From Capitol Hill —
The Senate is on a State work break for the next two weeks which encompasses Independence Day. The House of Representatives will be engaged in Committee business this week through Thursday. Then the House will be on District work break through the end of the following week.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on an important topic: “Examining the 2022 National Drug Control Strategy and the Federal Response to the Overdose Crisis.”
On Friday, the House Appropriations Committee approved
the fiscal year 2023 Financial Services and General Government bill on a 31 to 22 vote. * * *
The following amendments to the bill were adopted by the full Committee:
Rep. Quigley – The manager’s amendment makes technical and noncontroversial changes to the bill and report. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
Rep. Stewart #3 – This amendment prohibits the government’s use of cloud computing platforms unless they prevent child exploitation images. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
This bill includes FEHB and OPM funding.
It occurred to the FEHBlog over the weekend that on Friday he did not explain how the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overruling Roe v. Wade impacts the FEHB Program. The short answer in the FEHBlog’s opinion is that it has no impact.
Under the Hyde Amendment whose requirements have been applied to the FEHB via annual appropriations bills for decades, FEHB Program coverage of abortions is limited to abortions in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life. Federal courts of appeals uniformly have held that the Hyde Amendment preempts more restrictive State abortion limitations. E.g., Planned Parenthood Affiliates v. Engler, 73 F.3d 654 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing precedential authorities).
From the Omicron and siblings front —
The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are spiking globally because they can spread faster than other circulating variants — mostly BA.2, which caused a surge in cases at the beginning of the year. But so far, the latest Omicron variants seem to be causing fewer deaths and hospitalizations than their older cousins — a sign that growing population immunity is tempering the immediate consequences of COVID-19 surges.
Nature explores what the rise of BA.4 and BA.5 means for the pandemic.
The FEHB agrees that the complete Nature article is worth reading.
The Wall Street Journal informs us
A modified booster shot targeting Omicron specifically increased neutralizing antibody levels 13.5 to 19.6 times higher than the current shot in study volunteers a month after administration, depending on the dose, the companies said Saturday. * * *
The results, coming after Moderna Inc. also found its Omicron-targeting booster produced a stronger immune response, suggest possible benefit to modifying the shots to improve protection against an evolving virus.
The Journal adds that the Food and Drug Administration is considering whether to give emergency use authorization to the Omicron-oriented boosters for fall 2022. Based on the Nature article, it appears that Omicron will still be with us then.
Fortune identifies seven things doctors who treat long Covid want people to know.
From the Monkeypox front, Bloomberg Prognosis tells us
The World Health Organization opted against calling the recent monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
The outbreak is “clearly an evolving threat,” the WHO said in a statement Saturday, though it doesn’t constitute an international public health emergency “at this moment.” An emergency committee convened on Thursday to discuss the outbreak.
“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” according to the statement. “It requires our collective attention and coordinated action now to stop the further spread of monkeypox virus.”
NPR Shots expresses concern that U.S. testing program for this disease is inadequate.
For many of the  confirmed cases, health officials don’t know how the person caught the virus. Those infected haven’t traveled or come into contact with another infected person. That means the virus is spreading in some communities and cities, cryptically.
“The fact that we can’t reconstruct the transmission chain means that we are likely missing a lot of links in that chain,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Brown University, says. “And that means that those infected people haven’t had the opportunity to receive medicines to help them recover faster and not develop severe symptoms.
“But it also means that they’re possibly spreading the virus without knowledge of the fact that they’re infected,” she adds.
In other words: “We have no concept of the scale of the monkeypox outbreak in the U.S.,” says biologist Joseph Osmundson at New York University. “
NPR explains that the monkeypox testing process is much too cumbersome and the CDC hopes to have the process streamlined “sometime in July.”
Meanwhile, Precision Vaccines reports
New influenza vaccine effectiveness data presented at the U.S. CDC’s June 22, 2022 meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) show flu shots worked better during 2021 – 2022 than initially reported.
Published on June 23, 2022, this ACIP data shows flu shots reduced the risk of influenza illness by about 35% among vaccinated people.
Data from October 4, 2021, through April 30, 2022, showed that flu vaccines reduced people’s risk of mild to moderate flu illness caused by H3N2 flu viruses—the most common flu viruses this season—by about one-third overall. * * *
Also, at the meeting, ACIP voted in favor of a preferential recommendation for certain flu vaccines over others for adults 65 years and older in the United States.
The ACIP voted to preferentially recommend higher-dose flu vaccines (Fluzone High-Dose vaccine and Flublok recombinant vaccine) or adjuvanted flu vaccine (Fluad vaccine) over standard-dose unadjuvanted flu vaccines.
And if one of these vaccines is unavailable at the time of administration, people in this age group should get a standard-dose flu vaccine instead.
From the health information technology front, Health Data Management calls out attention to the following
- “In a [very sensible] letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, several healthcare standards organizations are calling for streamlining and making more predictable the process for submitting attachments as well as modernizing existing rules to improve patient care and reduce burdens on clinicians.”
- “New legal requirements for providers to give an estimated cost of patients’ medical services will be difficult to meet, particularly when multiple organizations are involved in a patient’s care, according to WEDI, the Workgroup on Electronic Data Interchange. Meeting the requirements of the No Surprises Act, which was included as part of a Consolidated Appropriations Act passed late in 2020, will be challenging because there is no standardized process to enable the exchange of cost information among facilities, WEDI notes.”
- “While healthcare organizations see the prevailing trend of increasing patient consumerism, the ability to give patients opportunities to schedule their own appointments is lagging. Many organizations have adopted some capabilities for self-scheduling, according to new research from the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM), yet the use of these tools remains low [because] scheduling solutions lack the right algorithms and that organizations lack standardized scheduling templates across appointment types.”
In particular the second bullet strikes a chord with the FEHBlog as he has pointed out that Congress made a huge mistake by failing add the provider’s good faith estimate and the health plan’s advance explanation of benefits to the list of HIPAA standard transactions.