Friday Stats and More

Friday Stats and More

Note — Unfortunately, Thursday’s post did not arrive on the E&S website until 9 am ET today, so it did not go out to subscribers this morning. Lo siento. Here is a link to yesterday’s post.

Onto today’s post —

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s latest weekly chart of new Covid cases:

The CDC’s weekly review of its Covid statistics states “As of June 22, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (97,430) decreased 5.6% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (103,175).”

Here’s the CDC’s weekly chart of new Covid hospital admissions:

The CDC’s weekly review states “The current 7-day daily average for June 15–21, 2022, was 4,375. This is a 1.0% increase from the prior 7-day average (4,329) from June 8–14, 2022.”

Here is the FEHBlog’s latest weekly chart of new Covid deaths:

The CDC’s weekly review states “The current 7-day moving average of new deaths (255) has decreased 10.4% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (285).”

The CDC’s weekly review also reports

As of June 23, 2022, there are 391 (12.1%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 996 (30.9%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 1,830 (56.8%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents an increase (+1.9 percentage points) in the number of high-level counties, a slight increase (+1.6 percentage points) in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding decrease (−3.6 percentage points) in the number of low-level counties. 51 jurisdictions had high- or medium-level counties this week. Rhode Island is the only jurisdiction to have all counties at low Community Level. 

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker. To learn which prevention measures are recommended based on your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID-19 Community Level and COVID-19 Prevention.

The weekly statistics generally are stable and moving in the right direction.

The American Hospital Association adds

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last night endorsed Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 6-17, as its advisory committee recommended, creating an alternative to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents last week.

Before ACA FAQ 50 issued October 4, 2021, the period for covering COVID vaccines with no cost sharing began 15 days after the CDC’s action. The FEHBlog, who is not errorless, thought that FAQ 50 eliminated the 15 day waiting period, but upon further review, FAQ 50 requires immediate no cost sharing coverage of Covid vaccines filing the FDA’s approval, usually an emergency use authorization. The FEHBlog doesn’t think this makes any practical difference because the Covid vaccines aren’t distributed without CDC approval.

From the Capitol Hill, the American Hospital Association provide us with this encouraging news:

The House of Representative today voted 234-193 to pass and send to the President for his signature bipartisan legislation to help reduce gun violence in communities. Approved by the Senate last night, the AHA-supported package includes behavioral health provisions, including funding for school safety resources, school-based supportive services and expanded access to telehealth for mental and behavioral health services. 

From the Supreme Court, the Court decided today that the right to an abortion is a matter controlled by state law, not the U.S. Constitution. The Wall Street Journal sums it up as follows “In upholding a Mississippi law banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the court’s conservative majority said the Roe decision was egregiously wrong in recognizing a constitutional right to abortion.” In response

Reproductive health care, including access to birth control and safe and legal abortion care, is an essential part of your health and well-being. While Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion remains legal in many states, and other reproductive health care services remain protected by law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to providing you with accurate and up-to-date information about access to and coverage of reproductive health care and resources. Our goal is to make sure you have appropriate information and support.

  • Health Payer Intelligence discusses health insurer reaction to the decision. “Payers and healthcare leaders are responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the case which protected abortion rights at the federal level, and while the repercussions remain uncertain many healthcare leaders are voicing their commitment to helping women navigate the impacts.”
  • The Wall Street Journal discusses employer reaction to the decision. “Businesses with health plans covering abortion now are weighing whether and how to pay for employees to travel to a state where the procedure is legal.”

From the OPM front

  • Federal News Network reports on OPM Director Karen Ahuja’s press conference held yesterday, the first anniversary of her swearing in as OPM Director.
  • FedWeek tells us that “OPM has said it is working to improve features for federal employees and annuitants to compare FEHB plans, although it does not project having those improvements in place until late next year—potentially in time for that year’s open season for selecting coverage in 2024.”

From the nicotine front, the Wall Street Journal reports

A federal appeals court on Friday granted Juul Labs Inc. a temporary stay of the Food and Drug Administration’s order for the vaping company to pull its e-cigarettes off the U.S. market.

A panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday afternoon granted Juul’s request to delay the FDA’s ban, according to court documents. The temporary stay gives the court time to hear arguments and wasn’t a ruling on the merits of the case, the judges wrote.

Finally, HR Dive brings us a roundup of happenings at this week’s Society for Human Resource Management conference.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

The Senate on Thursday took a major step toward broadening America’s commitment to take care of sick veterans, passing a bill to offer new health care and tax-free disability benefits to as many as 3.5 million veterans on an 84-14 vote.

Under the legislation written by Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., the Department of Veterans Affairs would consider a veteran with any of 23 conditions, ranging from brain cancer to hypertension, who was deployed to a combat zone during the wars in Iraq or in Afghanistan automatically eligible for care at government cost, based on the presumption that exposure to toxic chemicals in the war zone caused the ailments.

The House must now pass the revised bill before President Joe Biden can sign it, which seems likely. The legislation largely mirrors, and slightly expands on, a House bill by Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., that passed 256-174 in March. Biden issued a statement at the time saying he supported the measure.

Under current law, veterans who believe toxic exposure during their service caused them to develop a disease can have trouble proving it, even when the linkage is known. So it’s likely that many veterans are denied care and disability benefits they deserve, advocates say. The new law, at a projected cost of $278.5 billion over 10 years, shifts the calculus, meaning the government will now pay for the care of veterans whose sickness is tied to their service, as well as others whose ailments might not be.

Because the federal government employs many veterans, this bill will reduce benefits costs for the FEHB Program once it becomes law.

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Wall Street Journal informs us

Many people are embarking on a summer of vacations, concerts and weddings put off during the height of the pandemic. Covid-19 is still finding ways to disrupt some of those plans.

Covid-19 isn’t causing acute illness and death on the scale it once did, thanks in part to protection built up by vaccines and prior infections.  * * *

The U.S. is logging some 100,000 known cases a day, and many more are being detected via at-home tests health departments don’t track. This is a stark difference from a year ago, when U.S. cases sank below 12,000 a day, the lowest level since the first surge, as vaccinations rose and many hoped the virus was in retreat.

The era of 12,000 cases a day was over when Delta and then Omicron arrived and will remain around until Omicron departs.

From the Rx coverage front —

STAT News tells us

In a notable move, the Federal Trade Commission put drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers on notice that the agency will “ramp up enforcement” of any “illegal bribes and rebate schemes” that make it harder for patients to access lower-cost medicines.

The new policy statement noted the FTC plans to scrutinize rebates and assorted fees for signs that these payments are violating antitrust and consumer protection laws. As part of that effort, the agency expects to monitor lawsuits and file its own legal briefs in cases where it can provide assistance in analyzing illegal practices that may raise prescription drug prices.

“Today’s action should put the entire prescription drug industry on notice: when we see illegal rebate practices that foreclose competition and raise prescription drug costs for families, we won’t hesitate to bring our full authorities to bear,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan in a statement. “Protecting Americans from unlawful business practices that are raising drug prices is a top priority for the Commission.”

While the end of Omicron is not in the offing, the end of prescription drug rebates appears to be getting closer. However, the federal government should not put the kibosh on rebates unless the drug manufacturers agree to maintain the economic equities by offering price reductions equivalent to the rebates.

In other FTC news, BioPharma Dive reports

Drugmaker acquisitions of all sizes could receive closer scrutiny in the future if the Federal Trade Commission follows the advice of experts who spoke at a two-day agency meeting on market concentration and anticompetitive conduct.

The experts, mostly economists and other antitrust regulators, warned that some drugmakers have gained unfair market power due to the breadth of their product portfolios, allowing them to negotiate for preferred or even exclusive status on insurers’ coverage lists and thereby squeeze out competitors.

Taken together with the FTC’s plans to investigate the practices of pharmacy benefit managers, the meeting signals the Biden administration may take a tougher line on monopolistic practices in an effort to spark competition and target drug pricing.

From the Food and Drug Administration front, BioPharma Dive notes that

An experimental and closely followed drug for Alzheimer’s disease has failed a key clinical study, dealing yet another blow to the prevailing theory on how to treat a neurodegenerative illness that affects millions of people.

The drug’s developer, Roche, along with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, the Phoenix-based organization helping lead the study, announced the negative results Thursday. After years following a family believed to be genetically predisposed to the disease, researchers found no significant difference in cognition or the ability to store and retrieve new memories between participants who received the drug and those who got placebo.

The failure is an upset not only to Roche, which hopes to follow its rival Biogen in getting an Alzheimer’s therapy approved for market, but also to the wider Alzheimer’s research field. For years, a protein called beta amyloid has been at the center of efforts to treat the disease. But every drug designed to block this protein, including Biogen’s, has faced setbacks. Roche’s announcement may therefore add to concerns that this protein isn’t the best research target.

In other drug research news, Walgreens announced “the launch of its clinical trial business to redefine the patient experience and increase access and retention in sponsor-led drug development research. Walgreen’s flexible clinical trial model combines the company’s vast foundation of patient insights, partner-enabled health and technology capabilities and in-person and virtual care options to break through barriers to engaging broader and more diverse communities.”

In U.S healthcare news, the American Medical Association completed its annual meeting. The AMA offers highlights from the session here.

Also, the Commonwealth Fund released its 2022 Scorecard on State Health System Performance.

Hawaii and Massachusetts top the 2022 State Scorecard rankings, based on overall performance across 56 measures of health care access and quality, service use and cost, health disparities, and health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The lowest-performing states were Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

The National Institutes of Health disclosed

From 2000-2019 overall life expectancy in the United States increased by 2.3 years, but the increase was not consistent among racial and ethnic groups and by geographic area. In addition, most of these gains were prior to 2010. This is according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health that examined trends in life expectancy at the county level. The study was led by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, Seattle, in collaboration with researchers from NIH and published on June 16th in The Lancet.

MedCity News reports “Online healthcare marketplace Sesame closed a $27 million Series B funding round on Tuesday, bringing its total funding to $75 million. David Goldhill, CEO of the New York City-based startup, said the company is ‘an Expedia for medical care’ because patients can buy the care they want directly online, without the middleman of an insurance company.”

From the federal employee benefits front, Govexec delves into the impact of cost of living adjustments on federal employee retirement benefits.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Medpage Today suggests that prior authorization practices are under Congress’s spotlight.

From the Omicron and siblings front–

  • The Wall Street Journal offers an interesting report on the ups and downs of Omicron and its siblings.
  • Govexec tells us about recent Safer Federal Workforce changes to “its COVID-19 protocols to draw more distinctions between the policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers, including those related to travel and paid leave.”

From the federal employment front, the Society for Human Resource Management explains how the federal government is “struggling mightily to recruit, retain and develop the talent it needs to succeed and earn the reputation of being a “model employer.” Agencies and their HR leaders are working to upgrade antiquated systems and processes. The new-hire process currently takes an average of 100 days to complete, double that of the private sector.” Good luck.

From the Rx coverage front, Prime Therapeutics announced last week

Leading pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Prime Therapeutics LLC (Prime) analyzed its real-world data to assess clinical outcomes and drug waste differences between medically integrated dispensing (MID) and central specialty pharmacy dispensing of oral cancer therapies. This study of a Prime pilot program showed a potential average savings opportunity of $1,800 per medication dose change at a MID pharmacy compared to a central fill specialty pharmacy. Results reinforced Prime’s position of the advantages of the MID model, on which its IntegratedRx™ program is based.

With the MID model, care providers – including doctors and pharmacists – have access to prescribing history, test results and other important patient information in the EMR. This coordination informs the care team earlier than the traditional model. This early look has potential to help lower the number of 30-day prescriptions going to waste.

Prime’s MID pilot program was implemented in early 2021 within three oncology practices and across three Blue Plans’ commercially insured lives to prove the potential care and cost advantages with this distinct model compared to a centralized specialty pharmacy model. Study participants were prescribed oral drugs that did not require dispensing and shipment from a payer-directed specialty pharmacy to the oncologist (aka white bagging).

From the studies department —

  • Health Payer Intelligence informs us “More consumers reported that their health plans are offering transparency tools and overall consumer awareness about the availability of transparency tools has grown, according to a study conducted on behalf of HealthSparq.”
  • MedPage Today discusses a study finding that weight loss, even when achieved by bariatric surgery, will reduce the risk of obesity-related cancer. The FEHBlog wonders if weight loss produced by the current, effective weight loss drugs would have a similar health impact.
  • mHealth Intelligence notes that “To reduce the amount of time spent in a virtual waiting room, researchers from the University of California San Diego conducted a pilot that used text messaging to provide patients with a meeting link when their provider was ready to see them, finding it to be a successful alternative.”
  • The New York Times reports on a GlaxoSmithKline “checkpoint inhibitor” drug trial conducted on eighteen rectal cancer patients. The drug wiped out the cancer in all of those patients. Quite amazing. According to the Times experts indicate that the trial needs to be replicated.
  • BioPharma Dive reports “Twenty-four years ago, a drug called Herceptin changed how doctors treat breast cancer. Its approval in 1998 made it possible to target the aggressive breast tumors tied to a gene called HER2. Other drugs quickly followed Herceptin and, over the years since, have substantially improved survival for people with the disease. A quarter of a century later, another shift in treatment could be on the horizon. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo are presenting results proving that, for the first time, a targeted medicine can help metastatic breast cancer patients whose tumors express only low levels of HER2. Clinical trial data revealed at ASCO and published in The New England Journal of Medicine Sunday show the drug, Enhertu, halved the risk of cancer progression compared to chemotherapy and reduced the risk of death by 36%.”
  • The Guardian tells us “Taller people have an increased risk of peripheral neuropathy, as well as skin and bone infections, but a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to the world’s largest study of height and disease. A person’s height raises and reduces their risk of a variety of diseases, according to the research led by Sridharan Raghavan of the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in the US. The findings are published in the journal PLOS Genetics.”

From the potpourri department, check out this NIH Newsletter for June 2022.

Thursday Miscellany

From Washington, D.C., and “Following a meeting of the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees, the U.S. Department of the Treasury—joined by Departments of Health and Human Services and Labor, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Social Security Administration—released the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports.” Here is a link to the government’s fact sheet on those reports.

The American Hospital Association explains

The Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will have sufficient funds to pay full benefits until 2028, according to the latest annual report released today by the Medicare Board of Trustees.

That’s two years later than last year’s report. The HI Fund, known as Medicare Part A, helps pay for inpatient hospital services, hospice care, and skilled nursing facility and home health services following hospital stays.

HI income is projected to be higher than last year’s estimates because both the number of covered workers and average wages are projected to be higher, according to the report. In addition, HI expenditures are projected to be lower than last year’s estimates in the beginning of the short-range period mainly due to the pandemic but are projected to become larger after 2023 due to higher projected provider payment updates.

“There is substantial uncertainty in the economic, demographic, and health care projection factors for HI trust fund expenditures and revenues,” the report notes. “Accordingly, the date of HI trust fund depletion could differ substantially in either direction from the 2028 intermediate estimate.”

From the Omicron and siblings front

Bloomberg Prognosis reports

More than two-thirds of the world’s population probably have significant levels of Covid-19 antibodies, meaning they have either been infected or were vaccinated, the World Health Organization said. 

So-called seroprevalence rates surged to 67% in October from 16% in February of 2021, the WHO said, in a summary of studies from around the globe. Given the emergence of the fast-spreading omicron variant, the figure is probably even higher now.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced

A large randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial led by the National Institutes of Health shows that treating adults hospitalized with COVID-19 with infliximab or abatacept – drugs widely used to treat certain autoimmune diseases – did not significantly shorten time to recovery but did substantially improve clinical status and reduce deaths.

That’s a good trade-off.

From the federal employee benefits front

  • OPM released a proposed Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program rule today. The rule indicates that OPM is planning a suspension of enrollments in this Program. “For example, it may be appropriate to suspend applications to allow a period of time for revisions to underwriting processes or for premium repricing after a review of actuarial assumptions, in order to ensure that premium rates reasonably and equitably reflect the cost of the benefits provided as required by the statute and to ensure that OPM can provide eligible individuals with the information needed to enable them to fully evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining LTCI under FLTCIP.” (pp. 4-5). The public comment deadline is expected to be July 2, 2022.
  • Benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan responds in Govexec to reader questions about “about choosing when to retire in order to maximize the impact of both the annual cost-of-living adjustment to retirement benefits and the yearly federal employee pay increase.” Check it out.

From the transparency front

Roll Call discusses the progress of the hospital industry in achieving compliance with the federal government’s pricing transparency rule which became enforceable eighteen months ago.

While most hospitals have been willing to follow parts of the rule — namely, a requirement that they post user-friendly lists or tools to help patients shop for services — they have been less compliant with a requirement that they post “machine readable” files of standard charges — data that experts say would be far more useful in driving down costs.

That’s an intriguing factoid because the federal government’s health plan transparency rule’s similar requirement to post three “machine readable” files of claim payments data becomes enforceable on July 1, 2022.

From the Rx coverage front, Healthcare Dive informs us

* Rite Aid is the latest pharmacy giant to step into clinical care delivery through a new partnership with rural home care startup Homeward.

* Under the deal announced Tuesday, Rite Aid pharmacists will direct eligible customers to Homeward’s clinical services, including annual wellness visits, health screenings, diagnostic testing, virtual visits and in-home care. Homeward will also be able to park its mobile clinician units at Rite Aid’s rural locations, with the goal of allowing senior customers to see a provider and pick up their prescriptions in one visit.

* Homeward will provide in-network services, including specialty care beginning with cardiology, in the third quarter this year for patients covered by Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. The companies are starting the partnership in Michigan, with the opportunity to expand to Rite Aid’s 700 rural locations across the U.S. over time.

From the telehealth front, Healio tells us

Telemedicine could be as effective as in-person medicine in evaluating pediatric genetic disorders, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

The study is the latest in a string of investigations examining clinicians’ and patients’ experiences in telemedicine following its widespread implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence has suggested that telemedicine could significantly reduce costs for certain patients, but also that patients and practitioners may prefer in-person visits.

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker, and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid cases from the 27th week of 2021 through the 21st week of 2022:

The Wall Street Journal’s Numbers column observes

Reliable estimates of case counts are particularly relevant with the U.S. in the midst of yet another Covid-19 wave. By official case counts, it is a modest wave, at roughly 110,000 infections a day, according to the CDC. That is smaller than the 165,000 daily cases reported during the Delta wave, or the 250,000 a day during the 2020-21 winter. 

But estimates of the true number of infections, correcting for undercounting, suggest the U.S. might be experiencing the second-largest wave of Covid-19 infections since the pandemic began.

Here’s the CDC’s weekly chart of new Covid hospitalizations.

The Journal’s Numbers column notes

Hospitalization numbers also aren’t a perfect gauge. Someone can break a leg and test positive in the emergency room for a mild case of Covid-19. That case becomes a confirmed coronavirus hospitalization—and a strain on the hospital’s bed counts and personal-protective-equipment supplies—but not necessarily a severe case.

In Massachusetts, hospitals have begun reporting whether Covid-19 is the primary reason someone is in the hospital—and in January about 50% of cases were. It is hard to pinpoint how similar Massachusetts would be to other states, but it offers a further example of how better counting could improve assessment of the pandemic.

Here’s the FEHBlog weekly chart of new Covid deaths again from the 27th week of 2021 through the 21st week of 2022:

The Wall Street Journal reports

Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are hovering near the lowest levels since the pandemic hit, showing how a population with built-up immune protection is less at risk of severe outcomes even as another wave of infections flows through the country.

The nearly 300 deaths reported daily are again more concentrated among older people, underscoring hazards for the more vulnerable while the overall population appears less at risk.

Particularly vulnerable people, such as those who are older and immunocompromised, will likely always have some risk of death from a Covid-19 infection, doctors and public-health experts said. Increasing booster rates and access to treatments, in addition to taking certain precautions, can help lower the threat presented by the virus, they said.

The New York Times adds

 White House officials said on Thursday that they were introducing new models for distributing Paxlovid, the Covid-19 oral medication made by Pfizer, in an effort to get the treatment to more people and keep coronavirus death rates relatively low even as cases increase.

The federal government will start reimbursing a clinic in Providence, R.I., for evaluating patients who test positive and immediately prescribing Paxlovid to those eligible for it — the first of what the White House said would be a series of federally supported sites, with others set to open in New York and Illinois. Federal workers are also being sent to state-run testing sites in Minnesota, transforming them into “test-to-treat” locations, the White House said.

“Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is get to a point where Covid deaths are largely preventable, and I think we’re pretty close to there,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said in an interview Wednesday evening. “Deaths from this disease really should become increasingly rare.”

STAT News offers an interesting look into how scientists assess the level of Covid resistance to Paxlovid.

Resistance is the hobgoblin of antiviral medicine, even with antivirals as effective as Paxlovid. After doctors deployed nearly every new virus-killing infusion or pill in history, strains popped up — either immediately or eventually — with machinery warped in just the right way to evade the threat.

Exactly how much of a problem resistance will be for Paxlovid is complicated. In some patients, the coronavirus will inevitably find ways to evade the pill, as it did prior Covid-19 drugs.

“If there is anything we know about viruses and antiviral drugs is that eventually we will see some sort of resistance,” Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health, said in an email.

What’s less clear, Pavia and other experts say, is whether any resistant variants will spread widely. The coronavirus may have particular difficulty getting around Paxlovid compared to other drugs because patients take it for only five days and because it targets a protein the virus can’t easily change. Any mutation or modification the virus makes may impair its ability to replicate or survive.

Here’s the FEHBlog weekly chart of Covid vaccinations distributed and administered

The CDC’s weekly review of its Covid statistic tells us

People who are up to date on vaccines have much lower risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 compared with people who are unvaccinated. CDC’s COVID Data Tracker shows that in March 2022, adults ages 18 years and older who were unvaccinated were about 5 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who were up to date. In the same month, people ages 12 years and older and unvaccinated were 17 timesmore likely to die of COVID-19 than those who were up to date.

COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying—especially people who are boosted. As with other diseases, you are protected best from COVID-19 when you stay up to date with recommended vaccines. Find a vaccine provider near you.

The CDC’s weekly review further explains

As of May 19, 2022, there are 301 (9.35%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 477 (14.81%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 2,442 (75.84%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents a moderate (+5.10 percentage points) increase in the number of high-level counties, a slight (−0.74 percentage points) decrease in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding (−5.84 percentage points) decrease in the number of low-level counties. Five (9.62%) of 52 jurisdictions had no high- or medium-level counties this week.

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker.

In big Medicare news

the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report that recommends cost savings from lower-than-expected Medicare Part B spending be passed along to people with Medicare Part B coverage in the calculation of the 2023 Part B premium. Earlier this year, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra instructed CMS to reassess the 2022 Part B premium amount in response to a price reduction for Aduhelm™, a monoclonal antibody directed against amyloid for use in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Given the information available today, it is expected that the 2023 premium will be lower than 2022. The final determination will be made later this fall.

This CMS decision is quite sensible, in the FEHBlog’s view.

On a related FEHB note, FedSmith discusses the pros and cons of enrolling in Medicare Part B when you are a federal or Postal annuitant with FEHB coverage in retirement as well.

From the telehealth front, mHealth Intelligence reports

CVS Health has launched a new virtual care solution to create a more coordinated healthcare experience for consumers.

Called CVS Health Virtual Primary Care, the digital care platform will provide healthcare consumers with an array of care services, including primary care, on-demand care, chronic condition management, and mental health services. Consumers will also be able to choose their healthcare setting from various retail, community-based, virtual, and at-home care options.

“We’re meeting people where they are on their healthcare journey and providing care that is more convenient and easier to access,” said Creagh Milford, DO, vice president, enterprise virtual care at CVS Health, in the news release.

The new benefit will launch on January 1, 2023.

From the Rx coverage front, Formulary Watch reveals that

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) has released the protocol for its second annual review of insurance company policies to assess fair access to prescription drugs. ICER will evaluate whether 15 large U.S. commercial payers, the two largest state health exchange plans, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have formularies and procedures that provide appropriate access to the prescription drugs reviewed by ICER in 2020. These drugs include those that treat patients with cystic fibrosishemophilia Amigrainesickle cell disease, and ulcerative colitis.

The analysis is expected to be completed in November 2022.

From the studies front, the Centers for Disease Control issued its 2021 Diabetes Report Card this week. Here are the highlights

* After almost 2 decades of continual increases, the incidence of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in the United States decreased from 9.3 per 1,000 adults in 2009 to 5.9 per 1,000 adults in 2019.

* Prevalence of prediabetes among US adults remained steady from 2005–2008 to 2017–2020. However, notification of prediabetes status nearly tripled (from 6.5% to 17.4%).

* American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Asian people are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White people (14.5%, 12.1%, 11.8%, 9.5%, and 7.4%, respectively).

* During the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes emerged as an underlying condition that increases the chance of severe illness. Nearly 4 in 10 adults who died from COVID-19 in the United States also had diabetes.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

Lawmakers are facing increased pressure to pass a comprehensive mental health and substance use package but are unlikely to make an initial goal of advancing legislation before the implementation of a three-digit suicide hotline in July.

At least four congressional committees have committed to advancing a swath of bipartisan mental health bills under their jurisdiction, but lawmakers have not yet unlocked the puzzle of how to incorporate a growing laundry list of programs to authorize and establish existing and new programs dedicated to treatment, prevention, education, crisis care, drug interdiction and the workforce.

One of those four committees is the Senate Finance Committee which announced today

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today released a discussion draft for telehealth policies as a part of the committee’s ongoing work to improve mental health care across the nation, which has included a public call for comments and three hearings to help develop these initiatives. * * *

The discussion draft includes policies that would:

* Remove Medicare’s in-person visit requirement for tele-mental health services.

* Establish benefit transparency for mental health care services delivered via telehealth to inform Americans with Medicare how and when they can access telehealth.

* Preserve access to audio-only mental health coverage in Medicare when necessary and appropriate.

* Direct Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth.

* Incentivize states to use their CHIP programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.

From the Omicron and siblings front

Beckers Hospital Review informs us

A highly contagious sublineage of the BA.2 omicron subvariant is now the nation’s dominant strain, according to the CDC’s latest variant proportion estimates

The sublineage, BA.2.12.1, accounted for 57.9 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases in the week ending May 21, CDC data shows. BA.2, which became the nation’s dominant strain in mid-March, now accounts for an estimated 39.1 percent of all cases.

BA.2.12.1 is estimated to have a 25 percent growth advantage over BA.2, which is already more transmissible than the original omicron strain. The newer omicron sublineage has been gaining traction in the U.S. over the last month. In the week ending April 23, BA.2.12.1 accounted for just 24.1 percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases. 

Health officials are also monitoring another omicron subvariant — BA.1.1.529 — which currently accounts for an estimated 2.8 percent of cases.  

“Epidemiologically, it doesn’t appear as if we’re seeing more severe disease in places that are having more cases,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said of the sublineages during an April 26 news conference. “So we are not anticipating more severe disease from some of these subvariants, but we are actively studying it.”

CBS News reports

As many as one in four seniors and one in five adults under 65 experienced “long COVID” or “post-COVID” symptoms after surviving a coronavirus infection, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. 

The study — published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — is the latest to try and quantify how many of the millions of Americans who have now tested positive for the virus are facing long-term issues caused by their infection. 

By comparing electronic health records in a large national database of patients, the study’s authors found 38.2% of COVID-19 survivors “experienced at least one incident condition” — a list that includes heart, lung, kidney and gastrointestinal problems, pain, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, mental health issues, and more —  in the months after their infection. By contrast, just 16% of other people were diagnosed with such conditions.

The Wall Street Journal adds

Vaccination reduces your risk of developing long Covid, but not by much on average, new research suggests. 

Veterans Affairs study out Wednesday found that vaccinated people with breakthrough Covid-19 infections had a 15% reduction in experiencing persistent or new symptoms and health conditions up to six months after infection compared with those who were unvaccinated and got Covid. 

Most of the vaccinated people had received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, while 8% received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The study didn’t look at people who had received boosters.

Bloomberg discusses the risks of contracting Covid while pregnant.

Canada’s first dual specialist in infectious diseases and obstetrics/gynecology, Deborah Money, MD comments “For the most part, women in communities even with Covid circulating do well,” she says. “The majority of babies are fine.”

But that’s just part of the story. Their analysis of data from 6,012 people in six Canadian provinces who tested positive for the virus during their pregnancy found a substantial increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions compared with reproductive-age, non-pregnant females infected with the coronavirus. Their study in the May 2 issue of the JAMA medical journal also found that 11.1% of Covid–affected pregnancies resulted in preterm birth, compared with 6.8% among all unaffected Canadian pregnancies. * * *

Money says it underscores the need for obstetricians to carefully monitor their pregnant patients who become infected with SARS-CoV-2, and for expecting moms to get vaccinated and boosted.

“That’s the biggest thing they can do,” she says. “It really does look like vaccine is preventative for the serious outcomes.” 

From the studies front —

  • The Medical Group Management Association informs us “Despite multiple waves of disruption in 2021, medical practices navigated through the “new normal” of COVID-19 to restore a sense of normalcy in productivity and compensation last year.”
  • Milliman released its 2022 Medical Index (MMI). “In 2022, the cost of healthcare for a hypothetical American family of four covered by an average employer sponsored PPO plan is $30,260,” 4.6% above 2021.
  • HR Dive tells us “[a] 2019 IRS notice expanded the list of medications and health services Health Savings Account-eligible health plans may cover prior to meeting a patient’s deductible. Employers that take advantage of the expansion could cover these treatments with little to no increases in patient premiums, according to an Employee Benefits Research Institute report published May 19.”

Commercial insurance members’ satisfaction with their plans stayed flat between 2021 and 2022, according to a new survey from J.D. Power.

Satisfaction was on a steady climb over the past five years, the survey found, but plateaued in the past year amid declines in how well members’ expectations for customer service were met and dissatisfaction with their plan designs and network providers.

Health plans that were perceived by members as responsive enjoyed higher scores than those that were not, J.D. Power found. The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and regional Blues insurers were consistently ranked as the highest scoring in the study’s 22 geographic regions.

From the mental healthcare front, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans notes

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published new guidance on obtaining job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for workers seeking mental health support. The guidance clarifies that eligible employees are able to take FMLA leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a spouse, child or parent because of their serious health condition, and that a serious health condition can include a mental health condition.

The guidance includes:

* Fact Sheet #28O: Mental Health Conditions and the FMLA, and

* Frequently Asked Questions on the FMLA’s mental health provision

From the federal employee benefits front, benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan writes in Govexec about Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Program options for federal and postal annuitants. What’s more, Fedweek explains how FEHBP fills Medicare coverage gaps for those fine folks.

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid cases from the 27th week of 2021 through the 20th week of 2022:

The CDC’s weekly review of its COVID statistics notes

As of May 18, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (101,130) increased by 18.8% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (85,143). A total of 82,820,565 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States as of May 18, 2022.

Here is the CDC’s chart seven-day movings averages of new Covid hospital admissions:

The CDC’s weekly review notes “The current 7-day daily average [of new hospital admissions for Covid] for May 11–17, 2022, was 3,250. This is a 24.2% increase from the prior 7-day average (2,617) from May 4–10, 2022.

Here’s the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid deaths over the same period as the new weekly cases chart:

The CDC’s weekly review notes:

The current 7-day moving average of new deaths (280) has decreased 1.2% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (284). As of May 18, 2022, a total of 998,512 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the United States.

Here’s the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of Covid vaccinations distributed and administered from the beginning of the Covid vaccination program in December 2020 through the 20th week of 2022.

The CDC’s weekly review notes “As of May 18, 2022, the 7-day average number of administered vaccine doses reported (by date of CDC report) to CDC per day was 388,308, a 0.5% decrease from the previous week.”

To sum it up, the CDC’s weekly review points out,

As of May 19, 2022, there are 301 (9.35%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 477 (14.81%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 2,442 (75.84%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents a moderate (+5.10 percentage points) increase in the number of high-level counties, a slight (−0.74 percentage points) decrease in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding (−5.84 percentage points) decrease in the number of low-level counties. Five (9.62%) of 52 jurisdictions had no high- or medium-level counties this week.

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker.

Federal News Network suggests “Federal employees [and annuitants] can use these next few months between now and open season, which begins Nov. 14, to do something that most feds rarely do — research and planning [for Open Season]. The article suggests how to conduct this research, and the FEHBlog thinks that Federal News Network is on the right track.

Thursday Miscellany

From Capitol Hill, The Hill informs us

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

A growing number of Senate Democrats say they’re ready to take a tough vote on an amendment to keep the Title 42 health order in place at the U.S.-Mexico border if that’s what’s needed to move a stalled COVID-19 relief package. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has held the bill from the floor because Republicans are insisting on voting on a bipartisan amendment to overrule the Biden administration’s decision to lift Title 42, a pandemic order that has stopped thousands of immigrants from entering the country on asylum claims.   * * *

Without giving in to the Republicans’ demand for a vote on the hot-button issue of securing the border, COVID-19 relief could be stalled until after the November election.  

The amendment is expected to fail but it’s a tough vote for vulnerable Senate Democrats. 

More likely, in the FEHBlog’s view, the Majority Leader is waiting until the Title 42 health order is lifted later this month to see what happens.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

The Wall Street Journal informs us

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children ages 5 to 11 receive the newly authorized Covid-19 booster shot from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

Following the recommendation Thursday, many of the nation’s doctors, pharmacies and other vaccination sites are expected to begin offering the extra doses to the 28 million U.S. children in the age group.

The shots are to be given five months after the second dose. The extra dose is one-third the amount that those 12 years old and above receive.

Also Thursday, the CDC said it was strengthening its recommendation that people 12 years and older who are immunocompromised, or who are 50 and older, should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first.

This means that health plans must start covering the booster with no member cost-sharing pursuant to ACA FAQ 50.

The Journal adds

Moderna Inc.’s leader said it is possible the company would be able to start shipping its Covid-19 vaccine for use in young children as soon as early June, pending a decision by U.S. regulators.

“We are ready from a manufacturing standpoint,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said during a virtual appearance Thursday at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.

The FDA/CDC decision is expected next month.

In other virus news, STAT News interviewed a top CDC expert on monkeypox. From the FEHBlog’s standpoint, the key takeaway is that monkeypox is not Covid.

I think we can take away a lot from what we know about monkeypox in Congo Basin and in West Africa. Even if human-to-human transmission is documented, it is generally documented among very close contacts. So family members, people taking care of ill patients. Or health care providers.

In funding news, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today a $1.5 billion funding opportunity under the State Opioid Response

SOR grant program provides formula funding to states and territories for increasing access to FDA-approved medications for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), and for supporting prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services for OUD and other concurrent substance use disorders (SUD). The SOR program also supports care for stimulant misuse and use disorders, including for cocaine and methamphetamine. The SOR program helps reduce overdose deaths and close the gap in treatment needs across America by giving states and territories flexibility in funding evidence-based practices and supports across different settings to meet local community needs.

From the miscellany department

  • Today “the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released guidance regarding the implementation of EO 13932; Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates.  OPM’s guidance represents a major step towards the federal government’s adoption of skills-based hiring practices and is an important innovation in federal hiring, which has historically relied on education and candidate self-assessments as a proxy for a candidate’s ability to perform in a job. This new approach helps hiring managers recognize and value skills regardless of where they were acquired, whether in a formal degree program, on the job, or on one’s own.”
  • Employee Benefit News identifies the ten most popular mental health and wellness apps.
  • Benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan discusses federal employee life insurance benefits in Govexec.
  • Health Payer Intelligence reports that CMS has updated the Medicare.gov website “to include new features such as highlighting pages that answer popular questions and spotlighting key steps that consumers should take related to Medicare coverage.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front

The Wall Street Journal reports

The seven-day moving average of new Covid-19 cases recently topped 94,000 a day, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show, nearly four times lows reached in late March. The true number of new cases is likely significantly higher, epidemiologists say, because so many people are self-testing at home or not testing at all. 

The rise in cases hasn’t translated thus far into major surges in severe illness. The seven-day average of confirmed cases in hospitalized patients reached about 18,550 on Wednesday, up from lows near 10,000 in mid-April, but far below a record peak above 150,000 in January. The numbers include people who test positive on routine screening after getting hospitalized for other reasons. The daily average of reported deaths has slipped under 300 a day, the lowest point since last summer.

But * * * the more an outbreak spreads, the more likely it will reach the most vulnerable including elderly people and others with compromised immune systems, the experts say, and the more likely the virus will continue to mutate.

Bloomberg Prognosis adds

As Covid-19 again surges across the US, many people are going without time-sensitive therapeutics like Paxlovid because doctors worried about shortages are reluctant to prescribe the drugs. But the situation has changed and supplies are now abundant.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency-use authorizations for the drug to treat mild to moderate Covid-19 in people who are at high risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines those as individuals ages 50 years or older, unvaccinated, or with certain medical conditions like kidney, liver, lung and heart disease, diabetes, cancer and HIV. It also recommends the drug for people who are immunocompromised, pregnant, obese, cigarette smokers or suffering from mood disorders.

You can find the one stop test to treat locations “by using the Department of Health and Human Services’ Test to Treat Locator or by calling 1-800-232-0233.”

Kaiser Health News recommendsimproving ventilation and filtration of the air. ‘Ventilation matters a lot,’ said Dr. Amy Barczak, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. ‘If you’re taking care of someone at home, it’s really important to maximize all the interventions that work.’”

Viral particles float through the air like invisible secondhand smoke, diffusing as they travel. Outside the home, viruses are quickly dispersed by the wind. Inside, germs can build up, like clouds of thick cigarette smoke, increasing the risk of inhaling the virus.

The best strategy for avoiding the virus is to make your indoor environment as much like the outdoors as possible.

In related viral news, Beckers Hospital Review tells us

More than 400 children worldwide have developed unusual cases of acute hepatitis, and researchers are still searching for the cause of the outbreak, the World Health Organization said May 17.  

As of May 15, the WHO reported 429 probable cases in 22 countries, up from 348 cases a week prior, according to Philippa Easterbrook, MD, a senior scientist in the global hepatitis program at the WHO. Another 40 cases are still under investigation, and 75 percent of all affected children are under age 5. 

Twelve countries are reporting more than five cases, double the amount from last week. Of these 12 countries, nine are in Europe. In total, six children have died in the outbreak and 26 have required liver transplants, according to Dr. Easterbrook. 

As of May 17, researchers were still investigating the cause of the hepatitis outbreak. The leading hypothesis is that an adenovirus and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may be causing hepatitis in children. Scientists are exploring “how these two infections may be working together as co-factors either by enhancing susceptibility or creating an abnormal response,” Dr. Easterbrook said. 

From the healthcare policy front, AHIP today launched

Healthier People through Healthier Markets, a new policy roadmap and set of solutions to improve health care affordability and access for every American. The effort is focused on boosting competition in health care markets and reining in harmful practices that hurt American families. With the launch of this policy roadmap, AHIP sent letters to President Biden and the leadership of Congress that lay out a detailed set of legislative and regulatory enforcement actions to increase competition in health care, drive down costs, and improve health care access for patients.

The FEHBlog supports this approach.

From the mental healthcare front, Govexec reports

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday urged federal agencies to ensure their employees are aware and can access the mental health benefits provided to federal workers, in light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month.

In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja noted that promoting the federal workforce’s wellbeing, including mental health, is a priority in President Biden’s management agenda.

“We want to make sure that all federal employees understand the supports available to them and underscore that there should be no shame or stigma for taking care of their mental health,” Ahuja wrote. “[As] a reminder, employee assistance programs and Federal Employees Health Benefits health plans offer mental health services to employees and their family members. We encourage agencies to proactively communicate to their workforces about their options and encourage employees to contact their agency benefits officers or EAP coordinator to learn more.”

The FEHBlog encourages OPM to better coordinate mental health care services among FEHB plans, EAPs and wellness programs.

From the telehealth front

  • mHealth Intelligence informs us “In the second half of 2020, only 14.1 percent of children used telehealth due to the pandemic, but use was higher among those with asthma, a developmental condition, or a disability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.”

From the survey department, Beckers Payer Issues advises that “Castlight Health analyzed more than 160 million commercial medical claims nationwide to reveal insights about healthcare utilization patterns from 2018 to 2021.” Castlights report ranks the fifty States and DC based on average medical spending per member in 2021.  

From the miscellany department —

  • Beckers Payer Issues reports “Anthem shareholders voted at their annual meeting May 18 to change the company’s name to Elevance Health.”
  • Federal News Network discusses the Postmaster General’s plans to close and consolidate Postal facilities across the delivery network. “The network transformation initiative will impact nearly 500 network mail processing locations, 1,000 transfer hubs and 100,000 carrier routes. It will also impact 10,000 delivery units, which USPS defines as post offices, stations, branches or carrier annexes that handle mail delivery functions.”
  • FedSmith tells us “Starting May 26, 2022, federal retirees will notice a new process for signing into the OPM Retirement Services Online website. The login process will now be managed through the federal government’s Login.gov website and will require you to create a new username and password at login.gov if you do not currently have one.”

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front

  • The Wall Street Journal has updated its article on Covid boosters.
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) today released “a Final Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of [specific] outpatient treatments for COVID-19 [, principally Pfizer’s pill Paxlovid and Merck’s pill molnupiravir ].

A majority (11-2) found current evidence is not adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit when molnupiravir is compared to symptomatic care alone.

All panelists (13-0) found that current evidence is adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit when Paxlovid is compared to symptomatic care alone.

Due to uncertainty in the net health benefit for molnupiravir, a majority of panelists voted that it represents “low-to-intermediate” long-term value for money.

A majority of panelists found that Paxlovid represents “high” long-term value for money.

  • ICER presented at the OPM/AHIP carrier conference last month. ICER “is an independent non-profit research institute that produces reports analyzing the evidence on the effectiveness and value of drugs and other medical services. ICER’s reports include evidence-based calculations of prices for new drugs that accurately reflect the degree of improvement expected in long-term patient outcomes, while also highlighting price levels that might contribute to unaffordable short-term cost growth for the overall health care system.”
  • Speaking of the Covid pills, STAT News discusses the use of telehealth services to prescribe them. The upshot, as the FEHBlog understands it, is while using telehealth for this purpose is convenient for patients, experts are unsure whether the telehealth service provides adequate follow-up care to the patient.

Also, from the Rx coverage front, the Food and Drug Administration issued a news roundup today.

From the healthcare business front, BioPharma Dive reports

Pfizer has agreed to acquire Biohaven Pharmaceuticals for $11.6 billion in a deal that turns an existing alliance on a fast-selling migraine drug into a big bet on its future growth.

Pfizer will pay $148.50 per share in cash for each Biohaven share it doesn’t already own, representing a roughly 79% premium to the company’s Monday closing price and a 33% premium to its average share price of $111.70 over the last three months. The deal, which is expected to close early next year, is by far the biggest biotech buyout of 2022, according to data compiled by Biopharma Dive.

Announced Tuesday, the acquisition hands Pfizer full rights to Nurtec ODT, a pill that’s approved in the U.S. and other countries for the treatment and prevention of migraines. Biohaven’s pipeline also includes an experimental nasal spray for migraines, zavepegant, that’s been submitted to U.S. regulators, as well as five additional, preclinical treatments that block the same protein target.

From the mental health parity front, the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration announced that the agency will be holding a mental health parity compliance assistance webcast on May 24 from 2-3 pm ET. Here is a link to the announcement which explains how to register for the webcast.

From the patient safety front, the Leapfrog Group “released the spring 2022 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which assigns a letter grade to nearly 3,000 U.S. general hospitals based on over 30 measures of patient safety.”

At HospitalSafetyGrade.org, the public can find detailed information about a hospital’s performance on patient experience and other safety measures used to grade hospitals.

Across all states, highlights of findings from the spring 2022 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade include:

Thirty‐three percent of hospitals received an “A,” 24% received a “B,” 36% received a “C,” 7% received a “D,” and less than 1% received an “F.”

Five states with the highest percentages of “A” hospitals are North Carolina, Virginia, Utah, Colorado, and Michigan.

There were no “A” hospitals in Wyoming, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, or North Dakota.

From the medical research department, Medscape informs us

Eight modifiable risk factors were linked to more than one in three cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia in the U.S., a cross-sectional analysis showed.

The eight risk factors — midlife obesity, midlife hypertension, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, low education, diabetes, and hearing loss — were associated with 36.9% (95% CI 36.5-37.3) of Alzheimer’s and dementia cases, reported Roch Nianogo, MD, PhD, of the University of California Los Angeles, and Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco, and co-authors.

The factors most prominently associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia were midlife obesity, at 17.7% (95% [Confidence Interval] CI 17.5-18.0); physical inactivity, at 11.8% (95% CI 11.7-11.9); and low educational attainment, at 11.7% (95% CI 11.5-12.0).

“We published a similar study a little more than 10 years ago, and the most important risk factors then were physical inactivity, depression, and smoking,” Barnes told MedPage Today.

“Today, the top three risk factors are midlife obesity, physical inactivity, and low education,” she observed. “This is important because it suggests that the growing number of people who are obese in the U.S. could have a major long-term impact on dementia rates.”

From the clarification front, the FEHBlog often reminds folks that federal employees who retired under the Civil Service Retirement System before 1984 are not eligible for free Medicare Part A. The FEHBlog dug into this issue today, and he discovered this 2013 Reg Jones Q&A on this topic that the Federal Times published.

Q. I retired in 2009 under CSRS. I am close to 65, and the answer to one of the questions asked states that people in CSRS are not eligible for Medicare because they didn’t pay into Social Security.

I was in CSRS before the change to FERS and stayed with CSRS. I had Medicare deductions taken from my pay from 1983-84 till I retired in 2009.

Do the Medicare funds I paid since 1983 make me eligible for Medicare or just part of it?

So which is right? I need to know so I can do what needs to be done — enroll or not. I’m currently insured under federal BCBS.

A. CSRS employees who retired before Dec. 31, 1983, aren’t eligible for Medicare Part A. Nor are CSRS employees who retired after that date but before having Medicare deductions taken from their pay for 10 years.

On the other hand, they are eligible to enroll in Medicare Part B, which is open to everyone 65 or older.

Consequently, the cadre of 65 and older federal annuitants without Medicare A is larger than the FEHBlog understood. This cadre is relevant to the Postal Reform Act because that law keeps Postal annuitants over aged 65 without Medicare Part in the legacy FEHBP.