Federal data from 2019 shows just 4% of potentially eligible enrollees participated in the program, a figure that appears to have held steady through 2023, according to a Mathematica analysis. About 12,000 physicians billed Medicare under the CCM mantle in 2021, according to the latest Medicare data analyzed by KFF Health News. (The Medicare data includes doctors who have annually billed CCM at least a dozen times.)
    • “By comparison, federal data shows about 1 million providers participate in Medicare.
    • Even as the strategy has largely failed to live up to its potential, thousands of physicians have boosted their annual pay by participating, and auxiliary for-profit businesses have sprung up to help doctors take advantage of the program. The federal data showed about 4,500 physicians received at least $100,000 each in CCM pay in 2021. * * *
    • “This program had potential to have a big impact,” said Kenneth Thorpe, an Emory University health policy expert on chronic diseases. “But I knew it was never going to work from the start because it was put together wrong.”
    • “He said most doctors’ offices are not set up for monitoring patients at home. “This is very time-intensive and not something physicians are used to doing or have time to do,” Thorpe said.”
  • Reg Jones offers “A Refresher Course on FEGLI Life Insurance” in FedWeek.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control reports 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, 2 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.” 
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Despite Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approval of seven next-generation antibiotics to fight infections caused by resistant “gram-negative” bacteria, clinicians frequently continue to treat antibiotic-resistant infections with older generic antibiotics considered to be less effective and less safe, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Clinical Center. Researchers examined the factors influencing doctors’ preference for newer antibiotics over traditional generic agents to shed light on the decision-making processes among clinicians when treating patients with challenging bloodstream infections caused by gram-negative bacteria and significant comorbidities.
    • “The study revealed that at a considerable proportion of hospitals, particularly smaller facilities located in rural areas, staff were reluctant to adopt newer antibiotics. Researchers identified a large cost disparity between older and newer classes of antibiotics; the newer drugs can cost approximately six times more than the older medications, which could disincentivize prescribing.
    • “Researchers also highlight that next-gen agents are prescribed more often at hospitals where lab results that show the medications are effective against a patient’s bacterial infection are reported to prescribers. Scientists suggest that earlier and more widespread availability of such lab testing might improve use. Additionally, authors recommend that future public health policies and economic strategies on further development and use of similar antibiotics should be designed to identify and overcome additional barriers.
    • “Gram-negative bacteria are a class of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs and increasingly resistant to most antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are able to find new paths of resistant and pass along genetic material that enables other bacteria to become drug resistant.”
  • The American Hospital Association News adds,
    • “In clinical trials involving 220,000 patients at 59 HCA Healthcare hospitals, algorithm-driven computerized alerts helped clinicians better identify the appropriate antibiotic for 28% of patients with pneumonia and 17% of patients with urinary tract infections, according to studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published April 19 in JAMA. To reduce antibiotic resistance, physicians treating patients with a low risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria were prompted to give standard-spectrum antibiotics.”In clinical trials involving 220,000 patients at 59 HCA Healthcare hospitals, algorithm-driven computerized alerts helped clinicians better identify the appropriate antibiotic for 28% of patients with pneumonia and 17% of patients with urinary tract infections, according to studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published April 19 in JAMA. To reduce antibiotic resistance, physicians treating patients with a low risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria were prompted to give standard-spectrum antibiotics.
    • “Pneumonia and urinary tract infections are two of the most common infections requiring hospitalization and a major reason for overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics,” said Sujan Reddy, M.D., medical officer in CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “The INSPIRE trials have found a highly effective way to help physicians follow treatment recommendations to optimize antibiotic selection for each patient. These trials show the value of harnessing electronic health data to improve best practice.”
  • Health IT Analytics tells us,
    • “Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tools can improve the skin cancer diagnostic accuracy of clinicians, nurse practitioners and medical students, according to a study published last week in npj Digital Medicine.
    • “The researchers underscored that AI-based skin cancer diagnostic tools are developing rapidly, and these tools are likely to be deployed in clinical settings upon appropriate testing and successful validation.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Alvotech and U.S. commercial partner Teva have signed a “long-term agreement” with an unspecified company to boost access to their biosimilar version of AbbVie’s blockbuster drug Humira, Alvotech said Friday. An Alvotech spokesperson declined to provide specifics.
    • “The deal comes seven weeks after the Food and Drug Administration approved Alvotech’s biosimilar, Simlandi, which the agency previously rejected multiple times. For patients to receive treatment, Alvotech and Teva must first cut deals with drug wholesalers, pharmacies and insurers that negotiate prices before agreeing to cover the therapy.
    • “CVS Health, whose pharmacy benefit manager is the country’s largest by prescription claims, removed Humira from its national formularyon April 1. Wall Street analysts have already reported substantial declines in Humira prescriptions over the last few weeks, when compared to the same period in 2023.”
  • According to Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Change Healthcare has reinstated 80% of the functionality for its claims, payment and pharmacy services following a February ransomware attack, the company said.
    • “Those three areas represent most of Change Healthcare’s customers and continue to be restored, according to an April 16 earnings call from parent company UnitedHealth Group.
    • “Now we’ve still got work to do,” said Roger Connor, CEO of OptumInsight, the UnitedHealth unit that includes Change, during the call. “We’ve got another set of products coming online … in the coming weeks, but pleased with that progress.”
  • The AHA News reports,
    • “Patients went out-of-network 3.5 times more often to see a behavioral health clinician than a medical/surgical clinician in 2021, and up to 20 times more often for certain behavioral health visits, according to a new study by RTI International. For example, patients went out-of-network 8.9 times more often to see a psychiatrist, 10.6 times more often to see a psychologist, 6.2 times more often for acute behavioral inpatient care, and 19.9 times more often for sub-acute behavioral inpatient care.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Social media is displacing physicians as the trusted authorities on whether patients should take one of the medicines. People are not only deciding to take a weight-loss drug—called GLP-1s— based on posts by friends and influencers but sometimes also skipping their doctor to go with one mentioned online.
    • “The virtual word-of-mouth can come across as authentic and accessible. People say they appreciate the tips and support they get from other online users. But many influencers and friends on social media play up all the pounds a person lost while playing down side effects that can be nasty, such as painful headaches and bouts of vomiting. Some omit the risks altogether.
    • “Unlike company drug advertisements, social-media posts don’t have to describe a drug’s side effects, suggest other resources or tell people to speak with their doctors.”
  • Ruh roh. This is why health plans are offering coaching services to these folks.

OPM Director Resigns

OPM Headquarters a/k/a the Theodore Roosevelt Building

From Washington, DC,

  • Federal News Network reports,
    • Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management, will be stepping down from her position in early May, OPM announced Tuesday. * * *
    • Ahuja decided to leave the position due to ongoing health concerns and a recent death in the family, an agency spokesperson said. Once Ahuja vacates her position as the top-most OPM official in the coming weeks, OPM Deputy Director Rob Shriver will begin serving as acting director. * * *
    • “Kiran leaves an incredible legacy as a strong and indefatigable champion of the 2.2 million public servants in the federal workforce,” OPM’s Shriver said in a statement. “Under Kiran’s leadership, OPM has bounced back stronger than ever and partnered with agencies across government to better serve the American people. Kiran represents the very best of the Biden-Harris administration, and I am honored to call her a dear colleague and friend.”
  • Here are links to today’s relevant House of Representatives Committee hearings — one “Examining Health Sector Cybersecurity in the Wake of the Change Healthcare Attack” and the other “ERISA’s 50th Anniversary: the Path to Higher Quality, Lower Cost Health Care.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “President Joe Biden’s administration will help 50 countries identify and respond to infectious diseases, with the goal of preventing pandemics like the Covid-19 outbreak that suddenly halted normal life around the globe in 2020.
    • “U.S. government officials will offer support in the countries, most of them located in Africa and Asia, to develop better testing, surveillance, communication, and preparedness for such outbreaks in those countries.
    • “The strategy will help “prevent, detect and effectively respond to biological threats wherever they emerge,” Biden said in a statement Tuesday.
    • “The Global Health Security Strategy, the president said, aims to protect people worldwide and “will make the United States stronger, safer, and healthier than ever before at this critical moment.”
  • The Congressional Budget Office issued a report about past performance and future directions of Medicare Accountable Care Organizations.
  • One Digital tells us,
    • “The 2023 EEO-1 Component 1 data collection window opens on April 30, 2024 and ends June 4, 2024. Private-sector employers with 100 or more employees or federal contractors with 50 or more employees must submit workforce demographic data. The EEO-1 Component 1 report is a mandatory annual data collection. Covered employers must submit data by job category and sex and race or ethnicity to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Updates to the data collection will be posted to the EEOC’s dedicated EEO-1 Component 1 website.
    • “The 2023 EEO-1 Component 1 Instruction Booklet and 2023 EEO-1 Component 1 Data File Upload Specifications are available on the EEOC’s dedicated EEO-1 Component 1 website. Employers must file their information through the EEO-1 Component 1 Online Filing System (OFS) either through manual data entry or data file upload. The EEO-1 Component 1 online Filer Support Message Center (i.e., filer help desk) will also be available on Tuesday, April 30, 2024, to assist filers with any questions they may have regarding the 2023 collection.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Value Penguin lets us know,
    • “Some much-needed good news for U.S. citizens: Between the first quarters of 2021 and 2023, the national age-adjusted death rate fell by 17.7%, according to the latest ValuePenguin study.
    • “Our study also looked at death rates by cause and the leading causes by state. Perhaps unsurprisingly given increased vaccination access and herd immunity, COVID-19 deaths fell most precipitously over that time. Deaths from most other causes showed a decline, too.”
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research released a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey with the following highlights
    • “In 2021, the top 1 percent of the population ranked by their healthcare expenditures accounted for 24 percent of total healthcare expenditures, while the bottom 50 percent accounted for less than 3 percent.
    • “Persons in the top 1 percent expenditure tier had an average of $166,980 in healthcare expenditures in 2021, nearly $30,000 higher than in 2019 or 2018. In 2020, persons in the top 1 percent expenditure tier had average expenditures that were more than $20,000 higher than in 2019 or 2018.
    • “Persons aged 65 and older and non-Hispanic Whites were disproportionately represented in the top expenditure tiers. 
    • “Inpatient stays accounted for about 26 percent of healthcare expenses for persons in the top 5 percent expenditure tier.
    • “More than three-quarters of aggregate expenses for persons in the top 5 percent expenditure tier were paid for by private insurance or Medicare.
    • “Among adults in the top 5 percent expenditure tier, 78.1 percent had two or more priority conditions.”
  • MedPage Today relates,
    • “Independent reviewers confirmed a causal relationship between the first mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and myocarditis, and also determined that, more broadly, intramuscular shots can cause a series of shoulder injuries.
    • “At the same time, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) committee rejected a causal relationship between the Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 and Moderna mRNA-1273 (Comirnaty and Spikevax, respectively) mRNA COVID vaccines and female infertility, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Bell’s palsy, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), and myocardial infarction.”
  • According to the University of Minnesota’s CIDRAP,
    • “A study yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine demonstrates that 22% of hospitalized adults aged 50 years or older with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection experienced an acute cardiac event—most frequently acute heart failure (16%). Moreover, 1 in 12 of infected patients (8.5%) had no documented underlying cardiovascular disease.
    • “RSV is associated with annual totals of up to 160,000 US hospitalizations, 10,000 deaths, and $4 billion in direct healthcare costs among adults age 65 years or older.
    • “Despite evidence of considerable RSV-associated morbidity, mortality, and health care expenditure, the potential severity of RSV infection in adults has historically been underappreciated by public health professionals and clinicians,” the authors write. RSV is rarely tested for in the clinical settings, and symptoms usually mirror other respiratory diseases, they add.” 
  • and
    • “New research conducted at US primary and urgent care sites shows that antibiotics didn’t provide any benefit for patients with a cough caused by an acute lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI).
    • “In fact, the findings, published yesterday in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, show that receipt of an antibiotic was associated with a small but significant increase in the duration of cough overall compared with those who didn’t receive an antibiotic. Even for those patients with a confirmed bacterial infection, the time until illness resolution was the same whether or not the patients received an antibiotic.
    • “Patients who received an antibiotic also had a higher overall disease severity over the entire course of their illness compared with those who didn’t.
    • “The study authors say the results of the Enhancing Antibiotic Stewardship in Primary Care (EAST-PC) study, which is the largest observational study to date on LRTIs in US primary and urgent care settings, are yet another indication that clinicians should be more prudent about using antibiotics for LRTIs.”
  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • “An antipsychotic drug from Intra-Cellular Therapies appears to also work as an add-on therapy for depression, according to clinical trial results the New York-based biotechnology company released Tuesday.
    • “The large trial enrolled almost 500 patients with major depression and hit its main goal as well as “key secondary endpoints,” the company said in a statement. It found that, over a six-week period, depressive symptoms significantly declined in study volunteers given Intra-Cellular’s drug plus antidepressants compared to those given a placebo and antidepressants.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “UnitedHealth estimates costs from the Change Healthcare cyberattack could reach $1.6 billion this year, executives said on Tuesday. However, the managed care giant maintained its full-year earnings guidance, suggesting the financial fallout from the attack on the massive claims clearinghouse may be less serious than feared.
    • “The hit comes from direct response efforts like recovering Change’s clearinghouse platform and paying higher medical costs after its insurance arm suspended some utilization management processes, in addition to the loss of Change’s revenue.
    • “In the first quarter alone, the cyberattack cost UnitedHealth $872 million, according to financial results posted Tuesday.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues adds,
    • “Rising medical cost trends aren’t going down, but they are stabilizing, UnitedHealth Group executives say. 
    • “CEO Andrew Witty told investors April 16 that pent-up demand and increased health system capacity following the COVID-19 pandemic drove rising costs through 2023, but the trend was a “one-off.” 
    • “We don’t see anything like that. We see much more stabilization. We haven’t seen a step-down from that trend, but we certainly see that kind of sustained activity without aggressive acceleration,” Mr. Witty said. 
    • “Every major insurer reported rising costs in the Medicare Advantage population in the last months of 2023. While a few insurers, including Humana and CVS Health, cut their 2024 earnings guidance based on the trend, UnitedHealth Group maintained it can weather the storm. 
    • “The company reported its first-quarter earnings April 16. UnitedHealthcare’s medical loss ratio was 84.3% in the first quarter, compared to 82.2% the year prior and down from 85% in the fourth quarter of 2023.”
  • and
    • “UnitedHealth Group plans to bring Change Healthcare back stronger than it was before it suffered the largest cyberattack in the history of the U.S. healthcare system. 
    • “On an April 16 call with investors, UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty said it is “important for the country” that UnitedHealth Group owns Change. 
    • “Without UnitedHealth Group owning Change Healthcare, this attack likely would still have happened. It would have left Change Healthcare, I think, extremely challenged to come back,” Mr. Witty said. “Because it is a part of UnitedHealth Group, we’ve been able to bring it back. We’re going to bring it back much stronger than it was before.” 
  • Medscape offers a slideshow on 2023 physician compensation.
  • Beckers Payer Issues notes,
    • “Elevance Health will enter a partnership with private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice to develop advanced primary care models. 
    • “The joint effort will operate across multiple states and commercial, individual, Medicare and Medicaid markets, according to an April 15 news release. The payer-agnostic platform will serve more than 1 million members, the companies said. 
    • “The deal is financed primarily “through a combination of cash and our equity interest in certain care delivery and enablement assets of Carelon Health,” according to the news release. The two companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, and it is not expected to have a material impact on Elevance’s 2024 earnings. 
    • “The partnership will bring together two CD&R assets, digital platform Apree Health and Florida-based provider group Millennium Physician Group, and Carelon Health. Several Carelon Health clinics, part of Elevance Health, will provide care to members with chronic and complex conditions.” 
  • Beckers Hospital Review lets us know,
    • “About nine months after the FDA fully approved an Alzheimer’s drug for the first time, the medicine is trudging through insurance barriers and hesitations from potential patients, the Chicago Tribune reported April 12. * * *
    • “One of its manufacturers, Eisai, predicted 10,000 patients would begin treatment by the end of March. Eisai executives have since backed away from that forecast, but they say sales are increasing, according to the Tribune
    • “CMS covers Leqembi, and so do about 75% of commercial plans in the U.S., a spokesperson for the drugmaker said. But, for the upwards of 6 million Americans who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the medication has not made a splash as patients worry about side effects and contraindications.”
  • and
    • “Multiple April bankruptcy court filings revealed that Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid has plans to shutter 53 additional locations across nine states after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shared it will close 154 locations last October. 
    • “The “notice of additional closing stores” filings, obtained by Becker’s, revealed the stores are located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Virginia and Maryland.” 

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “The Biden administration has now ended many of the policies that previously dictated agencies’ health and safety responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. But for federal employees, the administration is still offering some on-the-job flexibility for the foreseeable future.
    • “One of the few remaining policies from a series of 2021 executive orders lets federal employees still take up to four hours of paid administrative leave to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, the Office of Personnel Management said in an April 12 memo.
    • “The administration strongly encourages federal employees to get recommended doses of updated COVID-19 vaccines even when receiving those vaccines is not a job requirement,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in the memo addressed to agency heads. “Vaccines remain the best tool we have in our toolbox to combat COVID-19. They are safe, effective and free.”
    • “For federal employees, the offered administrative leave will cover the time it takes to get the COVID-19 booster shot, as well as feds’ travel time to and from the vaccination site. As is standard, employees should get approval from their supervisors before taking leave for this purpose, OPM said. Four hours is the maximum OPM is allotting, but federal employees should only take off as much time as they actually need to get the shot.”
  • OPM should take the same approach with cancer screening services, such as colonoscopies and mammographies.
  • The American Hospital Association News reports,
    • “The Change Healthcare cyberattack was a significant event that caught many off guard, said the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, reiterating the agency’s commitment to supporting impacted hospitals. Brooks-LaSure stated the Administration is listening to stakeholders and when possible, facilitating solutions, noting the importance of meeting the needs of providers.
    • “In addition, Brooks-LaSure celebrated important improvements CMS made to promote greater transparency for prior authorization criteria. CMS took steps earlier this year finalizing new regulations to streamline and reduce burden associated with the prior authorization process in Medicare Advantage and fee-for-service and managed care programs for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  
    • “CMS continues to hear from patients and providers over some commercial insurer prior authorization denials and delays, Brooks-LaSure said, noting that the volume of frustration has “just exploded.” The private sector, she said, has an opportunity to step up with solutions of their own to address concerns.
    • “I’ve told the health plans this: it doesn’t have to all be regulated [by the federal government], there may be things that they can do,” Brooks-LaSure said.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues adds,
    • “AHIP’s chief executive criticized the hospital lobby’s response to the Change Healthcare cyberattack as “opportunistic” and “maintaining the status quo.”
    • “AHIP President and CEO Mike Tuffin pointed to comments that hospital lobbyists made to the media about the hack being “another talking point” to prevent health systems from implementing site-neutral payments, as well as an industry association’s opposition to cybersecurity mandates.
    • “Insisting on maintaining the status quo simply makes the healthcare system a more inviting target for the ever-more sophisticated hacking operations targeting the sector,” Mr. Tuffin wrote in the April 12 article. “Instead of taking a constructive leadership role in what can be done to protect consumers and the system moving forward, the hospital lobby chooses to use the moment to point fingers and shirk responsibility.”
    • “Rather than “playing politics,” all industry stakeholders should be focusing on preventing and preparing for future healthcare cyberattacks, he said.”
  • HR Dive reports,
    • “The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Monday its final rule implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, clarifying that abortion is included under “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” that are protected under the PWFA.
    • “EEOC said this interpretation of the law’s text is “consistent with the Commission’s and courts’ longstanding interpretation of the same phrase in Title VII.” It also noted that employees are entitled to the law’s provisions even if they have not worked for an employer for a specific length of time.
    • “EEOC had originally slated the rule for publication at the end of 2023, but the commission’s deadline passed without a rule in place. The rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register Friday, and will take effect 60 days after publication, approximately mid-June.”
  • The Government Accountability Office released a report on selected States regulation of pharmacy benefit managers.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post considers why
    • “Rural Americans ages 25 to 54 — considered the prime working-age population — are dying of natural causes such as chronic diseases and cancer at wildly higher rates than their age-group peers in urban areas, according to the report. * * *
    • “The USDA researchers analyzed mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from two three-year periods — 1999 through 2001, and 2017 through 2019. In 1999, the natural-cause mortality rate for rural working-age adults was only 6 percent higher than that of their city-dwelling peers. By 2019, the gap had widened to 43 percent.” * * *
    • “The USDA’s findings were shocking but not surprising, said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. He and other health experts have maintained for years that rural America needs more attention and investment in its health care systems by national leaders and lawmakers.”
  • “MedPage Today editor-in-chief Jeremy Faust, MD, talks with Monica Bertagnolli, MD, the 17th director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about the day-to-day work at the NIH on pandemic preparedness, the importance of looking for new approaches to testing, and the status of long COVID research.”
  • Healio points out,
    • “Physical activity patterns that included vigorous exercise, housework or walking were associated with lower stroke risk.
    • “Watching TV and commuting were linked to higher risk for stroke.”
  • Per Medscape,
    • “Low- to moderate-intensity physical exercise in patients with severe mental illness is linked to improved medication adherence, regardless of medication type or duration of illness, new research shows.
    • “The positive association between adherence and moderate physical activity emphasizes that physical activity improves overall health and functional status. Promoting physical activity can be a valuable and integrated strategy that can be easily implemented into our routine clinical practice,” said study investigator Rebecca Silvestro, MD, Department of Psychiatry, Università degli studi della Campania Luigi Vanvitelli in Naples, Italy.
    • “The findings were presented at the European Psychiatric Association 2024 Congress.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News reports,
    • “The number of new prescriptions written for biosimilar versions of the Humira rheumatoid arthritis treatment, one of the best-selling medicines in the U.S., surged to 36% from just 5% during the first week of April, thanks to the expanding reach that CVS Health has over the prescription drug market.
    • “The big jump was attributed to one particular biosimilar called Hyrimoz, which is manufactured by Sandoz, a former unit of Novartis that is a leading supplier of generic and biosimilar medicines. However, Hyrimoz is jointly marketed with Cordavis, a new subsidiary that CVS created last August specifically to sell any number of biosimilar medicines in the U.S.
    • “This connection is crucial to the sudden jump in Hyrimoz prescriptions. How so? On April 1, CVS Caremark, which is one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the U.S., removed Humira from its major national formularies for health plans that cover about 30 million lives. Formularies are the lists of medicines that are covered by health insurance.
    • “The move quickly shifted market share to Hyrimoz. During the week ending March 29, the number of new prescriptions written for the biosimilar was about 640, but rose to nearly 8,300 in the week ending April 5, according to a report to investors by Evercore ISI analyst Elizabeth Anderson. That pushed the share for all Humira biosimilars to 36%, with Hyrimoz contributing 93% of the growth.”
  • Health Leaders Media discusses three ways that independent physician practices can maintain their independence.
  • According to BioPharma Dive,
    • “Roche’s new dual-acting blood cancer drug Columvi combined with chemotherapy helped people with a type of lymphoma live longer than people given Rituxan and chemo, the company said Monday. The data could help Roche persuade the Food and Drug Administration to convert Columvi’s conditional OK into a full approval.
    • “Roche didn’t disclose full data from the Phase 3 “Starglo” trial in people with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma whose disease advanced after initial treatment and who weren’t eligible for stem cell transplants. The results will be presented at an upcoming medical meeting, the company said.
    • “Columvi is a new type of drug called a “bispecific” antibody that triggers an immune response to cancer cells. A competitor developed by Genmab and AbbVie has also gained accelerated approval and could have confirmatory data later this year, while the FDA rejected a bispecific from Regeneron because its confirmatory trial isn’t far enough advanced.”
  • MedTech Dive reports,
    • “Abbott is recalling thousands of Heartmate II and Heartmate 3 left ventricular assist systems because biological material can build up and obstruct the devices, making them less effective at pumping blood, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
    • “Reports of 273 injuries and 14 deaths have been linked to the problem, with the material typically taking two or more years to accumulate, according to the recall notice. The FDA identified the action as a Class I recall, the most serious type.
    • “Heartmate devices are used to support patients with severe left ventricular heart failure who are awaiting a heart transplant, or the device can be permanently implanted when a transplant isn’t an option. In February, Abbott told customers in an urgent correction letter there is no need to return any products to the company.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • On Thursday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf appeared before the panel for the first time this Congress, facing a roughly four-hour grilling on a wide range of issues, from the infant formula crisis to tobacco regulation to an abortion pill. 
    • * * * Of note,
      • “The composition of a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu doesn’t appear to be resistant to current treatments already on the market for the flu, Califf said. This comes after a dairy worker in Texas was recently treated for bird flu, which has been identified in dairy cattle for the first time. 
      • “It’s always the case that when you have an actual illness you have to empirically prove that it works,” Califf said. “Fortunately right now, there’s really only one infected human that we know of, so it’s not something that we can test. But it looks good at this point.”
  • House Budget Committee Health Care Task Force (HCTF) Chair Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX) wrote an op-ed in the Hill about how to pay for 21st Century medicine.
    • “Medical advances have opened a new world of hope for patients suffering from serious and life-threatening diseases. We need to match our 21st century science with 21st century payment models and offer patients hope without breaking the budget.
    • “My legislation, the Preventive Health Savings Act, offers another new tool to help Congress identify the long-term savings generated by some of these novel therapies and assist in implementing new payment pathways.
    • “We can keep marching forward and saving lives, or we can turn the clock back. Congress needs to address these challenges by anticipating the future instead of wallowing in the past.”
  • Fierce Healthcare adds,
    • Instead of enacting public option plans, states should target reinsurance programs, a new report from the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future argues.
    • The group includes a collection of health plans, hospital groups and pharma companies brought together largely to oppose Medicare for All. This study was authored by three policy experts with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
  • OPM could encourage Congress to create a reinsurance pool for gene therapy treatments within FEHBP and PSHBP using the unused portion of the 1% surcharge on FEHB premiums intended to fund OPM’s FEHB / PSHB administrative costs.
  • Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefit Security Lisa Gomez wrote in her blog about how to unlock the power of prevention in the fight against cancer.
  • The Washington Post points out,
    • “Covid forced the public health field and health-care sector to work toward a shared goal of keeping people from becoming so ill that they overwhelm hospitals. Now, a group of health-care leaders — the Common Health Coalition, which represents physicians, hospitals and insurers — is trying to build upon these collaborations to better prepare localities for future health threats.”
  • Govexec.com informs us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management issued a final rule Friday that would cull Social Security numbers from any mailed document in an effort to prevent fraud. 
    • “The rule, which was published in the Federal Register, is part of the implementation of the 2017 Social Security Number Fraud Prevention Act and is designed to help protect the identifiers, which can be used in various forms of identity theft. 
    • “The theft and fraudulent use of SSNs can result in significant repercussions for the SSN holder, as well as the entities from which SSNs were stolen,” OPM officials said in the Federal Register notice. “This direct final rule formalizes in regulation OPM’s current practice of safeguarding SSNs in mailed documents and will support efforts to protect individual privacy.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control let us know earlier 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, 1 jurisdiction experienced high activity compared to 6 jurisdictions experiencing high activity the previous week. [The outlier jurisdiction is North Dakota.]  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.”
  • The Washington Post offers detailed background on prostate cancer following former NIH Director Francis Collins announced that he has the disease.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “The European Union’s drug regulator found no link between the class of medicines behind 
    • Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster Ozempic and Wegovy treatments and reports of suicidal thoughts in patients.
    • “A study by a European Medicines Agency committee had been looking at potential links between the popular weight-loss and diabetes drugs and reports of suicidal and self-harming thoughts from people using them, but it said Friday that the evidence doesn’t support a causal association.
    • “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration came to the same conclusion in January while British health authorities are carrying out their own review.”
  • Today, the FEHBlog heard an OptumRx speaker at a local conference describe the following demographic characteristics of members of employer sponsored plans who use GLP-1 weight loss drugs.
    • 4 out of 5 are women
    • Average age range is 35-54 with a concentration in the 45 to 54 age range.
    • Average BMI is 35. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Class III obesity, formerly known as morbid obesity, is a complex chronic disease in which a person has a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher or a BMI of 35 or higher and is experiencing obesity-related health conditions.”
  • Bear in mind that most employer sponsored plans do not cover retirees while the FEHBP does. The FEHBlog expects that the speaker provided a useful perspective on GLP-1 use among active employees participating the FEHP. KFF remind us the there are plenty of Medicare beneficiaries using GLP-1 drugs for diabetes.
    • In 2022, Medicare gross total spending reached $5.7 billion on Ozempic (semaglutide), Rybelsus (semaglutide), and Mounjaro (tirzepatide), all of which it covered for diabetes that year, according to just-released Medicare drug spending data [before manufacturer rebates]. That was up from $57 million in 2018. 
  • The Optum speaker also remarked that biosimilar competition caused Abbvie to lower the price of its blockbuster Humira drug by 30% in 2023. He explained that it takes time for biosimilars to gain market share when the brand drug drops its price substantially.
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Approximately 40,000 women die of breast cancer in the U.S. each year.
    • “One way of reducing that number is ensuring access to preventive screenings such as mammograms. But health-related social needs can have an impact on a woman’s chance of being up to date with her mammogram. For example, women are less likely to get a mammogram if they feel socially isolated, have lost a job or don’t have reliable transportation, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs report.”
  • The New York Times provides expert opinions on whether artificial intelligence mammograms are worth the cost.
    • “The Food and Drug Administration has authorized roughly two dozen mammography A.I. products. Some of these are being rolled out to patients in a small number of clinics and tested by other hospitals that want to be certain of the value these tools provide before offering them to patients. 
    • “There is currently no billing code that radiologists can use to charge insurance providers for the technology. That means some centers may punt the cost to patients, charging between $40 to $100 out of pocket for an A.I. analysis. Other hospitals may absorb the cost and offer the additional analysis for free. Still others may keep the technology for research until they are more certain of the value it can provide to patients.
    • “It will take some time for A.I. to become part of routine care, which would lead insurance companies to consider reimbursing their cost. Until then, most patients don’t need A.I. for their mammograms, said Dr. Katerina Dodelzon, a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, though it might provide some extra reassurance for those who are particularly anxious about their results.”
  • Medscape tells us,
    • “Early data suggested that several new multicancer early detection (MCED) tests in development show promise for identifying cancers that lack routine screening options.
    • “Analyses presented during a session at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, revealed that three new MCED tests — CanScan, MERCURY, and OncoSeek — could detect a range of cancers and recognize the tissue of origin with high accuracy. One — OncoSeek — could also provide an affordable cancer screening option for individuals living in lower income countries.
    • “The need for these noninvasive liquid biopsy tests that can accurately identify multiple cancer types with a single blood draw, especially cancers without routine screening strategies, is pressing. 
    • “We know that the current cancer standard of care screening will identify less than 50% of all cancers, while more than 50% of all cancer deaths occur in types of cancer with no recommended screening,” said co-moderator Marie E. Wood, MD, of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, in Aurora, Colorado.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “More than three-fourths of all U.S. doctors are now employed by hospitals, health insurers, private equity or other corporate entities, as rampant consolidation continues to shrink the number of independent physicians, according to new data.
    • “Between 2019 and 2024, more than 44,000 medical practices were acquired, according to the report published Thursday by Avalere Health, commissioned by the Physicians Advocacy Institute. As a result, nearly 60% of medical practices are now owned by corporations.
    • “As of January 2024, physician practice ownership by corporations — including health insurers, pharmacy chains and PE firms — exceeded ownership by hospitals and health systems for the first time, 30.1% to 28.4%. However, hospitals employ more than half of all U.S. physicians, while other corporations employ a little over one-fifth.”
  • MedTech Dive informs us,
    • “Roche has received the Food and Drug Administration’s breakthrough device designation for a blood test to support earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, the Swiss drug and diagnostics company said Thursday.
    • “The test, once approved, could help healthcare providers identify whether amyloid pathology, a marker for Alzheimer’s disease, is present or absent in patients.
    • “The Elecsys pTau217 plasma biomarker test is being developed as part of an ongoing partnership between Roche and Eli Lilly. * * *
    • “New and emerging Alzheimer’s therapies aimed at slowing cognitive decline in the earlier stages of the disease call for confirmation of amyloid pathology, yet the only methods currently cleared for that task are cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests and amyloid positron emission tomography, or PET, scan imaging, according to Roche.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive, while “new postpartum depression drugs are here, diagnosis, treatment hurdles still stand in the way. Two Sage Therapeutics medicines are approved for the condition. But uptake of the first has been minimal, while the launch of the second [which is a pill] is still getting off the ground.”
  • The Employee Benefit Research Institute made available a new paper on high deductible health plans with health savings accounts.
    • “The purpose of this paper is to examine the impact of plan type on use of health care services and spending. The analysis focuses on enrollees in HSA plans and PPO enrollees who are in health plans with deductibles large enough to be HSA eligible as a way of isolating the impact of the HSA on use of health care services.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • This morning, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing to “discuss how to update and strengthen Medicare’s guarantee of high-quality health benefits for the next generation of America’s seniors.”
  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Lawmakers lauded the benefits of telehealth during a hearing Wednesday, but House members also raised questions about cost, quality and access that still need to be answered as a year-end deadline looms.
    • “As a December deadline draws closer, legislators are working to hash out details about extending or making pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities in Medicare permanent. 
    • “During an hours-long House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, lawmakers considered 15 different legislative proposals surrounding telehelath access, noting changes in Medicare will impact decisions of private insurers.
    • “There’s an urgent need to extend these flexibilities because it’s going to run out,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. “We need to take action on this.” 
  • STAT News adds,
    • “More than a quarter of outpatient antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed, and telehealth could exacerbate the problem: Studies have suggested that virtual visits, on average, result in more antibiotic prescribing than in-person visits. But not all telehealth is created equal — and research is beginning to untangle which approaches are more likely to result in unnecessary antibiotics. In turn, national telehealth guidelines and standards are fighting back by prioritizing safe and effective virtual prescribing practices.
    • “It’s hard to draw conclusions about antibiotic prescribing via telehealth because it comes in so many flavors, said Guillermo Sanchez, a physician assistant and epidemiologist with the office of antibiotic stewardship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Telemedicine can be provided by direct-to-consumer companies in one-off visits or by large, integrated health systems; via message, phone, or video.
    • “In a recent literature review, Sanchez and his colleagues found studies showing antibiotics were prescribed similarly in virtual and in-person appointments, as well as research that showed higher prescribing in virtual visits — especially for upper respiratory infections that rarely need antibiotics.
    • “But one thing is clear: There’s plenty of room for improvement.”
  • American Hospital Association News tells us,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention April 11 updated its strategy to improve data exchange with health care organizations and other public health authorities to better detect and monitor public health threats. Among other priorities for 2024-2025, the strategy calls for using the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement to enable faster sharing of data between health care and public health; expanding core data sources to detect and monitor threats, including wastewater, hospitalization and hospital bed capacity; and prioritizing data to address health disparities and promote health equity.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “Medicare for the first time has estimated that a new Alzheimer’s treatment could cost the program billions of dollars by next year — well beyond what Wall Street or even the drug’s manufacturer has projected — according to a document obtained by STAT.
    • “Medicare’s actuaries expect the drug Leqembi, made by the Japanese drugmaker Eisai and sold in partnership with Biogen, to cost the traditional Medicare program around $550 million in 2024, and the entire Medicare program $3.5 billion in 2025, a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed to STAT. That projection forecasts a large increase in uptake over the next year and a half.
    • “The estimate was buried in a new CMS document that addressed questions about next year’s payments for Medicare Advantage plans, which cover more than 33 million people and serve as the alternative to the traditional Medicare program.
    • “I think CMS’ estimates demonstrate an incredible demand for Alzheimer’s treatments and possibly suggest broader use than I think was originally conceived,” said Ameet Sarpatwari, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies pharmaceutical costs and outcomes. “That raises the question: What are we, as taxpayers, willing to spend on this drug with limited resources?”
  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced,
    • “The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a final rule today on the Pathways Programs designed to significantly expand opportunities for early career talent in the federal government. The final rule is one of the most significant actions the federal government has taken since the program’s inception 14 years ago. Updates include expanding skills-based hiring through qualifying career programs, raising the ceiling for starting salaries for recent graduates, and easing the path for interns to be converted into permanent positions, including lowering the number of hours required to convert and expanding the time given to agencies to complete such a conversion.  
    • “In addition, OPM will soon release new web-based guidance, an updated Pathways Program Handbook, an updated Pathways Toolkit for federal managers and supervisors, and will host a series of webinars and office hours targeted at HR professionals, hiring managers, educational institutions, and other key stakeholders.”  

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today tells us,
    • “The hunt for a signal of excess sudden cardiac deaths among young people after COVID-19 vaccination left Oregon health officials empty-handed, they reported.
    • “Investigators searched death certificates for Oregon residents 16-30 years old who died from cardiac or undetermined causes of death from June 2021 to December 2022 and tried to match these deaths with mandatory statewide records of mRNA COVID vaccination, according to Juventila Liko, MD, and Paul Cieslak, MD, both of the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division in Portland, in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.”
  • The NIH Director in her blog lets us know,
    • “Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. We know that risk of colorectal cancer goes up with age, certain coexisting health conditions, family history, smoking, alcohol use, and other factors. Researchers are also trying to learn more about what leads colorectal cancer to grow and spread. Now, findings from a new study supported in part by NIH add to evidence that colorectal tumor growth may be driven by a surprising bad actor: a microbe that’s normally found in the mouth.
    • :The findings, reported in Nature, suggest that a subtype of the bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum has distinct genetic properties that may allow it to withstand acidic conditions in the stomach, infect colorectal tumors, and potentially drive their growth, which may lead to poorer patient outcomes. The discoveries suggest that the microbe could eventually be used as a target for detecting and treating colorectal cancer.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “The number of ongoing drug shortages in the U.S. is at its highest since 2001 — when the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists began tracking data. There are now 323 medications in low supply. 
    • “The reasons for 3 in 5 shortages are unknown, the ASHP said in a report released April 11. Supply and demand are cited for 14% of shortages, manufacturing problems for 12%, business decisions for 12% and raw material issues for 2%. 
    • “Basic and life-saving products are in short supply, including oxytocin, Rho(D) immune globulin, standard of care chemotherapy, pain and sedation medications and ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] medications,” the ASHP said. 
    • “The top five drug classes in shortages are central nervous system agents, antimicrobials, hormone agents, chemotherapies, and fluid and electrolyte therapies.” 
  • Mercer Consulting alerts us,
    • “Are you ready for the 75-year plus workforce? That’s the question Dr. Charlotte Yeh from AARP Services Inc. asked our webcast participants when she sat down with Mercer’s Kate Brown to discuss how longevity is changing workforce demographics.
    • “In the last 100 years, the 65+ age group has grown five times faster than the rest of the population. What’s even more surprising are projections that people aged 75+ will constitute the fastest-growing age band in the civilian workforce between now and 2030! As an employer, are you prepared for these changing demographics?
    • “In this conversation, Dr. Yeh debunks common myths about older workers – including their inability to use technology to perform essential job functions. In fact, studies show that age-diverse workforces contribute to increased revenue and profit margins – perhaps not surprising given that people 50 and older, contribute $8.3 trillion dollars to the economy. At the same time, working later in life can provide seniors with purpose and social connections, both essential to health and happiness.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Hospitals and health systems have kicked off the calendar year with a flurry of merger and acquisition deals reflecting several different strategic trends driving providers in 2024.
    • “Twenty transactions were unveiled in the first quarter, marking the highest volume of dealmaking Kaufman Hall’s seen within the sector since 2020, according to a report from the healthcare consulting firm released Thursday.
    • “The deals involved organizations of varying sizes and types, the firm wrote, and appeared motivated by a combination of new and old health system trends — for instance, smaller community systems flocking to larger organizations with stable finances, or portfolio realignments among for-profit and non-profit systems alike.”
  • According to Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Less than 20% of the nation’s hospitals were recognized for excellent patient safety ratings and the highest level of adherence to federal price transparency rules. 
    • “On April 9, the Health Transformation Alliance, The Leapfrog Group and Turquoise Health honored 472 hospitals across 42 states. Each of the organizations received a Leapfrog “A” safety rating and the highest price transparency score from Turquoise Health. 
    • “We encourage all hospitals to look to these industry leaders in both patient safety and price transparency as a model for how to provide patient-centered, high-quality care,” Robert Andrews, CEO of Health Transformation Alliance, said in a news release. “In following their example and commitment to safety and price transparency, we believe the healthcare industry can collectively strive towards better health outcomes for all.”

From the legal news front,

  • Biopharma Dive reports,
    • “The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday accused Regeneron of defrauding Medicare by knowingly inflating the average sales price for its top-selling eye drug Eylea.
    • “In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, prosecutors alleged Regeneron failed to disclose hundreds of millions of dollars in price concessions given to drug distributors in the form of credit card fee reimbursements. As a result, they said, the average sales price for Eylea, which Medicare uses to set payment to doctors, was higher than it should have been.
    • “Regeneron’s tactics also gave it an unfair competitive advantage over rivals, the Justice Department said. Eye clinics were able to get Regeneron’s drug for the discounted cash price while at the same time reaping the benefits of credit card rewards such as “cash back.” At some practices, doctors took turns using their personal credit cards to buy the drug, the lawsuit said. * * *
    • “In a statement to BioPharma Dive, Regeneron said it believes the allegations are “without merit” and show a “fundamental misunderstanding of drug price reporting standards.” The company added that it will defend itself in court.” 
  • The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida announced,
    • “On April 10, a substance abuse facility owner was sentenced to four years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $4,444,417.65 in restitution, for defrauding the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) of over $4 million. The sentence comes after the defendant entered a guilty plea in February.
    • “Joseph Toro, 39, of Jupiter, Florida, owned and operated Reawakenings Wellness Center (RWC), a substance abuse facility that treated patients, including FEHBP beneficiaries, from 2013 until January 2018, when RWC was evicted from their location in Miramar, Florida. After the RWC eviction, Toro continued to submit FEHBP insurance claims, using personal identifying information of former RWC patients, for substance abuse treatment that was never provided. To do so, he called the FEHBP hotline, impersonated former patients, and changed their mailing addresses to addresses that he controlled so he could obtain the fraudulent insurance reimbursement checks. For over a year, Toro submitted fraudulent claims on behalf of 29 former RWC patients for over $6.7 million in substance abuse treatment that he knew RWC never provided. As a result of Toro’s fraudulent claims, he obtained nearly $4.2 million in proceeds from the FEHBP. Toro also applied for and obtained a $150,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. That application misrepresented that RWC had five employees and grossed over $1.4 million in 2019, when in truth RWC had shut down years prior.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The American Hospital News reports,
    • “Health care leaders and other officials April 9 discussed challenges to rural health care access and potential solutions during an event in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the Coalition to Strengthen America’s Health Care: Protecting 24/7 Care. The AHA is a founding member of the Coalition, which recently rebranded to reflect its renewed focus to protect and strengthen patients’ access to 24/7 care. 
    • “Today’s event hosted by Punchbowl News involved discussions on a range of topics including access, the importance of telehealth, health care innovations and Medicare underpayment, among others. 
    • “You can watch a video of today’s event here. 
  • The Wall Street Journal lets us know,
    • “The U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday it is seeking to raise the price of a stamp by 5 cents, in what would be the fourth increase since the start of 2023. 
    • “The proposed price of 73 cents, up 7.4% from the current price of 68 cents, would still need to be approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission. 
    • “The last increase happened in January 2024, when the cost of a stamp rose from 66 cents to 68 cents. Before that, the agency hiked prices in July 2023 by 3 cents. * * *
    • “The new 5-cent increase would go into effect July 14, the Postal Service said. 
    • “The Postal Service said it also wants to raise prices for other services, including sending a letter outside the U.S., which would cost $1.65, up from $1.55. Mailing a postcard within the U.S. would cost 3 cents more at 56 cents. And sending metered letters, a service used by small businesses, would cost 5 cents more at 69 cents.”
  • MedTech Dive relates,
    • “The Department of Justice filed a consent decree of permanent injunction against Philips on Tuesday in response to the company’s ongoing recall of sleep apnea and respiratory devices.
    • “The settlement would restrict Philips from producing or selling new continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines and other devices in the U.S. until the company meets certain requirements. Philips also faces restrictions on exporting devices that are being provided to patients impacted by the recall “to help ensure remediation of U.S. patients is prioritized over export for commercial distribution.” 
    • “Philips is required to implement a recall remediation plan that the Food and Drug Administration must agree on, including providing patients with new or reworked devices, or a partial refund. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a Tuesday statement that the finalization of the decree is a “significant milestone.” 

From the public health and medical research front,

  • KFF notes,
    • “Rates of long COVID have begun to flatten. About 1 in 10 adults with COVID have reported having long COVID since rates fell in 2023, according to a KFF analysis of the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the rate continues to hold steady, new forms of prevention or treatment may be important to achieve future reductions in long COVID.
    • “As of March 2024, 7% of all adults (17 million people) reported that they have long COVID. Among the 60% of adults who reported ever having had COVID, roughly 3 in 10 reported having long COVID at some point and about 1 in 10 reported currently having it. The ongoing gap between the two long COVID rates indicates that people are continuing to recover, even as rates stabilize.”
  • US News and World Report informs us,
    • “Measles infections have continued to spread in pockets of the U.S., as the latest nationwide count shows the number of cases have now reached more than 100.
    • “A total of 113 cases have been reported across 17 states as of April 5, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly double the total of 58 that for all of 2023.
    • “So far, seven outbreaks have occurred – defined by the CDC as three or more related cases – up from four in 2023. More than 70% of all cases this year have been associated with an outbreak, and approximately half of patients are children under the age of five.
    • “More than 80% of measles infections are among those who are either unvaccinated or with an unknown vaccination status, according to the CDC, while 12% of cases are those who have received only one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
    • “Chicago has had the majority of U.S. cases, with 58 infections as of April 8, according to the most recent figures from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
    • “The majority of measles infections in Chicago have been tied to an outbreak at one of the city’s largest migrant shelters.
    • “In an update released on April 5, CDPH stated measles cases were decreasing in the city, with a total of five new cases reported during the week of March 31 through April 5, compared to 23 infections reported from March 24 through March 30.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reminds us,
    • The fight against dementia actually starts in your 40s.
    • Midlife, not your 70s or 80s, is when brain changes start to occur that can pave the way toward dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline later, according to a growing body of research. 
    • Intervening earlier to improve brain health—and studying the midlife brain more closely—might help people stay sharper in their later years, researchers say. Regular exercise, getting enough sleep and doing activities that keep your brain stimulated are all steps that can help you combat dementia later in life.
    • “Middle age is an opportune time to make lifestyle choices and obtain treatment that will bring an enormous return on investment in old age,” says Terrie Moffitt, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.
    • More scientists are looking for clues in the midlife brain because efforts to target dementia in older people have largely failed, says Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience also at Duke.
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “Surprise pregnancies may be an unexpected side effect experienced by women who use Ozempic or other GLP-1 medications, The Washington Post reported April 5.”Surprise pregnancies may be an unexpected side effect experienced by women who use Ozempic or other GLP-1 medications, The Washington Post reported April 5.
    • “Numerous social media platforms include posts and discussions about unplanned pregnancies while on Ozempic or similar drugs. Although the reports of a possible Ozempic “baby boom” are anecdotal, it is a phenomenon researchers and experts are watching closely. 
    • “Experts speculate that weight loss drugs may impact the absorption of contraceptives, causing birth control failures or that they can affect ovulation and fertility. Others say losing weight can improve chances of pregnancy.”
  • According to Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Supplemental benefits administrator Avesis and Elevance Health subsidiary Amerigroup Georgia have teamed up with Uber Health in a pilot project to tackle the state’s maternal health crisis.
    • “Utilizing community health partners like the Georgia Primary Care Association and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), hundreds of Amerigroup’s Medicaid members in December 2022 started receiving two individualized nutritional counseling sessions, a scale and $300 of Uber Eats vouchers.
    • “Though the program’s results have not been shared yet, Avesis Senior Manager of Care Transformation Don Trainor said the program has had promising results so far.”
  • The AHA News tells us,
    • “Women with health-related social needs such as food insecurity, housing instability and lack of transportation were less likely to report receiving a mammogram in the past two years when surveyed in 2022, according to a report  released April 9 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 66% of women aged 50-74 with at least three health-related social needs were up to date with their mammograms, compared with 83% of women with no health-related social needs. Mammography use also was lower among women without health insurance and a usual source of care.”  

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • United Health Group has refreshed its response to the cyberattack against Change Healthcare website.
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Artificial intelligence categorization can help stem the flood of patient messages that would otherwise demand physicians’ expensive time, Kaiser Permanente researchers report.
    • “In a recently published JAMA Network Open research letter, members of the system’s research division and medical group outlined a strategy that used real-time natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to attach category labels to messages and then direct them to an appropriate respondent.
    • “The approach, they wrote, allowed 31.9% of the more than 4.7 million patient messages reviewed by program staff to be resolved before reaching the inbox of a specific physician. Instead, these messages were handed by a “regional team” made up of medical assistants or teleservice representatives, pharmacists and other doctors.”
  • and
    • “Consumers expect a simple and easy digital experience, and health plans have plenty of room to improve on that front, according to a new report.
    • “J.D. Power released its inaugural U.S. Health Insurance Experience Study on Tuesday, where it found that 42% of adults with insurance ran into issues using their plan’s website and/or mobile app in the past year.
    • “The study is based on responses from more than 5,500 people enrolled in the 14 largest Medicare Advantage (MA) plans and 15 largest commercial plans. It was conducted alongside Corporate Insight.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review names the “25 drugs at Mark Cuban’s online pharmacy with biggest cost reductions.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Healthcare Dive informs us
    • “The Senate continued to probe the impact of private equity on healthcare delivery this week, launching both an inquiry into PE’s emergency department management practices and holding a subcommittee field hearing on “corporate greed” and PE’s impact on patient care.
    • “The field hearing and request for information come as private equity has increased its investment in healthcare. As of January, more than a quarter of the nation’s rural hospitals and 460 total hospitals in the U.S. were owned by private equity firms, according to a tracker produced by nonprofit watchdog, the Private Equity Stakeholder Project. 
    • “PE-backed physician staffing groups operate nearly one-third of emergency departments across the country, according to letters sent Monday to some of the nation’s largest private equity companies by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and chair of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee. * * *
    • “PE firms acquire assets and then seek to sell them for profit, typically within a three- to five-year time frame. The investors may also have limited direct knowledge of healthcare, and the funds are subject to fewer regulations than public companies, according to a 2023 report from the CommonWealth Fund. As a result, the firms tend to have fewer patient-centric guardrails in place compared to traditional healthcare owners and investors.”
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us,
    • “Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized a host of actions ranging from broker compensation, health equity, mental health, supplemental benefits and biosimiliars, in the Contract Year 2025 Medicare Advantage and Part D final rule Thursday night.
    • “Technical experts and industry execs warned the changes will be consequential for MA plans.
    • “Yesterday’s 2025 Final Rule was one of the more impactful that I can recall in my two-plus decades in the industry,” said Sean Libby, president at BeneLynk. “It is clear that MA plans need a roadmap for health related social needs and health equity.”
    • “It is difficult to put words to the extent and impact of changes codified today,” saidMelissa Newton Smith, senior advisor for Oliver Wyman. “Every MA leadership team needs to be thoughtfully redesigning your stars and quality approach in order to earn quality bonus payments in 2025.”
    • “The primary winners are behavioral health providers, namely Arcadia Healthcare and Universal Health Systems,” said global strategy firm Capstone in a new analysis.
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration has cleared Bristol Myers Squibb and 2seventy Bio’s multiple myeloma cell therapy for earlier use treating the blood cancer, approving the CAR-T medicine for patients who have previously received at least two previous drug regimens.
    • “The OK comes three weeks after a panel of FDA advisers agreed the benefit of earlier treatment outweighed the risks, including a concern raised by agency reviewers over data indicating an elevated risk of death among treated study participants in the first year of the companies’ main trial.
    • “Overall, trial results showed the CAR-T therapy, Abecma, reduced the risk of disease progression or death by about half, compared to standard regimens. Bristol Myers cited patient crossover from the control arm to treatment as confounding survival data, while the advisory panel noted complications with the “bridging” therapy used prior to CAR-T treatment.”
  • Fierce BioTech lets us know,
    • “As new cancer vaccines—led by Moderna and Merck’s mRNA-4157—near pivotal trial readouts, the FDA’s vaccines czar Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., said the agency is ready to review the shots despite AI-related unknowns.
    • “We are ready to review—we’re open for business,” Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said of cancer vaccines at the 2024 World Vaccine Congress (WVC).
    • “We have therapeutic cancer vaccines coming in; I think we would review them very much like we could review potentially a CAR-T cell or other therapeutic products,” Marks said.”
  • Per an FDA press release,
    • “Today, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for CorDx, Inc.’s CorDx TyFast Flu A/B & COVID-19 At Home Multiplex Rapid Test, a single use test intended to detect and differentiate influenza A and B (commonly known as flu) and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), in individuals with signs and symptoms of respiratory infection consistent with COVID-19 within the first five days of symptom onset when tested at least twice over three days with at least 48 hours between tests. Validation data to support the EUA of this test was gathered through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Independent Test Assessment Program (ITAP), established as a collaboration between the FDA and the NIH. The test can be used for people aged 14 years or older with a self-collected nasal swab specimens and aged 2 years or older when an adult collects the nasal swab specimens.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “A group of public health experts and scientists is calling on the Food and Drug Administration to rescind its controversial approval of a DNA test that promises to predict genetic risk of opioid addiction.
    • “In a letter sent to the agency on Thursday, 31 experts in genetics, addiction, psychiatry and medical-device regulation called the approval of AvertD a mistake that relied on faulty science and puts patients at risk. The group sent a separate letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services urging the agency, which oversees government health insurance programs, to deny coverage for the prescription-only test.
    • “The Washington Post last month highlighted concerns about the test’sreliability and the unintended consequences of false results. The letters said a negative test could give patients a false sense of security, or lead doctors to “refrain from prescribing opioids to patients who test positive, even in situations where opioids are beneficial.”
  • MedTech Dive lets us know,
    • “Smiths Medical is recalling more than 2,900 emergency ventilators in the U.S. after receiving reports of a fault linked to eight serious injuries, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.
    • “The fault can cause patients to receive the wrong amount of ventilation or too little oxygen, as well as a complete or partial airway obstruction. The FDA categorized the event as a Class I recall because of the risk of serious injury or death.
    • “Smiths Medical, which has faced a series of regulatory actions in recent years, told customers to continue using the Pneupac Parapac Plus 300 and 310 Ventilator Kits but to take precautions.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control announced today,
    • “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, 6 jurisdictions experienced high activity compared to 10 jurisdictions experiencing high activity the previous week. No jurisdictions experienced very high activity. 
    • “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, the COVID-19 wastewater viral activity level, which reflects both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, remains low.
  • STAT News reports,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged medical practitioners on Friday to be on the lookout for people who might have contracted H5N1 bird flu from cows. The agency also urged state health departments to rapidly assess any suspected human cases, and recommended that dairy farms with confirmed or suspected outbreaks require workers to use personal protective equipment.
    • “The recommendations were outlined in a health alert network advisory, or HAN in CDC parlance. The advisory is in response to the outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in at least 16 dairy herds in six states across the country, which has led to at least one human infection so far.
    • “Health care providers should ask themselves “Could this be an H5N1 infection?” if they are faced with a patient with what CDC called a relevant exposure history — for instance, someone who works with dairy cows or lives with someone who works with dairy cows.”
  • Medscape notes,
    • “Cognitive assessments administered via a smartphone app are a reliable and valid way to detect frontotemporal dementia (FTD) in high-risk individuals, new research showed.
    • “Cognitive tests administered remotely on the phone “showed similar findings as our gold standard in-clinic cognitive tests and brain imaging,” study investigator Adam M. Staffaroni, PhD, with the Memory and Aging Center, University of California San Francisco, told Medscape Medical News.
    • “We also provided evidence that these assessments may be useful for detecting early symptoms of the disease at a level that is on par, or perhaps slightly better, than our gold standard in-person tests,” Staffaroni said.
    • “The study was published online on April 1 in JAMA Network Open.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • CNBC reports,
    • CVS Health on Thursday said its drug plans will cover the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the U.S. at no cost for many health plan sponsors, a decision that could open the door for more people to prevent unintended pregnancies without a prescription. 
    • “The company’s pharmacy benefit manager, CVS Caremark, said the pill will be added to its preventive services oral contraceptives list and will be covered at zero cost for many sponsors. The drug, known as Opill from Perrigo, was available at pharmacies starting April 1, according to a pharmacy update from CVS Caremark dated last week and viewed by CNBC.
    • “Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, maintain lists of drugs covered by health insurance plans and negotiate drug discounts with manufacturers. At most stores, Opill has a retail price of $19.99 for a one-month supply and $49.99 for a three-month supply.” 
    • FEHBlog note — Smart move, CVS Health.
  • The President of the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review comments,
    • “Yesterday Amylyx announced it would remove Relyvrio, a treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), from the market. The drug was originally approved in 2022 based on a small phase II trial, well ahead of the conclusion of its phase III trial. The results of that phase III trial were reported last month and unfortunately, the therapy failed to provide any benefit to patients. Historically, a failed trial following FDA approval has not resulted in an automatic revocation of FDA approval or withdrawal of the drug from the market, and post-marketing trial requirements are not consistently used to assess the regulatory status of all approved products. Despite this hole in regulation, Amylyx made the responsible decision to discontinue this drug, and is being rightly lauded for the choice. 
    • “Of course, everyone hopes that treatments approved early with limited evidence will prove effective. But when they don’t, this is how it is supposed to play out: patients get early access to a potentially promising treatment, and then when all the data come in and the benefits fall short, the manufacturer removes the drug from the market. What’s missing from this story though is price: since 2022, the health system paid a steep price for a drug with no proven benefit to patients. When ICER reviewed Relyvrio (prior to FDA approval), we recommended that the manufacturer consider setting the launch price, “close to the cost of production until the benefits of treatment can be adequately evaluated.” Amylyx priced the drug at $158,000 per year, far beyond ICER’s recommended price of $9,100 to $30,700 per year, a price range based on the benefits shown in the small phase II trial. The fact is, that when our health care system allows pricing of treatments far above any reasonable alignment with the benefits they have demonstrated for patients, we do real harm to unseen people in the health care system. Costs increase for everyone without making anyone healthier. And as costs increase, more people forgo care or drop their health insurance all together. 
    • “Even though the story played out as planned this time, the system can be improved to protect all patients and ensure affordability for everyone.”
  • BioPharma Dive relates,
    • “Johnson & Johnson has agreed to acquire Shockwave Medical for approximately $13.1 billion, the companies announced Friday morning. The deal values Shockwave at $335 per share.
    • “J&J said in a statement that Shockwave will expand its “cardiovascular portfolio into two of the highest-growth, innovation-oriented segments of cardiovascular intervention – coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease.”
    • “Both companies’ boards have approved the transaction, and J&J expects the deal to close in mid-2024.”
  • and
    • “Boehringer Ingelheim is laying off staff in response to sluggish adoption of its Humira biosimilar Cyltezo, a company spokesperson confirmed to BioPharma Dive. Stat first reported the news Thursday.
    • “The German company said it will trim its customer-facing teams in favor of a hybrid in-person and virtual sales model by June 30, but didn’t specify how many jobs are affected. Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, have kept Humira on their coverage lists, resulting in cheaper copycats like Cyltezo falling below their “anticipated potential,” the spokesperson said.
      • “Humira, a blockbuster immune disease drug sold by AbbVie, began facing biosimilar competition in the U.S. last year. Launched in July,Cyltezo is one of more than half a dozen Humira biosimilars now available, but holds an advantage due to its “interchangeable” designation, which allows pharmacists to substitute it for Humira.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Teladoc Health’s long-time chief executive officer Jason Gorevic is leaving the virtual care giant effective immediately, the company said Friday.
    • “Gorevic has been CEO since 2009 and oversaw a period of exponential growth for Teladoc during the COVID-19 telehealth boom. However, he’s departing after the telehealth company struggled to sustain that momentum as the pandemic waned. Teladoc’s stock has sunk significantly since early 2021, and recently hit an eight-year low.
    • “The leadership change is probably coming at the right time, as the company focuses on a longer-term profit growth strategy, Leerink Partners analysts Michael Cherny, Daniel Clark and Ahmed Muhammad wrote in a Friday note.”
  • and
    • “Telehealth company Amwell is in trouble with the New York Stock Exchange for its stock price trading below the minimum standard for listing.
    • “Amwell was a high-flying stock during COVID-19, as the value of telehealth companies soared due to demand for virtually provided medical care. The price of Amwell’s shares peaked at $42.80 in January 2021. However, for the past 30 days, Amwell’s shares have closed at less than $1, sparking a warning notice from the NYSE.
    • “NYSE rules give Amwell six months to regain compliance. In a Thursday release, Amwell said it plans to effect a reverse stock split — when existing shares are consolidated into fewer but more valuable shares, boosting a company’s stock price. Amwell’s board and shareholders will vote on the proposal at an annual meeting later this year.” 
  • In this regard, the FEHBlog heard a health system executive comment at the ABA’s Health Law Section’s Emerging Healthcare Law Issues conference —
    • While the amount of telehealth services has returned a little higher than pre-pandemic 2019 levels, telehealth vendors that hang on will be a lifesaver in the looming physician shortage crisis.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Per HHS press releases, HHS issued the following proposed rules released today (links are to fact sheets);
    • a proposed rule to update Medicare payment policies and rates for the Inpatient Psychiatric Facilities Prospective Payment System (IPF PPS) for fiscal year (FY) 2025,
  • and
    • a proposed rule (CMS-1810-P) that would update Medicare hospice payments and the aggregate cap amount for fiscal year (FY) 2025,
  • and
    • “a proposed rule that would update Medicare payment policies and rates for skilled nursing facilities under the Skilled Nursing Facility Prospective Payment System (SNF PPS) for fiscal year (FY) 2025.” 
  • Here is the fact sheet for the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor, and the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) final rules regarding short-term, limited-duration insurance (STLDI) and independent, noncoordinated excepted benefits coverage under the Affordable Care Act released today. 
  • Per the American Medical Association News,
    • The Office of Management and Budget March 28 released its final updated standards for Federal agencies on maintaining, collecting and presenting data on race and ethnicity. Last updated in 1997, the revised Statistical Policy Directive Number 15 is the product of an OMB Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards. While SPD 15 does not mandate race and ethnicity data collection by federal agencies, it requires federal agencies to adhere to standardized data definitions, collection and presentation practices wherever they do collect or use such data. Among other changes, the revised SPD 15 requires that race and ethnicity be collected using a single question with multiple responses, superseding OMB’s previous requirement to collect Hispanic ethnicity as a separate question. In addition, SPD 15 adds a category for Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) as a minimum reporting category and requires federal agencies to collect more detailed information on race and ethnicity beyond the seven minimum reporting categories. However, agencies may request and receive exemptions from OMB in instances where the potential benefit of more detailed data do not justify the additional burden to the agency or the public, or where the collection of more detailed data would threaten privacy or confidentiality. 
    • The updated SPD 15 is effective immediately. However, federal agencies have until March 28, 2029, to bring existing data collection and reporting activities into compliance with the updated SPD 15 and must submit action plans to OMB on how they will comply with the requirements by Sep. 28, 2025.
  • OPM made a passing reference to this guidance today on the second day 0f the OPM carrier conference.
  • The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued “Updated Annual Hiring Benchmark and New Benchmark Resources” for the veteran’s affirmative action in employment law that applies to FEHB carriers.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Mercer discusses weight management in the era of GLP-1 drugs.
  • The NIH Director, in her blog, points out that an “Immune Checkpoint Discovery Has Implications for Treating Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Diabetes, air pollution and alcohol consumption could be the biggest risk factors for dementia, study has found.
    • “Researchers compared modifiable risk factors for dementia — which is characterized by the impairment of memory, thinking and reasoning — and studied how these factors appear to affect certain brain regions that are already particularly vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.
    • “The research, based on brain scans of nearly 40,000 adults, between ages 44 and 82, in Britain was published Wednesday in Nature Communications.”
  • Health Day informs us,
    • “Some folks struggling with obesity appear to be hampered by their own genes when it comes to working off those extra pounds, a new study finds.
    • “People with a higher genetic risk of obesity have to exercise more to avoid becoming unhealthily heavy, researchers discovered.
    • “Genetic background contributes to the amount of physical activity needed to mitigate obesity. The higher the genetic risk, the more steps needed per day,” said senior researcher Douglas Ruderfer, director of the Center for Digital Genomic Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “For adults who are immunocompromised, the updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccine reduced risk of hospitalization compared with not getting the shot, according to CDC data.
    • “Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization was 38% in the first 7 to 59 days after receipt of the updated monovalent XBB.1.5 COVID vaccine, and 34% in the 60 to 119 days after receipt, reported Ruth Link-Gelles, PhD, of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and colleagues in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
    • “However, despite the positive effect, only 18% of people in this high-risk population had received the updated COVID vaccine, “representing a missed opportunity to prevent severe COVID-19,” the authors wrote.”
  • Medscape notes,
    • “Starting an exercise regimen with others can be a powerful fitness motivator, and new research spotlights the strategy’s particular importance for older adults.
    • “In a randomized clinical trial in JAMA Network Open, older adults who talked with peers about their exercise program were able to increase and sustain physical activity levels much better than those who focused on self-motivation and setting fitness goals.
    • “Such self-focused — or “intrapersonal” — strategies tend to be more common in health and fitness than interactive, or “interpersonal,” ones, the study authors noted. Yet, research on their effectiveness is limited. Historically, intrapersonal strategies have been studied as part of a bundle of behavioral change strategies — a common limitation in research — making it difficult to discern their individual value.
    • “We’re not saying that intrapersonal strategies should not be used,” said study author Siobhan McMahon, PhD, associate professor and codirector of the Center on Aging Science and Care at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, “but this study shows that interpersonal strategies are really important.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “The first major U.S. health insurers have agreed to start paying for the popular anti-obesity drug Wegovy for certain people on Medicare with heart-related conditions.
    • CVS HealthElevance Health, and Kaiser Permanente said they would cover 
    • Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy for the use of reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people who have cardiovascular disease, meet body-weight criteria and are covered by a Medicare drug-benefit plan.
    • “Elevance, which operates many Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans, also said it would extend coverage to people insured by a commercial plan.
    • “Some of the plans, including Kaiser Permanente’s, are making the coverage change effective immediately, while others, including those served by Elevance, will do so in the coming weeks.”
  • Axios informs us,
    • “The federal process for resolving billing disputes for out-of-network care has to date yielded payouts well above what Medicare and most in-network private insurers would pay providers, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis provided first to Axios. 
    • Why it matters: That could lead to downstream effects like higher premiums — quite the opposite of what Congress intended when it passed a law banning surprise medical bills in 2020.
    • What they found: Brookings analyzed Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data on arbitration decisions to settle disputed claims during the first half of 2023. 
    • “Researchers specifically focused on emergency care, imaging and neonatal and pediatric critical care.
    • “Across the three categories, median payouts were at least 3.7 times what Medicare would pay, Brookings found. 
    • “For emergency care and imaging, the median decision was at least 50% higher than the most generous payments commercial plans historically made, on average, for in-network care. 
    • “Similar estimates weren’t available for neonatal and pediatric critical care.
    • “The analysis concludes that there is a “realistic possibility” that the law will wind up raising in-network prices and, in turn, premiums.
    • “That’s the opposite of what the Congressional Budget Office predicted would happen.”
  • Interesting study but its conclusion is undercut by the fact that many providers accept the qualifying payment amount the the plans initially pay under the No Surprises Act.
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • Walgreens reported an almost $6 billion net loss in the second quarter, according to financial results released Thursday. Nearly all of that sum was attributable to the declining value of a single play: VillageMD, the primary care chain into which Walgreens has poured billions of dollars, but which has generated disappointing returns to date.
    • Walgreens was forced to write down VillageMD’s value after its financial team flagged a mismatch in the subsidiary’s value as recorded in its balance sheet and its value in the market, CFO Manmohan Mahajan told investors on a Thursday morning call. That discrepancy led Walgrens to record a $5.8 billion goodwill impairment charge.
  • and
    • “UCI Health has completed its $975 million purchase of four Southern California hospitals from Tenet Healthcare, the academic health system said Tuesday. Tenet announced the sale in February as part of an ongoing effort to fund debt repayment.”
  • and
    • “Ascension has signed a definitive agreement to divest three hospitals and an ambulatory surgical center in northern Michigan to MyMichigan Health, the health systems said Tuesday. 
    • “The deal includes Ascension St. Mary’s in Saginaw, Ascension St. Joseph in Tawas City, Ascension St. Mary’s in Standish and ambulatory surgery center and emergency department Ascension St. Mary’s Towne Center in Saginaw. Related care sites and physician practices are also included. 
    • “Ascension has recently sold other hospitals as the nonprofit expands its ambulatory and telehealth footprint.”

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.” 

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call reports,
    • “Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and his top lieutenants on Wednesday morning moved to quell reservations among their conference about the emerging $1.2 trillion-plus final spending package headed for a vote likely on Friday, while their Democratic counterparts did likewise in a separate meeting.
    • “Appropriators were scrambling under a tight timeline to finish drafting the measure, which is taking longer than expected due to a last-minute decision to write a full-year Homeland Security bill. But Johnson told reporters after a GOP conference meeting that text is expected as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
    • “Other sources expected the bill drop to slip to Thursday, with the standard “reading out” of the DHS title, to catch any errors before posting, not even expected to begin until later Wednesday. But no matter: Lawmakers said they expect the chamber to vote as soon as Friday, regardless of a 72-hour review rule. * * *
    • “Final passage wouldn’t come until this weekend at the earliest, and senators are working to accommodate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has never missed a vote but will be attending her mother’s funeral on Saturday. That could push votes off until Sunday or Monday, though few are worried at this point about the effects of such a brief funding lapse. 
    • “I don’t think we’ll do a [continuing resolution],” Johnson said.”
  • The American Hospital Association (AHA) News informs us,
    • “The House Energy and Commerce Committee March 20 unanimously passed AHA-supported legislation to reauthorize through 2029 the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (H.R. 7153), which provides grants to help health care organizations offer behavioral health services for front-line health care workers. The bill also would reauthorize a national campaign that provides hospital leaders with evidence-based solutions to support worker well-being. Without congressional action, the law will expire at the end of this year.”
  • and
    • “Congress should address any statutory constraints that prevent the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Department of Health and Human Services from adequately helping hospitals and other health care providers impacted by the Change Healthcare cyberattack, AHA said a letter submitted to the House Ways and Means Committee for a hearing March 20 with HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on fiscal year 2025 funding for HHS.”
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The top senator with direct oversight of the U.S. Postal Service is calling on its leadership to pause its overhaul of the agency’s mailing network due to potential impacts they are having on delivery, rejecting USPS assertions that is has provided transparency. 
    • “USPS should not continue its nationwide operational reforms until it can prove the changes will not negatively impact mail service, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a letter to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Agency leadership said in response to the letter it has offered volumes of documents and many staff-level briefings to Congress, though Peters said USPS ignored many of his requests for additional information on its efforts and left Congress uncertain about the fallout that could befall postal customers.”
  • On March 18, 2024, the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs received for final regulatory review an OPM proposed rule with additional requirements and clarifications for the Postal Service Health Benefits Program (RIN 3206-AO59).
  • The AHA News tells us,
    • “U.S. health care organizations should immediately transition away from using certain unauthorized plastic syringes made in China by Jiangsu Caina Medical Co. and Jiangsu Shenli Medical Production Co., and should only use other plastic syringes made in China until they can transition to alternatives, the Food and Drug Administration announced March 19, citing potential quality and performance issues. The recommendations do not apply to glass syringes, pre-filled syringes, or syringes used for oral or topical purposes, FDA said. The agency advises health care providers to confirm the manufacturing location by reviewing the labeling, outer packaging, or contacting the supplier or group purchasing organization.”
  • The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefit Security, Lisa M. Gomez, posted on her blog about “Health and Money Smarts for Women.”
  • Fierce Healthcare lets us know,
    • “The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is turning 50 this year and lawmakers are curious to hear about how the law could be updated to increase coverage affordability and care access.
    • “Payers and providers, it turns out, have very different ideas on where Congress should focus its efforts.
    • “In response to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s January request for information, lobbying groups representing both sides of the industry weighed in on the act that outlines federal guidelines for employee benefit plans, including employer-sponsored group health plans.”
    • The article delves into these comments.
  • Newfront offers insights about 2024 RxDC reporting considerations. The reports are due June 1, 2025.
  • The Congressional Budget Office released a presentation about “The Federal Perspective on Coverage of medications to treat obesity. Assuming Congress allows Medicare to cover anti-obesity medications (AOM),
  • “The future price trajectory of AOMs is highly uncertain.
    • “CBO expects semaglutide to be selected for price negotiation by the Secretary of Health and Human Services within the next few years, which would lower its price (and potentially the prices of other drugs in the AOM class).
    • “CBO expects generic competition for semaglutide and tirzepatide to start in earnest in the second decade of a policy allowing Medicare Part D to cover AOMs.
    • “New AOMs are expected to become available. The new drugs might be more effective, have fewer side effects, or be taken less frequently or more easily than current medications. Those improvements could translate to higher prices, on average, even if prices decline for drugs that exist today.”
  • See also the Beckers Hospital Review article below on the next generation of AMOs.
  • Healthcare Dive tells us,
    • “The Medicare Advisory Payment Commission, which advises Congress on Medicare policy, is recommending boosting hospital payment rates by 1.5% in 2025 and base physician payment rates by 1.3% above current law, according to its annual report released Friday. 
    • “MedPAC suggested tying the rate of physician payment increasesmoving forward to the Medicare Economic Index, an annual measure of practice cost inflation. MedPAC suggested payments increase “by the amount specified in current law plus 50% of the projected increase in the MEI.”
    • “Provider groups, including the Medical Group Management Association and American Medical Association, have said the proposed payment increases are inadequate.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “More than two-thirds of young children in Chicago could be exposed to lead-contaminated water, according to an estimate by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Stanford University School of Medicine.
    • “The research, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, estimated that 68 percent of children under the age of 6 in Chicago are exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water. Of that group, 19 percent primarily use unfiltered tap water, which was associated with a greater increase in blood lead levels.
    • “The extent of lead contamination of tap water in Chicago is disheartening — it’s not something we should be seeing in 2024,” lead author Benjamin Huynh, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a news release.”
  • The Wall Street Journal relates,
    • “Debi Lucas had a tremor in her arm. Her feet froze when she tried to walk and she fell into her coffee table, busting her lip. 
    • “She went to a neurologist who thought she had Parkinson’s disease. Doctors normally diagnose the neurodegenerative condition by symptoms. Lucas, 59, had them. 
    • “But the neurologist, Dr. Jason Crowell, couldn’t be sure. The symptoms might be related to a traumatic brain injury Lucas suffered in a car accident decades earlier, he thought. Or they might be from her medications. 
    • “To find an answer, Crowell turned to a new test: a skin biopsy that can detect an abnormal protein people with Parkinson’s have inside their nerves. He took samples of skin near her ankle, knee and shoulder and sent them to a lab. 
    • “The results confirmed that Lucas has Parkinson’s. The diagnosis was scary, but Lucas finally knew what was causing her symptoms. “I was glad to have a name on it,” she said. 
    • “The test sped her diagnosis, said Crowell, a movement-disorders neurologist at the Norton Neuroscience Institute in Louisville, Ky. “It just gives me more confidence,” he said. 
    • “The skin test is an important part of progress researchers are making against Parkinson’s, the second-most common age-related neurodegenerative condition, which is on the rise and a major driver of disability, dementia and death. The test Lucas received, made by CND Life Sciences, a medical technology company in Scottsdale, Ariz., is one of a few in use or development to allow doctors to diagnose Parkinson’s based on biology rather than symptoms that can take years to appear“.
  • Medscape explains “why a new lung cancer treatment is so promising.”
  • MedPage Today notes,
    • “The FDA has approved aprocitentan (Tryvio), making it the first endothelin receptor antagonist for the treatment of high blood pressure (BP), Idorsia Pharmaceuticals announced on Wednesday.
    • “The once-daily oral medication is indicated in combination with other antihypertensive drugs to lower BP in adult patients who do not have their BP controlled with other therapies.
    • “It is believed that some people may respond better to the drug’s novel mechanism, as aprocitentan is a dual endothelin receptor antagonist that works differently than conventional diuretics, renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system antagonists, calcium channel blockers, and beta-blockers used to lower BP.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review considers the three generations of weight loss drugs.
    • “Anita Courcoulas, MD, defines GLP-1s as “generation one;” dual GLP-1 and GIPs as the second; and a triple threat of GLP-1, GIP and GCGRs as the third generation of weight loss drugs. 
    • “Dr. Courcoulas is chief of Pittsburgh-based UPMC’s minimally invasive bariatric and general surgery program. She told Becker’s the next class of anti-obesity medications are finally reaching weight loss outcomes seen from gastric sleeve and bypass procedures, the two most common surgeries for trimming pounds. * * *
    • “Dr. Courcoulas said the biggest unknown is long-term durability of these medications, a concern other bariatric experts have raised. 
    • “She expects GLP-GIP-GCGR medications to gain approval and enter the U.S. market next year. 
    • “I think it’s very exciting to realize there are medications that are under investigation now that could come to market that could have even better weight loss results than the two drug [classes] we’re seeing now,” Dr. Courcoulas said.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can damage the heart even without directly infecting the heart tissue, a National Institutes of Health-supported study has found. The research, published in the journal Circulation, specifically looked at damage to the hearts of people with SARS-CoV2-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a serious lung condition that can be fatal. But researchers said the findings could have relevance to organs beyond the heart and also to viruses other than SARS-CoV-2.
    • “Scientists have long known that COVID-19 increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and Long COVID, and prior imaging research has shown that over 50% of people who get COVID-19 experience some inflammation or damage to the heart. What scientists did not know is whether the damage occurs because the virus infects the heart tissue itself, or because of systemic inflammation triggered by the body’s well-known immune response to the virus.
    • “This was a critical question and finding the answer opens up a whole new understanding of the link between this serious lung injury and the kind of inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular complications,” said Michelle Olive, Ph.D., associate director of the Basic and Early Translational Research Program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH. “The research also suggests that suppressing the inflammation through treatments might help minimize these complications.”
  • and
    • “An investigational gene therapy for a rare neurodegenerative disease that begins in early childhood, known as giant axonal neuropathy (GAN), was well tolerated and showed signs of therapeutic benefit in a clinical trial led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Currently, there is no treatment for GAN and the disease is usually fatal by 30 years of age. Fourteen children with GAN, ages 6 to 14 years, were treated with gene transfer therapy at the NIH Clinical Center and then followed for about six years to assess safety. Results of the early-stage clinical trial appear in the New England Journal of Medicine
    • “The gene therapy uses a modified virus to deliver functional copies of the defective GAN gene to nerve cells in the body. It is the first time a gene therapy has been administered directly into the spinal fluid, allowing it to target the motor and sensory neurons affected in GAN. At some dose levels, the treatment appeared to slow the rate of motor function decline. The findings also suggest regeneration of sensory nerves may be possible in some patients. The trial results are an early indication that the therapy may have favorable safety and tolerability and could help people with the rapidly progressive disease.
    • “One striking finding in the study was that the sensory nerves, which are affected earliest in GAN, started ‘waking up’ again in some of the patients,” said Carsten G. Bonnemann, M.D., senior author and chief of the Neuromuscular and Neurogenetic Disorders of Childhood Section at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH. “I think it marks the first time it has been shown that a sensory nerve affected in a genetic degenerative disease can actually be rescued with a gene therapy such as this.”
  • Lifesciences Intelligence reports,
    • “Recently, JAMA Network Open published a study analyzing the association between a healthy diet, sleep duration, and type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk. The study data revealed that habitual short sleep duration was linked to an increased probability of T2D by as much as 41%.
    • “Using data on 247,867 individuals from the UK biobank, researchers divided patients into groups based on their sleeping habits. The stratified groups included normal (7–8 hours per night), mildly short (6 hours per night), moderately short (5 hours per night), and extremely short (3–4 hours per night).
    • “Across all study participants, only 3.2% were diagnosed with T2D; however, the adjusted hazard ratios revealed that the prevalence of T2D was higher among shorter sleep groups. More specifically, the increased probability of T2D was identified in those who slept 5 hours or less per night. Those in the moderate short sleep group were 16% more likely to have a T2D diagnosis. Additionally, those in the extremely short sleep group had a 41% greater likelihood of being diagnosed with T2D.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • BioPharma Dive relates,
    • “Orchard Therapeutics said Wednesday it will offer a new gene therapy to children with a rare, devastating disease at a record-setting wholesale price of $4.25 million. 
    • “The therapy, Lenmeldy, won Food and Drug Administration approval on Monday to treat patients with early-onset metachromatic leukodystrophy, or MLD. The disease, which most often attacks infants between six months and two years of age, robs patients of the ability to walk, talk and function in the world, killing most of its earliest victims within five years of onset.
    • “Lenmeldy’s price tag will leapfrog those of the two most expensive gene therapies available in the U.S. Sarepta Therapeutics sells its Elevidys treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy for $3.2 million, while CSL and UniQure’s hemophilia treatment Hemgenix costs $3.5 million.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “Despite being a growing percentage of the physician workforce, women physicians continued to be paid less than their male colleagues, a strong body of evidence shows.
    • “While the gender pay gap decreased by 2% from 2021 to 2022 — from 28% to 26% — the gap was still significant, according to online networking service Doximity’s 2023 physician compensation reportopens in a new tab or window.
    • “Women doctors in 2022 earned nearly $110,000 less per year than men physicians, on average, after adjusting for specialty, location, and years of experience. Data from individual states have backed up this figure, too. For instance, in 2022, the Maryland State Medical Society conducted a survey and found that women doctors in Maryland are paid about $100,000 less annually than men.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review lists ten common issues in pharmacies.
  • United Healthcare updated its Change Healthcare cyberattack response website today.
  • HR Daily Advisor explains how companies are exploring the limitations of employee assistance plans amid the country’s mental health crisis.
  • Forbes reports,
    • “Medical diagnosis and procedure codes are so numerous and varied that Debbie Beall, manager of coding at Houston Methodist in Texas, needs a 49-person team to translate the medical notes written by the system’s 1,600 clinicians into the codes needed to bill insurers.
    • “There is a medical code for every imaginable scenario – from “burn due to water-skis on fire” to “spacecraft collision injuring occupant” — and their specificity determines how much the insurance companies pay. Each team member processes anywhere from 70 to 250 claims per day, depending on the complexity, she said. That’s why Beall is so excited about the possibility of using artificial intelligence to speed up the job.
    • “There’s no way I’m ever going to replace coders completely with an AI system,” Beall told Forbes. But for run-of-the-mill procedures performed multiple times a day in a hospital, like X-rays and EKGs? “Yes, an AI engine can do that.”
    • “Beall was one of the first dozen or so people to test a prototype of an AI-powered medical coding tool from electronic health records giant Epic Systems, which had $4.6 billion in revenue in 2022. Based on GPT-4, the large language model that powers the viral chatbot ChatGPT, Epic’s coding assistant prototype ingests and summarizes clinician notes and then tees up the “most likely” diagnosis codes and procedures codes, along with suggestions of “other potential codes,” according to mock ups viewed by Forbes that did not include real patient information. * * *
    • “While Epic has so far focused on using generative AI in back office functions, it has also been working on a patient-facing application that wouldn’t require human review. Krause told Forbes a tool that would help explain the patient’s bill, including their deductible and outstanding balance, could be rolled out by November. “We feel like that’s a fairly benign place to start. It’s not about healthcare at that point, but it’s really about their billing,” he said. “That’s not going to harm a patient in any way.”