Happy New Fiscal Year

Happy New Fiscal Year

Today, October 1, 2020, is the beginning of the new 2021 federal fiscal year and the fourth calendar quarter of 2020. Federal News Network reports that the President signed the compromise continuing resolution into law at 1 am this morning. The federal government is now funded through December 11, 2020.

The Washington Post reminds us that

Most federal employees [became] eligible Thursday [October 1] for paid parental leave, a benefit valued at about $1 billion a year and one of the most significant expansions of their benefits since the creation of unpaid parental leave more than 25 years ago. The new entitlement will allow employees to take paid time off for part or all of 12 weeks over a 12-month period, effective with births, adoptions or foster placements that occur Thursday and after. Previously, employees could take 12 weeks of unpaid time available under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

On the COVID-19 front —

  • The Wall Street Journal provides operational background on the current Phase III COVID-19 vaccine trials.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced an agreement with the Rockefeller Foundation “to identify and share effective approaches for using rapid point-of-care (POC) antigen tests to screen for COVID-19 in communities, with a focus on safely reopening K-12 schools. The partnership establishes a pilot program with select cities and states in The Rockefeller Foundation’s Testing Solutions Group (TSG), a network of public officials devoted to rapidly scaling COVID-19 testing, tracing, and tracking in their communities.”
  • STAT News discusses the somber connection between diabetes and COVID-19.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show more than three-quarters of people who died from Covid-19 had at least one preexisting condition. Overall, diabetes was noted as an underlying condition for approximately 4 in 10 patients. Among people younger than 65 who died from the infection, about half had diabetes.

[Moreover,] Juliana Chan, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Diabetes and Obesity, said the pandemic has intertwined with and exposed two other widespread problems: diabetes and disparities triggered by social determinants of health.

“What we are seeing is nothing new, but it is really just on a massive and global scale,” she said in an interview. “I hope that there is something positive out of this, that people understand that we are hit by three epidemics.”

  • The U.S. Department of Labor issued additional FAQs “regarding the need to report employees’ in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related cases of the coronavirus.”

Because October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the FEHBlog wishes to point out this Health IT Security report that

From October 2019 to July 2020, Microsoft data shows hackers have rapidly improved the sophistication and increased the frequency of cyberattacks. And when it comes to incident response engagements, ransomware attacks were the most common cause. The report follows reports that the Universal Health Services health system is currently recovering from what appears to be one of the biggest ransomware attacks in recent history. Further, nearly a dozen healthcare entities in the past month have either faced similar incidents or saw their data leaked online by ransomware threat actors.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

In COVID-19 vaccine news —

  • The American Hospital Association has a COVID-19 vaccine resources and information website.
  • PharmaManufacturing is reporting that ” Pfizer’s CEO recently stated that the company could be ready to submit data from a late-stage trial of its coronavirus vaccine by the end of October — but experts are urging the company to slow its roll. According to Bloomberg Law, more than 60 bioethicists and researchers have penned a letter asking Pfizer to delay data reporting until November.” Why not let the Food and Drug Administration do its job?

In COVID-19 rapid testing news, HHS announced today a detailed “national distribution plan for the Abbott BinaxNOW Ag Card rapid test to assist Governors’ efforts to continue to safely reopen their states. BinaxNOW is a unique testing option to provide support to K-12 teachers and students, higher education, critical infrastructure, first responders, and other priorities as governors deem fit. The BinaxNOW rapid test – the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized antigen rapid point-of-care test that does not require an instrument – is easy to use, will produce COVID-19 test results in 15 minutes, and costs $5. * * * The Federal government purchased these Abbott BinaxNOW diagnostic tests on August 27, 2020, to ensure equitable distribution of the first 150 million units – one day after an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) was issued by the FDA to ensure they would be expeditiously distributed to vulnerable populations as quickly as possible.

In other news —

  • The Centers for Disease Control reported today about COVID-19 trends among school age children in our country. “Since March, 277,285 COVID-19 cases in children have been reported [out of seven million in total]. COVID-19 incidence among adolescents aged 12–17 years was approximately twice that in children aged 5–11 years.”
  • Healio reports on the multiple uses of telehealth beyond acute primary care. “[T]elehealth has been routinely incorporated in specialties such as psychiatry and asthma/allergy care, even prior to the COVID-19 era [‘PC”]. * * * Further, telemedicine allows for triage of patients with COVID-19 symptoms without requiring face-to-face visits to help direct next steps for testing and treatment. Telehealth can be effectively incorporated into oncology care — provided thoughtful and appropriate measures are taken.”
  • There has been a lot of press about the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court following the sad occasion of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. It is quite likely that Judge Barrett will be sitting on the Supreme Court when the California v. Texas case is argued on November 10. Speculation is rife about this development and it is truly unfortunate that the Trump Administration is now siding with the States opposing the law’s constitutionality in the California v. Texas case. In the FEHBlog’s opinion, the position against the law’s constitutionality is a weak cup of tea. The FEHBlog is confident that the Supreme Court opted to hear the case to end this litigation in favor of the ACA’s general constitutionality. Congress obviously did not intend to render the ACA unconstitutional by zeroing out the individual mandate. The American Prospect observes

The whole legal argument [against the ACA’s constitutionality] depends on the fact that Republicans used reconciliation to pass the 2017 tax bill through the Senate with a simple majority. Due to the restrictions around reconciliation, Republicans couldn’t technically repeal the mandate in total, instead just lowering the penalty to nothing. The case effectively goes away if Congress either adds back in a penalty (even of just one cent), or just officially repeals the mandate, thereby severing it from the whole health care law.

Trying to bring back a penalty is a terrible option. The mandate is deeply unpopular, and it would be easy for Senate Republicans to oppose that move. What’s more, in the months since the mandate penalty went away, we’ve learned that it wasn’t as necessary to making the Obamacare system work as Democrats insisted in 2009 and 2010. Fully repealing the individual mandate, on the other hand, is an easy fight to win, as well as good policy. It is generally bad to have unenforced laws on the books.

Congress should take this action now by enacting an individual mandate repeal just as it repealed other ACA taxes in 2019. This is not to suggest that Congressional action is the only step that could save the law. But it would short circuit this craziness.

Weekend Update

The FEHBlog is back inside the Beltway after a relaxing week on the Jersey Shore.

Both Houses of Congress will be conducting legislative and committee work this week following Yom Kippur which occurs from sundown tonight until sundown tomorrow. The Senate must pass the compromise continuing resolution funding the federal government through December 11 no later than Wednesday September 30.

On September 30, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will take up the nomination of Chad Wolf to be Secretary of Homeland Security. The Committee continues to defer action of the nomination of John Gibbs to be OPM Director.

Before long OPM will be publicizing the 2021 FEHBP government contribution. The September 1, 2020, OPM Benefit Administration Letter states that OPM will be taking this action in “early October” and early October starts this Thursday October 1. Thanks to Google Alerts, the FEHBlog ran across this Janesville (Wisc.) Gazette article reporting that an FEHB plan called MercyCare with only 80 enrollees understandably will be leaving the FEHB Program at the end of this year.

While driving back from New Jersey the FEHBlog was musing about the uptick in COVID-19 cases. This musing reminded him to provide a link to this lengthy Wall Street Journal article published earlier this month about the “really diabolical” COVID-19 virus. WSJ articles on COVID-19 usually are accessible outside the paper’s paywall.

Taken on its own terms, SARS-CoV-2 is the infectious disease success of the past 100 years.

Almost unmatched in the annals of emerging human contagions, it has parlayed a few chance infections into a pandemic of around 27 million confirmed cases so far.

Doctors long expected the advent of such a virus, but even so, the shrewdness of the coronavirus caught many by surprise, and goes a long way to explaining how the world has struggled to contain it ever since.

“We underestimated it,” said Peter Piot , the head of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a co-discoverer of Ebola, who fell victim to the coronavirus himself in March.

In any event, looking forward, Healthline offers an update on the state of rapid COVID-19 testing.

In other news

  • Fierce Healthcare reports on UnitedHealthcare’s vision for a path forward on health reform. The study highlights the following policy priorities: 1. Universal coverage, 2. Improving affordability, 3. Enhancing the health experience, and 4. Boosting health outcomes.
  • Fierce Healthcare also provides insights into last week’s final rule creating a process for importing less expensive drugs from Canada. “HHS didn’t comment on whether Canada was on board with any re-importation proposals. The country has vociferously opposed national re-importation measures because of concerns it would dwindle their own drug supplies.” Time will tell. The FEHBlog is not a fan of this sort of drug importation.
  • Healthcare Dive reports that “Microsoft’s video platform, Teams, is integrating directly with electronic health records software to permit clinicians to launch telehealth visits from the EHR.” Microsoft’s first integration deal is with the largest EHR vendor Epic. This will facilitate direct telehealth visits between primary care providers and the patients.
  • Health Payer Intelligence discusses payer strategies for offering home healthcare / remote monitoring to members.

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

Roll Call informs us that the House of Representatives pass the compromise Fiscal Year 2021 continuing resolution (H.R. 8337) by a wide margin. The bill heads onto the Senate which is expected also to pass the bill before the end of the current fiscal year next Wednesday September 30.

In COVID-19 news —

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has begun a 60,000-subject phase 3 assessment of its COVID-19 vaccine. The trial will enroll participants in the U.S. and other countries with a high incidence of COVID-19 with a view to generating data to support emergency use authorization early next year. * * * Unlike its rivals, J&J is evaluating the safety and efficacy of a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. If the one-dose regimen is successful, J&J could eliminate the logistical complexity and dropouts associated with trying to get people to return for a second shot. A one-shot regimen would also enable J&J to vaccinate 1 billion people each year. Few manufacturers of two-dose regimens can match that figure. * * *

In disclosing the start of the phase 3, J&J also called out the storage requirements of its vaccine. The candidate is expected to be stable for two years at -20°C and for upward of three months in the 2°C to 8°C range used to store many biologics. J&J said the candidate is “compatible with standard vaccine distribution channels and would not require new infrastructure to get it to the people who need it.” Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine must be kept at -70⁰C and be used within 24 hours of being thawed. Other COVID-19 vaccines have storage requirements more comparable to those of J&J’s shot.

Good news.

  • Fierce Healthcare reports that Walmart plans to use drones to deliver self-administered COVID-19 tests to single family homes within a one miles radius of one of their “pilot” stores. The recipient will need to mail the nasal sample to a lab. The gold standard will be self administered tests that can read out at home like a pregnancy test, but they are getting closer.

Fierce Healthcare also calls our attention to the fact that Optum’s latest quarterly drug pipeline report explains how health plans can prepare to cover “chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapies coming to market. CAR-T treatments for cancer are costly but are proliferating as they offer a potentially curative treatment for the disease. Through CAR-T therapy, a patient’s cells are modified in a lab and then reintroduced to the body to attack the cancer.”

The Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, took another HIPAA business associate scalp today.

CHSPSC LLC, (“CHSPSC”) has agreed to pay $2,300,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and to adopt a corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules related to a breach affecting over six million people. CHSPSC provides a variety of business associate services, including IT and health information management, to hospitals and physician clinics indirectly owned by Community Health Systems, Inc., in Franklin, Tennessee.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The FEHBlog heard on a webinar today that the House of Representatives will be releasing their FY 2021 continuing resolution tomorrow. That resolution according to press reports will be acceptable to the Senate and the White House. The FEHBlog will keep an eye out.

In COVID-19 news

  • Fierce Pharma reports that “Moderna reached human testing for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in record time, and now with its phase 3 trial moving right along, the company is expecting efficacy data in November—likely after Pfizer and BioNTech, but before everyone else.”
  • Fierce Healthcare reports that “CVS Health is planning to double the number of its drive-thru testing sites by mid-October, the healthcare giant announced on Thursday [September 17]. CVS intends to add more than 2,000 sites at its pharmacies in the next several weeks, bringing its total to more than 4,000 nationwide. The new locations will be opened in waves, beginning with 400 new sites opening on Friday. CVS currently offers testing in 33 states and the District of Columbia.”
  • Medscape reports that “Eli Lilly and Co said on Wednesday interim trial data showed its experimental monoclonal antibody treatment reduced the need for hospitalization and emergency room visits for patients with moderate COVID-19. The company said it will discuss the interim results, which have not yet been reviewed by outside experts, with global regulators. A Lilly spokeswoman said discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are expected to range from additional clinical trials to the possibility of an emergency use authorization.”

Progress. Also a Centers for Disease Control study has confirmed an earlier Wall Street Journal report that widespread flu immunization plus continued use of social measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 , e.g., social distancing, mask wearing, etc, should lead to an easy flu season in the United States this winter.

In other news, Healthcare Dive provides health insurer CEO insights on 2021. “Though there’s significant uncertainty around the future of the insurance industry, many remarks can be summed up in a line from Cigna CEO David Cordani: ‘We feel bullish on 2021.’ And despite the major role of government in regulating healthcare, most officials seemed agnostic on the presidential election looming in less than two months.” That is certainly encouraging.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

Becker’s Health IT offers 20 bold health IT predictions for the next five years. Here are the FEHBlog’s favorites:

1. Joel Klein, MD. Senior Vice President and CIO of University of Maryland Medical System (Baltimore): I think at least half of all healthcare in America will be virtual within five years. There are two barriers:

• Payers. They might pay less but if they pay enough, it will be enough. If we can figure out how to solve emergency department visits with widespread, cost effective on-demand care, that will make a difference.
• ‘But I want to see my doctor.’ That might be true for some things, but the convenience factor (especially for tertiary care… especially for millennials…) once you really start doing it overwhelms most of the physical presence upsides.

Edward Lee, MD. CIO of The Permanente Federation (Oakland, Calif.): In five years, physicians will no longer need to manually document their notes into the EHR. Instead, artificial intelligence will capture all the pertinent information from the patient-physician encounter. This will enable physicians to spend quality time with their patients instead of worrying about writing their notes or placing orders in a computer system. Joy and meaning for physicians will increase, physician burnout will decrease, and above all, patient care will improve.

Michael Pfeffer, MD. Assistant Vice Chancellor and CIO of UCLA Health: Health IT will enable each patient to have a unified, interactive view of their health information regardless of place of care or type of clinical data (i.e. phenotypic, genomic, imaging). AI-based apps will help make sense of their data, taking into account social determinants of health and potential health disparities to improve health equity and health literacy. This intelligence will be paired with personal health preferences and data on health provider quality, access, pricing and satisfaction to help patients make truly informed decisions about their care.

Fierce Biotech reports that “Just under a week after it stopped its key phase 3 pandemic vaccine test [due to a safety concern], AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have been given the green light to restart in the U.K.” What’s more

While AZ and Oxford have been highlighted as [COVID-19 vaccine] race leaders, so too have Pfizer and BioNTech, which said they now want to boost their phase 2/3 trial for one of their five mRNA vaccines, BNT162b2, from around 30,000 to 44,000.

Also over the weekend, the companies said they have asked the FDA for the extra participants in order to include a broader patient population and with plans to include adolescents as young as 16 and people with chronic, stable HIV (human immunodeficiency viruses), hepatitis C or hepatitis B infection to “provide additional safety and efficacy data.”

It said it’s on track to hit its original target of 30,000 patients this week; despite wanting more people, Pfizer said in a statement that it was still on course to deliver data by the end of next month.

CVS Health announced last week that in response to demand created by children returning to school, it has made “children age 12 years and older eligible for testing at the more than 2,000 test sites located at select CVS Pharmacy drive-thru testing locations, starting last Friday, September 11.”

In other news

  • The Washington Post reports that commuting in the Washington DC metropolitan area may not be back to normal until next summer.

Some 430 employers representing about 275,000 workers in the greater-Washington region — stretching from Baltimore to Richmond — participated in the survey conducted Aug. 10 to 28. Their responses offer a snapshot of what companies are thinking as they weigh resuming in-office operations.
A clear majority of Washington-area employers said they are adopting a phased approach to returning to the office, although many said they remain uncertain about the timing of that return. A third of the region’s employers said they don’t know whether they will have their workers back on site by next summer.

  • Govexec.com reports that “The Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule [today] that would enable federal agencies to appoint employees in STEM jobs, or positions on temporary or new projects or organizations, for a decade. OPM said the change would give agencies more flexibility when tackling long-term science, technology, engineering and mathematics projects and other non-permanent work. Current regulations require agencies to get special permission from OPM to keep any term employee on staff for longer than four years.” The public comment deadline is November 10, 2020.
  • The House Oversight and Reform subcommittee on government operations held a postal update hearing today. It turns out that the subcommittee’s objective was to be to call the Postmaster General’s qualifications into question. A bipartisan Postal Service Board of Governors selects the Postmaster General, rather than following the usual Presidential appointment followed by Senate confirmation route.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The Wall Street Journal reports that the entire Senate Republican caucus, with the exception of Sen. Rand Paul, voted for the scaled down $500 billion (is that an oxymoron?) COVID-19 relief bill, but the bill failed to receive the 60 votes necessary for cloture because the Democratic caucus lined up in opposition. So we have another political issue for the election.

Thankfully, the Congress and the White House have agreed on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government into the new federal fiscal year. The House will be holding votes next week so the FEHBlog expects that the House will pass the continuing resolution and then peace out for the campaign trail. The Senate will hang around as long as it can to approve more nominations. Following the election Congress will hold a lame duck session at which point another COVID-19 relief bill is likely to be enacted.

In healthcare news —

  • The National Academies of Sciences has a detailed web page about social determinants of health that is worth a look.
  • Humana has launched value based hearth surgery and shoulder replacement programs. “””The value-based care models are part of a portfolio of payment bundles created by Humana including a Maternity Episode-of-care Model and an Oncology Model of Care. Humana also offers a Hospital Incentive Program for acute care inpatient admissions. About 2.4 million MA members and 115,000 commercial members are enrolled in value-based models, Humana has said.”
  • Fierce Biotech reports that quick, inexpensive saliva based COVID-19 tests are being piloted at Heathrow Airport in London, England. Send the tests over here.
  • The Wall Street Journal informs us that “health experts say it’s increasingly likely that several [COVID-19] vaccines could pass muster in clinical trials and become available in phases over a period of weeks and months.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent documents last week to state officials that lay out various scenarios, including availability of a limited number of doses of two vaccines by the end of October with more doses by the end of the year. The CDC document doesn’t name the two vaccines that could become available but describes characteristics that match those of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

Experts say multiple vaccines will be needed because no single company can make enough for the whole world. Several companies have signed contracts with the federal government to supply at least 100 million doses of each vaccine in the U.S., and are planning to produce larger global supplies.

Progress.

Happy Labor Day!

Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash

The FEHBlog drove from New Haven, CT, to Bethesda, MD, today with a stop in Long Island. Traffic was quite cooperative. This trip allowed the FEHBlog to listen to this week’s Econtalk episode in which Econtalk host Russ Roberts interviewed leadership expert Margaret Heffernan about her new book “Uncharted — How to Navigate the Future.” “The central thesis of her book is that while the future may be unpredictable, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for it. And smart organizations and people can learn how to do it.” Here’s a valuable nub from the conversation:

I remember–oh, I don’t know, probably 2010 to 2012–having a number of arguments with my husband about when the next banking crash would be. And it suddenly struck me, this was just a stupid argument. Right? Because neither of us knew. No little economic fairy had sprinkled gold dust on us.

And, I said, ‘Okay, let’s ask a different question. Let’s ask the question: If there is another banking crash, or when there is another banking crash, what will we wish we had been doing right now?’ And, we thought through that in some pretty gritty detail about where we would want our investments to be, where we would want to be, what resources we would want to have. And so we slightly changed some of the things we were doing. We accelerated some things. We put other things on hold. And, what it did is it left us feeling, ‘Okay, we don’t know what the future is, but we think we’ve placed ourselves in a reasonably robust context.’ And actually that’s pretty much all we can do.

Accordingly, time would be better spent on thinking about how to restructure healthcare in the post pandemic world or how to better deal with a similar pandemic in the future and not on trying to figure out when this particular pandemic will end. Of course, everyone should work together toward the end of the current pandemic as it eventually will end.

The FEHBlog noticed for example that the benefit consulting firm Willis Towers Watson is holding a virtual conference later this month on resetting health and other employee benefits for the post-pandemic world. The conference website links to already available articles on this important topic.

What’s more with respect to getting current job done, the Wall Street Journal reports this weekend,

FDA [r]egulators authorized [last week] a new test developed by Fluidigm that uses saliva rather than a nasal swab. The clinical study associated with Fluidigm’s submission to the FDA demonstrated 100% agreement between the saliva results and paired nasopharyngeal samples. Fluidigm’s test returns results in several hours. Meanwhile, OraSure Technologies is developing a nasal-swab test that is potentially suitable for at-home use and could be ready this fall. * * * Thanks to health care innovation, a return to normalcy for the United States might just be in the cards in the months ahead.

Amen to that.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

Healthcare Dive informs us about the American Hospital Association’s reaction to yesterday’s final FY 2020 inpatient prospective payment system rule.

The American Hospital Association quickly criticized the price transparency element of the final rule Wednesday night.

“By continuing to focus on negotiated rates rather than expanding access to a patient’s out-of-pocket costs, the Administration fails to meet the goal it set for itself — assisting consumers in becoming more prudent purchasers of health care,” the group said in a statement. “We once again urge the agency to focus on what is really important to patients — ready access to their out-of-pocket costs.”

Evidently, the hospitals seek to dump the entire transparency burden on the health plans. The FEHBlog thinks that consumers would better informed by requiring hospitals and all providers to publicly announce the health plan network(s) in which they participate, an analog to the summary of benefits and coverage that health plans must distribute to members.

Speaking of comparison tools, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services today launched

Care Compare, a streamlined redesign of eight existing CMS healthcare compare tools available on Medicare.gov. Care Compare provides a single user-friendly interface that patients and caregivers can use to make informed decisions about healthcare based on cost, quality of care, volume of services, and other data. With just one click, patients can find information that is easy to understand about doctors, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care services instead of searching through multiple tools.

CMS notes that “Although the tool was created for people with Medicare in mind, many of the measures shown here apply to people who may not have Medicare. Information on this site isn’t an endorsement or advertisement for any provider type.”

Speaking of FY 2020, the Hill reports

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have informally agreed to pursue a clean, short-term stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month, sources in both parties confirmed Thursday. That means the continuing resolution (CR) needed to keep the government open past Sept. 30 would be free of controversial policy riders that have bogged down previous funding bills, significantly lowering the odds of a shutdown leading up to the crucial Nov. 3 elections.

That my friends is good news for the country.

In other news —

  • The Wall Street Journal brings us up to date on the cost, accuracy, and turnaround times for popular (?) COVID-19 testing methods.
  • The Department of Human Services released an action plan for improving rural healthcare in the United States.
  • Beckers Hospital Review reports that Walmart will be bringing Oak Health primary care centers into their super centers located in Arlington, Benbrook and Carrollton, Texas, later this year.
  • HR Dive discusses recent back to school guidance from the Labor Department regard the federal relief acts COVID-19 paid leave program. It’s complicated just like COVID-19.

Thursday Miscellany

The Wall Street Journal reports “The Trump administration unveiled Thursday a $750 million deal to buy 150 million rapid Covid-19 tests from Abbott Laboratories, a move that would substantially expand the nation’s capacity for rapid testing.” As noted in yesterday’s post, this $5 antigen test, which received Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization on Wednesday, ” is roughly the size of a credit card. The test could be administered in a doctor’s or school nurse’s office and uses technology similar to home pregnancy tests. It returns results in about 15 minutes.”

While on the subject of COVID-19 testing, Fierce Healthcare informs us that

Out-of-network costs for COVID-19 testing far outpace the costs for in-network tests, according to a new report from America’s Health Insurance Plans. The results suggest that price gouging is a significant problem under the pandemic, the group argues. The AHIP analysis finds that a test for the novel coronavirus costs on average $130 for commercial insurers. However, out-of-network providers charged more than $185 for 40% of diagnostic test and 25% of antibody tests, the lobby organization found.

Shameful. Congress should step in on this one.

In encouraging developments,

Fierce Biotech lets us know that

As the world scrambles to develop diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, one big question looms: How will we face the next pandemic? Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) are teaming up once again to answer that.

Through a joint effort dubbed Blue Knight, the duo aims to boost innovation and “amplify” scientific and technological advancements to prepare for potential health threats—starting with COVID-19. They’ve picked seven startups from J&J’s global JLABS network to participate. The startups will receive up to $500,000 in support, as well as mentorship from BARDA and J&J to help them navigate R&D challenges and regulatory pathways and get medicines and tools to patients and healthcare workers as soon as possible.

and Healthcare Dive reports that

Aetna is partnering with WellBe Senior Medical, a relative newcomer, to deliver primary care services to about 10,000 high-risk seniors in their homes, according to WellBe CEO Jeff Kang, who is also a physician. The program launched in Atlanta last month and is now available for certain seniors in the Chicagoland area. For eligible seniors, this means access to at-home care 24 hours, seven days a week, lessening the burden of getting a ride to an appointment or venturing to a medical facility amid the pandemic. Even COVID-19 testing can be done in their homes. Aetna assigns eligible high-risk patients to WellBe, which is then responsible for managing their care and receives capitated payments from Aetna. Those eligible are typically seniors in their 80s with multiple chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart failure, osteoarthritis and dementia, Kang said in an interview with Healthcare Dive.

There are plenty of elderly annuitants in the FEHBP although most of them have primary Medicare coverage.

Finally in Office of Personnel Management new:

Office of Personnel Management acting Director Michael Rigas [considerately] has issued a new memorandum to agency heads Aug. 27 informing them that [under a new regulation] employees will no longer have to pre-schedule their annual leave prior to the third pay period before the end of the year, so that the agency can then cancel and restore it. [A]ny leave that is forfeited at the end of the year due to a national emergency where the employee was deemed essential and not able to take leave would automatically be considered “scheduled in advance” and restored into a separate leave account for later employee use.

and Govexec.com updates us on the upcoming Combined Federal Campaign. This annual charity drive for federal employees runs from Sept. 21 through Jan. 15, 2021.