Tuesday Tidbits

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Federal News Network called the FEHBlog’s attention to the fact that the OPM Inspector General has released his annual report on top management challenges that OPM faces, a number of which as always concern the FEHBP.

The IRS yesterday released a boatload of 2021 tax information —

  • Rev. Proc. 2020-45 provides inflation-adjusted items for 2021. Of note the Society for Human Resource Management points out that

For 2021, the dollar limit for employee contributions to health flexible spending accounts (health FSAs), made pretax through salary reductions, remains unchanged at $2,750, the IRS announced on Oct. 27 when it issued Revenue Procedure 2020-45.

The limit also applies to limited-purpose FSAs that are restricted to dental and vision care services, which can be used in tandem with health savings accounts (HSAs).

For health FSA plans that permit the carryover of unused amounts, the maximum carryover amount for 2021 is $550, an increase of $50 from the original 2020 carryover limit.

  • IRS Notice 2020-79 provides inflation-adjustments “affecting dollar limitations for 401(k), pension plans and other retirement-related items for tax year 2021. The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan remains unchanged at $19,500.”

Medscape reports that

Eli Lilly announced it will halt its ACTIV-3 trial evaluating the antibody bamlanivimab in combination with remdesivir for people hospitalized with COVID-19, after new evidence regarding efficacy emerged. The new data from the National Institutes of Health suggest that the experimental neutralizing antibody therapy does not offer significant clinical benefit for people with more advanced COVID-19 illness, according to a company statement. Eli Lilly also announced it plans to continue its other trials evaluating the antibody, including those assessing a potential role in treating people in the earlier stages of COVID-19.

A friend of the FEHBlog called his attention to this interesting NCQA publication on social determinants of health. Check it out.

Health Affairs provides a useful perspective on low value care in the age of COVID-19. In short,

There is the chance to use surveys or qualitative methods to compare the diverse harms experienced by patients who did and did not receive a low-value service because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be important to examine harms both across and within potentially high-risk or vulnerable subpopulations, as the distribution of harms may differ by demographics, social determinants, and presence of comorbid illnesses.

And to close the loop, the Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to be an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court last evening, and Justice Barrett was sworn in soon thereafter. The Senate has joined the House of Representatives on the campaign trail.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

Healthcare Dive reports that Utah-based “Intermountain Healthcare and South Dakota-based Sanford Health announced Monday that the two had signed a letter of intent to merge. Together the two will operate 70 hospitals — many of which will be located in rural communities across the country — and 435 clinics and insure 1.1 million people.” Intermountain participates in the FEHB under the name of its affiliate SelectHealth.

The Labor Department’s Employee Benefit Security Administration (“EBSA”) released its 2020 edition of its federal mental health and substance use disorder parity self compliance tool for health plans. The first edition was released in April 2018. What’s more on Thursday October 29 at 2 pm ET EBSA will hold a free compliance assistance webcast on this complicated law.

Here’s a link to OPM’s third quarter 2020 report on the development of its Master Enrollment Index for the FEHBP.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted information today about the ACA federal marketplace open enrollment period which begins on Saturday November 1 and ends on December 15, 2020.

Over the weekend, the FEHBlog read in the Wall Street Journal’s Numbers column about COVID-19 mortality predictions. The author explains that

Now, as many as 50 different research groups make predictions, but one of the most accurate assembles all of the individual models, calculates the median value and looks no more than four weeks into the future.

The ensemble forecast was founded by the Reich Lab at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is based in part on models previously developed to forecast influenza and other infectious diseases.

In the next four weeks, it predicts the total number of deaths attributed to the new coronavirus will surpass 240,000—adding roughly 17,000 deaths to the current tally.

Such projections help policy makers and health-care officials decide how to manage resources and implement or relax interventions intended to curb the spread of the disease.

On the brighter side —

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that

A Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca AZN 2.06% PLC showed a promising immune response and low levels of adverse reactions in the elderly and older adults, according to an interim analysis that the drugmaker said was encouraging.

The vaccine, now in late-stage human trials aimed at showing its efficacy and safety, is a front-runner in the global sprint for a shot to protect lives and jump-start economies hobbled by the pandemic. Trials in the U.K. could produce results before year-end, fueling hopes among scientists and government leaders that a vaccine might be available for high-risk groups here by early 2021.

  • Fierce Healthcare informs us that “CVS views its pharmacists as playing a key role in assuaging fears, CEO Larry Merlo said Friday. Merlo, speaking at an event hosted by The Washington Post, said that pharmacists “are among the most trusted professionals” in the industry and as such will be able to educate patients about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”
  • Fierce Healthcare also recognizes “ten women who have risen to the challenges posed by COVID, as well as played a role in positioning their respective companies to be where they are today.” For example, Anthem Blue Cross’ Liz Kwo M.D. is scaling digital products to improve outcomes. Bravo to all of the winners.

Weekend update

Lincoln Memorial in the Fall

The House of Representatives is on the campaign trail. The Senate will join them tomorrow after a confirmation vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Her nomination narrowly cleared a cloture vote at the Senate today. If you want to understand why the Supreme Court will not strike down the Affordable Care Act this term even with Judge Barrett on its illustrious bench, click here.

There is only one Congressional hearing this week — a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday morning, October 28, about the federal internet liability shield. The witnesses will be the CEOs from Twitter, Alphabet/Google, and Facebook, large companies that currently benefit from this shield. Congress returns to its legislative business on November 16 following the Presidential and Congressional election on November 3.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services shared news on how States and the District of Columbia will use the rapid COVID-19 BinaxNOW tests that the federal government purchased on their behalves. “HHS also provided all CLIA-certified nursing homes over 11 million rapid, point-of-care tests. The tests include the following FDA-authorized antigen diagnostic tests: Abbott BinaxNOW and either a Quidel Sofia 2 or Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) Veritor™ Plus System instrument(s).”

The Washington Post’s Lily website offers an interview with a 14 year young lady, Anika Chebrolu, who was awarded a $25,000 prize “for her discovery: a compound that can bind to the coronavirus [COVID-19-, inhibiting its ability to infect people. She beat out nine other finalists — whose own projects ranged from a robotic glove to a device that detects invisible particles in water — to be named America’s top young scientist.” Ms. Chebrolu modestly explains that “my effort to find a spike protein binder isn’t unique in its methodology, and it may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but it adds to all these efforts and therefore is quite substantial.” Congratulations.

It’s also worth pointing out this Healthcare Dive article informing us that

Medical device funding hit a new high in the third quarter, growing 63% year on year to top $5 billion for the first time in CB Insights’ dataset. Investments in robotic surgery startups was a major driver of the increase. The analysts listed the progress of neuromodulation devices and Medtronic’s deals in diabetes and neurosurgery as other medical device highlights of the quarter.

The Mayo Clinic explains that “Robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, allows doctors to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Robotic surgery is usually associated with minimally invasive surgery — procedures performed through tiny incisions.”

The International Modulation Society further explains that

Neuromodulation is technology that acts directly upon nerves. It is the alteration—or modulation—of nerve activity by delivering electrical or pharmaceutical agents directly to a target area.

Neuromodulation devices and treatments are life changing. They affect every area of the body and treat nearly every disease or symptom from headaches to tremors to spinal cord damage to urinary incontinence. With such a broad therapeutic scope, and significant ongoing improvements in biotechnology, it is not surprising that neuromodulation is poised as a major growth industry for the next decade.

Most frequently, people think of neuromodulation in the context of chronic pain relief, the most common indication. However, there are a plethora of neuromodulation applications, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment for Parkinson’s disease, sacral nerve stimulation for pelvic disorders and incontinence, and spinal cord stimulation for ischemic disorders (angina, peripheral vascular disease).

Cochlear implants to treat deafness, for example, are intermodulation devices.

The FEHBlog noticed on Twitter today that the HHS Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research has made available in the Apple Store and Google Play an app to help patients to develop questions for the doctor visits.

On the healthcare survey and report front

The top 12 reasons for using telehealth, according to the 2020 survey, are listed below, with the 2019 ranking and percentages in parentheses:

  1. Convenience, 51 percent (1, 64 percent)
  2. Safety, 46 percent (12, 13 percent)
  3. Speed – ability to receive care quickly, 44 percent (2, 53 percent)
  4. Quality care, 30 percent (6, 25 percent)
  5. Condition covered by telehealth visit, 28 percent (7, 22 percent)
  6. Ease of access to health information, 27 percent (3, 34 percent)
  7. Convenient communication channels, 26 percent (4, 33 percent)
  8. Lower overall cost, 23 percent (5, 30 percent)
  9. Difficult to travel to medical office, 21 percent (7, 20 percent)
  10. Recommendation, 19 percent (7, 20 percent)
  11. Reputation, 19 percent (11, 14 percent)
  12. Past experience, 17 percent (9, 19 percent).
  • Health Payer Intelligence reports that

Around a third of Millennials [ages 24 – 39] have a behavioral health condition, emphasizing a greater need for behavioral healthcare options and coverage as well as a new approach to millennial member engagement, the latest Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) report revealed. * * * Not only do Millennials have a high percentage of behavioral health conditions but their rate of developing a behaioral health condition is rising by double digits. Over five years from 2014 through 2018, the prevalence of major depression rose by 43 percent, ADHD rose by 39 percentage percent, and psychotic disorders rose by 26 percent among Millennials.”

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Cases in the U.S. website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 20th through 42nd weeks of this year (beginning May 14 and ending October 21; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

and here is the CDC’s latest overall weekly hospitalization rate chart for COVID-19:

The FEHBlog has noted that the new cases and deaths chart shows a flat line for new weekly deaths  because new cases greatly exceed new deaths. Accordingly here is a chart of new COVID-19 deaths over the same period (May 14 through October 21):

The Wall Street Journal explains that

Epidemiologists and public-health researchers have said a number of factors, from pandemic fatigue to the return of college students to campuses and more social gatherings, are contributing to the latest rise in cases [as reflected in the top chart]. The recent increases are affecting broader swaths of the U.S. than the spring and summer surges, when outbreaks were heavily concentrated in a handful of states. “Outbreaks spread just like a fire,” said Emily Landon, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Chicago Medicine. “The more people are sick, the more people will be sick the next day.”

In the it could be worse department, the CDC also reports that “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The Senate Judiciary Committee sent Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor today. The Senate will confirm the nomination on Monday and Judge Barrett will be sworn in soon thereafter. Consequently, Judge Barrett will be sitting on Supreme Court bench when the Court hears the Affordable Care Act constitutionality case on November 10. The FEHBlog predicts a 9-0 decision in favor of the law’s constitutionality with the exception of the zeroed out individual mandate.

On the COVID-19 front, Medscape reports as follows:

  • The Food and Drug Administration gave marketing approval to Gilead Science’s “remdesivir (Veklury) today as a treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients age 12 and up, making it the first and only approved treatment for the disease.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control updated its COVID-19 social distancing guidance: “Previously, the CDC cautioned against spending 15 minutes or longer in close proximity to an infected person, particularly in enclosed indoor spaces. In a new report published online October 21 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, however, investigators ‘determined that an individual who had a series of shorter contacts that over time added up to more than 15 minutes became infected.'”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that “People will likely need to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines through the end of 2021 and into 2022.”

Healthcare Dive informs us about four healthcare story lines that COVID-19 has overshadowed this year — — 1. Price transparency going strong; 2. Companies rush to go public; 3. Surprise billing efforts slow to a crawl, and 4. preference for healthcare at home. The FEHBlog is pleased to reflect that he has been discussing these matters and COVID-19 this year.

Govexec reports on the eight most important birthdays for federal employees from a federal employee retirement standpoint — the birthdays range from ages 50 to 72

The Society for Human Management provides a comprehensive update on employer and health plan sponsored wellness programs which is worth a gander.

Beckers Hospital Review alerts us that “Healthgrades named the recipients of its 2021 Specialty Excellence Awards Oct. 20, which include the top hospitals for critical care.” The article lists the 214 award winners by state.

Saturday October 24 is National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. “Check DEA’s official Take Back Day website for more information and to find year-round collection sites near you.”

Finally in a man bites dog story, the Wall Street Journal headlines tonight on its website that “Walmart sued the federal government in an attempt to strike a pre-emptive blow against what it said is an impending opioid-related civil lawsuit from the Justice Department.” Best defense, etc. The article notes that “Quicken Loans Inc. tried a similar tactic against the federal government in 2015 to avoid being pegged with mortgage fraud, but the Justice Department sued weeks later in a case Quicken settled last year.” The FEHBlog expects the same outcome with this lawsuit.

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

The Hill brings us up to date on the status of bipartisan negotiations over a COVID-19 relief bill. At least the negotiated bill may be teed up for the lame duck session of Congress next month.

On Monday, Healthcare Dive reported the CVS Health is hiring 10,000 pharmacy technicians to administer vaccinations and today, and today

the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), issued guidance under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) authorizing qualified pharmacy technicians and State-authorized pharmacy interns to administer childhood vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines when made available, and COVID-19 tests, all subject to several requirements. This guidance clarifies that the pharmacy intern must be authorized by the State or board of pharmacy in the State in which the practical pharmacy internship occurs, but this authorization need not take the form of a license from, or registration with, the State board of pharmacy.

Smart move, CVS.

On Monday, NCQA released the results of its Spring 2020 telehealth questionnaire. Check it out.

On the opioid front, the Wall Street Journal reports today that

Purdue Pharma LP agreed to plead guilty to three felonies related to its marketing and distribution of powerful painkiller OxyContin, as part of an $8.34 billion settlement that caps yearslong federal investigations into tactics the government said helped fuel the opioid crisis.

The Justice Department unveiled the settlement Wednesday, alongside a deal with Purdue’s owners, members of the Sackler family. The price tag for Purdue, however, is largely symbolic: The bankrupt company’s assets fall well short of $8 billion. It will pay the federal government $225 million, and much of the rest of the fines will be waived to allow more money to flow to states, counties and tribes that accuse Purdue of sparking widespread opioid addiction and deaths.

The Sacklers, meanwhile, resolved civil charges for a separate $225 million, but prosecutors made clear criminal investigations into the family continue.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The Hill reports “progress but not breakthroughs” as yet in the negotiation to achieve bipartisan agreement on a pre-election COVID-19 relief bill. The Speaker has agreed to continue negotiations past the 48 hour deadline that she set over the week. So both sides have set and withdrawn deadlines. That may be the clearest sign that progress is being made.

Federal News Network takes a deeper dive into last week’s FEHBP Open Season announcement from OPM. To recap “non-postal FEHBP participants will pay in 2021.

  • Self-only coverage: $4.67 more per biweekly pay period,
  • Self-plus-one coverage: $10.90 more per biweekly pay period,
  • Family coverage: $10.94 more per biweekly pay period.

It is interesting that the two other than self only options increased at the same level. This illustrates the small family size in the FEHBP. Furthermore,

[OPM Acting Director for Healthcare and Insurance Laurie] Bodenheimer described the premium rates OPM announced Wednesday as a “snapshot in time.” “These numbers are based on premiums for next year, along with what plans people are enrolled in right now,” she said. “It’s well known that during the open season people do choose different plans and coverage based on benefits or premiums or whatever is important to them. The end result is often that the overall premium increase is less than what we’re announcing today.”

That, my friend, is the benefit of FEHBP competition. The FEHBP/FEDVIP/FSAFeds Open Season runs from November 9 through December 14.

The open season for the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace begins on November 1. HHS released yesterday

a report showing the trend of lower premiums and increased issuer participation for HealthCare.gov will continue for 2021 year. The average premium for the second lowest cost silver plan (also called the benchmark plan) dropped by 2% for the 2021 coverage year and, when looking at states that are using HealthCare.gov in both 2020 and 2021, 22 more issuers will offer coverage in 2021, for a total of 181 issuers delivering more choice and competition for consumers.

The FEHBlog is happy to see that marketplace continues to mature and improve without the individual mandate.

On the COVID 19 front —

  • Healthcare Dive reports “About 20% of hospital executives surveyed by Kaufman Hall recently said they were ‘extremely concerned’ about their financial viability until an effective vaccine or treatment is available.”
  • A friend of the FEHBlog pointed out this helpful New York Times COVID-19 vaccination tracker.
  • NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins reports in his Director’s Blog that “findings [from two new studies] show that people who survive a COVID-19 infection continue to produce protective antibodies against key parts of the virus for at least three to four months after developing their first symptoms. In contrast, some other antibody types decline more quickly. The findings offer hope that people infected with the virus will have some lasting antibody protection against re-infection, though for how long still remains to be determined.”
  • NPR informs us that “Two new peer-reviewed studies are showing a sharp drop in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drop is seen in all groups, including older patients and those with underlying conditions, suggesting that physicians are getting better at helping patients survive their illness.” That has been the FEHBlog’s operating assumption. The principal researcher remarks that “”I do think this is good news, “but it does not make the coronavirus a benign illness.” No doubt about that.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

The Wall Street Journal reports that Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin continue to negotiate over another COVID-19 relief bill. “On Monday afternoon’s call with Democrats, Mrs. Pelosi said the two sides were still discussing how much money to provide state and local governments, child-care facilities and how to structure a national plan for testing and contact tracing of the virus.” The negotiations need to conclude soon if Congress is to have time to consider and pass the compromise bill before the national election which is two weeks from tomorrow.

Healthcare Dive offers a helpful overview of last week’s HLTH conference. Of note:

A slew of government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS and Operation Warp Speed, are working together to generate a vaccine distribution plan in tandem with private sector partners.

Plans for distribution are ongoing but shift as the frontrunners in the vaccine race do, experts say. Different vaccines require different processes. For example, there may be additional costs to store a coronavirus vaccine at cold temperatures, or because some of the candidates require two doses.

“All those things we’re working through to try and understand,” Alan Lotvin, president of CVS’ pharmacy benefit management arm Caremark, said Monday. “It’s going to be different for every vaccine.”

Walgreens, for example, is in regular conversations with five manufacturers in the last stages of clinical tests, the federal government and other retail partners to coordinate a distribution strategy, Gourlay said.

And CMS plans to release a rule before the end of the month for how Medicare will cover an eventual COVID-19 vaccine without cost-sharing, Verma said.

The Healthcare Dive article also discusses back to work technology presented at HLTH. In that regard, HR Daily advisor offers advice on how employers and managers can offer mental health guidance to their remote employees. For example,

Knowing that isolation is a big challenge, companies should look for ways to help their staff feel connected. “Working at home can prove challenging under the best of circumstances,” says Jeanne Hurlbert, PhD, President of Hurlbert Consulting. “Forming virtual work teams can help combat those challenges.”

“Teams can connect by phone or, ideally, through video conferencing, once or twice a day—and this can help to increase productivity. That allows them to provide instrumental support to each other,” Hurlbert adds. “And if your employees remain in the workplace, the same principles hold. The bonus? Our research shows that workers with more coworker connections enjoy higher job satisfaction.”

A friend of the FEHBlog shared this National Institutes of Health press release about “a groundbreaking study that will aim to address gaps in reaching communities most heavily affected by the opioid epidemic with proven, evidence-based interventions for opioid use disorder (OUD),” which as we have seen remains a national public health emergency.”

An estimated 1.6 million people had OUD in 2019; of these, only 18.1% received medication treatment for opioid misuse. To address this gap, in May 2019, the NIH announced plans to invest more than $350 million to support the multi-year HEALing Communities Study, a multi-site research study that will test the impact of an integrated set of evidence-based practices on reducing opioid-related overdose deaths by 40% in three years in communities hard-hit by the opioid crisis.

Study research sites include the University of Kentucky, Lexington; Boston Medical Center; Columbia University, New York City; and Ohio State University, Columbus. The study will track communities as they work to increase the number of individuals receiving medication-based treatment for OUD, increase treatment retention beyond six months, provide recovery support services, expand the distribution of naloxone, a medication to reverse opioid overdose, and reduce high-risk opioid prescribing.


Weekend update

Note: The third time is charm. The correct version of OPM’s 2021 Non-Postal Nationwide / FFS Plan Premium chart is now linked to Friday’s note. Thanks readers.

To compensate for this inconvenience, the FEHBlog has attached his treasured actual maximum FEHB government contribution chart 2016-2021. If a plan’s premium is below the maximum government contribution, prescribed by 5 USC Sec. 8906, then plan annual premium increase is covered by the government contribution increase. If, however, the plan’s premium is above the maximum government contribution, the “shield” typically vanishes. As a result, the “above the max” plan’s annual premium changes are quite visible to the member. The maximum government contribution helps tamp down premium increases in this competitive program. The purpose of the chart is to illustrate the fact that the CPI-U is a useful proxy for maximum government contribution changes.

Onto the Weekend Update

The Senate is open for voting and committee work this week. On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. The House remains on the campaign trail although, according to the Hill, the Speaker has warned the Administration that she will stop negotiating a pre-election COVID-19 relief bill unless a compromise is reached early this week. Turnabout is fair play.

On the COVID-19 vaccine front —

Alex Gorsky, chief executive of Johnson & Johnson, remains upbeat about the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine arriving as early as this year, despite the health care giant suspending a late-stage clinical trial for one of its own candidates after a patient fell ill this week. “If you just look at the sheer number of compounds that are in development right now, there is a very good probability that late this year or early next year, we will have options for vaccines.”

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Friday that “agreements with CVS and Walgreens to provide and administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents of long-term care facilities (LTCF) nationwide with no out-of-pocket costs.” “The pandemic has inflicted a devastating toll on America’s nursing home residents,” said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. “That’s why the Trump Administration has taken unprecedented action to protect them in every possible way. This effort will ensure they are at the front of the line for the COVID vaccine and will bring their grueling trial to a close as swiftly as possible.”

On Saturday, according to CNN, the President signed into law a Congressionally approved bill that converts the national suicide hotlines ten digit number 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) to a three digit number 988. The Federal Communications Commission has ordered voice service providers to make the new three digit number available to subscribers by July 16, 2022.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the result of a Medicare beneficiary survey on the impact of COVID-19. It’s a survey of interest to FEHB plans because there is a large cadre of Medicare prime annuitants enrolled in their plans.

21% of Medicare beneficiaries report forgoing non-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) care due to the pandemic, and nearly all – 98% – of beneficiaries have taken preventative measures to keep themselves safe from the virus.

According to the survey, the most common type of forgone care because of the pandemic was dental care (43%), followed by regular check-up (36%), treatment for ongoing condition (36%), and diagnostic or medical screening test (32%). The most common reason cited for forgoing care was not wanting to risk being at a medical facility (45%).

“An infographic with a snapshot of the survey results is here.  A link to the public use file detailing the survey results is here.”

On the other side of the aging spectrum the Wall Street Journal reports on millennials agreeing to marry in part so that one partner can access the other partner’s employer sponsored health insurance. This has been happening for a long time. What’s interesting to the FEHBlog is that employer sponsored plans, not ACA marketplace plans , are viewed as the life raft.

Friday Stats and More

Note to readers — The FEHBlog learned this morning that the 2021 Nationwide / FFS Plan Premium chart did not open properly. The FEHBlog apologizes. Here is the proper link to that report. Now onto Friday Stats and More —

Based on the CDC’s Cases in the U.S. website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 20th through 41st weeks of this year (beginning May 14 and ending October 15 / five months; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

As you can see there has been uptick in cases over the last month or so.

Here is the CDC’s latest overall weekly hospitalization rate chart for COVID-19:

The hospitalization rate has been fairly steady for the past two months.

Because the new deaths line in the chart above is flat because new cases greatly exceed new deaths, here is a chart of new COVID-19 deaths over the same period (May 14 through October 14 (five months).

COVID-19 weekly deaths also have plateaued around 4,000 over the past month. The CDC advises in this week’s COVID-19 surveillance report that

Nationally, weekly COVID-19-associated hospitalization rates reported through COVID-NET have remained steady for all age groups in recent weeks; however, rates have increased in 7 of 14 COVID-NET sites during this time period. Based on death certificate data, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza, or COVID-19 (PIC) for week 41 was 7.2% and, while declining, remains above the epidemic threshold. Hospitalization and mortality data for the most recent weeks may change as additional data are reported.

Meanwhile the CDC’s last flu surveillance report states simply that “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Pfizer “Chief Executive Albert Bourla said Friday the company could start to see from a large study whether the [COVID-19] vaccine works by the end of this month and would have data on its safety by the third week of November. If the preliminary results indicate the vaccine can work safely, Pfizer could ask U.S. health regulators to permit use by late November, Mr. Bourla said.” That’s encouraging.

Govexec informs us that “The Trump administration has put together a set of recommendations that agencies throughout government can use when bringing employees back to their offices, contracting with a private sector firm to compile the suggestions.”

Following up on yesterday’s report on the plans that are displaying their 2021 benefit and premium changes on their websites — you can add GEHA to that growing list. Blue Cross FEP also added to its website an explanation of how it plans to conduct a virtual Open Season in 2020.