Thursday Miscellany

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

Today, November 17, is National Rural Health Day.

Let’s follow up on two posts from this week:

  • On Tuesday, the FEHBlog mentioned that the Internal Revenue Service issued Notice 2022-59 which adjusts the PCORI fee for years “that end on or after October 1, 2022, and before October 1, 2023.” The FEHBlog referenced an adjusted PCORI fee of $2.79 per covered life. Whoops. The FEHBlog referenced the current PCORI fee. The adjusted PCORI fee is $3.00 per covered life. Lo siento.
  • Yesterday, the FEHBlog called to readers’ attention a Congressional Research Service report on federal healthcare laws enacted in the current Congress that expire at the end of 2022. The FEHBlog thought “I should go back and read that report.” Today an email from the Wagner Law firm identified one of these expiring laws, to wit

During the pandemic, Congress allowed telehealth services to be provided to HSA-eligible individuals without cost-sharing and without regard to whether they had met their deductibles under their High Deductible Health Plans. That authorization expired December 31, 2021. Congress then again allowed deductible-free telehealth services to resume from April 1, 2022, through December 31, 2022. Unless this authorization is extended again, plans covering HSA-eligible individuals will have to require that telehealth services be provided to those individuals on the same terms as in-person care, i.e., the deductible must be met before telehealth can be provided without further charge to the patient. [The American Benefits Council has asked Congress to extend this consumer protection.]

From Capitol Hill, Politico brings us up to date on medical association efforts to block or at least reduce a 4.5% cut in Medicare Part B payments to physicians.

From the federal employee benefits front, Tammy Flanagan writing in Govexec discusses the health benefit options available to federal employees who are veterans.

“From the public health front —

  • The Labor Department’s Department’scupational Safety and Health Administration offers guidance to employers on controlling seasonal flu outbreaks in the office or plant.
  • The New York Times examines anti-depressant drugs. “The most commonly prescribed medications for depression are somewhat effective — but not because they correct a “chemical imbalance.”

Hospitals have made progress in reducing preventable errors, accidents and injuries over the past decade, according to the Leapfrog Group’s fall 2022 hospital safety grades released Wednesday.

Incidents of falls and trauma and of objects unintentionally left in a body after surgery decreased by about 25% since 2012, according to Leapfrog.

In this year’s fall rankings, 30% of hospitals earned an A grade, 28% earned a B, 36% earned a C, 6% earned a D and 1% earned an F.

From the Rx coverage front,

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved [Provention Bio’s] Tzield (teplizumab-mzwv) injection to delay the onset of stage 3 type 1 diabetes in adults and pediatric patients 8 years and older who currently have stage 2 type 1 diabetes. 

“Today’s approval of a first-in-class therapy adds an important new treatment option for certain at-risk patients,” said John Sharretts, M.D., director of the Division of Diabetes, Lipid Disorders, and Obesity in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The drug’s potential to delay clinical diagnosis of type 1 diabetes may provide patients with months to years without the burdens of disease.” 

“From the plan design front, MedCity News tells us “Historically having worked with Medicaid and Medicare Advantage populations, Uber Health is now expanding its services to self-insured employers. The company made the announcement at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas.”

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Federal Employees Benefit Open Season front —

  • My Federal Retirement discusses the availability of high deductible plans coupled with health savings accounts in the FEHB.
  • A Federal Times expert, Reg Jones, explains the differences between Open Season and special enrollment periods.

In related news, Federal News Network tells us

Over 200 members of the Senior Executive Service this year will receive Presidential Rank Awards, considered the highest honor for career civil servants.

President Joe Biden picked 233 winners across a total of 33 different agencies for the 2022 awards program, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Nov. 15.

“Each and every day, our federal employees are working to address the nation’s most pressing issues, developing technologies to improve millions of lives, and ultimately, achieving the seemingly unachievable on behalf of the American public,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a press statement. “This year’s Presidential Rank Awards reflect the Biden-Harris administration’s support for hardworking civil servants who exemplify strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to public service through their exceptional leadership, contributions and accomplishments.”

Kudos to the winners.

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Wall Street Journal reports

Moderna Inc.’s new updated Covid-19 booster shot for the U.S. generated strong immune responses in people against Omicron subvariants, according to the first data from a company-sponsored study testing the new doses in volunteers.

Moderna said Monday that people receiving the updated booster shot had more than five times the neutralizing antibodies against Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 than people who received Moderna’s original booster shot, which targeted an earlier strain of the coronavirus.

“That really bodes well for the vaccine and public health,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview.

From the conferences’ front —

  • The American Medical Association explains what happened on the closing day of the AMA’s interim meeting.
  • Healthcare Dive offers Dive Briefs from the HLTH conference about Included Health and Elevance Health. Fierce Healthcare adds “Mental health provider SonderMind acquired neuroscience company Total Brain with the goal of revolutionizing personalized therapeutic care and providing individual insights into mental wellbeing.”

In other U.S. Healthcare business news

Healthcare Dive informs us

  • “Amazon has launched a message-based virtual health service called Amazon Clinic a little more than two months after the retail giant shuttered its primary care delivery business Amazon Care.
  • “Amazon Clinic, which is currently live and available 24/7 through Amazon’s website and mobile app, is a marketplace for telemedicine providers, connecting consumers with virtual doctors who can diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for a range of common health conditions like acne, birth control and migraines, the retail giant said.
  • “Amazon Clinic will be available in 32 states at launch, with plans to expand to additional states in the coming months, according to a Tuesday blog post announcing the news. * * *
  • “Consultation cost will vary by provider, including follow-up messages with a clinician for up to two weeks after the consultation. Consultations start at $30.
  • “Amazon Clinic does not accept insurance. The company didn’t disclose whether that would change in the future.”

Minnesota Public Radio tells us

Nearly a decade after unsuccessfully attempting a merger, South Dakota-based Sanford Health and Minnesota’s Fairview Health Services said Tuesday they’re again in talks to combine.

The two regional health care giants say they intend to complete a merger next year. The new entity would be called Sanford Health and be run by Sanford’s current CEO. The deal would include the University of Minnesota hospitals, which Fairview purchased in 1997.

Financial details and any cost-cutting plans tied to the proposed merger were not immediately disclosed.

From the Food and Drug Administration front —

On Thursday [November 10], the FDA, in conjunction with the CDC, released results on youth tobacco use from the 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Findings show that in 2022, more than one in 10 middle and high school students (3.08 million) had used a tobacco product during the past 30 days – including 16.5% of high school and 4.5% of middle school students. The full results are available here

Today, the FDA announced an unprecedented advancement in foodborne illness prevention through the finalization of a rule to more effectively trace contaminated food through the food supply, whether sourced in the U.S. or abroad. 

Also [t]oday, the FDA issued a Federal Register notice, Safety and Effectiveness of Certain Naloxone Hydrochloride Drug Products for Nonprescription Use, that may help facilitate the development and approval of certain nonprescription naloxone drug products, including through the switch of certain naloxone drug products from prescription status to nonprescription status. Naloxone is a medicine that can help reduce opioid overdose deaths and when administered timely, usually within minutes of the first signs of an opioid overdose, can counter the overdose effects.

From the No Surprises Act front, today was the deadline for the public to submit comments to the NSA regulators concerning two unnecessarily complicated consumer protections found in the law — the good faith estimate and the advance explanation of benefits. In the FEHBlog’s view, the NSA regulators would be well served if they limited those protections to surprise billing situations not elsewhere covered by the law, for example, (1) complicated procedures and (2) reoccurring services that take place over a prolonged period, e.g. chiropractor care, mental health care. The WEDI group, which is an advisor to the HHS Secretary, also offers useful comments on the matter.

From the Affordable Care Act front, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force gave an inconclusive (I) grade today to screening for obstructive sleep apnea in adults. “The USPSTF concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for obstructive sleep apnea in the general adult population.” The USPSTF previously graded the apnea screening service an I grade in January 2017.

In closing, here’s a tidbit from the Wall Street Journal

The Earth is now home to eight billion people, the United Nations said, because people are living longer and fertility rates have surged in some countries. * * *

There were about 300 million people on Earth two millennia ago, according to the U.N. The population fluctuated in the centuries after that, largely because of plagues and natural disasters. Then the population accelerated, reaching one billion in 1804, four billion in 1974 and seven billion in 2011. * * *

Demographers project the world will reach its next population milestone—nine billion—around 2037.

The U.N. predicts that the global population will peak at around 10.4 billion during the 2080s and remain near that level until the start of the next century. Another forecast, from the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital at the University of Vienna, has it peaking at 9.67 billion in 2070, before a slow decline as fertility rates drop.

Midweek Update

Forbes reports

As the polls pretty much predicted, Tuesday’s midterms turned out to be very close in terms of the balance of power between the two parties. As of this writing [Wednesday evening] it’s still not clear which party controls the House and Senate. But in several states, there were important healthcare issues on the ballot that were settled more decisively. In South Dakota, voters approved an expansion of Medicaid benefits, adding itself to the list of many other states that have bypassed legislatures to expand the program by ballot initiative. Voters in Michigan, California and Vermont approved Constitutional amendments protecting abortion rights while voters in Kentucky rejected an amendment that would have stated abortion rights are not protected in the state. Meanwhile, in Arizona many of the headline races are still too close to call as of this writing, but one vote that isn’t is an overwhelming “Yes” for Proposition 209, which expands property and assets that can’t be collected against medical debt and also reduces the interest rate that can be charged on it. 

From the Omicron and siblings front, protein-based Covid vaccine manufacturer Novovax reports on its third-quarter earnings and the value of its vaccine as a booster. In addition, Novovax says that it has delivered over 94 million doses of its vaccine worldwide.

From the U.S. healthcare business front, we have a trifecta from Healthcare Dive.

Healthcare Dive informs us

More than 30 healthcare associations and advocacy groups joined the American College of Emergency Physicians in asking President Joe Biden to prioritize finding solutions to the problem of overcrowded hospital emergency rooms.

Strained emergency departments are coping with an increase in boarding, a term for when patients are held in the ED longer than they should be because of a lack of available inpatient beds. The problem has led to gridlocked EDs filled with patients waiting, sometimes in life-threatening situations, the ACEP and other groups warned Monday in a letter to the president. “Boarding has become its own public health emergency,” the letter said.

The organizations urged the Biden administration to convene a summit of stakeholders from across the healthcare system to identify immediate and long-term solutions to the boarding problem.

Holy cow!

Healthcare Dive tells us

Elevance Health inked a deal to acquire a specialty pharmacy that caters to patients with complex and chronic conditions like cancer and multiple sclerosis.

The insurer said BioPlus will complement its existing pharmacy benefit manager, IngenioRx, providing patients with specialty drugs and a whole-health approach.

After closing and integrating BioPlus into operations, the company will be able to leverage the insights from both pharmacy and medical benefits, Elevance announced on Wednesday.

Working together, BioPlus’ pharmacy team will be able to identify “a patient who may need behavioral health support or in-home care services” and “seamlessly connect that patient to services to address their whole health needs,” Elevance said.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2023. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Healthcare Dive also explains why Cigna invested $2.5 billion in Walgreen’s combined Village MD / Summit Health primary care company.

Unlike many other primary care physician groups, VillageMD is focused on the commercial market, which brings in two-thirds of its revenue. That plays to Cigna’s strength in the employer market, as the majority of its customers are commercial employers, according to Credit Suisse analyst A.J. Rice.

As part of its investment, Evernorth will develop value-based agreements with VillageMD. The two will work together to optimize sites of care and patient outcomes through VillageMD’s physician network and Evernorth’s health services businesses, which include pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts, specialty pharmacy Accredo and virtual care provider MDLive.

Beckers Hospital Review discusses how CVS, Amazon and Walgreens are pushing into primary care, and home health care.

From the healthcare quality front

The HHS Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Director offers a blog post about how “AHRQ’s Research and Tools Help Transform Delivery of Primary Care.”

Patient Engagement HIT relates

Personal health record (PHR) use is key to driving patient engagement, with recent JMIR Cancer data showing PHR use among colorectal cancer survivors increasing access to follow-up care and screening by more than 30 percentage points.

Additionally, PHR use increased the proportion of survivors who believed access to certain follow-up cancer screenings was important to their health and well-being, according to researchers from the Regenstrief Institute, the VA, and Indiana University’s schools of medicine and nursing.

PHRs are different from EHRs in that they are patient-facing and give users insights into their own health information. Most PHRs, particularly PHRs “tethered” to the EHR, come with some secure messaging and patient notification systems, giving the technologies even more patient engagement power.

Revcycle Intelligence reports

Hospitals work hard to avoid “never events,” or serious, largely preventable, and harmful events identified by the National Quality Forum (NQF). These never events include performing surgery on the wrong patient or accidentally leaving an item in a patient after an invasive procedure. However, some industry experts are now calling onthe healthcare industry to consider a new set of never events that are administrative in nature, such as aggressive medical debt collection.

Dave A. Chokshi, MD, MSc, FACP, senior scholar at CUNY School of Public Health and Health Policy and former Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Adam L. Beckman, BS, of Harvard’s Medical and Business Schools, identify five new hospital never events in a new JAMA Health Forum article. They say that hospitals should never:

  1. Aggressively pursue medical debt against patients who cannot afford their bills
  2. Spend less on community benefits than it earns in tax breaks from non-profit status
  3. Flout federal requirements for hospitals to be transparent with patients about costs
  4. Compensate hospital workers less than a living wage
  5. Deliver racially segregated care

That approach could get the attention of hospitals.

Finally, Med City News informs us

More than three quarters, or 77%, of reproductive-aged women want birth control pills to be made available without a prescription, provided that research proves the pills safe and effective, a new survey shows.

“Oral contraceptives are the most commonly used method of reversible contraception in the U.S., and studies suggest that [over-the-counter] access would increase use of contraception and facilitate continuity of use in addition to saving time spent on travel, at a doctor’s office, and off work,” the report stated.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most private health insurance plans are required to cover FDA-approved birth control, but it must be prescribed. However, 41% of women at reproductive age are not aware of this. About 70% of women with private insurance said their health plan fully covered their birth control, but about a quarter said they had to pay some out-of-pocket.

The ACA rule also applies to FEHB plans. The FEHBlog is metaphysically certain the ACA regulators would extend this rule to over the counter contraceptive if the Food and Drug Administration can get its act together.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front, FedSmith provides advice to federal and postal employees and FedWeek provides guidance to all interested parties.

In the Federal Times, Reg Jones answers a reader’s question about whether an annuitant can suspend their FEHBP coverage.

From the Omicron and flu front –

MedPage Today expresses expert views that developing vaccines that prevent the spread of Covid require human challenge trials in which fully informed, vaccinated people are exposed to Omicron.

[M]any experts agree: we need new vaccines to limit the spread of the virus. The current generation of vaccines offers strong protection against serious illness and death, but their edge has dulled against new variants, and they do not always prevent infection and transmission of the virus.

The White House hosted a summit on the issue in July, showcasing the myriad ways researchers are going about developing new vaccines. There are hundreds of candidates in early stages around the world, but the resources devoted to COVID-19 vaccine research are a fraction of what they were 2 years ago. Human challenge trials can greatly speed the selection of the most promising in this field of candidates, providing scientific and economic benefits over uniform reliance on large field studies.

Time will tell.

The Wall Street Journal provides a background story of this year’s flu that compares the spread of the flu vs. the spread of Covid.

How contagious is flu?

Covid-19 is more contagious than influenza, doctors say. One reason is that most people have had flu multiple times and many have gotten multiple flu shots over the years. 

The most common calculation of a virus’s infectiousness is a measure called the R0 (pronounced “R naught”). This metric estimates how many people one contagious person will infect on average. The R0 of influenza is between one and two. R0 data for Covid-19 isn’t definitive, especially as the virus continues to mutate, but studies indicate the number for many Covid strains is higher than for flu. 

From the tidbits department

  • Healthcare Dive offers “five takeaways from the FDA’s list of AI-enabled medical devices. As the number of devices increases, the agency is looking to adapt its regulatory framework to the new technology, including faster approval of algorithm updates.”
  • The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), which the Affordable Care Act requires health insurers and plans to fund, shares its strategic plan.
  • The Segal Company helpfully reminds cafeteria plan sponsors that “As part of COVID-19 relief, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) permitted plan sponsors to immediately implement certain mid-year changes to their cafeteria plans during the 2020 and/or 2021 plan years without first having to adopt plan amendments. Employers that implemented such relief are required to adopt certain retroactive plan amendments by December 31, 2022.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control calls attention to its U.S. Diabetes Surveillance System website. Check it out.
  • Beckers Hospital Review lists the ten most expensive States for healthcare. The only state with a top 10 population included on Becker’s list is Florida.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front, the Federal Times offers a detailed report on FEHB infertility coverage. The article answered one of the FEHBlog’s outstanding questions:

In October, the White House Office of Personnel Management, which acts the human relations department for the federal workforce, unveiled four new plan options that will provide some form of assisted reproductive technology, or ART, for a total of 18 FEHB plan options in 2023.

Those are offered by carriers Triple S-SaludUPMC Health Plan, Indiana University Health Plan, Foreign Service Benefit Plan, and Health Net of California Southern.

One new plan option, under CDPHP, will provide a non-FEHB benefit for discounted ART.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

The New York Times tells us “People who took the antiviral drug Paxlovid within a few days after being infected with the coronavirus were less likely to be experiencing long Covid several months later, a large new study found.” The federal government should be promoting Paxlovid and flu treatments at least as much as it promotes vaccines.

Because winter is coming the Centers for Disease Control reminds us about the importance of home ventilation.

Improving ventilation can help you reduce virus particles in your home and keep COVID-19 from spreading. You may or may not know if someone in your home or if a visitor to your home has COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses. Good ventilation, along with other preventive actions, can help prevent you and others from getting and spreading COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.

Health IT Analytics reports

Researchers from New York University’s Machine Learning for Good Laboratory (ML4G Lab), Carnegie Mellon University, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) have developed an automated machine-learning system designed to detect rare or previously unseen disease clusters.

According to the press release shared with HealthITAnalytics via email, current automated systems used to identify public health threats rely on “syndromic surveillance” to detect existing threats but can fall short of identifying new ones.

“Existing systems are good at detecting outbreaks of diseases that we already know about and are actively looking for, like flu or COVID,” said NYU Professor Daniel B. Neill, PhD, director of the ML4G Lab, in the press release. “But what happens when something new and scary comes along? Pre-syndromic surveillance provides a safety net to identify emerging threats that other systems would fail to detect.”

Bravo.

With the new year less than two months away, Med City New informs us “Consumer research firm Forrester recently predicted major trends that would shape healthcare in 2023. Healthcare stakeholders should prepare for key changes, such as care becoming even more inaccessible for rural patients[, more remote patient monitoring for chronically ill patients] and additional retail entrants into the clinic space.

On a related note, Becker’s Hospital Review identifies the ten states with the most rural hospitals at immediate risk of closure — 1. Mississippi 24; 2. Tennessee 17, and 3. Kansas 16.

In other U.S. healthcare business news

Healthcare Dive reports

  • VillageMD has agreed to acquire medical practice Summit Health for $8.9 billion including debt, the primary care provider announced Monday.
  • VillageMD, which is majority owned by pharmacy chain Walgreens, and Summit Health, the parent company of CityMD, plan to combine their provider locations and VillageMD’s experience with value-based care to help accelerate the transition to risk for payer clients.
  • Cigna’s health services division Evernorth is also taking a stake in the deal, and will become a minority owner in VillageMD at the deal’s close, expected in the first quarter of 2023.

Fierce Healthcare summarizes 3rd quarter earnings reports from major health insurers.

Fierce Healthcare also announced its ten 2022 Women of Influence in Health award winners.

This year’s honorees cover the breadth of the industry, from providers to payers to health tech, and represent some of the industry’s largest companies as well as up-and-coming innovators. Each has been pivotal in helping their organizations—and their patients—navigate some of the most complicated years that we’ve ever faced.

Kudos to the winners.

The Goverment Accountability Office released a report titled “Private Health Insurance: Markets Remained Concentrated through 2020, with Increases in the Individual and Small Group Markets.”

Several companies may be selling health insurance in a given market, but, as we previously reported, most people usually enroll with one of a small number of insurers. Known as market concentration, this can result in higher premiums due to less competition in the market.

We found this pattern continued in 2019 and 2020, with the markets for individuals and for small employers generally becoming more concentrated. Specifically, three or fewer health insurers held at least 80% of the market share for both of these markets in at least 42 states.

From the healthcare quality front, the HHS Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research released

  • a draft Evidence Map of Social and Structural Determinants of Health Risk Factors for Maternal Morbidity and Mortality; the public comment deadline is December 4, 2022.

Also, Fierce Healthcare tells us

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) released a report Monday updating its strategic vision for implementing value-based care, including detailing its progress since the vision was released last year. One of the key new strategies focused on creating greater care coordination between primary care doctors and specialists, especially surrounding the types of models the center puts out.

From the mental healthcare front, the National Institutes of Health’s NIH in the News for November 2022 features an article on clinical depression for patients.

From the medical device front, the Wall Street Journal reports

Medtronic PLC medical device reduced the blood pressure of people with tough-to-treat hypertension in a closely watched study, but not significantly beyond what medications achieved.

The device cut a crucial measure of blood pressure by only about two points more than the average reduction in study volunteers who didn’t get the procedure, researchers said Monday.

Despite falling short of the study’s main efficacy goal, Medtronic said it has completed its application to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of the device, based on its safety and ability to meet certain secondary goals in the latest study as well as positive data from earlier studies.

If the FDA approves it, the device could offer a new, nonmedication treatment option for people with blood pressure that remains high despite treatment with drugs. It could also be a big-selling product for Medtronic. * * *

Medtronic’s experimental device, Symplicity Spyral, is used to perform a minimally invasive procedure known as renal denervation. 

In renal denervation, doctors insert a spiral-shaped catheter into an artery near the patient’s groin, through which a generator delivers radio-frequency energy to nerves in arteries near the kidneys. These nerves can become overactive and fuel high blood pressure. The device essentially burns these nerves so that they don’t contribute to high blood pressure.

Renal denervation has potential to be a one-time treatment, though researchers are still following patients to see how the benefit lasts.

Midweek update

From the alcohol abuse front, MedPage Today tells us

One out of every eight deaths in Americans ages 20 to 64 resulted from drinking too much alcohol, according to a U.S. population-based study.

Nationally, 12.9% of total deaths per year among adults in this age group were attributed to excessive alcohol consumption from 2015 to 2019, and that number rose to 20.3% of total deaths per year when restricted to people ages 20 to 49, reported Marissa Esser, PhD, MPH, of the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues.

Alcohol-attributed deaths ranged from 9.3% in Mississippi to 21.7% in New Mexico and were more common among men than women (15% vs 9.4%), the authors wrote in JAMA Network Open.

That is startling.

From the unusual viruses front, Beckers Hospital Review explains

Wastewater testing has found polioviruses genetically tied to a case that left an unvaccinated Rockland County, N.Y., resident paralyzed this summer in at least five of the state’s counties, according to a new CDC report. 

The report, published Oct. 28, is based on wastewater testing from samples collected from March 9 through Oct. 11 from 28 sewersheds serving parts of Rockland County and 12 other counties. Eighty-nine samples, or 8.3 percent of 1,076 samples collected, tested positive for poliovirus type 2. Of those, 82 were linked to the virus isolated from the Rockland County patient who was left paralyzed 

“Although most persons in the United States are sufficiently immunized, unvaccinated or undervaccinated persons living or working in Kings, Orange, Queens, Rockland, or Sullivan counties, New York should complete the polio vaccination series to prevent additional paralytic cases and curtail transmission,” the CDC report said. 

CDC officials recently told CNBC they are considering the use of a novel oral polio vaccine not used in 20 years to halt the outbreak. 

From the opioid epidemic front, Healthcare Dive informs us

CVS Health agreed on Wednesday to pay $5 billion to settle almost all opioid-related lawsuits and claims the company been battling over the past decade that alleged it mishandled prescriptions of the painkillers.

If the deal is finalized, CVS will pay $4.9 billion to states and political entities such as counties and cities, and $130 million to U.S. tribes.

The payments, which depend partially on the number of government entities that agree to join the settlement, will be spread out over the next 10 years beginning in 2023.

Cities, counties and states have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies for their role in perpetrating the opioid epidemic in the U.S. According to government data, three-fourths of the 92,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid.

Walgreens and Walmart also have reached deals to settle opioid-related claims, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Walgreens will pay $5.7 billion over 15 years and Walmart will pay $3.1 billion, mostly up front, according to the report.

If the settlements from the three companies, which are the largest retail pharmacies in the U.S., become final, it may end much of the yearslong litigation over opioids. Cases still are pending against smaller pharmacies such as Rite Aid.

The deals follow some victories for plaintiffs against the chains. 

In related healthcare business news, Beckers Hospital Review reports

CVS Health raised its annual earnings outlook after beating investor expectations in the third quarter, but the company reported $3.4 billion in losses after agreeing to pay into a global opioid lawsuit settlement starting next year.

The $5 billion settlement will be paid out over 10 years and “substantially resolve all opioid lawsuits and claims against the company by states, political subdivisions, such as counties and cities, and tribes in the United States,” the company said in its Nov. 2 earnings report.

The company’s third quarter EPS is $2.09 and $6.71 for 2022. It also raised its full year guidance and expects adjusted EPS to rise from a range of $8.40-$8.60 to $8.55-$8.65.

“We delivered another outstanding quarter, and have raised full-year guidance as a result. We continue to execute on our strategy with a focus on expanding capabilities in health care delivery, and the announced acquisition of Signify Health will further strengthen our engagement with consumers,” President and CEO Karen Lynch said.

and

Humana reported $1.2 billion in profits during the third quarter and is expecting major increases in Medicare Advantage membership, according to the company’s Nov. 2 earnings report.

The company reported $22.8 billion in third quarter revenues, increasing 10.2 percent from $20.7 billion year over year. Total revenues in 2022 are $70.4 billion

The company expects an annual adjusted EPS guidance of $25 and raised its 2022 earnings outlook to $91.6 billion – $93.2 billion.

Healthcare Dive adds

Los Angeles-based Heal, a provider of primary care through house calls, telemedicine visits and remote patient monitoring, said it has partnered with Cigna Medicare Advantage plans in four states as it continues its national expansion.

The organization is now an in-network provider for Cigna MA enrollees in Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, effective immediately, it said. Its markets also include Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

Heal works with Humana, WellCare, Aetna and UnitedHealthcare insurance plans, according to its website.

Fierce Healthcare relates

Nearly 334,000 physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other clinicians left the workforce in 2021 due to retirement, burnout and pandemic-related stressors, according to new data [found in the Definitive Healthcare report]. * * *

Hospitals and health systems are spending more money to hire and retain healthcare workers, the report found. These facilities are increasing salaries, offering sign-on bonuses, and expanding benefits to lure in new workers. Hospitals nationwide spent a total of about $97.3 million on employees and physician salaries in 2020, compared with $82.7 million in 2016, according to data from the October 2021 Medicare Cost Report.

From the medical devices front, STAT News tells us

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel suggested Tuesday that the agency improve how it regulates pulse oximeters, calling for clearer labeling and more rigorous testing of the devices. The widely used instruments monitor blood oxygen levels and have been shown to work less well on patients with darker skin, possibly exacerbating health disparities in many racial and ethnic groups. 

Healthcare Dive points out

Optical sensor solution in fingertip monitors gives medical-grade accuracy of oxygen level measurement across skin tones and while in motion.

A patented SpO2 sensor chipset, integrated processing and reference design capability has uses in other wearable devices, according to BioIntelliSense.

The inability of many fingertip monitors to accurately read blood oxygen levels has caused people with darker skin to wait hours for supplemental oxygen and in some cases has caused deaths.

That’s good news for you.

Moreover, Health IT Analytics reports

A team of Yale University researchers has developed a machine learning (ML)-based clinical decision support tool to personalize recommendations for pursuing intensive or standard blood pressure treatment goals among individuals with and without diabetes.

The tool, described in a study published earlier this week in The Lancet Digital Health, is designed to facilitate shared decision-making between providers and patients with hypertension through a data-driven approach. Hypertension is defined as a sustained blood pressure greater than 140/90 mm Hg and is a leading cause of heart disease and mortality.

From the Rx coverage front, STAT News tells us

A blockbuster weight-loss medicine led to dramatic effects for adolescents diagnosed with obesity, a result that will likely widen the use of an in-demand drug — and fan a debate over whether someone’s body weight should be treated as a disease.

The drug, a weekly injection called semaglutide, led to a 17% reduction in body mass index compared to placebo in a study of about 200 people between the ages of 12 and 18. On average, adolescents treated with semaglutide lost 34 pounds, or 15% of their body weight, over the course of the 68-week study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. Those on placebo gained an average of five pounds, or 3% of their baseline weight.

The trial’s relatively small size and short duration leave outstanding questions about whether semaglutide’s side effects, which include nausea and rare cases of gallstones, will lead to long-term problems, said Julie Ingelfinger, a pediatric nephrologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the study. But the results suggest semaglutide, sold by the Danish drug company Novo Nordisk, could be a powerful tool for adolescents unable to lose weight through diet and exercise.

From the post Dobbs front, the New York Times surveys the landscape and finds increasing use of telemedicine services, such as Aid Access, to obtain abortion pills.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

November is awareness month for diabetes and C. Diff. Looking back at October, Medscape informs us

Maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active, and following a healthy dietary pattern can help women live longer after breast cancer diagnosis, according to a major new analysis of the latest research.

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front, the Federal Times offers its consumer guide.

It was a big day on the Medicare front —

The American Hospital Association reports

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services [CMS] late today posted a final rule on its website that will increase Medicare hospital outpatient prospective payment system rates by a net 3.8% in calendar year 2023 compared to 2022. This update is based on a market basket percentage increase of 4.1%, reduced by 0.3 percentage points for productivity. [AHA calls the increase insufficient.] * * *

CMS finalized the payment policy for CY 2023 of average sales price (ASP) +6% for drugs and biologicals acquired through the 340B Program as a result of the unanimous Supreme Court decision in American Hospital Association v. Becerra.

CMS also finalized proposals to establish the Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) model, a new provider type for eligible critical access hospitals and small rural hospitals beginning in Jan. 1, 2023. The rule finalized proposals related to model payment, covered services, conditions of participation, and quality measurements.

[and]

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today released on its website its calendar year 2023 final rule for the physician fee schedule. The rule will cut the conversion factor to $33.06 in CY 2023 from $34.61 in CY 2022, which reflects the expiration of the temporary 3% statutory payment increase; a 0.00% conversion factor update; and a budget-neutrality adjustment.

From HHS.gov

For a fact sheet on the CY 2023 OPPS/ASC Payment System Final Rule (CMS-1772-FC), please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/cy-2023-medicare-hospital-outpatient-prospective-payment-system-and-ambulatory-surgical-center-2

For a fact sheet on Rural Emergency Hospitals, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/cy-2023-medicare-hospital-outpatient-prospective-payment-system-and-ambulatory-surgical-center-1

For a fact sheet on the CY 2023 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/calendar-year-cy-2023-medicare-physician-fee-schedule-final-rule

For a fact sheet on final changes to the CY 2023 Quality Payment Program, please visit: https://qpp-cm-prod-content.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2136/2023%20Quality%20Payment%20Program%20Final%20Rule%20Resources.zip 

For a fact sheet on final changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/calendar-year-cy-2023-medicare-physician-fee-schedule-final-rule-medicare-shared-savings-program

For a CMS blog on behavioral health poliices, please visit: https://www.cms.gov/blog/strengthening-behavioral-health-care-people-medicare-0?check_logged_in=1

What’s more, Beckers Hospital Review informs us

CMS evaluated two and a half years of readmission cases for Medicare patients through the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program and penalized 2,273 hospitals that had a greater-than-expected rate of return, according to a Nov. 1 report from Kaiser Health News.

The average payment reduction was 0.43 percent, the lowest rate reduction since 2014. Reductions will be applied to each Medicare payment to the affected hospitals from Oct. 1 through next September. It is expected to cost the hospitals $320 million over the 12-month period. 

The report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic caused turmoil in hospitals and that CMS decided to exclude the first half of 2020 from the report due to the chaos. CMS also excluded Medicare patients who were readmitted with pneumonia across all three years because of the difficulty distinguishing them from COVID patients. 

From the Affordable Care Act preventive services front, Healio tells us

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has released two final recommendations on the use of hormone therapy for the primary prevention of chronic conditions in postmenopausal people.

The recommendations advocate against the use of menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) through a combination of estrogen and progestin in postmenopausal people, and MHT through estrogen alone in postmenopausal people who have had a hysterectomy.

Both are D-grade recommendations and are consistent with the USPSTF’s previous recommendations on the treatment made back in 2017.

James Stevermer, MD, MSPH, a task force member, also noted in the press release that the recommendations are only for those who are considering hormone therapy to prevent chronic conditions following menopause. 

“Those who wish to manage symptoms of menopause with hormone therapy are encouraged to talk with their health care professional,” he said.

From the prescription drug and vaccine development front —

STAT News reports

Pfizer’s maternal vaccine against the respiratory syncytial virus [RSV] reduced the rate of severe illness in newborns by 81.8%, the company said Tuesday, meeting the goal of a pivotal study.

The company said that it plans to file the data on the vaccine with regulators by the end of the year and that it expects an eight-month review.

RSV is a common cause of illness and infection in young infants. By giving the vaccine during pregnancy, researchers hope antibodies generated by mothers would be transferred to infants. Currently, the pertussis vaccine and the influenza vaccine are given during pregnancy for this reason.

Bloomberg Prognosis tells us

Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-based biotech company, * * * is testing a non-opioid drug for acute pain. Vertex’s drug, VX-548, aims to block the Nav1.8 sodium channel, which acts like a gate allowing pain signals to travel from the nerves to the brain.

VX-548 met its goals in late-stage trials evaluating the drug in people who underwent a bunionectomy or an abdominoplasty, the formal name for a tummy tuck. Vertex will run the same studies with more patients before seeking regulatory approval. The company hasn’t disclosed when data will be available beyond saying the trials will be quick since patients receive the drug for only 48 hours. Vertex is also testing VX-548 in nerve pain and eventually wants to see if it works for chronic pain.

If VX-548 passes its next big tests, it could offer a new option for people recovering from surgery or other medical procedures. Of course, plenty of other pain drugs that looked promising early on in testing never reached the market.

Fortunately, scientists are investing time and money on a variety of alternatives for pain.

From the Rx coverage front, BioPharma Dive relates

Eli Lilly’s new diabetes medicine Mounjaro outpaced Wall Street sales forecasts during the third quarter, fueled by strong patient demand and widening insurer coverage.

U.S. sales of the drug totaled $97 million between July and September, Mounjaro’s first full quarter on the market since its May 13 approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Payments related to a collaboration agreement with Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma in Japan pushed global revenue for the quarter to $187 million, well above the consensus analyst forecast of $82 million.

“We have seen unprecedented demand for Mounjaro’s Type 2 diabetes launch in the U.S.,” said Anat Ashkenazi, Lilly’s chief financial officer, on a Tuesday call with analysts. 

Lilly is also conducting a study to support an FDA marketing application for Mounjaro to be prescribed for weight loss.

Notably, Mounjaro showed a potent effect in reducing trial participants’ weight, a benefit that was also observed in a large study specifically assessing it as an obesity treatment. While it’s currently only approved to treat Type 2 diabetes, its potential as a medicine for both chronic conditions has made it one of Lilly’s most important products.

Lilly is currently conducting a second study in obesity and plans to complete an approval application in that indication should results, expected in April next year, also prove positive. 

In U.S. healthcare business news, MedTech Dive reports

Johnson & Johnson agreed to acquire Abiomed, a Danvers, Mass.-based maker of heart pumps, for $16.6 billion. 

The deal will contribute to J&J’s cardiovascular portfolio, complementing its Biosense Webster electrophysiology business, BTIG Analyst Marie Thibault wrote in a research note on Tuesday. 

The deal has already been approved by both companies’ boards of directors and is expected to close before the end of the first quarter of 2023.

Finally, check out the NIH Director’s blog discussing “How the Brain Differentiates the ‘Click,’ ‘Crack,’ or ‘Thud’ of Everyday Tasks.”

If you’ve been staying up late to watch the World Series, you probably spent those nine innings hoping for superstars Bryce Harper or José Altuve to square up a fastball and send it sailing out of the yard. Long-time baseball fans like me can distinguish immediately the loud crack of a home-run swing from the dull thud of a weak grounder. 

Our brains have such a fascinating ability to discern “right” sounds from “wrong” ones in just an instant. This applies not only in baseball, but in the things that we do throughout the day, whether it’s hitting the right note on a musical instrument or pushing the car door just enough to click it shut without slamming.

Now, an NIH-funded team of neuroscientists has discovered what happens in the brain when one hears an expected or “right” sound versus a “wrong” one after completing a task. It turns out that the mammalian brain is remarkably good at predicting both when a sound should happen and what it ideally ought to sound like. Any notable mismatch between that expectation and the feedback, and the hearing center of the brain reacts.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front, the National Institutes of Health announced

As SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — continues to spread, its genetic material mutates, leading to viral variants. These changes happen most often in the virus’s spike protein, which allows the virus to attach to and invade cells.

Because most COVID-19 vaccines are targeted to the spike protein, antibodies resulting from vaccinations provide less immune protection against variants. This increases people’s risk of getting COVID-19 despite vaccination.

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are exploring a different idea for vaccines. Instead of focusing on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, they are studying the virus’s nucleocapsid (N) protein, which rarely mutates.1 The N protein could be the key to creating a future universal vaccine to fight emerging variants.

Fingers crossed.

In other public health news, the American Hospital Association tells us

Overall cancer death rates continued to decline between 2015 and 2019 for men, women and children and all major racial and ethnic groups, according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. The overall death rate fell an average 2.3% per year in men and 1.9% per year in women, led by declining rates for lung cancer and melanoma. Death rates increased in men for cancers of the pancreas, brain, bones and joints and in women for cancers of the pancreas and uterus. New cancer cases remained stable for men and children between 2014 and 2018, but increased for women, adolescents and young adults. This year’s report also highlights trends in pancreatic cancer, as well as racial and ethnic disparities in incidence and death rates. 

MedCity News points out three reasons why Americans are underutilizing primary care.

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front, OPM informed agency benefit officers

Please see the attached document listing the 84 FEHB plan choices where the enrollee share of premiums for the Self Plus One enrollment type is higher than for the Self and Family enrollment type for the 2023 plan year.

Please share this information with your employees and inform them that enrollees who wish to cover one eligible family member may elect either the Self and Family or Self Plus One enrollment type.

Enrollees should carefully check the 2023 rates of their current plan and any other plan choices they are considering for 2023.  For enrollees wishing to change, they must do so during Open Season, which is held from November 14th through December 12th.

In all of these cases, the self and family premium exceeds the self plus one premium. Nevertheless, these anomalies occur because FEHB family sizes are small and the self plus one government contribution is lower than the self plus family government.

A FedWeek expert identifies eight mistakes to avoid when shopping for a health plan during the Open Season.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released its 2022 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

In 2022, the average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance are $7,911 for single coverage and $22,463 for family coverage. These amounts are each similar to the average premiums in 2021. In contrast to the lack of premium growth in 2022, workers’ wages increased 6.7% and inflation increased 8%.2 This difference may be due to the fact that many of the premiums for 2022 were finalized in the fall of 2021, before the extent of rising prices became clear. As inflation continues to grow at relatively high levels, we could potentially observe a higher increase in average premiums for 2023 than we have seen in recent years.

In other federal employment news,

  • FedWeek offers federal and postal employees advice on getting a head start on planning for retirement.

More federal employees are working onsite and more often this year than last, continuing a downward trend since the mid-2020 peak in offsite work caused by the pandemic, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey showed.

Thirty-six percent said they are present at their worksite all of the time, up from 29 percent in 2021 and 17 percent in 2020, while 18 percent said they had not been present onsite this year, down from 22 and 30 percent. The percentage who said they are onsite less than a quarter of the time fell over the three years from 24 to 20 and now 15.

While the share of full-time telework is down, many of those who are continuing to telework do so a substantial portion of their time, however. Those reporting that they telework three or four days a week now stands at 25 percent, up from 11-12 percent in the prior years, while those doing it one or two days a week stands at 17 percent, up from 8 and 10 percent.

and shares statistics on federal employee use of the new paid parental leave benefit as reported in the Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey — “Four percent of employees took at least some of that time over the last year.”

From the Affordable Care Act front, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its annually updated fact sheet on Preventive Services Covered by Private Health Plans under the ACA. “This fact sheet summarizes the federal requirements for coverage for preventive services in private plans, major updates to the requirement, and recent policy activities on this front.”

From the telehealth front —

  • Beckers Hospital Review offers an interview on the topic of “Telesitting, remote maternity care: Where telehealth is going next at Kaiser Permanente.”
  • Fierce Healthcare informs us “COVID-era emergency department patients who had follow-up appointments via telehealth more often returned to the ED or were hospitalized than those who followed up with doctors in person, according to a new retrospective study [published in JAMA Network Open]. * * * The researchers noted their investigation had several limitations, such as no data on certain “complex” social determinants of health like unemployment and whether patients received a follow-up outside of the health system. The findings “need to be considered in the context of a substantial body of science demonstrating the benefits of telemedicine,” such as those that found lower rates of rehospitalization in certain chronic condition populations tied to telehealth use.”
  • Healthcare Dive reports “Teladoc reported better than expected revenue in the third quarter, on the back of its mental health business, BetterHelp, and issued moderate fourth-quarter guidance, leading some industry watchers to say the telehealth vendor is setting itself up for achievable growth after uncertainty contributed to stock losses this year.”

In other U.S. healthcare business news

  • Politico brings us up to date on the low participation rate in the new federal designation of rural emergency hospitals. It’s back to the drawing board.
  • Beckers Payer Issues reports that CareFirst and Johns Hopkins Medicine “have signed a multiyear contract following a dispute over reimbursement rates that would have left hundreds of thousands of people out of network.” Cheers to that.
  • MedTech Dive informs us, “Labcorp lowers 2022 forecasts after Q3 profit falls on labor costs, declining COVID-19 revenue.”
  • Employers should know that the Equal Employment Opportunity slide has updated its workplace notice. HR Dive warns us, “Hang new EEO poster ‘as soon as possible,’ EEOC advises. An EEOC spokesperson also told HR Dive how employers with remote and hybrid employees should handle the poster.”

From the Rx coverage front

  • Reuters relates that “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed a meeting of its advisory panel to discuss Perrigo Co Plc’s (PRGO.N) over-the-counter (OTC) contraceptive, the drugmaker said on Wednesday. The meeting, scheduled for Nov. 18, was delayed to review additional information, and no new date has yet been set, in a setback for what was expected to be the first approved daily OTC birth control pill in the United States.”
  • STAT News calls our attention to this news

Amid sporadic shortages of a drug that is essential in preparing patients for lifesaving, cancer-fighting treatments, one manufacturer has returned to the market — but is selling its medicine for 10 to 20 times the prices offered by the only other companies with available supplies.

Over the past week, Areva Pharmaceuticals began marketing vials of fludarabine at a wholesale price of $2,736, a much steeper cost than the $272 charged for the same dosage by Fresenius Kabi and the $109 price tag from Teva Pharmaceuticals, according to data from IBM Micromedex, which gathers pricing data that is reported by manufacturers.

The move comes as hospitals around the U.S. grapple with persistent shortages of fludarabine, an older chemotherapy that is used during the run-up to bone marrow transplants in patients with a form of leukemia. More recently, the drug has also become a crucial tool in readying patients to undergo CAR-T cell therapy, a customized approach to fighting some cancers that involves re-engineering patient cells.

That’s a big bowl of wrong.

Let’s conclude with this wonderful piece of Govexec miscellany explaining the genesis of federal government shutdowns in the late 1970s.

Midweek update

Lincoln Memorial in the Fall

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front —

  • FedWeek offers its Open Season report.

  • My Federal Retires explains Open Season options available to those with Medicare coverage.
  • Govexec promotes healthcare flexible savings accounts, which are only available to federal and Postal employees. The FEHBlog was surprised to learn that “less than 20% of active feds have an FSA.” The article explains the mechanics of the FSA, among other things.

In other federal employee benefits news, Reg Jones, writing in the Federal Times, tells us how to calculate federal disability retirement benefits and answers a question about survivor annuitant coverage.

In other OPM news, Govexec tells us how the OPM Director is celebrating Work and Family Month.

From the Omicron and siblings front, Beckers Hospital Review informs us that “Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 — dubbed “escape variants” for their immune evasiveness — are steadily gaining prevalence in the U.S. and now account for more than 16 percent of all COVID-19 cases confirmed nationwide, CDC data shows.”

Beckers adds

Data analysis from the Los Angeles-based Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai found heart attack deaths rose significantly with COVID-19 surges, including omicron surges.

Heart attack deaths were on the decline before the pandemic. However, during COVID-19 surges, deaths increased — especially among individuals ages 25-44, according to an Oct. 24 release shared with Becker’s.

In other public health news

A new national study has suggested that chemical hair straighteners could pose a small risk for uterine cancer. Rates of the disease are still relatively low, said Dr. Alexandra White, head of the environment and cancer epidemiology group of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the lead author on the study. The research also did not definitively show that hair straighteners cause cancer. But the findings are cause for concern, she said.

Rates of uterine cancer have been increasing in the United States, particularly for Black and Hispanic women. The number of cases diagnosed each year rose to 65,950 this year, compared to 39,000 15 years ago. Black women are also more likely to have more aggressive cases of the cancer, Dr. White said, and the study showed they were disproportionately more likely to use hair straighteners.

If you have used chemical hair straighteners, you do not need to seek out medical attention or consult your doctor unless you have symptoms for uterine cancer, said Dr. Otis Brawley, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins University. But women should regularly see a gynecologist, and be aware of the risk factors and early signs of the disease. [The article also explains uterine cancer risk factors and symptoms.]

Roll Call tells us

The Biden administration is preparing a comprehensive initiative to fight hepatitis C that would streamline testing and treatment and secure an agreement with drugmakers to bring down the cost of treatment of the disease, which has spiked during the pandemic.

Francis Collins, special project adviser to President Joe Biden and former longtime director of the National Institutes of Health, said Monday the administration hopes to secure some funding this year for the yet to be formally unveiled initiative.

He said he has briefed Biden on the plan, and the Office of Management and Budget is “enthusiastic about figuring out how to fit this into the budgetary requests.”

The National Institutes of Health announced

Long-term use of electronic cigarettes, or vaping products, can significantly impair the function of the body’s blood vessels, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease. Additionally, the use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes may cause an even greater risk than the use of either of these products alone. These findings come from two new studies supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

From the Food and Drug Administration front —

BioPharma Dive informs us

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved a first-of-its-kind treatment for multiple myeloma from Johnson & Johnson, but put restrictions on its use due to the drug’s potentially dangerous side effects.

Healthcare providers offering the drug, which will be sold as Tecvayli, will need to follow guidelines set up in a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS. Prescribers and pharmacies must be certified in the Tecvayli REMS program, which will focus on monitoring and counseling for patients.

The FDA has required REMS for dozens of medicines since the program was authorized by Congress in 2007. The list includes Bristol Myers Squibb’s cell therapy Abecma, which won approval for multiple myeloma last year.

Fierce Pharma relates

AstraZeneca’s long-troubled cancer immunotherapy tremelimumab has finally secured its first FDA approval, but the regulatory blessing comes in what could be an increasingly competitive tumor type.

To be sold under the brand name Imjudo, tremelimumab has won an FDA go-ahead in combination with AstraZeneca’s PD-L1 inhibitor Imfinzi for treating unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer.

The FDA nod officially puts an end to the streak of clinical trial failures that tremelimumab endured over recent years in multiple cancer types, including non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck cancer and bladder cancer. But while the CTLA-4 inhibitor has now crossed the regulatory finish line, a commercial fight lies ahead.

From the Medicare front – –

  • STAT News discusses a new CMS policy aimed at controlling dialysis prices.
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us “Starting next year, insurers will not be able to air any television ads for Medicare Advantage (MA) plans before getting approval from federal regulators.” Tough break for Joe Namath.  

From the ACA marketplace front —

  • The Department of Health and Human Services discusses its plans for the upcoming Open enrollment period.
  • Benefits Pro discusses the popularity of alternative health reimbursement accounts which allow employers to offer marketplace coverage to their employees.

Speaking of account-based health plans, the Plan Sponsors Council of America released its 2022 benchmarking survey of health savings accounts.

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • Health Data Management assesses whether Amazon and Walmart can build effective value based care models.

Weekend update

Congress remains on the campaign trail this week.

From the public health front —

  • Fortune Well considers a change in the spread of Omicron. “COVID has splintered into multiple variants dominating different countries at the same time. Experts say these are some scenarios could play out.”
  • The American Medical Association answers patient FAQs about the upcoming winter in which Covid is not expected to eclipse the flu.
  • The FDA encourages Americans, including children, to get the flu vaccine.
  • Fortune Well provides advice on who is a candidate for the monkeypox vaccine now that this vaccine is more widely available.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it will commit $1.2 billion to the effort to end polio worldwide.

The money will be used to help implement the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s strategy through 2026. The initiative is trying to end the polio virus in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two endemic countries, the foundation said in a statement Sunday.

The money also will be used to stop outbreaks of new variants of the virus. The announcement was made Sunday at the World Health Summit in Berlin. 

The foundation says in a statement on its website that it has contributed nearly $5 billion to the polio eradication initiative. The initiative is trying to integrate polio campaigns into broader health services, while it scales up use of the novel oral polio vaccine type 2. 

The group also is working to make national health systems stronger so countries are better prepared for future health threats, the statement said. 

From the price transparency front, two consultants from the Berkley Research Group advise in Healthcare Dive

Payers can use hospital transparency data to gain insights regarding the rates hospitals have negotiated with other payers, which potentially can be used during contract negotiations. For example, payers can evaluate the negotiated rates for specific hospitals compared to their competitor health plans to gauge alignment with their proposed rates and discounts. This is illustrated in Figure 2, which shows the average negotiated rates for a CT scan of the abdomen (CPT 74177) for each payer who contracts with Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago, compared to the hospital’s standard billed charge for the procedure. As shown in the graph, the average negotiated rate as a percentage of billed charges (list price) ranges from 3% to 24% (about $200 to $1,800).

The article offers other approaches to using hospital transparency data, e.g., geographic methods.

From the Rx coverage front

Beckers Hospital Review tells us

CVS Health wants to be in charge of the “entire spectrum of someone’s health journey,” the company’s chief executive said at an Oct. 12 event in Boston reported on by the Boston Business Journal.

CEO Karen Lynch pointed to how the company already delivers medication at the pharmacy, finances treatments through insurance company Aetna, provides low-cost urgent care at its MinuteClinics, and now intends to give care at home through its planned $8 billion acquisition of Signify Health, she reportedly said at the Boston College Chief Executives Club meeting.

Ms. Lynch said the company also plans to expand into primary care and expects to announce an acquisition later this year, the Business Journal reported Oct. 13. CVS is rumored to be in exclusive talksto buy Cano Health, a primary care firm focused on seniors.

Ms. Lynch told the crowd CVS has advantages over fellow healthcare disruptor Amazon, which recently agreed to acquire primary care chain One Medical for $3.9 billion, according to the story. “[Customers] really want to trust and engage with companies that have earned the right to be in healthcare,” she said. “I think about Amazon as sort of a transactional company today.”

The American Hospital Association informs us

President Biden today directed the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation to consider new payment and delivery models to lower drug costs and promote access to innovative drug therapies for beneficiaries, and report within 90 days on its plan and timeline for testing selected models. AHA will update members as more information on the plan becomes available.

The White House also released a fact sheet on this executive order.

The American Medical Association issued a research report titled “Competition in Commercial PBM Markets and Vertical Integration of Health Insurers with PBMs.” The report is chock-a-block full of various PBM rankings.

Speaking of the CMS innovation center, the American Hospital Association reports

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will extend through 2025 the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Advanced model, which was set to expire this year. CMS launched the alternative payment model in 2018 to test whether bundling Medicare payments for certain inpatient and outpatient care reduces spending and improves quality. The agency expects early next year to request applications from Medicare providers, suppliers and accountable care organizations to participate in the two-year extension, which will include changes to the pricing methodology.