Weekend update

Weekend update

The House of Representatives and the Senate both will be in session on Capitol Hill this coming week, Of note from an FEHBP perspective is that Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for the President’s nominee for OPM Inspection General, Craig E. Leen, for Tuesday June 2 at 2:30 pm. Mr. Leen currently is Director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) at the U.S. Department of Labor. The FEHBlog plans to tune in.

The Supreme Court heads into the home stretch of its October 2019 term tomorrow. The Court has 25 decisions left to issue before adjourning for the summer according to the Scotusblog.

OPM released more COVID-19 guidance last Friday. This guidance concerns preparedness for returning to OPM facilities.

Fierce Healthcare brings us up to date on COVID-19 testing at home options. The latest product receiving FDA approval is offered by Quest Diagnostics a/k/a Quest Labs.

The FEHBlog ran across on Twitter today this May 24 column from Reason senior editor Jacob Sillum.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current “best estimate” for the fatality rate among Americans with COVID-19 symptoms is 0.4 percent. The CDC also estimates that 35 percent of people infected by the COVID-19 virus never develop symptoms. Those numbers imply that the virus kills less than 0.3 percent of people infected by it.

The FEHBlog also found this reassuring (at least to the FEHBlog) Science News article on COVID-19 mutations.

[C]oronavirus mutations are guaranteed to pop up over the coming months — and experts will continue to track them. “The data will tell us whether we need to worry, and in what way we need to worry,” [Louise] Moncla[, an evolutionary epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle] says. “Everyone should take a deep breath and realize that this is exactly what we’ve always expected to happen, and we don’t necessarily need to be concerned.”

Thursday Miscellany

In accordance with law, the Internal Revenue Service released today 2021 inflation adjustments to health savings account contribution limits and minimum deductibles for related high deductible health plans as described in Section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code. Only high deductible benefit plan participants may contribute to health savings accounts.

According to Fierce Healthcare, CVS Health today announced a major expansion of their drive up COVID0-19 testing sites.

Starting Friday, the retail and pharmacy giant will open nearly 300 additional test sites across 14 states for a total of nearly 350 available test sites in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.The company said it plans to establish up to 1,000 locations across the country by the end of May with the goal of processing up to 1.5 million tests per month.

Finally, there will be a drive up testing site located in Montgomery County, MD, where the FEHBlog lives.

Healthcare Dive wrote a follow up report on the Commonwealth Fund study mentioned in yesterday’s post.

Telehealth visits that exploded in recent months are starting to plateau and in some cases decline in popularity as doctor’s offices reschedule backlogged patients for more in-person appointments, according new data from The Commonwealth Fund. Telemedicine visits accounted for about 14% of all total visits the week of April 19, according to the report, but that number dropped to 13% the next week and 12% the week after that. Telehealth visits held at 12% for the first two weeks of May.

In this regard, a Health Affairs Blog article discusses how primary care can be rejuvenated in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency. The number one suggestion is

Ending the hegemony of the face-to-face visit and rebalancing the appointment template toward 50 percent distance visits are likely to improve patient access while reducing work and burnout.

Studies are mixed but suggest that e-visits and phone visits reduce the number of face-to-face visits and take less time for clinicians and staff. When the Kaiser Permanente system in Hawaii massively changed its primary care model in 2004—with e-visits and phone visits increasing sixfold and eightfold, respectively—office visits decreased 26.2 percent.

Multiple studies demonstrate that these visits can provide high-quality care for a large number of medical conditions. 

It should be easier for the physician community to redirect patient care in this manner.

Monday Roundup

Fierce Biotech reports on today’s positive but not definitive results from Moderna’s early COVID-19 vaccine testing. “With eyes on a phase 3 study this summer, Moderna posted promising early data for its COVID-19 vaccine. The jab prompted an immune response similar to those seen in patients who have recovered from the disease.” Fingers crossed.

CVS Health, Walgreen’s and Rite Aid / Verily continue to expand their drive up COVID-19 testing capabilities. Healthcare Dive reports that the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) last Friday “authorized multiple laboratories to test for coronavirus in nasal samples collected by consumers using an at-home kit” produced by Everlywell. This is the second FDA approved at home kit.

What’s more, Fierce Biotech reports that Verily’s Project Baseline “has launched a new clinical research effort focused on COVID-19 antibody testing and exploring the body’s immune response to the novel coronavirus.” Fierce Healthcare adds that the American Medical Association is offering guidance on COVID-19 antibody testing for physicians. “Although many are using these tests to determine whether an individual had COVID-19, we encourage physicians to only use antibody tests authorized by the FDA and only for the purposes of population-level studies [like the Project Baseline study], evaluating recovered individuals for convalescent plasma donations, or along with other clinical information as part of a well-defined testing plan for groups or individuals.”

A friend of the FEHBlog called his attention to this federal government list of top ten routinely exploited cybersecurity vulnerabilities and mitigations over the period 2016 through 2019 and this year.

Weekend update

The House of Representatives returned to Capitol Hill on Friday to pass a resolution (H.R. Res. No. 965) permitting remote Committee hearings and proxy voting during a federal declared emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. The House also passed a wide-ranging, $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill known as the HEROES Act (H.R. 6888) by a narrow 208-199 vote. The House thereby laid down its wishlist before the Senate and the President in the looming negotiations over what would be the fourth COVID-19 relief bill.

The FEHBlog’s favorite podcast Econtalk featured a special edition in which the host Stanford economist Russ Roberts interviewed Nobel in Economics laureate Paul Romer about the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Romer supports much less hunkering down and a lot more testing. It’s worth the hour or so to listen to the interview.

In other news:

  • The Washington Post reports that “Four months into the U.S. coronavirus epidemic, tests for the virus finally are becoming widely available, a crucial step toward lifting stay-at-home orders and safely returning to normal life. But while many states no longer report crippling supply shortages, a new problem has emerged: too few people lining up to get tested.” This word needs to get out.
  • Healthcare Dive discusses health insurer and tech company efforts to help their employer plan sponsors to safely reopen their businesses.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the state of the race to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Eight investigational versions have begun human testing trials. “Testing of early vaccines could show the way for subsequent shots by giving researchers a better idea of the level of immune response needed to provide protection against the virus, Emory’s Dr. Orenstein said.”
  • Fierce Healthcare discusses J.D. Powers 2020 analysis of consumer attitudes toward commercial health plans. “Consumers want a coordinated, integrated experience that their health plan may be unwilling or unable to provide, [James Breen from J.D. Power] said. “Health plan members have an expectation that health insurance companies do that, but I’m not certain whether or not health insurance companies feel that’s part of their major role, so there’s a disconnect there,” Beem said.
Our firm is closely monitoring the impacts of COVID-19. Effective 3/16/20, Ermer & Suter has implemented telework for all of our staff to encourage social distancing and help contain the virus. We remain fully operational and are readily available from our telework locations with no change in telephone numbers or email addresses.