Tuesday’s Tidbits

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Fierce Healthcare tells us
    • “A bipartisan quartet of House representatives have introduced a bill peeling back restrictions on new or expanded physician-owned hospitals.
    • “The Physician Led and Rural Access to Quality Care Act, brought late last week, would create an exception to an Affordable Care Act’s ban that aimed to reduce conflicts of interest in care. Specifically, it would permit new physician-owned hospitals to open in rural areas that are at least 35 miles from another existing hospital or critical access hospital (or 15 miles in difficult-to-traverse areas).
    • “The new bill would also sunset a prohibition on expanding any existing physician-owned hospitals.”
    • FEHBlog note: The bill pits the American Medical Association (pro) against the American Medical Association (con).
  • Per a Department of Health and Human Services press release,
    • “Today, CMS is releasing the final part two guidance – PDF regarding plan outreach and education for the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan, which aims to ensure that people with Medicare prescription drug coverage, especially those most likely to benefit, are aware of the payment option. Starting in 2025, the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan provides the option to people with Medicare prescription drug coverage to spread the costs of their prescription drugs over the calendar year rather than paying in full at the pharmacy counter each time they fill a prescription. People with Medicare must opt into the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan to utilize the new benefit. Notably, this payment option launches at the same time that all individuals with Medicare prescription drug coverage will begin to have their annual out-of-pocket prescription drug costs capped at $2,000, providing needed financial relief for high prescription drug costs.” * * *
    • “Today’s Medicare Prescription Payment Plan final part two guidance, which complements the final part one guidance – PDF released on February 29, is also accompanied by the release of the final Medicare Prescription Payment Plan model materials. Medicare Part D plans can use the model materials when communicating to Part D enrollees about the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan.” * * *
    • “For the fact sheet on the final part two guidance for the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/fact-sheet-medicare-prescription-payment-plan-final-part-two-guidance.pdf – PDF
    • “For the updated Information Collection Request (ICR) for the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan model plan materials, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/files/zip/medicare-prescription-payment-plan-model-materials.zip
    • “For an updated implementation timeline for the Medicare Prescription Payment Plan, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/medicare-prescription-payment-plan-timeline.pdf – PDF
  • Another HHS press release brings us up to date on improvements to the 988 mental health lifeline which was launched two years ago today.
  • Healio adds,
    • “Since the launch of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in 2022, counselors have answered more than 10 million calls, texts and chats from people seeking help for suicidal thoughts and mental health crises, according to HHS officials.
    • “During a press conference, HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm said the lifeline “has become one of the most effective first-line responses that we have to help individuals who feel alone and without options.” * * *
    • “HHS has invested nearly $1.5 billion into the lifeline, according to an agency press release. It has lines that are tailored to people who speak Spanish, veterans, American Sign Language (ASL) users and the LGBTQI+ community. Since these lines were added to the 988 lifeline in 2023, there have been about 20,000 chats and texts with Spanish speakers, more than 475,000 texts, calls and chats with LGBTQI+ individuals and approximately 20,000 videophone contacts with ASL users.
    • “Among all contacts over the past 2 years, about 1.7 million were texts, according to the release. In the past year, HHS reported a 51% increase in texts and a 34% increase in calls, with support provided by more than 200 contact centers nationwide.”
  • CMS shares the following statement from CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure:
    • “Remembering Gail R. Wilensky, Ph.D., a health care policy savant who knew how to work across the aisle. Her Influence and leadership can still be felt today. She was very generous to the CMS leaders who served after her, including me. My deepest condolences to her loved ones. CMS is grateful for her service to our country.”
    • FEHBlog note — Dr. Wilensky, who passed away on July 11 at age 81, served as CMS (then HCFA) Administrator for President George H. W. Bush.
  • Per the AHA News,
    • “The AHA July 16 urged the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation not to implement its newly proposed Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model as currently constructed, expressing concerns about many of its design features. The proposed mandatory payment model would test whether performance-based incentive payments paid to or owed by participating kidney transplant hospitals would increase access to kidney transplants while preserving or enhancing the quality of care and reducing Medicare expenditures. AHA said that IOTA features could exacerbate inequities and negatively impact quality of care. Specifically, AHA said the IOTA model would add unnecessary disruption and uncertainty to the transplant ecosystem, potentially incentivize sub-par matches given the heavy emphasis on volume and would be discordant with other regulatory requirements.” 

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Per a press release, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review published its Final Evidence Report on Treatment for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease 
    • Independent appraisal committee voted that current evidence is adequate to demonstrate superior net health benefits for ensifentrine added to maintenance therapy compared to maintenance therapy alone; ICER calculated a health-benefit price benchmark (HBPB) for ensifentrine between $7,500 to $12,700 per year, and the therapy is priced at $35,400 per year.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “In a new analysis of data, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that taking a daily supplement containing antioxidant vitamins and minerals slows progression of late-stage dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), potentially helping people with late-stage disease preserve their central vision. Researchers reviewed the original retinal scans of participants in the Age-Related Eye Diseases Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) and found that, for people with late-stage dry AMD, taking the antioxidant supplement slowed expansion of geographic atrophy regions towards the central foveal region of the retina. The study was published in the journal Ophthalmology.
    • “We’ve known for a long time that AREDS2 supplements help slow the progression from intermediate to late AMD. Our analysis shows that taking AREDS2 supplements can also slow disease progression in people with late dry AMD,” said Tiarnan Keenan, M.D., Ph.D., of NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI) and lead author of the study. “These findings support the continued use of AREDS2 supplements by people with late dry AMD.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review shares ophthalmologist organization opinions on eye conditions and Ozempic use.
    • A week after a study connected Ozempic and Wegovy to an eye condition that can cause partial blindness, two ophthalmology organizations said they have “been aware of other vision changes for some time.”
    • Changing sugar levels can affect the shape of the eye’s lens, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society. Because of this, semaglutide, the active ingredient of Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic and weight loss medication Wegovy, might lead to blurry vision. 
    • The ophthalmology groups said previous studies have also found that semaglutide can exacerbate diabetic retinopathy and macular complications. 
    • “The medical community has been aware of other vision changes with semaglutide for some time,” the organizations said in a July 8 joint statement. However, the research associating the drug to non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy [NAION] is the first of its kind. 
    • “The condition restricts blood flow to the optic nerve, which causes sudden, painless loss of vision in one eye, the statement said. The research did not confirm a causal relationship between the medications and NAION, but it identified a potential link.: * * *
    • “The subjects in this study were either overweight or obese or had Type 2 diabetes. People who have diabetes are already at risk of NAION,” the organizations said. “Other risk factors for NAION include heart disease, history of heart attack, high blood pressure and sleep apnea” — health risks that also are tied to diabetes and obesity. 
    • “In response to the study, Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy, said it takes adverse event reports seriously. 
    • “The ophthalmology groups said they recommend patients continue taking the medications unless they experience a sudden vision loss.”  
  • The AHA News points out,
    • “Antimicrobial-resistant infections remained above pre-pandemic levels in 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported July 16. CDC data show that infections, which increased 20% during the pandemic compared to the pre-pandemic period — peaked in 2021.
    • “The increases in antimicrobial resistance (AR) burden seen in 2020 and 2021 are likely due in part to the impact of COVID-19, which pushed healthcare facilities, health departments and communities near their breaking points,” the agency notes. “This resulted in longer hospital stays for hospitalized patients (including those diagnosed with COVID-19), challenged the implementation of infection prevention and control practices and increased inappropriate antibiotic use.” 
    • “The AHA provides resources which promote the appropriate use of medical resources.”
  • Medscape summarized the June meeting decisions of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and identifies the five immunizations that adults need beyond Covid and the flu vaccines.
  • Medscape also discusses the use of remote trials to accelerate the testing of new long Covid treatments.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Payer Issues and Fierce Healthcare report on UnitedHealthcare’s second quarter financial results announced today.
    • BPI – “UnitedHealth Group posted $4.2 billion in net income during the second quarter of 2024, a 23% decline year over year.
    • “The company said it has restored the majority of affected Change Healthcare services and has provided more than $9 billion in advance funding and loans to providers. The total full year impact of the breach is estimated at $1.90 to $2.05 per share, with the company raising the estimated total cost of the attack to around $2.45 billion.”
    • FH – “UnitedHealth saw an elevated medical loss ratio in Q2, and executives pointed to the Change Healthcare cyberattack as a key factor.
    • “UnitedHealthcare had an MLR of 85.1% in the second quarter, compared to 83.2% in the prior year quarter. The insurer called out multiple elements that contributed to the elevated ratio in its earnings call on Tuesday morning. For one, UHC CEO Brian Thompson said there’s a clear difference in coding intensity after the insurer ended care waivers offered following the cyberattack.
    • “Amid the cyberattack, UnitedHealth eased prior authorization and utilization management to support cash flow to providers.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review provides details on U.S. News and World Report’s latest U.S. hospital rankings by State and by specialty.
  • pwc reports,
    • “Commercial health care spending growth is estimated to grow to its highest level in 13 years, according to PwC’s newest research into annual medical cost trend. PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) is projecting an 8% year-on-year medical cost trend in 2025 for the Group market and 7.5% for the Individual market. This near-record trend is driven by inflationary pressure, prescription drug spending and behavioral health utilization.
    • “HRI is also restating the 2023 and 2024 medical cost trends as higher than previously reported based on the input of health plans we surveyed and their trend experience. This unfavorable trend reflects higher than expected utilization of glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) drugs as well as higher acuity (higher levels of care) inpatient and outpatient utilization. Inpatient and outpatient utilization were driven by demand from care deferred since the pandemic, which was met by newly created capacity as sites of care shifted to outpatient, professional and ambulatory care settings.
    • “The same inflationary pressure the healthcare industry has felt since 2022 is expected to persist into 2025, as providers look for margin growth and work to recoup rising operating expenses through health plan contracts. The costs of GLP-1 drugs are on a rising trajectory that impacts overall medical costs. Innovation in prescription drugs for chronic conditions and increasing use of behavioral health services are reaching a tipping point that will likely drive further cost inflation.
    • “Meanwhile, cost deflators are not enough to offset cost inflators. The growing adoption of biosimilar medications may provide some relief, while many health plans are looking inward to find opportunities across business operations to generate additional cost savings. Today’s medical cost trend is an urgent call to action for healthcare organizations to rethink their strategies to manage the total cost of care more effectively – a challenge that is inextricably linked to the broader challenge of affordability, defined by the Affordable Care Act as the percentage of a member’s household income used for healthcare expenses.”
  • FEHBlog note — OUCH!
  • MedCity News discusses the improving state of the digital health fundraising market.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Reuters reports,
    • “Democratic U.S. Senate aides will meet with Novo Nordisk executives on Tuesday to discuss fallout from its decision to stop selling one of its long-acting insulins in the country, two sources familiar with the meeting told Reuters.
    • “Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO), opens new tab will meet with the aides for Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Raphael Warnock, and Elizabeth Warren. In April, the lawmakers wrote to the company expressing alarm at its decision, announced in November, that it would permanently discontinue Levemir by the end of 2024.
    • “Novo said it has given patients enough time to switch to other options, according to a May letter seen by Reuters. The company is unaware of plans for drug manufacturers to produce a biosimilar version of the insulin, the letter said, adding Novo would not assert any patent against such a version.
    • “The sources declined to be named citing the sensitivity of the matter.”
  • STAT News lets us know,
    • “For now, the doctor groups are lobbying [Congress] in unison toward the same goal of increasing the pot of money for physician services, which stood at about $71 billion in 2022, or 16% of Medicare fee-for-service spending. A Medicare spokesperson said that number is expected to reach about $90 billion this year. Doctors would also like to get credit for saving money by keeping patients out of the hospital.
    • “Those demands would pit doctors against others in the health care system, including hospitals, because Congress typically requires that increases in Medicare spending be paid for by cuts elsewhere in the program. That’s a heavy lift. Congress has been considering equalizing certain Medicare payments between hospitals and physicians’ offices to save money, but that site-neutral policy has faltered.
    • “That’s not the only thing working against doctors. If Congress increases spending on physician services, seniors’ Medicare Part B premiums will go up, according to the nonpartisan research arm of Congress. Congress could prevent premiums from increasing, but that would add to the government tab.
    • “For those reasons, doctor lobbyists privately doubt Congress will meaningfully increase physician pay rates overall, leaving doctors to fight over how a fixed sum of money should be split up.
    • “Courtney Savage, founder of Savage Health Policy, said she sees signs of trouble ahead for specialists. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate want to boost primary care pay. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) unveiled a plan to “improve the adequacy of pay for primary care providers in Medicare.” Two days later, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the committee’s ranking Republican, Idaho’s Sen. Mike Crapo, published their plan to improve chronic care, which would likely favor primary care doctors, too.”
  • In this regard, the American Hospital News tells us,
    • The AHA July 15 commented to Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., responding to a request for information based on the Pay PCPs Act, legislation designed to improve support and pay for primary care providers. The AHA expressed concerns that its proposed hybrid per-member-per-month and fee-for-service payment structure in the physician fee schedule for primary care could result in payment cuts, and that there may be variation in the PMPM depending on the type of provider. The bill also has language implying that there is latitude for the PMPM to not be risk-adjusted and possibly restrict what could be included in the risk adjustment, AHA said. 
    • The AHA voiced support for a provision in the legislation that would reduce beneficiary cost-sharing for primary care services by 50% under the hybrid payment model. The association also shared principles for Congress to consider when designing alternative payment models to make participation more attractive for potential participants.
  • Per Axios,
    • “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week proposed creating three new payment codes that would allow physicians to get paid for incorporating digital therapies into patients’ mental health treatment, starting in 2025. 
    • “The codes would only apply to products approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
    • “Insurers have so far been reluctant to pay for apps, video games and other therapeutic software. There isn’t long-term data on the effectiveness, and differences in the therapies make it difficult to standardize billing.
    • “The first company to get FDA clearance for a digital therapy, Pear Therapeutics, declared bankruptcy last year after struggling to secure insurance coverage for its products.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The AHA News points out,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 14 announced four confirmed human cases of H5N1 bird flu among farm workers who were working at a Colorado poultry facility. The agency is also aware of a fifth presumptive-positive case, which is pending confirmation. All of the workers who tested positive reported having a mild illness, with symptoms that include conjunctivitis, eye tearing, fever, chills, coughing, sore throat and a runny nose. The CDC said they believe a risk to the public remains low.” 
  • STAT News adds,
    • The announcement of the fourth [H5N1 bird flu] case, on the eve of the July 4 holiday, led Adam Kucharski, the co-director of the Centre for Epidemic Preparedness & Response, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to ask on the social platform X: “What’s the plan?”
    • Kucharski posed a bunch of hypotheticals — What if there are clusters of cases? Cases among people who haven’t had contact with cows? Cases exported to other countries? — to convey the point that a mere four years after the start of the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu, the world does not appear to be grappling with the fact that H5 virus spreading in cows could lead to H5 virus spreading in people.
    • “What, here in 2024, is the plan for dealing with an outbreak of a potentially pandemic pathogen like H5N1?” he asked.”
  • Medscape notes,
    • “Parkinson’s disease (PD) and dementia with Lewy bodies are currently defined by clinical features, which can be heterogeneous and do not capture the presymptomatic phase of neurodegeneration.
    • “Recent advances have enabled the detection of misfolded and aggregated alpha-synuclein protein (synucleinopathy) — a key pathologic feature of these diseases — allowing for earlier and more accurate diagnosis. This has led two international research groups to propose a major shift from a clinical to a biological definition of the disease.
    • “Both groups emphasized the detection of alpha-synuclein through recently developed seed amplification assays as a key diagnostic and staging tool, although they differ in their approaches and criteria.” * * *
    • “Commenting for Medscape Medical News, James Beck, PhD, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, said the principle behind the proposed classifications is where “the field needs to go.”
    • “Right now, people with Parkinson’s take too long to get a confirmed diagnosis of their disease, and despite best efforts, clinicians can get it wrong, not diagnosing people or maybe misdiagnosing people,” Beck said. “Moving to a biological basis, where we have better certainty, is going to be really important.”
  • The New York Times reports, “Families pay thousands of dollars to store their children’s stem cells with the hope of a healthier future. But the cells are rarely useful, and sometimes contaminated.” No bueno.
  • A STAT News journalist observes,
    • If you read Derek Lowe — and come on, you must read the bearded chemist who has been blogging about pharma for two decades — you’ve already thought about ibuzatrelvir, Pfizer’s potential heir to Paxlovid, which would be given as a single pill and potentially without that metallic taste.
    • “I read this eagerly, but I had another question that I asked virologist Michael Mina when he posted Derek’s article on X. How do we test it?
    • “Plenty of people still get Covid and die from it. But I’ve been watching clinical trials of Paxlovid and other antivirals. And these drugs keep failing in studies. Even Paxlovid worked best when it was given to high-risk people who have not been vaccinated. Shionogi’s Paxlovid follow-up recently failed in a large study.“Plenty of people still get Covid and die from it. But I’ve been watching clinical trials of Paxlovid and other antivirals. And these drugs keep failing in studies. Even Paxlovid worked best when it was given to high-risk people who have not been vaccinated. Shionogi’s Paxlovid follow-up recently failed in a large study.
    • “It’s very hard to prove an antiviral drug works, a problem that has long dogged Tamiflu. The benefit only shows up if people are at very high risk, or if the study is very big. Otherwise, it just appears the drug is reducing symptoms a very tiny bit.
    • “On this, David Boulware of the University of Minnesota had one perspective: Shionogi’s drug failed because regulators wanted its study to contain too few high-risk patients. But my suspicion is that getting better Covid drugs will be less a problem of chemistry than of clinical trials. This is part of why we don’t have more monoclonal antibodies against new strains. Paxlovid sales have come in higher than many analysts were expecting so far this year. Maybe that will encourage drug.” companies to solve this problem.
  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports explain “what to do when you need medical care fast,”
    e.g., self-triage.
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “A mammography screening decision aid with information about the benefits and harms of screening increased the percentage of average-risk women in their 40s who wanted to delay mammography, according to a national online survey.
    • “Before viewing the decision aid, 27% of women ages 39 to 49 preferred to delay screening. The decision aid raised that percentage to 38.5%, reported Laura Scherer, PhD, of the University of Colorado in Aurora, and colleagues.
    • “The survey also showed a narrower majority of women preferred to undergo mammography at their current age after viewing the decision aid (57.2% vs 67.6% beforehand) and more preferred to wait until age 50 (18% vs 8.5%).
    • “As to what information shifted their view, 37.4% of women surveyed said they found the information about overdiagnosis in the decision aid “surprising,” and 28.1% said it differed from what their doctor had told them, Scherer and colleagues reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
    • “While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends biennial screenings starting at age 40 years — compared with a previous recommendation that screening begin at 50 — it “endorses informed choice and shared decision making at all levels of its recommendations,” Scherer’s group wrote.
    • “However, “a lack of language promoting informed choice in the guideline itself may create confusion among clinicians about whether they should discuss both screening benefits and harms with patients or instead provide only information that maximizes screening uptake,” they added.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • AIS Daily reports,
    • “Blue Shield of California caught the attention of the industry last August when it announced a switch to a pharmacy benefits model using five vendors. While some insurers and plan sponsors have considered a similar move following Blue Shield’s revelation, benefits consultants tell AIS Health that most payers continue to have a traditional arrangement where one PBM handles all pharmacy-related activities. They add that Blue Shield’s so-called unbundled approach could be difficult to manage and may not achieve significant cost savings.”
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “While patent cliffs are looming for many of biopharma’s top-selling products, the industry has enormous capacity to respond as “conditions for M&A are favorable,” according to a research note from Morgan Stanley.
    • “In the July 11 report, the analysts calculate that products losing exclusivity through 2030 are generating a combined $183.5 billion in annual sales, with Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck facing the most exposure of their revenue.
    • “Meanwhile—citing company financial reports and data from Visible Alpha and FactSet—Morgan Stanley estimates that Big Pharma has $383.1 billion of firepower available for dealmaking. The companies sitting on the most dry powder are Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Novo Nordisk, the analysts said.
    • “We continue to see the conditions as generally favorable for bolt-on M&A as large-cap pharma companies have balance sheet capacity and a need to acquire outer-year revenue,” the Morgan Stanley team, led by Terence Flynn, Ph.D., wrote.”
  • BioPharma Dive offers a chart with “Years of expiration for principal patents protecting the top 30 pharmaceutical products by 2023 sales.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review discloses the gender breakdown of physicians across the fifty states and DC.
  • Per MedCity News, “Walgreens’ Finances Are in Dire Straits — But All Hope Is Not Lost. Walgreens’ financial performance is still rocky, but experts agree there is a good chance that CEO Tim Wentworth can lead the company to recovery. To make this happen, Walgreens will have to let go of its retail clinic dreams and focus more on making its core pharmacy business as strong as possible.”

Friday Factoids

From Washington, DC,

  • Per a Congressional press release,
    • “U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today applauded the enactment of the bipartisan Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act, a bill [(H.R. 4581)] he championed alongside U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) and U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The law will help curb infant mortality by enabling evidence-based stillbirth efforts to qualify for federal funding.
    • “Stillbirth prevention researchers and advocates will now have more resources to advance their work. Especially given modern medical and technological capabilities, no family should have to endure the heartbreak of a stillbirth. Many thanks to everyone – Iowa organizations in particular – who’s had a hand in advancing our commonsense bill into law. Today’s win will have a domino effect for expectant families nationwide, for years to come,” Grassley said.  
    • “Today is a huge milestone in our fight to end stillbirth, the unexpected loss of a baby after more than 20 weeks of pregnancy. I am proud to have worked with so many incredible advocates, many of whom have endured the heartbreak of stillbirth, to bring this vital legislation across the finish line and expand federal resources for stillbirth prevention. I thank President Biden for signing this bipartisan legislation into law, and I will continue my work to improve maternal health care access for more healthy moms and healthy babies,” Hinson said. 
  • Fierce Pharma lets us know,
    • “Thursday, the Senate unanimously the bipartisan Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act [(S. 150)], which looks to limit the number of patents drugmakers can assert in litigation on individual biological products. The bill aims to fight “patent thicketing,” a tactic the branded drug industry uses to delay or thwart competition.
    • “Patent thicketing occurs when drug companies stack secondary drug patents to create a complex web of intellectual property that’s hard for generic or biosimilars developers to navigate. AbbVie, for example, was able to keep its top-selling immunology drug Humira from U.S. competition for two decades by leveraging a web of 250 patents, patient access group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now (P4ADNow) said in a press release.
    • “This long-overdue legislation would promote competition and lower prices for patients without standing in the way of innovation, and I urge my colleagues in the House to pass it as soon as possible,” bill sponsor Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement
    • “Reining in patent thickets would create $1.8 billion in taxpayer savings over the span of a decade, the Congressional Budget Office has forecast.”
  • AXIOS reports
    • “The Biden administration on Wednesday rolled out its latest election-year initiative on women’s health, proposing standards that would require the hospital industry to invest billions in maternity care improvements to remain in Medicare. * * *
    • “Hospitals would have to keep basic resuscitation equipment available in labor and delivery rooms, document maternal health training for staff and have written policies for transferring patients to other hospitals.
    • “All hospitals offering emergency services — even if they lack an obstetrics unit — would be required to have proper protocols and supplies for emergency deliveries and other needs.
    • “Hospitals not following these standards could eventually be booted from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
  • The American Hospital Association News adds,
    • “An infographic released by the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center highlights the decline of maternity care access in rural counties across the U.S. from 2010-2022, finding that nearly 59% of rural counties did not have any hospital-based obstetric services as of 2022.
    • “Researchers categorized rural counties based on population as micropolitan (having a town of 10,000-50,000 residents) and non-core (without a town of at least 10,000 residents). They found that micropolitan counties with hospital-based obstetric care declined from about 81% in 2010 to nearly 74% in 2022. Noncore counties declined from 34% in 2010 to nearly 26% in 2022.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The University of Minnesota’s CIDRAP tells us,
    • “Respiratory illness viruses as a whole remain at low levels, but many parts of the countries are experiencing consistent increases in COVID-19 activity, which has been trending upward from very low levels, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in its latest updates.
    • “Test positivity, emergency department (ED) visits, and hospitalizations—the main markers the CDC uses to gauge virus activity—are all rising, especially in both seniors and the western states. * * *
    • “The percentage of ED visits for COVID, considered an early indicator, rose 23.5% last week compared to the week before. Levels were higher in the West and the South than in the rest of the country.” * * *
    • “The dashboard at WastewaterSCAN a national wastewater monitoring system based at Stanford University in partnership with Emory University, shows SARS-CoV-2 detections at the high level, especially in the West, South, and East, with an upward trend over the past 21 days.
    • “In its latest variant update, posted on July 6, the CDC said the proportion of KP.3 detections continues to rise, up from 31.3% to 36.9% over the 2-week monitoring period. KP.3 is one of the JN.1 offshoots with mutations that allow it to better evade immunity from earlier infection or vaccination.” 
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “Trials have already shown that Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide can cut the risk of cardiovascular events and kidney disease. Now a study from the University of Oxford indicates that the company’s semaglutide type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic can reduce the risk of dementia compared with another popular diabetes medicine.
    • “The research—which was designed to demonstrate if Ozempic could cause neurologic problems—showed instead that it produced a 48% decline in dementia when compared to Merck’s type 2 diabetes drug Januvia (sitagliptin).” * * *
    • “Prior studies have determined that diabetics have a greater risk of developing dementia. Those with type 2 diabetes are at an elevated risk for Alzheimer’s, according (PDF) to studies cited by the Alzheimer’s Association.” * * *
    • “Elsewhere, Lilly’s GLP-1/GIP therapy tirzepatide—which is the compound used to manufacture its type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro and obesity treatment Zepbound—was recently shown to lower blood pressure. Researchers are still studying whether many of these benefits accrue from the treatment or from the weight loss they provide.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • Using health data from almost 213,000 Americans who experienced reinfections, researchers have found that severe infections from the virus that causes COVID-19 tend to foreshadow similar severity of infection the next time a person contracts the disease. Additionally, scientists discovered that long COVID was more likely to occur after a first infection compared to a reinfection. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, is published in Communications Medicine.
    • “About 27% of those with severe cases, defined as receiving hospital care for a coronavirus infection, also received hospital care for a reinfection. Adults with severe cases were more likely to have underlying health conditions and be ages 60 or older. In contrast, about 87% of those who had mild COVID cases that did not require hospital care the first time also had mild cases of reinfections.
    • “Reinfections were defined as having occurred at least two months after a first infection. They were found to occur most frequently when omicron variants were circulating in late 2021 and early 2022. Waning immunity and increased exposure to the coronavirus, including the highly-infectious variants, likely accounted for the uptick.
    • “Scientists also discovered that regardless of the variant, long COVID cases were more likely to occur after a first infection compared to a reinfection.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Human lifespan has a limit and we might have reached it.
    • “S. Jay Olshansky, who studies the upper bounds of human longevity at the University of Illinois Chicago, believes people shouldn’t expect to live to 100. Most, he contends, will reach between 65-90.
    • “Biology is holding us back, Olshansky said. Human evolution favors growth and reproduction, not living to excessive ages. As people grow older, their cells and tissues accumulate damage. Breakdowns of one kind or another happen more frequently and get increasingly difficult to repair. Scientists believe there are likely many genes that affect lifespan. Aging is a complex process that isn’t well-understood.
    • “Olshansky knows his viewpoint isn’t popular. 
    • “The longevity business is booming. People are flocking to longevity meetings and taking compounds they hope will extend their lives. Investors are backing scientists researching techniques to reprogram cells to a younger state with the goal of restoring functions that diminish with age. Longevity influencers argue that if they can live long enough, scientific breakthroughs will keep them going indefinitely.” * * *
    • “Jan Vijgchair of genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, reached a similar conclusion from a different angle. He has studied the maximum verified age the oldest people died at in different countries. The maximum age at death increased gradually at least from the 1950s until the 1990s, when it appeared to plateau.
    • “He isn’t surprised that Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at 122, still holds the world record of the oldest verified age at death. There are now hundreds of millions more people who have reached old age under optimal conditions—benefiting from clean water, antibiotics, improved treatments for top killers such as heart disease and cancer, and healthier lifestyles. 
    • “If lifespan had no limit, some of those centenarians would have broken Calment’s record by now, he argued.” 
    • “It seems this is the end,” Vijg said.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Clinical Leadership identifies the 94 emergency departments across our country that the Emergency Nurses Association has recognized “for their commitment to quality, safety and a healthy work environment.”
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “Even through an onslaught of biosimilar launches that began early last year, AbbVie’s big-selling Humira has been able to retain most of its lucrative market. Still, though, the drug’s star power is on the decline.
    • “Biosimilar manufacturer Samsung Bioeps has tracked the impact of Humira biosim launches in its latest market report, finding that Humira’s slice of the market has dropped to 82%.
    • “Sandoz’ Hyrimoz, under its Cordavis co-label, is responsible for “most biosimilar gains,” according to the report. Cordavis is CVS Health’s new biosimilar subsidiary, which launched with Hyrimoz as its first product.
    • “Back in April, CVS Caremark removed branded Humira from its national commercial formularies, causing Hyrimoz prescriptions to skyrocket, analysts at Evercore ISI noted at the time. Through April 25, Hyrimoz was responsible for 82% of Humira biosimilar prescriptions, IQVIA data revealed. The successful launch has so far pushed Sandoz to revenue gains of 6% during the first quarter.”
  • The Wall Street Journal arranged for a palliative medicine doctor to write an essay about dying at home. It’s worth a look.
    • Research suggests that 70% of Americans want to die at home. More seem to be doing so, at least partly owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a study of where people died in 32 countries between 2012 and 2021, published in Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine in January, the authors found a rise in home deaths in most countries, including the U.S., during the pandemic, which they largely interpreted as progress.
    • The truth is more complicated. Now, 10 years into my career as a palliative medicine physician, I know that there is much more to a “good” death than its location. Presuming a home death is a success obscures important questions about the process: Did this person die comfortably? Did their caregivers have the resources and guidance they needed? Was dying at home a choice or simply the only option?

Thursday Miscellany

From Washington, DC,

  • Govexec informs us,
    • “The Senate on Thursday made progress on advancing bipartisan spending bills for fiscal 2025, though members of both parties acknowledged significant divisions remain between the two sides. 
    • “The chamber’s Appropriations Committee approved three of the 12 annual funding measures Congress must pass each year—those funding the departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs, as well as the legislative branch—in unanimous, 27-0 votes. While that marked a significant step forward in the fiscal 2025 process and an accomplishment that has eluded the panel’s House counterpart—which has advanced its bills to date only along partisan lines—the Senate could not come to a bipartisan agreement on how much money to allocate for the remaining nine funding measures.”
  • and
    • “The Senate on Wednesday voted 55-37 to confirm Anne Wagner as the third member of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, finally bringing the agency’s political leadership to nearly full strength.
    • “Similar to the National Labor Relations Board’s role overseeing collective bargaining in the private sector, the FLRA governs labor-management relations at federal agencies, with a three-member board that settles unfair labor practice complaints and other disputes between unions and management.” * * *
    • “Federal employee unions rejoiced at the news that the FLRA’s board was now fully staffed. The last 18 months of deadlock between [Colleen Duffy] Kiko and FLRA Chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann has meant the board could only rule in noncontroversial cases.”
  • The American Hospital Association News lets us know,
    • “The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing July 11 on medical debt. The AHA submitted a statement for the hearing that highlighted how the quality of insurance coverage is a driver of medical debt, saying that coverage for many patients is either insufficient or unavailable. The AHA discussed hospital and health system efforts offering financial and other assistance, and that hospitals absorb billions of dollars in losses for patients who cannot pay their bills, mainly due to inadequate commercial insurance coverage. To address the issue, the AHA urged Congress to restrict the sale of high-deductible health plans to individuals with the ability to afford the associated cost-sharing; prohibit the sale of health-sharing ministry products and short-term limited-duration plans that go longer than 90 days; and lower the maximum out-of-pocket cost-sharing limits, among other changes.”
    • That’s nuts, and it’s worth adding that all of the witnesses, except for one, were from the creditor side. Here’s a link to the American Enterprise Institute testimony.
  • The AHA News adds,
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services July 10 announced there will be 133 participants representing 772 practices for its new Making Care Primary Model. Participants in this voluntary model are from Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina and Washington. The model, which began July 1 and will run through 2034, seeks to improve care management and care coordination, enable primary care clinicians to partner with health care specialists, and use community-based connections to address patients’ health needs as well as their health-related social needs such as housing and nutrition.”
  • and
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently released results of an air ambulance qualifying payment amount calculations audit on Aetna Health in Texas. The report found that Aetna used practices that did not comply with federal requirements, and strongly recommended corrective actions. Specifically, the report found that Aetna failed to “properly calculate the QPA by using claim paid amounts instead of contracted rates, and counting each claim as its own contracted rate, even when the claims were for the same amounts for the same item or service and to the same provider of air ambulance services.” Aetna may also be subjected to future audits.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Research into chronic conditions affecting women is significantly lacking, and the National Institutes of Health and other agencies should do more to investigate issues that lead to worse medical treatment for women, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says.
    • “Women are disproportionately affected by chronic illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease and depression, according to the study requested by NIH’s Office of Research on Women’s Health and published Wednesday.
    • “But inadequate research in women’s health “hinders a comprehensive understanding of the impact on women” of these and other chronic illnesses, the report’s authors write. Further research is needed, particularly for Black women, who are more likely to die of a chronic illness than White women, the study says.”
  • and
    • “Nearly 1 in 10 people infected with the coronavirus during pregnancy developed long covid, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
    • “Thursday’s study, which highlights the consequences of the virus during pregnancy, suggests long covid is more prevalent among people infected while pregnant than in the population overall. As many as 7 percent of Americans report having symptoms associated with long covid, according to a 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some surveys suggest a far higher incidence of long covid in the general population.” * * *
    • “I was initially surprised at the prevalence of long covid in this population,” said Torri Metz, one of the study’s lead authors and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at University of Utah Health. “It really drew my attention to the fact I need to have this on my radar when I am seeing patients.”
  • NBC News informs us,
    • “A key mystery behind one of the most common autoimmune diseases may finally have an answer.
    • “Researchers at Northwestern Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital say they’ve discovered a root cause of lupus, a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. 
    • “Scientists have long suspected that a person’s genetics or hormones may predispose them to lupus, and that the disease may be triggered by environmental factors like a previous viral infection or exposure to certain chemicals.
    • “Now, a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature outlines a clear pathway for how the disease likely develops, pointing to abnormalities in the immune systems of people with lupus.”
  • Neurology Advisor points out,
    • “The prevalence of stroke has increased by 14.6% from 2011 to 2022 among individuals aged 18 to 44 and 15.7% among those aged 65 and younger in the United States, according to a report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
    • “Researchers assessed trends in stroke prevalence between 2011 and 2022, using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a state-based surveillance system administered to noninstitutionalized civilian adults in the US in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). * * *
    • “Age-standardized prevalence of stroke increased from 2.7% in 2011 to 2013 to 2.9% in 2020 to 2022, marking a 7.8% (95% CI, 4.9%-10.8%) increase in overall stroke prevalence. The researchers noted the highest stroke prevalence (7.7%; 95% CI, 7.5%-7.9%) among individuals aged 65 and older and the lowest prevalence (0.9%; 95% CI, 0.8%-1.0%) among individuals aged between 18 and 44 years.
    • “Stroke was observed to be highest (5.3%; 95% CI, 4.7%-5.9%) among the American Indian or Alaska Native group and lowest among the Asian group (1.6%; 95% CI, 1.2%-2.0%).
    • “With regard to educational level, individuals with a high-school diploma had the highest stroke prevalence (5.2%; 95% CI, 4.8%-5.4%) and those with a college degree or higher had the lowest stroke prevalence (1.7; 95% CI, 1.6%-1.8%).”
  • STAT News relates,
    • “Researchers from the American Cancer Society and International Agency for Research on Cancer estimate 40% of all cancer cases in the United States in people 30 and up were due to “potentially modifiable risk factors,” including cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, consumption of processed meat, viruses, excess body weight, alcohol drinking and more. Data was from 2019 in order to avoid the influence of the pandemic, when cancer diagnoses declined because of delayed care. The results were published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.” * * *
    • “In the study, alcohol was associated with seven cancers: oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, colorectum, and female breast, as well as squamous cell carcinoma in the esophagus, and hepatocellular carcinoma in the liver. Beyond those, “there is accumulating evidence” that alcohol can cause other cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, said lead author Farhad Islami, senior scientific director of cancer disparity research at ACS (which funded the study). 
    • “The increased risk is because of the alcohol in alcoholic beverages, not the type of beverage,” he said. A standard alcoholic beverage in the United States has about 14 grams of pure ethanol. That looks like one 12-ounce serving of 5% ABV beer, a 5-ounce serving of 12% ABV wine, 8-10 ounces of 7% ABV hard seltzer, or 1.5 ounces of 40% ABV liquor. Research suggests the higher a person’s consumption, the higher the risk of cancer.”
  • Here is a link to the NIH Director’s blog titled this week “Sequencing Technique Detects Earliest Signs of Genetic Mutations Underlying Cancer, Aging, and More”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Early findings from a small clinical trial provide evidence that a new cellular immunotherapy approach may be effective in treating metastatic solid tumors. In the trial, researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) genetically engineered normal white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, from each patient to produce receptors that recognize and attack their specific cancer cells. These initial findings are from people with metastatic colorectal cancer who had already undergone multiple earlier treatments. The personalized immunotherapy shrank tumors in some patients and was able to keep the tumors from regrowing for up to seven months. The findings were published July 11, 2024, in Nature Medicine.” * * *
    • “Colon cancer is just one of many solid tumors the researchers are studying. The trial is still ongoing and includes patients with different types of solid cancers.
    • “It’s just the very beginning of converting normal lymphocytes into cells capable of treating the common solid cancers,” Dr. Steven A. Rosenberg, a co-leader of the study, said. “What this study shows is that it’s possible. Once you know it’s possible, you work to improve it.”
  • Here is a link to the All of Us Program’s latest Medical Minutes.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “As more older adults opt for Medicare Advantage plans, reimbursement fights between hospitals and insurers are increasingly centered around those contracts.
    • “According to data shared with Becker’s by FTI Consulting, there were 20 reimbursement disputes between hospitals and insurers that made headlines somewhere in the country during the second quarter, the same amount as the first quarter and slightly lower than the same period in 2023, when 24 contract disputes were reported in national or local media.
    • “Notably, a record number of Q2 disputes (15 of 20) involved Medicare Advantage plans, and 30% of disputes failed to reach a timely agreement, meaning tens of thousands of patients were left without in-network coverage. FTI has tracked media reports regarding negotiations over reimbursement rates during each quarter since early 2022.”
  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “On Thursday, the pharmaceutical giant [Pfizer] said it is advancing a once-daily version of an experimental and closely watched medicine called danuglipron. Pfizer based the decision on results from a small clinical trial of healthy volunteers that’s been evaluating how the body interacts with danuglipron. Studies designed to find the optimal dose of the medicine are scheduled for later this year.
    • “Umer Raffat, an analyst at the investment firm Evercore ISI, speculates that with its update Thursday, Pfizer is “likely buying time” to see more data from a backup once-daily drug it’s been developing. “Candidly, the trial that just wrapped up never answered the question on” what dose would be effective enough to compete, he wrote in a note to clients.
    • “In that backdrop, the judicious thing to do from [the] Pfizer perspective was to not overcommit — and that’s exactly what they did today,” Raffat added. They “didn’t kill [danuglipron], they said it may move forward, but not right to [Phase 3].”
  • Beckers Payer Issues adds,
    • “As insurers continue to face major financial pressures related to covering weight loss drugs, many are steering more patients toward bariatric surgery to achieve similar results.
    • “Insurance companies are seeing that they’re getting more reliable outcomes and savings in the long run if they pay for someone to have bariatric surgery,” Christine Ren Fielding, MD, told Becker’s. Dr. Ren Fielding is a professor of surgery at NYU School of Medicine, the director of the NYU Langone Weight Management Program and chief of the system’s division of bariatric surgery.
    • “If you’re a responder to appetite control caused by a GLP-1, then there’s another treatment option that will do exactly the same thing: bariatric surgery. That includes Lap-Band, sleeve gastrectomy, and gastric bypass,” she said. “Bariatric surgery is the old-fashioned way. Insurers are now putting up barriers for people who want to be covered for GLP-1s and taking down barriers for people who want to have surgery.”
  • STAT News informs us,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration rejected Novo Nordisk’s weekly insulin for the treatment of diabetes in a rare setback for the pharmaceutical giant.
    • “The agency has requests related to the manufacturing process and the use of the insulin specifically in type 1 diabetes patients, Novo said in a statement Wednesday. The company, which had submitted an application for the drug for both type 1 and type 2 patients, said it does not expect to be able to fulfill the requests this year.”

Weekend Update

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • NPR Shots lets us know,
    • “Medicare, the federal government’s health insurance program for people 65 and over, is launching an eight-year pilot project this summer with a groundbreaking plan. * * *
    • “Medicare’s pilot, called Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience – or GUIDE – is modeled on a handful of promising, smaller programs linked to academic institutions, including UCLA, UC-San Francisco, and Emory and Indiana universities.
    • “In Medicare’s version, each family will get a care coordinator — a sort of coach trained in dementia care, who knows the patient and the caregiver and can offer guidance and troubleshoot problems before they escalate. The coach or other member of the care team will be on call, 24/7. They will also help coordinate doctors’ visits and identify some adult day care or in-home care for the patient for up to a few hours a week, to lighten the caregiver’s load. * * *
    • “Medicare has yet to reveal exactly which health systems will be included in its pilot project, or how many families will be eligible; the agency promises more details in early July. In the meantime, Medicare has spelled out some eligibility criteria for patients:
      • “The patient must have a dementia diagnosis.”
      • “They must have traditional Medicare insurance — that’s only about half of people over 65. Seniors on a Medicare Advantage plan aren’t eligible.
      • “The patient must be living in their own home, in a family member’s home, or in an assisted care facility — but not in a nursing home. 
  • HR Dive offers updates on the status of three pending federal court lawsuits challenging the Fair Labor Standards Act changes that took effect last Monday.

From the public health and medical research front

  • The FEHBlog ran across this WasteWaterSCAN website which provides wastewater reporting on eleven infectious diseases including Covid.
    • We monitor infectious diseases through municipal wastewater systems to inform public health responses at a local, regional, and national level. Our goal is to show that a national wastewater monitoring system is a valuable part of our public health infrastructure, can inform public health responses, and will help us prepare for future pandemics.
    • WastewaterSCAN is based at Stanford University, in partnership with Emory University, and funded through philanthropy. We are committed to transparency, scientific rigor, and open science. We make our methods public and publish our research in scholarly journals to subject them to peer review.
  • Fortune Well points out that “July has the highest number of drowning deaths. Here’s how to keep kids safe around water.”
  • The New York Times discusses brain donation for medical research. The article focuses on an 82-year-old woman whose father recently passed away at age 110.
    • “[As] he was nearing death, enrolled in home hospice care, “In the middle of the night, I thought, ‘Dad’s brain is so great,’” said Ms. Hansen, 82, a retired librarian in Seattle. “I went online and looked up ‘brain donation.’”
    • “Her search led to a National Institutes of Health web page explaining that its NeuroBioBank, established in 2013, collected post-mortem human brain tissue to advance neurological research.
    • “Through the site, Ms. Hansen contacted the nonprofit Brain Donor Project. It promotes and simplifies donations through a network of university brain banks, which distribute preserved tissue to research teams.
    • “Tish Hevel, the founder of the project, responded quickly, putting Ms. Hansen and her brother in touch with the brain bank at the University of California, Los Angeles. Brain donors may have neurological and other diseases, or they may possess healthy brains, like Mr. Markoff’s.
    • “We’re going to learn so much from him,” Ms. Hevel said. “What is it about these super-agers that allows them to function at such a high level for so long?”
  • Medscape notes,
    • “Lenacapavir, a twice-yearly injectable HIV-1 capsid inhibitor, has shown 100% efficacy in preventing HIV in women at a high risk for infection, according to an interim analysis of the phase 3 PURPOSE 1 trial.
    • “The results were so promising that the independent data monitoring committee recommended that Gilead Sciences stop the blinded phase of the trial and offer open-label lenacapavir to all participants.
    • “The results were both unexpected and exciting. “I’ve been in the HIV field for a really long time, and there’s no other phase 3 PrEP trial that found zero infections,” said Moupali Das, MD, PhD, executive director of clinical development at Gilead Sciences, Foster City, California.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “Cano Health has emerged from bankruptcy as a private company, months after the primary care chain said it would restructure and delist from the New York Stock Exchange. 
    • “The company said Friday it converted more than $1 billion of funded debt into common stock and warrants as part of bankruptcy proceedings. The chain’s existing investors also committed to provide more than $200 million to support Cano’s business plan going forward. 
    • “Cano will take a “disciplined and strategic approach” to growth over the next few years, focusing on improving services at their 80 clinics in Florida, CEO Mark Kent said in a statement. The company had 172 medical centers at the end of 2022, according to a securities filing.” 

Friday Factoids

From Washington, DC,

  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “Although the federal workforce on the whole is relatively diverse, much of that diversity is condensed on the lower end of the General Schedule.
    • “It’s a demographic trend that has persisted for years, but there may be a few early signs of change, according to a July 1 workforce report from the Partnership for Public Service that uses data from FedScope.
    • “Data from fiscal 2023 shows that 60% of the federal workforce is white, 19% of federal employees are Black and 10% are Hispanic. By comparison, for the nationwide workforce, 76% of employees are white, 13% are Black and 19% are Hispanic.
    • “Breaking down diversity by GS level, the Partnership’s data report shows that white federal employees make up a much larger portion of the workforce at GS-7 and up through the Senior Executive Service, taking up many mid- and top-level technical roles as well as many supervisory positions.” * * *
    • “The long-time workforce trend is beginning to change, albeit slowly, the Partnership said. Between 2022 and 2023, the percentage of people of color in the SES rose 1%, from 25% to 26%.
    • “Similar trends occur when breaking down the workforce by gender. Overall, women make up 45% of the federal workforce, while men comprise 55%. But again, men make up a larger portion of higher-level GS positions as well as SES roles. There appears to be a similar trend toward a more equal balance between men and women in the SES, the Partnership’s report showed.”
  • STAT News informs us,
    • “A federal judge ruled against Boehringer Ingelheim’s challenge to the new Medicare drug price negotiation program, handing the pharmaceutical industry its latest in a string of legal losses.
    • “The company had argued before the U.S. District Court of Connecticut that the drug pricing law was unconstitutional under four different parts of the Constitution, and also that Medicare officials had violated procedural laws. Judge Michael Shea ruled against Boehringer Ingelheim on each point in a decision published late Wednesday.
    • “Boehringer Ingelheim did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. The company’s diabetes drug Jardiance was one of the first medicines selected for the negotiation program.
    • “Federal judges have also ruled against drugmakers including AstraZenecaBristol Myers Squibb, and Johnson & Johnson, and trade groups including the brand-drug lobby PhRMA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in their lawsuits challenging the law.”
  • HR Dive lets us know,
    • “A Texas federal judge on Wednesday granted a tax services firm’s motion for a preliminary injunction of the Federal Trade Commission’s nationwide ban on noncompete agreements in employment contracts and has stayed its effective date for the plaintiffs.
    • “Judge Ada E. Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas held that FTC violated the Administrative Procedure Act and exceeded its statutory authority by issuing the ban, which she said has a “substantial likelihood” of being found arbitrary and capricious.
    • “Brown said the injunction is limited in scope to the plaintiffs and plaintiff-intervenors named in the suit; it is not a nationwide injunction. She added that the court would rule on the merits of the agency’s action on or before Aug. 30, 2024.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control announced today,
    • Summary
      • “Seasonal influenza and RSV activity are low nationally, but COVID-19 activity is increasing in some areas.
    • COVID-19
      • “Some areas of the country are experiencing consistent increases in COVID-19 activity, including increases in COVID-19 test positivity and emergency department visits and increases in rates of COVID-19–associated hospitalizations among adults 65+ at several sites. However, nationally COVID-19 activity remains low. Recent increases in activity level are from very low levels in April and May 2024, when they were lower than at any time since March 2020. CDC will continue to closely monitor trends in COVID-19 activity.
    • Influenza
    • RSV
      • Nationally, RSV activity remains low.
    • Vaccination
  • The New York Times adds,
    • “Many of us associate Covid with respiratory issues. But some people who get sick with the virus never experience a sore throat, coughing or body aches, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. Certain people end up feeling more like they have food poisoning than anything else.
    • “That’s because coronavirus is “like throwing a bomb in your body,” said Dr. Ken Cadwell, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who studies how Covid affects the gut. “You’re going to feel that in multiple different organs, not just the lungs.”
    • The article offers tips on how to spot Covid symptoms.
  • The Washington Post discusses cancerphobia in an era when cancer deaths have been falling and provides cancer prevention tips.
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced,
    • “On Wednesday, the FDA updated the advisory for the investigation of Salmonella illnesses linked to cucumbers. The FDA and CDC, in collaboration with state and local partners, are investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Africana and Salmonella Braenderup infections with 449 illnesses in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
    • “While originally reported as two separate outbreaks, CDC and FDA combined these two outbreak investigations as they shared several similarities, including when and where illnesses occurred, the demographics of ill people, and the foods they reported eating before they became sick.
    • “Laboratory, epidemiological, and traceback data have determined that cucumbers from Bedner Growers, Inc., of Boynton Beach, Florida, are a likely source of illnesses in this outbreak; however, this grower does not account for all the illnesses in this outbreak. Bedner Growers, Inc.’s cucumber growing and harvesting season is over. There is no product from this farm on the market and likely no ongoing risk to the public.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “GLP-1 receptor agonists lowered the risk of several obesity-associated cancers, a retrospective analysis of electronic health records suggested.
    • “Compared with insulin, GLP-1s were associated with a lower risk for developing 10 of 13 cancers in people with type II diabetes, reported Nathan Berger, MD, of the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and colleagues in JAMA Network Open.
    • “No decrease in cancer risk was associated with GLP-1 receptors compared with metformin.
    • “This study adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the pleiotropic effects of GLP-1 receptor agonists on cancer prevention, including obesity-associated cancers,” co-author and medical student Lindsey Wang, also of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, told MedPage Today. (Berger passed away before the study was published.)
  • Per Healio,
    • “Many women aged 75 years and older are aware of the importance of breast cancer screening and desire to continue screening regardless of health status or age, according to a scoping review published in BMC Women’s Health.
    • “Very few studies have been undertaken to understand the motivations of women to screen or to establish screening participation rates among women aged 75 and older,” Virginia Dickson-Swift, PhD, senior research fellow at the Violet Vines Centre for Rural Health Research at La Trobe Rural Health School at La Trobe University, Australia, and colleagues wrote. “This is surprising given that increasing age is recognized as a key risk factor for the development of breast cancer, and that screening is offered in many locations around the world every 2 years up until age 74 years.” * * *
    • Decision aids may be effective in improving knowledge of the benefits and harms of breast screening as many women reported poor knowledge, according to the authors. A pilot study of eight women in the U.S. utilizing decision aids demonstrated that 62.5% of women planned to continue receiving mammography. In this study, agreeing that their physician would recommend mammography dropped from 80% to 62.5% after exposure to the decision aid. These results suggest that decision aids might result in fewer women continuing breast cancer screening beyond age 75 years.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News reports,
    • “Pharmaceutical giant AbbVie paid health care providers roughly $145.7 million last year to promote its drugs, according to a STAT analysis of newly released government data.”
    • “The massive sum spent by AbbVie, the maker of the mega blockbuster anti-inflammatory drug Humira, is the most a pharmaceutical company has spent on marketing to doctors since such data became available in 2017. The figure includes compensation for consulting and other services like speaking fees, lodging and travel for doctors, and meals, as well as a small number of payments made directly to hospitals.
    • “The payments, made public by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, provide an insight into AbbVie’s marketing in the immediate aftermath of the company losing its monopoly on Humira, which dominated the company’s balance sheets for the better part of the last two decades. The payments show that the company is being far more aggressive in targeting doctors than competitors of comparable size.
    • “Pfizer, whose revenues are on par with AbbVie’s, spent roughly $32 million last year. Merck spent about $22 million. These totals don’t include subsidiaries that are reported separately from their parent companies.”
  • Managed Care Executive assures us that notwithstanding this colossal effort, biosimilars to Humira are gaining market share due to PBM actions and legal changes.
  • PCMA points out various PBM efforts to reach out to the rural community.
  • The Wall Street Journal suggests that the Walmart model does not work in healthcare.
    • “To put it bluntly, primary care is hard,” said Stephanie Davis, an analyst at Barclays. The problem for Walmart, said Craig Garthwaite, a strategy professor at Northwestern University, is that in medicine you can’t really build economies of scale by driving the costs of such things as purchasing and advertising down to charge lower prices and gain market share. In a doctor’s office, your big-ticket costs are the people: A family physician might make something like $250,000, while a nurse practitioner is paid around $150,000. 
    • “None of that is scalable,” he said. “Each one of those doctors can only work eight to 10 hours a day. So you can’t run the business the same way.” * * *
    • “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of money to be made from the doctor’s office. But the value won’t come from charging a flat fee for, say, an annual checkup. Instead, for large companies, the doctor needs to be a conduit for capturing value elsewhere. Big hospital systems have been at this for a long time. They acquire or join with doctor groups to control patient traffic to higher-margin procedures. A primary-care doctor controlled by New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System, for instance, might refer a patient to a urologist within that same system.  
    • “That approach really hasn’t helped patients. Instead, it has raised the cost of care, giving giant hospitals billions of dollars in additional revenue.” 
  • Similarly, mHealth Intelligence examines the limitations of the current telehealth market.

Midweek Update

From Washington, DC,

  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation tells us
    • “On July 2, 2024, President Biden signed the National Plan to End Parkinson’s Act into law.”
    • “Now that the bill has been signed into law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will establish the National Parkinson’s Project, a first-ever federal initiative to prevent and cure Parkinson’s disease, treat its symptoms and slow or stop its progression. It will also establish a federal advisory council that will provide recommendations and guidance for making progress against Parkinson’s disease and atypical parkinsonisms.”
  • A Labor Department press release informs us,
    • “The U.S. Department of Labor has released a proposed rule with the goal of protecting millions of workers from the significant health risks of extreme heat. If finalized, the proposed rule would help protect approximately 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work settings and substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace.”  * * *
    • “The proposed rule would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to control heat hazards in workplaces affected by excessive heat. Among other things, the plan would require employers to evaluate heat risks and — when heat increases risks to workers — implement requirements for drinking water, rest breaks and control of indoor heat. It would also require a plan to protect new or returning workers unaccustomed to working in high heat conditions.” * * *
    • “Employers would also be required to provide training, have procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness, and take immediate action to help a worker experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat emergency. ” 
  • An HHS press release adds,
    • “FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are encouraging everyone to plan and act now to protect themselves against the dangers of heat-related illness and deaths. Extreme heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related hazards in the U.S., but this health impact is largely preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 1,220 people in the U.S. are killed by heat events each year. Older adults, young children, and those individuals with health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes are at a greater risk for heat-related illnesses.” * * *
    • A Full List of Heat and Health Resources That Can Help: The list can be found at 2024 HHS Resources on Heat and Health – PDF.
  • The Washington Post lets us know,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration has decided to revoke its authorization for the use of a stabilizer for fruity and citrus-flavored food and beverages, known as brominated vegetable oil (BVO), because it is unsafe.
    • “The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. It added that based on studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, it found that BVO has “the potential for adverse health effects in humans.”
    • “The vegetable oil is modified with bromine, a natural chemical element that can be used as an alternative to chlorine in swimming pools and is often used as a fire retardant. It has also been used in sedatives.”
    • “BVO is an ingredient in a handful of sports drinks and sodas, but according to the FDA, “today, few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO.” Sugary soda consumption in the United States has also been falling for more than two decades. Perhaps the best-known drink in the United States that still contains BVO is Sun Drop citrus soda, as well as some store-brand orange, pineapple and citrus-flavored sodas from Giant, Food Lion, Walmart and others.”
  • Reg Jones, writing in FedWeek, discusses the leave without pay program for federal employees.
  • BioPharma Dive points out five FDA decisions that may be issued in the third quarter of 2024.
  • Federal News Network reports,
    • “With a net gain of more than 80,000 civilian employees during fiscal 2023, the federal workforce posted yet another year of growth.
    • “Between 2019 and 2023, more than 140,000 employees joined the civil service, an increase of about 7%, according to data that the non-partisan, non-profit Partnership for Public Service compiled and released this week.
    • “The majority of the growth in the past couple of years occurred in 2023 alone — the federal workforce grew by 4% in just that one year, the Partnership said. The latest increase brings the grand total of full-time federal employees to just over 2 million.
    • “These professionals play a crucial role in protecting our national security, promoting public health, driving economic development and more,” the Partnership wrote in its data report, published Monday. “They are a fundamental part of a well-functioning government.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Three years after President Biden hoped July 4, 2021, would mark the country’s independence from covid, the coronavirus is still here as new variants drive yet another summer uptick.
    • “The country is indeed free from the waves of mass death that once overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, as well as policies restricting how Americans had fun and went to school and work.
    • ‘But just as the American Revolution didn’t fully eradicate the British threat (see: the War of 1812), the coronavirus remains a public health issue, inflicting milder but disruptive illness on most people and posing a greater danger to the medically vulnerable.” * * *
    • “Experts say wastewater data is best interpreted as a way of understanding which way the virus is trending.
    • “We have consistently seen over the past three years that there is a winter surge and there is also a summer surge,” Marlene Wolfe, program director for WastewaterSCAN, a private initiative that tracks municipal wastewater data, and an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “Right now, we are waiting to see whether we actually will see a downturn over the next couple of weeks and we’ve hit the peak here, or whether those levels will actually go up.”
  • GovCIO notes,
    • “Health policy officials are targeting new elements for U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) standards to help researchers and developers speak the same language for technology around cancer care and treatment.
    • “How do we think about these additional data elements to solve particular use cases so that our federal agency partners can programmatically build on that for the programs that they have and it allows everyone to be tethered and based on what the health care delivery system already supports?” National Coordinator for Health IT Micky Tripathi, who also recently assumed a dual role as acting chief AI officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at a May summit.
    • “Health agencies are building a pipeline of cancer data elements for USCDI. Tripathi said ONC partners have already agreed upon the first set of data elements that aligns with reporting requirements. Agencies involved include ONC, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).”
  • STAT News discloses,
    • “A new observational study on Wednesday reported for the first time a potential link between Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 drugs Ozempic and Wegovy and an eye condition that can cause vision loss.
    • “After hearing anecdotes of patients on the diabetes and obesity drugs experiencing nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION, researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear analyzed data from a registry of patients at their institution to see if there was a broad trend.
    • “Among 710 patients with type 2 diabetes, there were 17 cases of NAION in patients prescribed semaglutide (the scientific name of both drugs). This translated to a cumulative rate of 8.9% over three years. That compares with six cases in patients prescribed non-GLP-1 diabetes drugs, calculated as a cumulative rate of 1.8%. Through statistical analyses, the researchers estimate that there was a 4.28 times greater risk of developing the condition in patients prescribed semaglutide, according to the study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology.
    • “Studying 979 patients who had overweight or obesity, researchers found 20 cases of NAION in people prescribed semaglutide, calculated as a cumulative rate of 6.7%. In comparison, there were three cases in people prescribed non-GLP-1 obesity drugs, calculated as a cumulative rate of 0.8%. The researchers estimate that there was a 7.64 times greater risk of developing the condition in patients prescribed semaglutide.”
  • Per a National Institutes of Health press release,
    • “Results from a large study supported by the National Institutes of Health show that protein analyses taken during the first trimester of pregnancy did not improve predictions for identifying people at risk for experiencing conditions related to having high blood pressure during pregnancy. Since there is an urgent need to better predict people at risk for developing conditions related to having high blood pressure during pregnancy, also called hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, researchers have been studying if proteins taken from blood or urine samples could provide this insight. This study provides the largest data to date based on using protein analyses from blood samples during early pregnancy.
    • “For this study, researchers analyzed 6,481 proteins from 1,850 study participants who had a first pregnancy between 2010 and 2013. Participants provided a blood sample during the study enrollment and had study check-ins during their second and third trimesters, after delivery, and two to seven years after their pregnancy. The protein analysis was used in different modeling equations to assess if proteins or their combinations with clinical data, such as maternal age and cardiovascular disease risks, during early pregnancy could provide clues for the 753 participants who experienced a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. The conditions assessed included gestational hypertension, marked by high blood pressure that typically develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and preeclampsia, a significant rise in blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy that can damage organs and is marked by elevated levels of protein in the urine.
    • “The prediction models, which included three different types of assessments, did not significantly improve risk predictions for these events. If the models did show predictive ability, they did not drastically improve criteria physicians currently use to assess risks. These criteria currently include risk factors such as having obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a baby later in life.”
  • The NEJM Catalyst offers an article
    • “highlight[ing] the persistent challenges and opportunities surrounding the impact of value-based care (VBC) arrangements on patient safety, despite the widespread adoption of VBC models. In the context of recent declines in patient safety, the authors contend that this crucial component of health care value has not received sufficient attention in most VBC contracts.
    • “The authors propose strategies for how payers can integrate patient safety measures into VBC contracts and align financial incentives with quality performance, drawing on the example of Elevance Health’s initiative, the Quality-In-Sights: Hospital Incentive Program. In this program, patient safety measures comprise 80% of the overall score.
    • “The program suggests that a sustained and productive collaboration between payers and providers offers potential for integrating patient safety measures into VBC models to drive clinical improvements and financial efficiencies, but it requires commitment from all stakeholders in the health care ecosystem.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “E-cigarette use among individuals eligible for [USPSTF recommended] lung cancer screening was independently associated with a reduced likelihood of screening, a cross-sectional study of U.S. adults revealed.” * * *
    • “Former smokers who use e-cigarettes remain at increased risk of lung cancer and should be targeted by interventions to improve adherence to LCS [lung cancer screening],” Wang and co-authors concluded.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News reports,
    • “More than two dozen Medicare Advantage insurers received higher quality marks for 2024, based on a STAT review of new data released July 2 by the federal government.
    • “Ten health insurance companies, including UnitedHealth Group’s UnitedHealthcare and CVS Health’s Aetna, received critical upgrades in some of their offerings that will allow them to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in extra taxpayer-funded bonuses.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues offers more details on the plans that got a boost to five stars due to the CMS action.
  • Beckers Payer Issues also informs us,
    • “Walmart has held talks with Humana about a potential sale of its shuttered Walmart Health clinics, Fortune reported July 2. 
    • “Multiple sources familiar with the situation told Fortune that Walmart has held discussions with potential buyers for its clinics, including Humana, the only potential buyer named in the report. It is unclear if talks are ongoing, according to the publication.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • GSK struck a deal to buy the rights to CureVac’s CVAC -6.59%decrease; red down pointing triangleCovid-19 and flu vaccines for up to 1.45 billion euros ($1.56 billion), in a bid to regain ground lost to newcomers to the vaccine market during the pandemic.
    • “The deal bolsters the U.K. pharmaceutical company’s vaccine portfolio at a time when bird-flu concerns are boosting demand. Vaccines accounted for roughly a third of GSK’s sales last year.
    • “GSK’s deal with CureVac follows in the footsteps of a vaccine licensing agreement between Sanofi and Novavax in May valued at up to $1.4 billion.
    • “Both GSK and Sanofi were among the biggest makers of vaccines before the pandemic, but fell behind rivals and new entrants that launched shots based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology as Covid-19 turbocharged demand. The mRNA-based vaccines that were widely used to combat Covid-19 use messenger ribonucleic acid instead of an actual bacteria or virus in the production process.”
  • Plan Advisor lets us know,
    • “Many employers are spending money on benefits that do not match the objectives of their workforce, based on a recent survey by Payroll Integrations, which connects payroll provider programs with employers.
    • “According to Payroll Integrations’ recent survey, summarized in the 2024 State of Employee Financial Wellness Report, only 18% of workers expressed interest in the programs their employers are now funding. While 41% of employers indicated they intend to increase their spending on financial education and planning services, workers would rather see their employers make larger investments in retirement plans (43%) and health insurance (54%).
    • “Employees are feeling the financial pressure from inflation, higher costs of living and the rise of insurance costs and now, more than ever, employers feel a responsibility to step in to help support their financial well-being,” said Doug Sabella, Payroll Integrations’ CEO, in a release that accompanied the report. “But there’s a clear disconnect between what employers think employees want in terms of financial wellness offerings and benefit programs and what employees feel they need to make a difference.”
    • “While workers in Generation Z want their companies to make lifestyle benefits top priority, older generations place more emphasis on health care and retirement, Payroll Integrations found. Baby Boomers ranked pensions as the most essential benefit, Gen X and Gen Y workers selected additional compensation, Millennials prioritized health savings accounts, and Gen Z employees picked lifestyle compensation.”

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Fierce Healthcare reports,
    • “The House Ways and Means Committee advanced bipartisan legislation on Thursday [June 28] that would grant Medicare coverage to novel medical technologies for four years while the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) makes a national coverage determination. 
    • “The new version of the bill that was voted on by Ways and Means reduces the cost of the bill by 75% of the version that the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted favorably on back in November. It allocates $10 million per year over five years to CMS for the project. 
    • “The Ensuring Patient Access to Critical Breakthrough Products Act of 2024, if passed, would give any device designated as “breakthrough” from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) four years of Medicare coverage. Co-sponsor of the bill Rep. Susan DelBene, R-Washington, said during the hearing that it takes CMS an average of more than five years to make a national coverage determination for FDA breakthrough devices.” 
  • BioPharma Dive lets us know,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a new Alzheimer’s disease drug from Eli Lilly, several weeks after a panel of independent experts unanimously recommended its clearance.
    • “The drug, which Lilly will sell as Kisunla, is designed to slow Alzheimer’s progression by clearing from the brain a toxic, sticky protein called amyloid that scientists have long seen as a root cause of the disease. It’s the third of its kind to reach market, following similar medicines from Eisai and Biogen.
    • “In approving Kisunla, the FDA OK’d use in a roughly similar patient population as Eisai and Biogen’s Leqembi. Labeling for the drug, also known as donanemab, recommends doctors start treatment in patients who have mild cognitive impairment or dementia due to Alzheimer’s, and who have confirmed amyloid pathology.
  • Fierce Healthcare points out,
    • “Accountable care organizations concerned they would be held responsible for bad actors exploiting the Medicare system can breathe a sigh of relief.
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) stepped in Friday [June 29] and proposed a rule that ensures they are safe from unfair financial ramifications.
    • “The rule (PDF), if finalized, would exclude payment amounts for certain intermittent urinary catheters submitted from suppliers used for assessing performance year 2023 financial performance of Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs. Benchmarks will be set for 2024, 2025 and 2026, the agency said in a news release.”
  • The Washington Post offers background on the underlying fraud.
    • “Medicare officials this week separately confirmed that 11 companies were collectively responsible for $3.16 billion in questionable bills for urinary catheters between January 2023 and March 2024, saying the agency had successfully blocked payments to the companies.
    • “The ACOs said they identified 12 companies engaged in the alleged fraud, which they say stretches back into late 2022 or even earlier.
    • “Gaus, a 50-year veteran of the health-care industry, said he was not aware of Medicare ever before overhauling its payment rules in response to alleged fraud — a conclusion shared by several current Medicare officials who spoke with The Post. He warned that similar schemes are likely on the horizon.
    • “These fraudsters can get patient IDs, provider IDs, and maybe use AI to glean through these massive files of patient data that they collect from everywhere,” Gaus said.”
    • FEHBlog note: The Post broke the fraud story back in February 2024.}
  • KFF discusses the health policy implications of the June 29 Supreme Court decision dispensing with the Chevron doctrine. The article concludes,
    • “Short of unlikely Congressional action to restore Chevron deference, the Supreme Court in a single decision has shifted many policy decisions from agency technical experts to federal judges, with implications for health policy that will reverberate for years to come.”
    • FEHBlog opinion — The Supreme Court decision does not object to agency fact finding, which is an appropriate field for agency technical experts. The Supreme Court held that judges, not agency technical experts, should interpret the law (see Article III of the U.S. Constitution).
  • Following any decision, the Supreme Court can issue what’s colloquially known as a GVR order in related cases. GVR stands for granting certiorari, vacating the lower court judgment, and remanding for consideration in light of a particular recent decision. Yesterday, the Supreme Court posted an orders list which includes ten Chevron doctrine related GVR decisions in cases from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (several to that Court), plus the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. Consequently, we will have a lot of appellate decisions interpreting Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, 603 U. S. _ (2024) before long.
  • Per an HHS press release,
    • “Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Moyle v. United States, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure sent a letter to hospital and provider associations across the country today reminding them that it is a hospital’s legal duty to offer necessary stabilizing medical treatment (or transfer, if appropriate) to all patients in Medicare-participating hospitals who are found to have an emergency medical condition. CMS also announced that the investigation of EMTALA complaints would proceed in Idaho while litigation continues in the lower courts. * * *
    • “In 2022, CMS issued guidance – PDF to reaffirm that EMTALA requires providers offer necessary stabilizing care for patients suffering emergency medical conditions, which might include abortion care in certain situations. Today’s letter reinforces previous letters from Secretary Becerra and Administrator Brooks-LaSure to hospital and provider associations reminding them of their obligations under EMTALA.”
  • The Centers for Medicare Services posted version 7.2 of the Section 111 reporting guidance for group health plan users today.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review informs us,
    • “Hospitals across the country are finalizing staffing plans and issuing public warnings on fireworks safety ahead of the July Fourth holiday, when an average of around 91,000 patients visit emergency departments. 
    • “We are entirely staffed up for both the Fourth of July as well as the 5th of July,” Aekta Miglani, MD, medical director of the emergency department at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., told CBS affiliate WROC. “Every year we work really closely with our trauma division who we’re lucky to collaborate with on a regular basis, but Fourth of July is one of those holidays where we’ll be working [together] my guess is more frequently than others.” 
    • “On average, emergency departments see nearly 45,000 people daily on July 4 and 5, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of injury data from 2000 to 2018. In 2022, fireworks were involved in an estimated 10,200 injuries treated across hospital emergency departments, though physicians believe that number is much greater, since not everyone seeks care.” 
  • The Wall Street Journal compares the two FDA-approved Alzheimer’s Disease drugs – Kisunla Leqembi.
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “As the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in dairy cows enters its fourth month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is taking steps to ramp up the nation’s capacity to test for the virus in people.
    • “In a call with reporters Tuesday, Nirav Shah, the CDC’s principal deputy director, emphasized that the risk to the general public remains low at this time. But given that the virus is showing no signs of slowing its push deeper into the U.S. cattle population — threatening to create lasting risks to dairy workers and giving it more chances to evolve in ways that make it better at spreading to and among humans — the agency is looking to increase the number and types of tests that can effectively detect H5N1 infections in people. * * *
    • “On Tuesday, the federal government also announced plans to support the development of messenger RNA-based pandemic influenza vaccines, including those that target H5 and H7 avian influenza viruses. BARDA, the Biomedical Advanced Research Development Authority, awarded Moderna $176 million to accelerate clinical testing of its pandemic vaccines, which are expected to enter a Phase 3 trial sometime next year. The U.S. government already has vaccine contracts and stockpiles of H5 vaccines made using other platforms by other manufacturers, including CSL Seqirus and Sanofi.”
  • The Washington Post notes,
    • “Only about 18 percent of eligible Americans were up to date with their lung cancer screenings in 2022, with compliance rates varying by state and region, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. American Cancer Society researchers analyzed data from the 2022 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a population-based, nationwide survey of Americans.
    • “Screening eligibility was determined using 2021 U.S. Preventive Services Task Force criteria, which recommend annual lung cancer screening in high-risk individuals — defined as those with a pack-a-day cigarette habit for 20 years or more who are current smokers or have quit within the past 15 years and are between ages 50 and 80. * * *
    • “Screening can prevent deaths from lung cancer because the disease is “usually easier to treat at early stages,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • The Wall Street Journal relates,
    • “Scientists suspect that one culprit behind your new illness might be the infection you got a couple of years ago. 
    • “The link between new health problems and your past health history appears to be particularly prevalent with Covid. A new Nature Medicine study found that health problems stemming from even mild Covid infections can emerge as many as three years afterward. The study found a greater risk three years later of problems in the gut, brain and lungs, including irritable bowel syndrome, mini-strokes and pulmonary scarring.
    • “This is different from what most people think of as “long Covid,” the debilitating chronic condition that can include fatiguebrain fog and racing heartbeat. Instead, the latest study has found an increased risk of new health conditions—things you probably wouldn’t think of as related to a prior illness—developing years later.”
    • FEHBlog note — The article states that a similar phenomenon occurred after the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
  • The National Cancer Institute posted new cancer information highlights today.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have uncovered a brain circuit in primates that rapidly detects faces. The findings help not only explain how primates sense and recognize faces but could also have implications for understanding conditions such as autism, where face detection and recognition are often impaired from early childhood. The newly discovered circuit first engages an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain called the superior colliculus, which can then trigger the eyes and head to turn for a better look. This better view enables different brain areas in the temporal cortex to engage in more complex facial recognition. The study was published in the journal Neuron.
    • “Quick recognition of faces is a key skill in humans and other primates,” said Richard Krauzlis, Ph.D., of NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI) and senior author of the study. “This newly discovered circuit explains how we’re able to quickly detect and look at faces, even if they first show up in the peripheral visual field where visual acuity is poor. This circuit could be what spotlights faces to help the brain learn to recognize individuals and understand complex facial expressions, helping us acquire important social interaction skills.”
  • The American Medical Association tells us what doctors wish their patients knew about kidney stones.
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review announced,
    • “posting its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of imetelstat (Rytelo, Geron Corporation) for the treatment of anemia in myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).  
    • “Patients that have anemia related to MDS may have to plan around frequent blood transfusions, which can significantly affect their daily activities,” said ICER’s Chief Scientific Officer and Director of Health Technology Assessment Methods and Engagement, Dan Ollendorf, PhD, MPH. “Imetelstat is a new treatment option for adults with low-to-intermediate MDS and transfusion-dependent anemia. While available clinical evidence suggests that imetelstat may reduce or eliminate the need for transfusions, its impact on the severe fatigue that often accompanies MDS anemia is less clear. There is no evidence to suggest that imetelstat reduces the progression or trajectory of MDS itself, and there are some key side effects of concern. As a result, we view the evidence as promising but inconclusive, and the current list price is not at all aligned with the modest benefit we do see.”
    • “This Evidence Report will be reviewed at a virtual public meeting of the CTAF on July 19, 2024. The CTAF is one of ICER’s three independent evidence appraisal committees comprising medical evidence experts, practicing clinicians, methodologists, and leaders in patient engagement and advocacy.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “A new analysis from KFF digs into insurers’ financial performance across multiple markets and found the highest gross margins in the Medicare Advantage (MA) space.
    • “At the end of 2023, gross margins per enrollee in MA were $1,982 on average compared to $1,048 in the individual market. Medicaid was the lowest at $753 in gross margin per enrollee, and group plans fell in the middle at $910. Gross margins are a notable indicator for financial performance, though they’re not necessarily indicative of profitability as they do not account for administrative costs or tax liabilities.
    • “Gross margins in MA were similar in 2023 to those recorded in the 2022 version of the analysis, according to KFF. In 2022, MA plans averaged $1,977 per enrollee. This is despite concerns from multiple major players in this space about a spike in utilization over the course of 2023.
    • “Across most markets, gross margins have been relatively stable in recent years, though they have declined somewhat from spikes that occurred in 2020 during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers wrote.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues lets us know,
    • “Humana provides the best customer experience to its members, according to Forrester’s “U.S. Health Insurers Customer Experience Index Rankings” for 2024.
    • “The June 17 ranking shared with Becker’s found that customer satisfaction with health insurers is on the decline, with half of the named insurers seeing lower scores compared to last year and none with improved scores. The industry’s average CX Index score dropped 2.7 points, a third straight year of declines. Average scores peaked at 70.2 out of 100 in 2021 and declined to 66.6 in 2024. 
    • [The FEHBlog notes that CareFirst, Kaiser Permanente, and UnitedHealthcare came in second, third, and fourth in the rankings.]
  • and
    • “Several Trinity Health hospitals from coast to coast are now out of network with UnitedHealthcare amid reimbursement disputes between the organizations. * * *
    • “Several of Livonia, Mich.-based Trinity’s ministries and hospitals have been renegotiating contracts with UnitedHealthcare to replace deals that expired at midnight on June 30. Deals have been reached in Florida and Iowa, but negotiations are ongoing for facilities located in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Indiana and California.”

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

Happy Bobby Bonilla Day!

“The calendar has turned to July 1, and that means one thing: It’s time for Mets fans everywhere to wish each other a Happy Bobby Bonilla Day! Why? On Monday, 61-year-old Bobby Bonilla will collect a check for $1,193,248.20 from the New York Mets, as he has and will every July 1 from 2011 through 2035.”

The FEHBlog is not a Mets fan. It’s a fun story.

From Washington, DC,

  • The American Hospital Association News reports,
    • “Changes to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Hospital Price Transparency Rule took effect July 1. Going forward, hospitals are required to use a standard machine-readable file format, which includes some new data elements, such as the negotiated rate methodology and an accuracy and completeness statement.”  
  • Per an HHS press release,
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced more than $200 million to support 42 programs across the country aimed at improving care for older Americans, including those experiencing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”
    • “HRSA’s Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program will train primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and other health care clinicians to provide age-friendly and dementia-friendly care for older adults.  The program also focuses on providing families and other caregivers of older adults with the knowledge and skills to help them best support their loved ones.” * * *
    • “For a full list of award recipients, visit: https://bhw.hrsa.gov/funding/apply-grant/gwep-awardees.”
  • The Washington Post lets us know,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into Teva Pharmaceuticals, citing the company’s refusal to take down about two dozen patents for its asthma and COPD inhalers, according to confidential agency documents reviewed by The Washington Post.
    • “The FTC last week sent a civil investigative demand — effectively a subpoena — ordering Teva to provide internal communications, analysis and financial data related to the contested patents listed in a federal registry known as the Orange Book. The agency has argued that pharmaceutical companies such as Teva have wrongly made minor tweaks to their products to keep patents in the Orange Book and fend off generic competition. Teva charges hundreds of dollars for inhalers in the United States that the company sells for a fraction of the price overseas.
    • “Teva has until July 24 to cooperate with the FTC’s demand.”
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The Supreme Court on Monday gave companies more time to challenge many regulations [under the Administrative Procedure Act], ruling that a six-year statute of limitations for filing lawsuits begins when a regulation first affects a company rather than when it is first issued.
    • “The ruling in the case — the latest in a series of challenges to administrative power this term — could amplify the effect of the blockbuster decision last week overturning a foundational legal precedent known as Chevron deference, which required federal courts to defer to agencies’ reasonable interpretations of ambiguous statutes. That decision imperils countless regulations, particularly on the environment, and advances a longstanding goal of the conservative legal movement.
    • “The vote was 6 to 3, split along ideological lines. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the conservative majority, rejected the government’s argument that the time limit to sue begins when an agency issues a rule.
    • FEHBlog note — The Supreme Court has completed its October 2023 term.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Per an NIH press release,
    • “A Phase 1 trial testing the safety of an experimental nasal vaccine that may provide enhanced breadth of protection against emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is now enrolling healthy adults at three sites in the United States. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is sponsoring the first-in-human trial of the investigational vaccine, which was designed and tested in pre-clinical studies by scientists from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Laboratory of Infectious Diseases.” * * *
    • “The study aims to enroll 60 adult participants, ages 18 to 64 years old, who previously received at least three prior doses of an FDA-approved or -authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The trial sites are Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; The Hope Clinic of Emory University, Decatur, Georgia; and New York University, Long Island. Hana M. El Sahly, M.D., at the Baylor College of Medicine Vaccine Research Center, is leading the study.” * * *
    • “More information about the trial is available at clinicaltrials.gov using the identifier NCT06441968.”
  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “Getting an mRNA COVID-19 shot during the first trimester of pregnancy didn’t lead to an increased risk of major structural birth defects, a multisite retrospective cohort study found.
    • “Major structural birth defects occurred in 1.48% of infants after a first-trimester vaccination and in 1.41% of those without a first-trimester vaccination (adjusted prevalence ratio 1.02, 95% CI 0.78-1.33), Elyse Kharbanda, MD, MPH, of the HealthPartners Institute in Bloomington, Minnesota, and colleagues reported in JAMA Pediatrics.”
    • “Additionally, secondary analyses revealed that there were no significant differences between groups when birth defects were grouped by organ system.
    • “These findings should provide reassurance to pregnant people and their obstetric care practitioners,” the authors concluded.”
  • The Washington Post relates,
    • “People with leg amputations were able to control their prosthetic limbs with their brains in a significant scientific advance that allows for a smoother gait and enhanced ability to navigate obstacles, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.
    • “By creating a connection between a person’s nervous system and their prosthetic leg, researchers at the K. Lisa Yang Center for Bionics at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital paved the way for the next generation of prostheses.
    • “We were able to show the first full neural control of bionic walking,” said Hyungeun Song, first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at MIT.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “The national supply of the cancer drug cisplatin now exceeds demand, FDA Commissioner Robert Cailiff, MD, said June 28. 
    • “The drug, which treats multiple cancers, had been in shortage since February 2023. The shortage occurred after the FDA halted imports from Intas Pharmaceuticals’ manufacturing plant in India in late 2022 due to quality issues. In May 2023, 70% of cancer centers lacked sufficient cisplatin supply, according to a report from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 
    • “Low supplies of cisplatin and other cancer drugs have complicated treatments for many patients, with some U.S. cancer centers still struggling to maintain adequate supplies.” 
  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports identify cures for constipation.
  • BioPharma Dive calls attention to ten clinical trials to watch in the second half of 2024.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Mercer explains why healthcare cost – and volatility – has CFOs worried. 
    • “As we head towards the third quarter of 2024, top concerns around health programs are affordability for both employees and employers, the potential impact of GLP-1s on cost trends, and the increased volatility in claims. For fully insured sponsors, claims volatility makes it difficult to predict cost from year to year, while self-insured sponsors may also experience the effects of claims volatility within a given year. Healthcare trends have been impacted by broader economic inflationary pressures with a lag, and the environment will remain challenging for some time to come. While we expect medical cost trends to be similar to last year’s, we see growing cost pressure from prescription drugs, which account for approximately one-third of total health plan costs.”
    • The article compiles Mercer’s findings from a survey of eighty CFOs.  
  • Beckers Hospital Review notes,
    • “If current trends continue, Michael Murphy, PharmD, said all payers will come to recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers by the end of the decade. 
    • “Dr. Murphy, the American Pharmacists Association’s adviser for state government affairs, said there has been “an explosion” of health plans increasing coverage for pharmacists’ services. In a June 26 blog post, he said momentum is building among commercial plans and state Medicaid fee-for-service and managed care plans. 
    • “Pharmacists are being enrolled as providers in much the same way that health plans enroll physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants,” Dr. Murphy said. “Pharmacists are also billing for their services in similar ways as other providers. Often, pharmacists submit the same billing codes that other healthcare providers submit for a comparable visit.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “For 15 years, a formidable CEO-CFO duo often called “the two Tonys” ushered their St. Louis-based health system through a period of explosive growth, adding hospital after hospital until it became one of the country’s biggest health systems.
    • “The year after former CEO Anthony Tersigni and former finance chief Anthony Speranzo stepped down, their sprawling empire of roughly 140 hospitals underwent the ultimate stress test: the Covid-19 pandemic. Ascension has lost almost $4 billion on operations from fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2023, triggering deals to offload almost 30 hospitals. Just last week, Ascension said it would sell its remaining five hospitals in Alabama.
    • “They are going hard on the expense side,” said Stephen Infranco, managing director and head of the nonprofit health care team at S&P Global. “It’s a wait and see approach to how successful it is.”
    • “In a statement, Ascension spokesperson Sean Fitzpatrick said reviewing the hospital portfolio is an ongoing exercise at Ascension. “We are constantly looking for opportunities to prudently prune and grow our care delivery system in an effort to best serve patients in our communities,” he said.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Amedisys, a large home health provider, plans to divest a number of care centers to an affiliate of VitalCaring Group in advance of its planned merger with UnitedHealth Group later this year.
    • “VitalCaring also acquired some UnitedHealth Group care centers in the deal, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
    • “The completion of the divestiture hinges on the closing of the merger between Amedisys and UnitedHealth Group, which is expected to close in the second half of 2024, Amedisys said in the SEC filing.” * * *
    • “This news is unsurprising and relatively on schedule,” wrote Matt Larew, a healthcare research analyst and partner at William Blair in an analyst note. “In May, a report originally surfaced that UnitedHealth and Amedisys were working with regulators on a divestment package of over 100 locations and a short time after it was reported that VitalCaring had emerged as the buyer.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Health technology startup Fabric is acquiring Walmart’s telehealth assets as the retailer exits its healthcare delivery business. 
    • “Fabric, which offers patient intake, care navigation and telehealth services, said Friday it purchased Walmart’s MeMD for an undisclosed amount. MeMD, which Walmart acquired in 2021, provides virtual behavioral, urgent and primary care benefits for 30,000 corporate partners and five million members.
    • “Walmart said in April it would close its healthcare business, citing a challenging reimbursement environment and growing operational costs that limited profitability.”
  • and
    • “Amazon is folding its telehealth marketplace into primary care chain One Medical, unifying its healthcare delivery services under a single brand — and placing One Medical in front of the eyes of engaged telehealth customers, potentially creating a new source of subscriptions.
    • Amazon is rebranding the marketplace, previously called Amazon Clinic, to Amazon One Medical Pay-Per-Visit. The service, which automatically connects patients to a provider via virtual video or messaging for a flat fee, is also getting more affordable.
    • “Messaging visits are $29, down from around $35, and video visits are $49, down from $75.”

A Busy Thursday

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • STAT News tells us,
    • “A House committee overwhelmingly passed four bills on Thursday that would expand Medicare coverage of obesity drugs and cancer screening blood tests and place guardrails around Medicare’s discretion in covering drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
    • “[By a 36-4 bipartisan vote],the House Ways & Means Committee passed obesity drug coverage legislation that would offer a limited pathway for adults 65 and older to get their weight loss drugs paid for by Medicare. Right now, Medicare is prohibited from covering medications used for weight loss, like Wegovy and Zepbound. 
    • “However, the new plan is significantly more restrictive than prior proposals. It’s primarily targeted at making sure that people currently taking weight loss drugs don’t get kicked off when they enter the Medicare program, such as by turning 65.” * * *
    • “Another bill that gained even more support would expand Medicare coverage of cancer screening. The legislation passed on a 38-0 vote. 
    • “Medicare is allowed to pay for FDA-approved tests that diagnose diseases, but it doesn’t cover tests that simply screen healthy people for cancer. The bill would open the door for Medicare to pay for cancer screening tests, including Grail’s Galleri.” 
  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “Value-based care — in which medical practices are paid based on the value of their care, not on volume — is a good idea but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) need to improve its implementation, doctors and a healthcare executive told members of the House Ways & Means Health Subcommittee.
    • “I am a proponent of the need to move to value-based care, improving quality while decreasing wasteful spending and ensuring access,” Robert Berenson, MD, an institute fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., said at Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing on improving value-based care for patients and providers. “However, I believe that value-based payment as a mechanism to promote better care delivery has gotten off track and needs a thorough reevaluation and reformulation.”
  • Fierce Pharma relates,
    • “Leading health legislators say they are focused on reducing prescription drug prices while minimizing unintended consequences of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
    • “House Rep. Scott Peters, D-California, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, shared their priorities during a program put on by The Hill and the Alliance for Aging Research.
    • “Peters stressed that the drug manufacturing industry needs to stay in the U.S., unlike how the country let chip manufacturing business slip away and go offshore. He also wants lawmakers to budget healthcare expenditures differently.
    • “Innovation might cost more money upfront, even if it saves money down the line,” he said. “In the Budget Committee, which I also serve on, we’re talking about how to think about balancing the budget over time. If we don’t think about the future costs of all these diseases, as part of that calculation, I think we’re going to miss the mark.”
  • Per CMS fact sheets,
    • On June 26, 2024, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the Calendar Year (CY) 2025 Home Health Prospective Payment System (HH PPS) proposed rule, which would update Medicare payment policies and rates for Home Health Agencies (HHAs). These changes can support timely admission to home health services, which has demonstrated improvements for patient outcomes and reducing risk of hospital readmissions. 
  • and
    • “On June 27, 2024, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule to update payment rates and policies and includes requests for information under the End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Prospective Payment System (PPS) for renal dialysis services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries on or after January 1, 2025.
    • “For CY 2025, CMS is proposing to increase the ESRD PPS base rate to $273.20, which would increase total payments to all ESRD facilities, both freestanding and hospital-based, by approximately 2.2%.”
  • HHS’s Office for Civil Rights announced,
    • “At the HHS Office for Civil Rights, we believe patient privacy is essential to ensuring high quality reproductive health care. HHS OCR is encouraging HIPAA covered entities and business associates to begin implementing the new HIPAA Privacy Rule to Support Reproductive Health Care Privacy to help protect patient privacy and ensure compliance later this year. To aid in this, we have compiled resources for both community members and HIPAA Covered Entities or Business Associates. 
      • “For resources to help communicate with stakeholders and community members click here.
      • “For a fact sheet summary of the rule click here (en español).
      • “To hear directly about the rule from Director Melanie Fontes Rainer click here (en español).
      • “To view a recorded briefing by Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity Timothy Noonan click here.
      • “For a model attestation for a requested use or disclosure of protected health information potentially related to reproductive health care click here.
    • “The effective date of the Final Rule was June 25, 2024. This is the date that HIPAA covered entities and their business associates may begin implementing the new requirements. Covered entities and business associates are not required to comply with the new requirements until December 23, 2024, except for the new changes to the HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices which has a compliance date of by February 16, 2026.”
  • Healthcare Dive lets us know,
    • “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Thursday to allow Idaho doctors to perform abortions to stabilize a patient’s life and health. 
    • “However, the court declined to take up the fundamental legal question underlying the case: whether a federal law mandating hospitals provide medical services during emergencies [known as EMTALA] supersedes near-total state abortion bans.
    • “It is the court’s first ruling on statewide abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, ending the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.”
  • CMS observed,
    • “CMS’ first responsibility is to the people we serve, including anyone who steps into the emergency department of a Medicare-participating hospital. If any individual believes their EMTALA rights have been violated, they should continue to report the circumstances to CMS or their state survey agency. To the maximum extent permitted by law, we will continue to investigate complaints and hold hospitals accountable to provide the emergency stabilizing treatment that EMTALA has required for decades.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “The Supreme Court rejected a bankruptcy plan for OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma that would have allocated billions of dollars from members of the wealthy Sackler family to combat opioid addiction in exchange for shielding them from civil lawsuits over their alleged role in fueling the drug epidemic.
    • “The 5-4 decision marks a victory for the minority of opioid victims who voted to reject the settlement plan because they want to continue pressing lawsuits against the Sackler family members who own Purdue, and a loss for the majority of opioid victims and state and local governments who voted to accept it.”
    • “The high court said U.S. bankruptcy law doesn’t allow for a release of the Sacklers’ legal liabilities stemming from their ownership of Purdue when not all opioid-related plaintiffs have accepted the terms offered by the company’s family owners, whose wealth has been estimated at $11 billion.” * * *
    • “Thursday’s ruling—among the highest-profile bankruptcy decisions ever from the high court—weakens the ability of corporations and their insiders to use bankruptcy to resolve mass litigation alleging they harmed consumers. 
    • “The Sacklers didn’t file for bankruptcy themselves and didn’t agree to place “anything approaching their full assets on the table” for distribution to opioid victims, [Justice Gorsuch] wrote [for the Court’s majority]. “Yet they seek a judicial order that would extinguish virtually all claims against them for fraud, willful injury, and even wrongful death, all without the consent of those who have brought and seek to bring such claims,” he wrote. 
    • “Nothing in U.S. bankruptcy law authorizes that outcome, [Justice] Gorsuch said.
  • Fierce Pharma adds,
    • “The Supreme Court decision sends the case back to bankruptcy court for future deliberations, according to a statement from Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “All Americans ages 6 months and older should receive one of the new Covid-19 vaccines when they become available this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.
    • “The recommendation comes as the nation faces a summer wave of Covid, with the number of infections rising in at least 39 states and territories.
    • “Most Americans have acquired immunity against the coronavirus from repeat infections or vaccine doses, or both. The vaccines now offer an incremental boost, remaining effective for only a few months as immunity wanes and the virus continues to evolve.
    • “Still, across every age group, a vast majority of Americans who were hospitalized for Covid did not receive one of the shots offered last fall, according to data presented at a meeting on Thursday of the C.D.C.’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
    • “Dr. Mandy Cohen, the agency’s director, accepted the unanimous advice of the panel on Thursday to recommend another round of immunizations.”
  • The NIH Director writes in her blog,
    • “Cancer arises when changes in genes that normally control cell division lead to unchecked growth at the expense of healthy tissues. One of the most common genetic alterations across human cancers—occurring in 95% of pancreatic cancers but also many non-small cell lung cancers, colorectal cancers, and others—is in a gene known as KRAS. While promising new treatments targeting KRAS to shrink cancerous tumors have recently gained approval, less than 40% of pancreatic cancers respond to treatment with KRAS inhibitors for reasons that aren’t well understood.
    • “There’s much more to learn about how KRAS spurs cancer growth—and how KRAS-mutant cancers resist treatment with existing KRAS inhibitors. To address this need, researchers behind two studies in Science have established the most comprehensive molecular portrait yet of the workings of KRAS and how its many downstream impacts may influence outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer. The findings could lead to new treatment approaches, including ways to potentially guide treatment for individuals with pancreatic cancer, the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S.
    • “These studies, supported in part by NIH, come from a team led by Channing Der  and Adrienne Cox, together with Jeffrey Klomp, Clint Stalnecker, and Jennifer Klomp, at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The researchers were inspired in part by the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of treatments that block a mutated version of KRAS that drives many pancreatic cancers. The team was also motivated by the realization that many patients whose cancers initially respond to the new treatments relapse rather quickly as the cancers find ways to reactivate underlying growth pathways.” * * *
    • “Importantly, the researchers found that the molecular signatures they’ve uncovered may predict tumor responses in patients treated with KRAS inhibitors or ERK inhibitors. Based on their findings, they suspect that the reason so many pancreatic cancers don’t respond to KRAS inhibitors may be because the drugs simply don’t block KRAS well enough—and not because the cancers no longer depend on KRAS signals for their growth. The researchers suggest it may be beneficial to monitor these underlying molecular pathways in patients to better understand treatment outcomes and guide treatment decisions.
    • “The team plans to continue exploring the role of these and other important drivers of cancer growth and treatment resistance. Ultimately, their goal is to help advance the development of the next generation of KRAS inhibitors that will work even better for many more people with pancreatic or other KRAS-driven cancers.”
  • Health Day notes,
    • “A full third of American adults take multivitamins, despite prior studies suggesting they do little to boost health.
    • “Now, a study involving almost 400,000 people finds zero benefit from multivitamin use in helping folks live longer.
    • “Among people “without a history of major chronic diseases, we did not find evidence to support improved longevity among healthy adults who regularly take multivitamins,” concluded a team led by Erikka Loftfield. She’s with the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI).
    • “Her team published its findings June 26 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
  • Healio calls to our attention a study finding
    • “Alcohol intake of more than 12 g per day was associated with increased risk for hypertension.
    • “Hypertension risk plateaued at higher levels of alcohol intake for men, but risk continued to rise for women.”
  • STAT News offers a detailed article titled “By the numbers: America’s alcohol-related health problems are rising fast.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Walgreens is pulling back its focus on healthcare services after the strategic shift failed to bolster the struggling retailer’s financial health.
    • “Walgreens plans to reduce its stake in value-based medical chain VillageMD, and will no longer be the company’s majority owner, CEO Tim Wentworth told investors on a Thursday morning call after announcing third quarter earnings below analyst expectations.
    • “Walgreens also plans to close a “significant portion” of its roughly 8,700 stores in the U.S., Wentworth said. The company didn’t share a specific figure, but said it is reviewing one-quarter of its stores that are underperforming financially. Walgreens has already closed hundreds of stores over the past few years.” * * *
    • “Walgreens plans to launch a retail pharmacy action plan to improve customer experience in its stores, better align its pharmacy and healthcare businesses and focus on reliable products in areas like women’s health, Wentworth said.
    • “The company is also in discussions with health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to change how its pharmacies are paid, to create more stability in a challenging reimbursement environment.”
  • Modern Healthcare reports,
    • “At-home emergency care is gaining momentum — and could cost millions less — but reimbursement challenges create an access barrier for some patients.
    • “Deploying healthcare in patients’ homes gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to ease overcrowding at hospitals and prevent the virus from spreading. Emergency department care at home lets patients bypass the waiting room through referrals from hospitals or primary care providers if they determine patients do not have life-threatening illnesses or injuries. While many private insurers reimburse for such care, traditional fee-for-service Medicare and Medicaid do not pay for it as a stand-alone service.
    • “Emergency department-at-home programs deploy paramedics or nurses to check vital signs, draw blood and take x-rays with portable imaging devices. Physicians supervise the visits via telehealth, then refer patients to primary care providers for further treatment or to hospital emergency departments if more complex care is needed.
    • “Healthcare technology company Medically Home and primary care provider Atrius Health, a division of UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Health, offer emergency department-care-at-home through a partnership in the Boston area. A study they published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found more than 83% of 3,668 patients who received emergency care at home over two years did not require a trip to the hospital, saving Atrius approximately $4.5 million.
    • “Medically Home launched its service in 2020 and has served approximately 7,000 patients through contracts with three provider groups, including Atrius. The primary care provider has value-based care contracts with most of its patients and takes on the full risk for their care.”
  • FEHBlog observation: Intriguing!
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Nineteen rural Minnesota hospitals and their 50-plus clinics have banded together to form a clinically integrated network (CIN) serving more than 750,000 people.
    • “The so-called Headwaters High-Value Network, announced Thursday, stitches the independent hospitals’ services together so that Minnesotans can coordinate their care across care sites. Together, the member groups employ about 9,000 people and bring in $1.3 billion of annual net revenue.
    • “Members of the network also said the approach will help their hospitals control rising care costs through reduced administrative burden and shared services. The CIN said it is “in discussions” with other interested rural Minnesota hospitals and “expects to grow.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review identifies the ten best states for hospital experience. Nevada leads the pack.
  • Beckers Hospital Review adds,
    • “Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. will serve as a wholesale drug distributor for all 71 hospitals affiliated with Community Health Systems, the organizations announced June 27. 
    • ‘Cost Plus Drugs launched the wholesale services in early 2024, but for the first time, the company is rolling out the offering to a large health system.
    • “The pharmaceutical company has direct relationships with 38 of the 40 largest generic manufacturers and multiple secondary distributors, according to Cost Plus Drugs’ CEO and co-founder, Alex Oshmyansky, MD, PhD.