Friday Factoids

Friday Factoids

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From Washington, DC

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • Nursing homes will have to maintain minimum staffing levels under a Biden administration proposal despite furious lobbying from the industry, which says it will be too onerous amid a continuing labor shortage.
    • “Biden administration officials said the first-ever national staffing rule would require nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to provide a minimum of 0.55 hours of care from a registered nurse per resident a day, and 2.45 hours of care from a nurse aide per resident a day. A registered nurse would be required to be on-site at all times and nursing-home care assessments would be strengthened under the proposal.
    • “The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that about 75% of nursing homes would have to strengthen staffing in their facilities under the proposal. The proposed staffing standard exceeds those existing in nearly all states.”
  • and
    • “The Federal Trade Commission said Friday it had agreed to end its legal challenge of drugmaker  Amgen’s $27.8 billion deal to buy  Horizon Therapeutics, averting a trial that was to have started this month.
    • “The pact also dismisses the antitrust claims of six states that joined the FTC in May seeking to block the deal over concerns that Amgen would illegally bundle its products with Horizon’s medicines for thyroid eye disease and gout. Amgen agreed in the proposed settlement not to bundle the Horizon treatments and swore off conditional rebates or other tactics that could entrench the monopoly position of Horizon’s products.”
  • HHS Secretary Xavier Berra made a statement recognizing National Suicide Awareness Month.
    • “The Biden-Harris Administration is deeply committed to tackling the mental health crisis facing America, particularly the alarming rates of suicide. Recognizing the urgency of this issue, SAMHSA continues to support the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and consistently invests millions in suicide prevention initiatives. In fact, SAMHSA will award nearly $12 million to the Zero Suicide in Health Systems program next week. This ambitious program aims to comprehensively integrate the Zero Suicide intervention and prevention model across various health systems with the express aim of reducing suicide ideation, suicide attempts, and deaths due to suicide.
    • “But no program exemplifies our work to prevent suicide better than 988, the three-digit Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which HHS launched in collaboration with the states in 2022. The Biden-Harris Administration has invested close to $1 billion in 988, and, thanks to 988, Americans are now connected with trained counselors who offer real support in times of crisis. Since the July 2022 launch, 988 has received more than 5.5 million calls, texts, and chats, and this July, text and chat were made available in Spanish.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • Enforcement of information blocking penalties for health IT entities [went] into effect on Friday, opening the door to penalties of up to $1 million per violation.
    • The breakdown of how exactly the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) will prioritize what it expects to be a deluge of information-blocking complaints was posted by the regulator in late June.

From the public health front,

  • The Wall Street Journal discusses “Covid This Fall: What’s the Same, What’s Different and What to Know.”
  • The Hill adds
    • “COVID-19 hospitalizations have steadily increased over the past few weeks, reaching 15,067 for the week ending Aug. 19 — an 18.8 percent increase from the week prior, according to CDC data. But at this time last year, the U.S. averaged over 84,000 hospitalizations per week. More than 96 percent of U.S. counties are experiencing low COVID-19 hospitalization levels, at less than 10 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,00 people.”
  • Per Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “The CDC updated its risk assessment on distant omicron relative BA.2.86 on Aug. 30, saying the strain — which has concerned experts over the large number of mutations it carries — has been detected in at least four states. 
    • “CDC continues to track the presence of the BA.2.86 [COVID-19] variant,” the update said. “Since CDC’s initial risk assessment, this variant has been identified in additional countries from both human and wastewater specimens.” 
    • “In the U.S., BA.2.86 cases have been detected in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and New York either through human samples or wastewater samples. Separately, Houston Methodist in an Aug. 31 statement emailed to Becker’s said it has identified Texas’ first reported instance of BA.2.86 through genomic sequencing. The hospital’s COVID-19 sequencing team continues to sequence all positive specimens.” 
  • The New York Times Morning column provides an overview of Fall 2023 Covid, flu and now RSV vaccines. Of note, at least to the FEHBlog,
    • “This year’s flu vaccine shots are now available at drugstores, hospitals, doctor’s offices and elsewhere. You may want to wait until late September or October to get one, though. The heaviest parts of flu season tend to occur between December and February. If you wait, the shot’s protection against severe illness will still be near its strongest level during those months.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive relates,
    • “Walgreens chief executive Rosalind Brewer is stepping down as CEO and a member of the board effective immediately, the retail pharmacy giant announced Friday.
    • Brewer’s departure comes less than three years after she joined the Illinois-based retailer. The parting was a mutual decision between Brewer and Walgreens’ board, according to a release. Walgreens’ lead independent director Ginger Graham will serve as interim CEO while the company looks for a permanent replacement.”
  • STAT News discusses the “curious case of J&J’s Stelara, the unluckiest drug on Medicare’s list” of ten drugs subject to CMS “price negotiation.” Bad beat.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “The U.S. government named 10 drugs that will be subject to the first ever price negotiations by Medicare, taking aim at some of the most widely used and costliest medicines in America.
    • “At stake is arguably the government’s strongest effort to date to tackle high drug costs—if drugmakers can’t persuade courts to scuttle the negotiating powers that Medicare was granted last year.
    • “On the list of targeted medicines announced by the Biden administration Tuesday are treatments for cancer, diabetes and heart disease that can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year or more, including blood thinner Eliquis and diabetes treatment Jardiance.”
  • STAT News adds, “The new prices will be announced on Sept. 1, 2024, and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2026.”   
  • Bloomberg informs us,
    • “For millions of American patients and parents struggling to fill prescriptions for ADHD medications that are in short supply, help is on the way. 
    • “US regulators approved a generic form of Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co.’s Vyvanse, which some patients may be able to take in place of generic Adderall, the drug of choice for many with ADHD. That drug, made by a number of manufacturers, has been in shortage for a year, forcing patients and their families to scour pharmacies for supplies or go without. 
    • “The approval will also likely bring financial relief to the more-than one million Americans who take branded Vyvanse to treat ADHD or binge-eating disorder. The cost of the drug has been steadily climbing since it was introduced in 2007, and today the list price of a 30-day supply is $369.
    • “Generic Vyvanse can be manufactured and sold by 14 companies, according to a Food and Drug Administration database updated Friday [August 25].
  • HC Innovation Group points out,
    • “Leaders at the Sequoia Project, a non-profit, 501c3, public-private collaborative chartered to advanced implementation of secure, interoperable nationwide health information exchange (HIE), announced on Aug. 28 that the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has confirmed that the Sequoia Project will continue forward as the Recognized Coordinating Entity (RCE) for TEFCA—the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement. * * *
    • “The Sequoia Project and our RCE team are extremely proud of TEFCA’s progress to date, and we look forward to bringing its promise and benefits to reality soon. We couldn’t have gotten this far without close collaboration with ONC and the candidate QHINs (Qualified Health Information Networks),” said Mariann Yeager, CEO of The Sequoia Project, in a statement contained in the press release. “We’ve engaged stakeholders throughout the development process to engender public trust and instill a sense of ownership for future QHINs. We look to the coming months and years where this multi-year vision becomes a reality.”
  • Everyone in healthcare looks forward to this vision of an EHR backbone becoming a reality.
  • The HHS Office of Inspector General posted a strategic plan for overseeing managed care in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force proposed an inconclusive recommendation for requiring primary care providers “to assess the balance of benefits and harms of primary care interventions to prevent child maltreatment.” The relevant population is “Children and adolescents younger than age 18 years without signs and symptoms of maltreatment.” Public comment is open through September 25, 2023.

From the public health front, McKinsey & Company offers an enlightening exploration of brain health.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare reports,
    • “Highmark Health reported $13.6 billion in revenue for the first half of 2023 as well as $389 million in net income.
    • “The not-for-profit Blues insurer attributed the performance to positive results at most of its segments, namely its core health plan as well as United Concordia Dental. In addition, volumes at Allegheny Health Network were were up year over year, further driving greater revenue.
    • “The health system reported an 8% increase inpatient discharges and observations compared to the first half of 2022 and a 6% increase in outpatient registrations. Physician visits were also up 6%, and emergency room visits were up 8% across the network.
    • “Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization at Allegheny Health Network were $68 million in the first six months of 2023, and the network reported $2.3 billion in operating revenue.”
  • Reuters says,
    • “Pfizer (PFE.N) said on Monday it expects to restart production at its North Carolina plant by the beginning of the fourth quarter of 2023 as it seeks to repair tornado damage to one of the world’s largest sterile injectable drug facilities.
    • “The facility was struck by a tornado on July 19, and Pfizer had earlier said some drugs, including painkiller fentanyl, could see a supply disruption. Pfizer has since placed limits on how much supply of those drugs its customers can buy.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Healio informs us,
    • “An FDA panel voted that for adults with uncontrolled hypertension, the benefits of an ultrasound renal denervation device outweigh its risks.
    • Concerns about long-term durability of effect were expressed.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced
    • “award[ing] more than $1.4 billion for Project NextGen to support the development of a new generation of tools and technologies to protect against COVID-19 for years to come.
    • “The awards announced today follow extensive coordination with industry partners and include support for clinical trials that will enable the rapid development of even more effective and longer-lasting coronavirus vaccines, a new monoclonal antibody, and transformative technologies to streamline manufacturing processes.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmed its 2019 Grade A recommendation that “clinicians prescribe preexposure prophylaxis using effective antiretroviral therapy to persons who are at increased risk of HIV acquisition to decrease the risk of acquiring HIV.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control lets us know, based on a survey,
    • About 20% of women reported mistreatment while receiving maternity care.
    • About 30% of Black, Hispanic, and multiracial women reported mistreatment. 
    • Almost half (45%) of women held back from asking questions or sharing concerns during their maternity. * * *
    • Mistreatment was reported most often by Black, Hispanic, and multiracial moms and those with public insurance or no insurance.
  • That’s a big bowl of wrong. The CDC observes,
    • Respectful maternity care is free from harm and mistreatment, maintains privacy, confidentiality, and dignity, and allows for shared decision-making and continuous support.
  • The Department of Justice announced yesterday,
    • [“D]eferred prosecution agreements resolving criminal antitrust charges against Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc., USA. As part of those agreements, both companies will divest a key business line involved in the misconduct, and as an additional remedial measure, Teva will make a $50 million drug donation to humanitarian organizations. Teva will pay a $225 million criminal penalty — the largest to date for a domestic antitrust cartel — and Glenmark will pay a $30 million criminal penalty. Both companies will face prosecution if they violate the terms of the agreements, and if convicted, would likely face mandatory debarment from federal health care programs.
    • “The agreements each require the companies to undertake remedial measures, including the timely divestiture of their respective drug lines for pravastatin, a widely used cholesterol medicine that was a core part of the companies’ price-fixing conspiracy. This extraordinary remedy forces the companies to divest a business line that was central to the misconduct. Teva must also donate $50 million worth of clotrimazole and tobramycin, two additional drugs with prices affected by Teva’s criminal schemes, to humanitarian organizations that provide medication to Americans in need. Both Teva and Glenmark have agreed, among other things, to cooperate with the department in the ongoing criminal investigations and resulting prosecutions, report to the department on their compliance programs, and modify those compliance programs where necessary and appropriate.” 
  • Federal New Network reports that OPM released guidance for hybrid teleworkers who are covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released its new strategic plan for fiscal years 2022 through 2026
    • “The new Strategic Plan reflects our thoughtful assessment of the agency’s mission, goals, and objectives in light of current conditions and what we expect in the next few years,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A Burrows. “It emphasizes expanding the EEOC’s capacity to eliminate systemic barriers to equal opportunity in the workplace, using technology and other tools to improve our services to the public, and achieving organizational excellence with a culture of accountability, inclusivity, and accessibility. I am grateful for the hard work of our staff across the agency who assisted in developing this plan and look forward to its successful implementation.”.

From the public health front,

  • The Washington Post explains
    • how to address the factors that may underlie the growing number of women under age 40 who are afflicted with breast cancer,
  • and
    • how to guard against germs in leafy green salads.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The FEHBlog was surprised to read in the Wall Street Journal that
    • “America’s nursing homes are fading away.
    • “The U.S. has at least 600 fewer nursing homes than it did six years ago, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data. More senior care is happening at home, and the Covid-19 pandemic caused many families to shun nursing homes while draining workers from an already short-staffed industry.
    • “The result? Frail elderly patients are stuck in hospitals, a dangerous place for seniors, waiting for somewhere to go—sometimes for months. Beds are disappearing while the need for senior care is growing. The American population 65 and older is expected to swell from 56 million in 2020 to 81 million by 2040.
  • MedPage Today notes.
    • “States that recently adopted less-restrictive policies surrounding the use of telepharmacy had fewer pharmacy deserts in the following year, a cohort study involving a dozen states showed.
    • “Compared with nearby states that made no changes, states that formally implemented or updated pro-telepharmacy policies had a 4.5% relative decrease (95% CI 1.6-7.4) in the percentage of regions defined as pharmacy deserts (P=0.001) and an 11.1% relative decrease (95% CI 2.4-22.6) in the proportion of people living in one of these deserts (P=0.03).
    • “And in general, telepharmacies tended to serve areas of high medical need, reported Jessica Adams, PharmD, of TelePharm in Iowa City, Iowa, and colleagues.
    • “As pharmacy closures and socioeconomic factors persist, pharmacy deserts are likely to expand unless policies are implemented to ensure continued access to pharmacy services,” the researchers wrote in JAMA Network Open
  • The Business Group on Health points out,
    • “Mental health needs among workforces continued to climb this year, with 77% of large employers reporting an increase and another 16% anticipating one in the future, according to Business Group on Health’s 2024 Large Employer Health Care Strategy Survey.
    • “This represents a 33 percentage-point surge over last year, when 44% of employers saw an increase in employee mental health concerns.
    • “The Business Group survey, released today in Washington, DC, also showed that cancer was still the top driver of large companies’ health care costs while rising prescription drug costs also proved to be a leading concern. Cancer overtook musculoskeletal conditions last year as the top driver of large companies’ healthcare costs and shows no sign of abating in the coming years.
    • “Yet as businesses respond to the increase in mental health needs, grapple with soaring health care costs and address issues of health equity and affordability, they will continue to invest strategically in diverse health and well-being offerings for the upcoming year, the survey also showed.”
  • Axios reports that “Middle-class Americans [who earn $50,000 to $100,000 annually] are the most likely to be saddled with medical debt, with nearly 1 in 4 — or roughly 17 million people — having unpaid medical bills, according to a report shared first with Axios from center-left think tank Third Way.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Epic and Microsoft announced on Tuesday an expanded collaboration focused on integrating generative artificial intelligence tools in the vendor’s electronic health records system. 
    • “The partners are working to “rapidly deploy dozens” of AI technologies, including clinical note summarization, medical coding suggestions and data exploration tools that aim to fill gaps in clinical evidence by using real-world data. 
    • “The expanded partnership is intended to speed the development of AI tools in healthcare, bringing the technology as “quickly as possible, responsibly and in partnership with providers,” according to a blog post by Eric Boyd, corporate vice president of AI platform at Microsoft.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC —

  • The Department of Labor announced
  • STAT News adds,
    • “The new rule would force insurers to evaluate their own networks to measure not just whether they’re offering adequate mental health and addiction coverage but also whether patients are truly accessing it.
    • “This rule will ensure that we have true parity,” Neera Tanden, President Biden’s domestic policy advisor, said during a press call. “It will help ensure we finally fulfill the promise of mental health parity required under the law, to ensure that mental health is covered just like physical health.”
  • The public comment deadline will occur in late September.
  • The FEHBlog notes that health plans cannot coerce providers into their networks. The FEHBlog thought that hub and spoke tele-mental health networks would fill the gap, but that apparently hasn’t happened.
  • AHIP announced
    • “AHIP, the American Medical Association (AMA), and the National Association of ACOs (NAACOS) today announced the release of data-sharing best practices that organizations may voluntarily adopt to support a sustainable future for value-based care. The playbook, The Future of Sustainable Value-Based Care and Payment: Voluntary Best Practices to Advance Data Sharing, is intended to advance the adoption of value-based care arrangements in the private sector that could have a greater impact on the quality and equity of care and ease participation by fostering voluntary alignment of data sharing practices.”
    • Check it out.
  • The National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released on July 20, 2023,
    • “ONC Standards Bulletin 2023-2 (SB23-2) [which] describes the background of United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) and the development of the USCDI Version 4 (USCDI v4) * * *. USCDI is a standard developed and adopted by ONC on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that sets the technical and policy foundation for the access, exchange, and use of electronic health information to support nationwide, interoperable health information exchange. USCDI benefits a wide range of entities, individuals, and other interested parties, including federal agencies supporting health and healthcare, hospitals, research organizations, clinicians, and health IT developers. ONC publishes new versions of USCDI annually, with a draft version in January and a final version in July. This publishing cadence keeps pace with medical, technological, and policy changes. USCDI v4 includes new data elements that advance the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities of advancing equity, diversity, and access across all healthcare settings.
    • “SB23-2 describes the ONC approach for the continued expansion of USCDI, as well as the specific priorities for adding new data elements to USCDI v4. This bulletin also includes discussion of the feedback received on the Draft USCDI v4, including recommendations received from the ONC Health IT Advisory Committee (HITAC).”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gave a draft inconclusive grade for “screening for speech and language delay and disorders in children age 5 years or younger.” The USPSTF previously gave the same grade to the screening service in 2015. The public comment deadline is August 21, 2023.
  • FedSmith notes that the OPM final rule expanding FEDVIP eligibility will add “over 70,000 federal employees and 118,000 Postal employees” to the pool of employees eligible for FEDVIP.

From the public health front —

  • U.S. News reports
    • “Both coronavirus emergency department visits and test positivity increased, according to CDC data. The agency no longer tracks COVID-19 cases. Instead, it focuses on hospitalizations and deaths, which don’t yet show an increase.
    • “The CDC reported last week that it was the first time since January that COVID-19 metrics showed an increase. The uptick is small, but it’s a notable reversal after months of declining coronavirus numbers.
    • “Certain COVID-19 indicators continued their recent rise last week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued a roundtable report about “Optimizing Health and Function as We Age.”
  • Yahoo News tells us,
    • “Drugmaker Pfizer Inc said over 30 drugs, including injections of painkiller fentanyl and anesthetic lidocaine, may see supply disruption after a tornado destroyed a warehouse at its Rocky Mount, North Carolina, plant last week.
    • “The company sent a letter late last week to its hospital customers saying it had identified around 64 different formulations or dosages of those more than 30 drugs produced at the plant that may experience continued or new supply disruptions.
    • “The company has placed limits on how much supply of those drugs its customers can buy.”
  • Medscape shares CDC guidance about the two new RSV vaccines for adult that the FDA and CDC recently approved.
    • “Older adults deciding whether to get the vaccines should weigh risks and their own preferences and make the decision in consultation with their clinician, say authors of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Friday.
    • “Michael Melgar, MD, with the Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division at the CDC, was lead author on the report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • “Biogen on Tuesday said it will eliminate 1,000 jobs as part of a cost-cutting drive that it expects will save $1 billion in annual operating expenses by 2025.
    • “The company plans to invest $300 million of those savings into product launches as well as research and development, which it has spent the first half of this year reorganizing under new CEO Chris Viehbacher.
    • “There’s been a complete redesign of Biogen,” Viehbacher said on a conference call with analysts. “This is an opportunity to make sure that in this year, before we get into [new] product launches, that we are truly fit for growth.”
  • STAT News lets us know that “As Alzheimer’s drugs hit the market, the race for early detection blood tests heats up” and offers an interview with the American Medical Association’s new president Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld.
  • Fierce Health relates,
    • “Teladoc’s second-quarter revenue jumped 10% to $652 million, boosted by strong growth in its BetterHelp direct-to-consumer mental health segment.
    • “The telehealth giant also narrowed its losses this past quarter to a net loss of $65 million, or a loss of 40 cents per share, compared to a loss of $3 billion for the second quarter of 2022. Both results beat Wall Street estimates.
    • “The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Teladoc’s second-quarter earnings per share was pegged at a loss of 44 cents and revenue of $649 million.”

In low-value care news, the National Institutes of Health tells us, “A device known as a pessary, thought promising for reducing preterm birth risk due to a short cervix, appears no more effective than usual medical care, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. A pessary is a rounded silicone device that fits around a cervix that has shortened, to keep it from opening and leading to miscarriage or preterm birth. The device is typically removed before the 37th week of pregnancy.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC —

  • Govexec informs us
    • “The Senate continues to advance spending bills without controversy and with bipartisan support, offering hope that lawmakers will avoid a lapse in appropriations this fall. 
    • “The [Senate Appropriations Committee] has now approved eight of the 12 annual must-pass spending measures, most of which have won unanimous approval. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the appropriations committee, announced Thursday her panel would hold votes on the final four funding packages next week. Murray said ahead of Thursday’s votes that she was focusing on passing bills “that can actually be signed into law.”  * * *
    • “The House Appropriations Committee has approved 10 of the 12 spending bills, all largely along party-line votes. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Wednesday he planned to bring those to the House floor soon, adding his intention was to have the process complete before current funding expires on Sept. 30. Without commenting on the vast differences between the two sets of bills, McCarthy called it “a positive” that the Senate was already moving its spending measures.”
  • The Affordable Care Act regulators issued a letter encouraging employers and other plan sponsors to extend the special employer-sponsored health plan enrollment period for employees who lost Medicaid or CHIP coverage for themselves or family members beyond the sixty days required by law.  
  • The Department of Health and Human Services released guidance “to clarify the prohibition at 45 CFR § 162.412(b) that a health plan may not require a healthcare provider that has been assigned an NPI to obtain an additional NPI.” However, “it does not prohibit a health plan from requiring that a subpart that does not have a unique NPI obtain a unique NPI as a condition of enrollment with the health plan.”
  • The American Academy of Actuaries posted its annual report outlining the factors likely to drive premium changes in the individual and small group insurance markets for the next plan year, in this case, 2024. 

From the public health front —

  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “A second booster with an mRNA bivalent vaccine offered the best protection against severe COVID-19 due to the Omicron BA.5 variant in older adults, and protection appeared to wane less than with the monovalent shot, a large retrospective study out of Italy showed.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “Omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in fish and fish oil supplements, appear promising for maintaining lung health, according to new evidence from a large, multi-faceted study in healthy adults supported by the National Institutes of Health. The study provides the strongest evidence to date of this association and underscores the importance of including omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, especially given that many Americans do not meet current guidelines. Funded largely by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH, the study results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.” 
  • Cigna Healthcare offers five tips for healthier sleep.

From the EHR interoperability front, check out this fascinating Computer World update

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • More than three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 1% of primary care clinicians surveyed by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative believe their practice has fully recovered from its impacts, and 61% characterize U.S. primary care as “crumbling.”
    • “Nearly 80% of respondents felt the current workforce is undersized to meet patient needs, and just 19% of clinicians report their practices are fully staffed.
    • “The results are emblematic of a “larger national crisis,” and policymakers must act to reinforce primary care, said Rebecca Etz, co-director of the Larry A. Green Center, in a statement. “ … It is not a matter of if, but when there will be another pandemic … If we don’t act soon, primary care won’t be there when it happens.
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “Severe winds from an EF-3 tornado on July 19 crushed a North Carolina Pfizer manufacturing plant that made nearly 25 percent of the drugmaker’s sterile injectables used by U.S. hospitals. 
    • “The facility manufactured and stored injectable drugs, and 50,000 pallets of therapies were destroyed by wind and rain, according to local news outlets, NBC affiliate WRAL and CBS affiliate WNCN
    • “At 1.4 million square feet, the facility was one of the largest sterile injectable plants in the world, according to Pfizer’s website. The site made nearly 400 million products every year, including solutions of anesthesia, analgesia, therapeutics, anti-infectives and neuromuscular blockers.
    • “The tornado touched down in Rocky Mount, N.C., at 12:36 p.m., according to a tweet from the county’s government.
    • “Pfizer said there are no reports of workers with serious injuries.” 
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “A surge in heart procedures and higher demand for cold and flu medicines helped Johnson & Johnson report solid gains in revenue and profit for the second quarter.
    • “J&J’s quarterly earnings are regarded as a bellwether for healthcare because the company has large pharmaceutical, medical-device and consumer-health divisions. The overall improvement in J&J’s results suggests an easing of some of the challenges that have dogged health-product makers in recent years: supply-chain constraints, hospital staffing shortages and Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. “You now have hospital staffing much more on a routine cadence,” J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said in an interview Thursday.” 
  • Healthcare Dive adds,
    • “Abbott on Thursday posted a decline in second-quarter net earnings as demand for its COVID-19 testing supplies continued to wane, but the company raised the outlook for its base business on higher sales of its medical devices and nutrition products.
    • “Excluding COVID-19 tests, organic sales exceeded the company’s expectations with a nearly 12% increase in the quarter.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management explores the limited impact that the Supreme Court’s affirmative action in education decision may have on employer affirmative action and diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility programs.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC, —

  • The New York Times reports
    • “Top White House officials and Republican lawmakers were closing in on Thursday on a deal that would raise the debt limit for two years while capping federal spending on everything but the military and veterans for the same period. Officials were racing to cement an agreement in time to avert a federal default that is projected in just one week.
    • “The deal taking shape would allow Republicans to say that they were reducing some federal spending — even as spending on the military and veterans’ programs would continue to grow — and allow Democrats to say they had spared most domestic programs from significant cuts.
    • “Negotiators from both sides were talking into the evening and beginning to draft legislative text, though some details remained in flux.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds
    • “The Treasury Department is preparing to change how the U.S. processes federal agencies’ payments if the debt ceiling is breached, dusting off a contingency plan crafted after the 2011 borrowing-limit standoff, people familiar with the matter said.
    • “Just days away from becoming unable to pay all of the government’s bills on time unless Congress raises the debt limit, Treasury officials have been quietly laying the groundwork for potentially delaying some payments after June 1.
    • “Under the backup plan created for a debt-limit breach, federal agencies would submit payments to the Treasury Department no sooner than the day before they are due, the people familiar with the talks said. That would represent a change from the current system, in which agencies may submit payment files well before their due dates. The Treasury Department processes them on a rolling basis, often ahead of the deadlines. Some payments are already sent to the department one day early, one person said. 
    • “The plan would enable the Treasury to make daily decisions about whether it can pay all of the government’s bills the next day.”
  • Back to the New York Times,
    • “The [U.S.] House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday that would make permanent harsh criminal penalties and strict controls on fentanyl-related drugs, with scores of Democrats joining nearly all Republicans in a vote that reflected the political challenges of tackling what both parties consider America’s most pressing drug crisis.
    • “The bill, approved by a vote of 289 to 133, would permanently list fentanyl-related drugs as Schedule I controlled substances, a designation that mandates severe prison sentences for highly addictive, nonmedicinal chemicals, and which is now set to expire at the end of 2024.
    • “The bipartisan vote reflected agreement among Republicans and a solid bloc of Democrats that stiffening penalties for fentanyl-related drugs is a necessary component of the federal response to the crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 75,000 synthetic opioid overdose deaths in 2022, with fentanyl being a main culprit.”
  • Federal News Network informs us
    • “With many agencies’ return-to-office plans still uncertain, Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee want to take matters into their own hands.
    • “GOP committee leaders changed their strategy for trying to get more federal telework data, now reaching out directly to agency heads. In a series of 25 letters, the lawmakers asked for up-to-date  numbers of teleworking federal employees, after saying the Biden administration was “not adequately tracking the specific levels of telework.”
    • “The Biden administration “has not provided current data about the specific amount of telework occurring within federal agencies or across the entire federal workforce. Furthermore, it has provided no objective evidence concerning the impact of elevated telework on agency performance — including any deleterious impacts,” lawmakers said in the letters, published May 18.”

From the Rx coverage front —

  • Today the Food and Drug Administration granted full marketing approval to Paxlovid, the Covid treatment pill, which in the FEHBlog’s opinion, brought us to the end of the pandemic. Here’s a link to a MedPage Today report on this FDA action
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Research released “a Final Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of resmetirom (Madrigal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) and obeticholic acid (Ocaliva®, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).”
    • “Independent appraisal committee narrowly voted that currently available evidence for resmetirom is adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit over lifestyle management, whereas current evidence for obeticholic acid was deemed inadequate to demonstrate a net health benefit —
    • “ICER analyses suggest resmetirom would achieve common thresholds for cost-effectiveness if priced between $39,600 – $50,100 per year assuming that short-term effects on liver fibrosis translate into longer-term reductions in cirrhosis; under the same assumptions, obeticholic acid would achieve common thresholds for cost-effectiveness if priced between $32,600 – $40,400 per year.
    • “Payers should develop coverage criteria based on non-invasive testing to foster equitable access to early detection and treatment across diverse communities.
  • BioPharma Dive tells us
    • “Apellis Pharmaceuticals on Thursday became the latest drugmaker to give up on a potential treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder that has frustrated researchers for decades.
    • “The decision came after a Phase 2 trial showed no benefit for the drug, known as systemic pegcetacoplan, compared with a placebo. It failed to meet the primary endpoint, measured by a statistical tool called the Combined Assessment of Function and Survival, as well as secondary goals assessing overall function, survival, lung function and muscle strength.
    • “The final results weren’t a total surprise; an independent board monitoring the study had already advised the company not to start a second, “open-label” part of the trial that would have offered the medicine to all participants after the initial 52-week research period. Apellis executives had also signaled to analysts that the trial had a low chance of success.”

From the miscellany department —

  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “Initial findings from a study of nearly 10,000 Americans, many of whom had COVID-19, have uncovered new details about long COVID, the post-infection set of conditions that can affect nearly every tissue and organ in the body. Clinical symptoms can vary and include fatigue, brain fog, and dizziness, and last for months or years after a person has COVID-19. The research team, funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found that long COVID was more common and severe in study participants infected before the 2021 Omicron variant.
    • The study, published in JAMA, is coordinated through the NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery initiative, a nationwide effort dedicated to understanding why some people develop long-term symptoms following COVID-19, and most importantly, how to detect, treat, and prevent long COVID. The researchers hope this study is the next step toward potential treatments for long COVID, which affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
  • The New York Times discusses the miraculous case of a paralyzed man who has begun to walk again thanks to brain and spine “implants that provided a “digital bridge” between his brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections” of his body.
  • HealthDay relates
    • “Older Americans are increasingly likely to log into “patient portals” to access their health care information — but confidence levels vary. 
    • “About 78% of people aged 50 to 80 now use at least one patient portal, according to the new University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging. 
    • “Five years ago, just 51% in this age range used patient portals, the researchers said. 
    • “The poll also found that 55% of those who used patient portals had done so in the past month. About 49% had accounts on more than one portal. 
    • “This surge is partly due to the increase in use of telehealth visits, said Denise Anthony, the U-M School of Public Health professor who worked on the poll.
    • “This change makes access to secure portals even more important for older adults who want to see their doctors and other health care providers virtually. It also makes the disparities we found in our poll even more troubling,” Anthony said in a Michigan Medicine news release. 
    • “Older adults with annual household incomes below $60,000, and those who were Black or Hispanic, had lower rates of portal use. These groups were also less likely to say they’re comfortable using a portal.”
  • The Washington Post reports
    • “U.S. authorities have seized increasing quantities of illegal ketamine, according to new research, a trend that coincides with the psychedelic drug’s rising popularity as a treatment for mental health ailments.
    • “The number of ketamine seizures by federal, state and local law enforcement in the United States increased from 55 in 2017 to 247 in 2022, while the total weight increased by more than 1,000 percent over that time, according to a letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. Most of the ketamine was in powder form, which could raise the risk of being adulterated with deadly drugs such as fentanyl.”

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “Negotiators worked Wednesday to reach an agreement on reining in government spending, which has emerged as the central hurdle to a deal to raise the debt ceiling, with a possible government default just a week away.
    • “U.S. stocks extended declines Wednesday, reflecting rising anxieties about the debt ceiling, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting a fourth-straight session of losses.
    • “The White House has offered a spending freeze for next year, while GOP negotiators have insisted that any deal must result in lower discretionary spending, calling it a critical step in starting to address the country’s growing debt, which now stands at $31.4 trillion.”

Healthcare Dive, MedPage Today, and Fierce Healthcare discuss a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on prescription benefit managers held yesterday.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee cleared a bunch of healthcare-related bills for floor consideration today.

STAT News tells us, “Matt Eyles, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, is leaving by this October, the lobbying group said Wednesday.” Good luck, Mr. Eyles.

From the public health front —

  • Helen Branswell, writing in STAT News, points out
    • :An impressive number of vaccines and monoclonal antibody products are racing toward the end of the development pipeline, with two products aimed at protecting children expected to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration by autumn. One, a maternal vaccine developed by Pfizer, received a recommendation last week from FDA’s vaccine advisory committee.
    • “But there are sizable hurdles standing in the way of the implementation of these products, hurdles that could see the promise they offer squandered because of bureaucracy, health systems that don’t interact with one another, and steep price tags.”
  • Ms. Branswell discusses the hurdles with experts on the matter.
  • Forbes reports
    • This week, Achieve Life Sciences announced that its drug, cytisinicline, saw strong results in its latest phase III trial. While the drug has been used for decades in eastern Europe, it’s not yet been approved by the FDA. The drug works by targeting the nicotine receptors in the brain, CEO John Bencich tells Forbes. “It works to reduce the satisfaction you get while smoking, but also helps with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.” 
    • The study, which followed 792 patients, had patients take the drug for either 6 weeks or 12 weeks. Both patients who received the drug and those who got a placebo also went through a behavioral program about quitting smoking. The company says that over 30% of those who took the drug for 12 weeks stopped smoking completely in the last four weeks of the study, compared to less than 10% in the placebo group. For six weeks of treatment, the drug had a nearly 15% success rate compared to 6% in the placebo group. The company saw similar success in a smaller study it reported in the spring on the success of the drug in helping patients quit vaping. Patients will be monitored for 24 weeks after completing the cessation program, and the company expects to file a new drug application with the FDA in the first half of 2024. 
  • This week’s Econtalk podcast offers an interview between host Russ Roberts and University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan about the macroeconomic angles of public health issues, like the Covid pandemic. Check it out.

From the interoperability front,

  • Fierce Healthcare relates
    • The total number of Epic customers pledging to join the electronic medical record provider in its participation in the Trusted Exchange Framework and the Common Agreement (TEFCA) has jumped to 27
    • After announcing the participation of 20 health systems plus health tech company KeyCare and health information exchange OCHIN on Monday, five more organizations have joined the pledge including Kaiser Permanente.
    • According to Matt Doyle, interoperability software development lead at Epic, the EMR company is optimistic that nearly all of the 2,000 hospitals and 600,000 clinicians that use Epic across the country will participate. 
  • Let’s go.

From the generative AI front,

  • Patient Engagement HIT tells us
    • Can ChatGPT really replace doctors? Probably not, at least for right now, as surveying shows that patient trust in chatbots and generative AI in healthcare is relatively low.
    • The report from The University of Arizona Health Sciences showed that around half of patients don’t fully trust AI-powered medical advice, like the information issued from chatbots like ChatGPT. Instead, patients still trust and prefer their traditional healthcare providers.
    • However, patients may be more receptive to chatbot medical advice if the AI is guided by a doctor’s or human’s touch.

Midweek Update

Thanks to Alexandr Hovhannisyan for sharing their work on Unsplash.

From Washington, DC —

Roll Call brings us up to date on the debt ceiling issue. “House Republicans unveiled legislation Wednesday to pair their favored spending cuts and energy and regulatory policies with a debt limit increase lasting through early next year.” “Measure viewed as a ‘conversation starter’ with government cash crunch seen as early as June.”

The Wall Street Journal informs us that the U.S. Supreme Court extended its stay of an injunction restricting sales of an abortion pill from midnight tonight to midnight Friday.

  • “The justices have three primary options. They could grant the emergency requests and leave mifepristone on the market indefinitely during litigation, which could preserve the status quo for many months. They could leave the pill in place temporarily and agree to review the case in full, even though lower courts aren’t done reviewing it. Or they could deny the emergency appeals outright.” 

As anticipated, Health Affairs Forefront has posted here and here helpful articles explaining the final 2024 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters released earlier this week.

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • Beckers Payer Issues tells us,
    • Elevance Health posted double-digit revenue growth and beat investor expectations in the first quarter of 2023, according to the company’s earnings report published April 19.
    • “Elevance Health is off to a strong start in 2023, driven by our continued focus on whole health and advancing health beyond healthcare,” President and CEO Gail Boudreaux said.
  • Beckers Hospital Review adds,
    • Mark Cuban is creating an independent pharmacy network to “serve patients more widely” after pitching the idea to local pharmacy owners in February. 
    • Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. has operated as a mail-order, online pharmacy since January 2022, but with its latest endeavor, the business is looking to expand access to its portfolio of more than 1,000 prescription drugs.
    • The collaboration between independent pharmacies and Cost Plus Drugs includes a “Team Cuban Card,” which acts like an insurance card at pharmacy checkouts. 
    • Independent pharmacists interested in partnering with Cost Plus Drugs were asked to complete an interest form with the company detailing the type of pharmacy they run and how patients access the services offered. So far, Cost Plus Drugs has 36 affiliate locations, with five in Florida, seven in Indiana, six in New Jersey and 18 in Texas. The company said it will add new sites every month.
    • This is part of a larger movement to prevent more local pharmacy closures, Mr. Cuban told Becker’s
  • STAT News reports
    • Because Johnson & Johnson is the largest healthcare company in the world, its financial fortunes tend to be a bellwether for the industry at large. And parsing J&J’s positive results from the last quarter, released yesterday, analysts see hope that the pharmaceutical business is in good shape despite a difficult macroeconomic environment.

From the HIMSS conference —

  • Med City News shares a conference presentation by “Glen Tullman — CEO of care navigation company Transcarent, as well as former CEO of Allscripts and Livongo. Mr. Tullman discussed what he thinks the future of healthcare will look like during the HIMSS conference in Chicago. He laid out five predictions, including an increased focus on consumer expectations and more investment in AI.”
  • Fierce Healthcare points out
    • Companies like Best Buy and VillageMD are disrupting the traditional healthcare industry by bringing a more consumer-centric approach to providing medical services.
    • During a keynote address Wednesday morning at HIMSS23, executives at these so-called “disrupters” shared their vision for the future of care delivery.
  • You will find HIMSS links to its sessions here and here.

From the Rx and medical test coverage front —

  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Research issued a white paper
    • Evaluating Best Practices and Potential Reforms for White Bagging, Brown Bagging, and Site of Service Policies that Seek to Address High Markup in Drug Prices
      • — White bagging, brown bagging, and site of service policies developed by payers can reduce significant markup costs for clinician-administered drugs but have sparked concerns and legislative action related to their impact on patients and providers —
      • — White paper evaluating best practices and potential policy reforms was informed by input from a diverse set of hospitals, provider groups, and payers.
  • Medscape delves into the debate over the optimal time period for using weight loss drugs.
  • The Wall Street Journal examines new blood tests that offer early detection of cancers and Alzheimer’s Disease.
    • “Questions include who should be getting them, and what patients should do about positive results.”

From the miscellany front —

  • Fierce Healthcare informs us, as the FEHBlog expected,
    • The federal No Surprises Act “appears” to be effectively protecting patients from the most frequent sources of unexpected medical bills, though several coverage gaps such as those relating to ground ambulance services are still leaving some patients with hefty bills, according to a new qualitative report.
    • To get a read on the consumer protection legislation after a full year of implementation, researchers from the Urban Institute and Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, with backing from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, interviewed 32 regulators and stakeholders representing consumers, payers, hospitals, billing companies and other relevant industry subsectors.
    • These informants “largely agreed that consumers are being well protected from surprise balance bills covered under the law,” researchers wrote in the report.
  • Health Payer Intelligence notes
    • Many consumers would be interested in a type of account that was like a health savings account (HSA) in its construction but able to be attached to plans other than high deductible health plans (HDHPs), a survey from Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) stated.
    • “We decided to test enrollee interest in a new type of health account similar to an HSA. Like an HSA, the new health account could be funded by both workers and employers, could be invested in the stock market, and would be portable from job to job. Earnings would grow tax free, and contributions would be capped,” the EBRI researchers explained.
    • “Unlike an HSA, this new health account would not have to be paired with a high-deductible health plan; it could be paired with any health plan.”
  • “AHIP released the latest version of its comprehensive, biennial reportHealth Coverage: State-to-State 2023, which analyzes health coverage and health insurance provider industry employment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the public health front

The Wall Street Journal reports

  • Americans seeking messenger RNA vaccines for Covid-19 for the first time will get one, updated shot targeting both the Omicron variant and the original strain of the virus under new moves rolled out Tuesday by federal health officials. 
  • The Food and Drug Administration also authorized a second booster of the updated shots for people at high risk of Covid-19, specifically people 65 years and older or people who have weak immune systems.
  • The agency’s actions mark the latest tweaks to Covid-19 vaccines, and could be followed up by further efforts to simplify the complicated vaccination regimen, perhaps by enshrining plans for a once-a-year shot for most people.
  • “The agency believes that this approach will help encourage future vaccination,” said Dr. Peter Marks, head of the FDA’s division that oversees vaccines. “Covid-19 continues to be a very real risk for many people, and we encourage individuals to consider staying current with vaccination.”

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force maintained its I or incomplete grade for “visual skin examination by a clinician to screen for skin cancer in adolescents and adults.” In other words, USPSTF concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of this screening examination.

The Department of Health and Human Services made available a readout from the Secretary’s roundtable on Black maternal health.

  • One critical action the Administration has taken to move the needle was implementing the state option to extend Medicaid’s postpartum coverage from two months to twelve months, a lifesaving opportunity made possible by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) and made permanent by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (CAA, 2023), which President Biden signed into law earlier this year. So far, 31 states and DC have signed on. Congresswoman Robin Kelly – who also sponsors the MOMMA’s Act, which aims to prevent maternal mortality – helped champion this extension. 
  • Participants who lead community organizations helped shine a light on what effective, scalable solutions can look like, and the outcomes speak for themselves.
  • Jennie Joseph shared that by removing barriers to care for women at higher risk for maternal mortality and morbidity, her organization has never had a mother or baby die in 25 years, and of the 1,200 patients served since 2020, only five babies were born premature.
  • Aza Nedhari remarked that her organization’s Home Visitation Program, which provides expectant and new parents with culturally congruent comprehensive home visiting services during pregnancy and postpartum, has supported over 2,000 families and has facilitated a zero percent mortality rate since 2015.

From the obesity treatment front

Healthcare Dive tells us.

  • Telehealth giant Teladoc Health is expanding its physician-based care product for employers to weight management and prediabetes, as interest explodes in drugs meant for diabetes control that are being more frequently prescribed for weight loss, resulting in nationwide shortages.
  • The medications, called GLP-1 drugs, include Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, which has been at the center of a national conversation about health, weight loss and medication access as more people, especially celebrities, use the drug to lose weight.
  • The provider-based program, which includes access to a Teladoc-employed doctor for a personalized care plan, along with daily coaching with digital tools, will become available for diabetes prevention and weight management in the third quarter, the company told Healthcare Dive.

Beckers Payer Issues adds.

  • UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty told investors [last week] it is “good news” that there are innovations being made in weight management. 
  • “We need to get focused on the facts and reality of this marketplace. We need to really be clear about which patients really do benefit from these medicines and make sure we properly understand how they’re going to use those medicines,” Mr. Witty said. “So there’s a lot still to learn, I think, as these things progress through their final phases.”

From the interoperability front

  • HIMSS reports on its sessions held today.
  • The American Hospital Association relates.
    • About 84% of hospitals had posted a machine-readable file containing rate information by the end of first-quarter 2023, up from 65% the previous quarter, according to a report released today by Turquoise Health. The report also found that 183 commercial health insurers representing over 95% of U.S. commercially insured lives were publishing machine-readable files of their in-network negotiated rates and out-of-network allowed amounts, up from 68 in July 2022.

From the U.S. healthcare business front

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • Hospitals are joining the gig economy. 
    • Some of the nation’s largest hospital systems including Providence and Advocate Health are using apps similar to ride-hailing technology to attract scarce nurses. An app from ShiftKey lets workers bid for shifts. Another, CareRev, helps hospitals adjust pay to match supply, lowering rates for popular shifts and raising them to entice nurses to work overnight or holidays.
    • The embrace of gig work puts hospitals in more direct competition with the temporary-staffing agencies that siphoned away nurses during the pandemic. The apps help extend hospitals’ labor pool beyond their employees to other local nurses who value the highly flexible schedules of gig work. 
    • The shift is among many ways hospitals are revamping hiring, schedules and pay to give nurses more control and to fill staffing gaps created by persistent labor shortages. Vacancies are straining many hospitals’ operations despite recent hiring gains at hospitals and reports of softer demand from some temporary-staffing companies.
  • Healthcare Dive informs us
    • Pharmacists are arguing they should play a more active role in care teams by being allowed to practice the full scope of their license, according to comments at the HIMSS conference in Chicago.
    • Nearly half of U.S. counties have shortages of primary care providers, with just one of those doctors for every 1,500 people, while 61% of those counties have a high volume of retail pharmacy locations that could help make up the deficit, according to new data from health IT network Surescripts.
    • But pharmacists at HIMSS say they need access to a greater range of medical data to get there.
  • OPM held a session on this topic on the first day of its FEHB carrier conference on March 29.
  • Beckers Payer Issues reports
    • CVS Health has named Brian Kane as executive vice president and president of Aetna, effective September 1.
    • Mr. Kane will report directly to CVS President and CEO Karen Lynch. He is replacing Daniel Finke, who is stepping down for health reasons, according to an April 17 news release.

From the tidbits/miscellany department

  • The National Association of Letter Carriers calls attention to the fact that the Postal Service has issued Postal Service Health Benefits Program fact sheets for Postal employees and annuitants.
  • The Drug Channels blog makes ten predictions about how the Inflation Reduction Act will impact market access and drug channels.
  • Govexec predicts expanded childcare options and higher pay for childcare workers based on an executive order that the President signed today.

Weekend update

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

The Senate and the House of Representatives will be in session this week for Committee business and floor voting.

As we close out Black History Month, let’s join the Trust for American Health in celebrating notable African American in public health.

From the Covid front, the Wall Street Journal reports

The U.S. Energy Department has concluded that the Covid pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak, according to a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress.

The shift by the Energy Department, which previously was undecided on how the virus emerged, is noted in an update to a 2021 document by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s office.

The new report highlights how different parts of the intelligence community have arrived at disparate judgments about the pandemic’s origin. The Energy Department now joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation in saying the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory. Four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that it was likely the result of a natural transmission, and two are undecided.

From the miscellany department —

  • Fortune Well provides us with insights on how to manage a life-threatening diagnosis.
  • Health Payer Intelligence tells us what payers can expect to find in the proposed CMS electronic prior authorization rule. The public comment deadline on the rule is March 13, 2023