Monday Roundup

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call lets us know,
    • “Senate Appropriations Committee leaders have agreed to add $34.5 billion in emergency spending to their fiscal 2025 bills on top of levels agreed to in last year’s debt limit negotiations, sources familiar with the talks said Monday. 
    • “Under the pact between Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray, D-Wash., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, defense accounts would receive an extra $21 billion in emergency spending while nondefense programs would get $13.5 billion.” 
  • Taking a gander at reginfo.gov led the FEHBlog to discover that on July 1, the final version of the simply infeasible federal mental health parity rule changes was submitted to OIRA for its review.
  • In yesterday’s post, the FEHBlog called attention to the new CMS GUIDE program. The post noted that program details would be released in early July. What do you know? Those details were posted today. The American Hospital News tells us,
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services July 8 announced over 400 participants in a new model focused on improving dementia care. The Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience (GUIDE) Model began July 1 and seeks to reduce strain on unpaid caregivers as well as offer care coordination and management, caregiver education and support, and respite services. CMS will also test an alternative payment for participants delivering key support services to people with dementia, including comprehensive, person-centered assessments and care plans, care coordination, and 24/7 access to a support line. People with dementia and their caregivers will have access to a care navigator to help them access services and support, including clinical services and non-clinical services such as meals and transportation through community-based organizations.”
  • The HHS Inspector General posted an impact brief on Medicare Advantage program fraud involving its risk adjustment program. The Wall Street Journal published an article the same type of fraud today.
  • STAT News informs us,
    • “The Biden administration has appealed a decision in which a federal court jury last year sided with Gilead Sciences over the rights to a pair of groundbreaking HIV pills — and at least $1 billion in royalties may be at stake.
    • “At issue is a battle over patents for Truvada and a newer, upgraded version called Descovy — two highly effective and lucrative medications — as well as the role played by the federal government in making it possible to prevent transmission of a highly infectious disease that plagued the American public for decades.
    • “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which had funded academic research into HIV prevention that later formed the basis for the pills, maintained that Gilead infringed its patent rights. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also contended that the company refused to reach a licensing agreement despite several attempts to strike a deal.” * * *
    • “U.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika narrowed the Gilead victory last March when she set aside the jury finding that CDC patents were not infringed. So the appeal filed by the U.S. Department of Justice — on behalf of HHS — refers to the only portion of the jury finding that remains, which is that the patents were invalid.”
  • Per an FDA press release,
    • “Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advancing its mission of ensuring the public has access to accurate, up-to-date science-based information to inform decisions about FDA-regulated medical products to maintain and improve their health. The agency is providing updated recommendations to empower industry seeking to voluntarily address misinformation about or related to their approved/cleared medical products.” * * *
    • “Specifically, the revised draft guidance, Addressing Misinformation About Medical Devices and Prescription Drugs Questions and Answers, sets out a policy that supports companies that issue certain kinds of internet-based communications (“tailored responsive communications”) to address internet-based misinformation about or related to their approved/cleared medical products when that misinformation is created or disseminated by an independent third party. For example, a company might choose to use this type of communication when a celebrity, healthcare provider or influencer, not acting on behalf of the company, posts false, inaccurate and/or misleading representations of fact about the company’s approved/cleared medical product on social media. Additionally, this revised draft guidance provides companies with many examples that illustrate the types of misinformation found online that a company might choose to address with a tailored responsive communication, along with some considerations relevant to the current digital information environment.”
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management lost a small modicum of ground in its fight to reduce the backlog of pending retirement claims from federal employees as the agency’s backlog of cases inched back over 15,000.
    • “In June, OPM received 6,919 new retirement requests from departing federal workers, a slight increase over the 6,751 claims it received the previous month. But the agency’s pace in processing those claims fell precipitously, completing only 5,614 claims last month compared to the 8,793 it processed in May.
    • “That deficit led to OPM’s overall backlog of pending claims to climb from 14,035—an eight-year low—in May to 15,340 at the end of June. Consequently, the monthly average processing time for a retirement application ticked up four days, from 60 in May to 64 last month, though measured since the beginning of fiscal 2024, the average processing time has remained static at 61 days for four months running.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The FEHBlog is reminded that the FEHB Act will be 65 years old on September 28, 2024.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The process for diagnosing a child with autism heavily relies on a parent’s description of their child’s behavior and a professional’s observations. It leaves plenty of room for human error.
    • “Parents’ concerns may skew how they answer questionnaires. Providers may hold biases, leading them to underdiagnose certain groups. Children may show widely varying symptoms, depending on factors like culture and gender.
    • “A study published Monday in Nature Microbiology bolsters a growing body of research that suggests an unlikely path to more objective autism diagnoses: the gut microbiome.
    • “After analyzing more than 1,600 stool samples from children ages 1 to 13, researchers found several distinct biological “markers” in the samples of autistic children. Unique traces of gut bacteria, fungi, viruses and more could one day be the basis of a diagnostic tool, said Qi Su, a researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a lead author of the study.”
  • The American Medical Association tells us what doctors wish their patient knew about heat stroke.
  • The Wall Street Journal discusses the right and wrong ways for people to snack.
    • “America is a nation of snackers. A lot of us are doing it wrong. 
    • “Noshing outside of traditional mealtimes isn’t inherently bad. A snack can stave off hunger, boost energy, provide important nutrients and keep us from overeating later. But snacking can also lead us to eat extra calories and overdo it on sodium, added sugars and saturated fats, which can raise our risk of heart disease and obesity. 
    • “How to snack better? Reach for food combinations that keep you fuller longer: Pair carbs like apple slices with protein and fats, like peanut butter. Or try yogurt with berries. Then plan your snack times, and watch out for the minefield that is evening snacking.”
  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports offer information about “an aggressive tick species spreading across the U.S. Lone star ticks don’t spread Lyme disease, but they can transmit other serious diseases and are linked to a mysterious meat allergy. And the threat is growing.”
    • “Lone star ticks have long been firmly established in the Southeastern United States. In recent decades, however, their numbers have been increasing in Midwestern and Northeastern states. Between 2017 and 2021, according to CDC data, nearly half of reported ehrlichiosis cases were in five states: Arkansas, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and Tennessee.”
  • The CDC has posted FAQs on infertility. “This page has definitions and frequently asked questions related to infertility. It has important information about infertility, including common misconceptions, risk factors, and treatment options.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out,
    • “GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy may lower the risk of developing certain obesity-related cancers, according to a new study from researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. 
    • “Researchers found people with type 2 diabetes who were being treated with the medications were significantly less likely to develop 10 of 13 obesity-associated cancers than those taking insulin, according to the findings published July 5 in JAMA Network Open. The retrospective study is based on an analysis of the medical records of over 1.6 million type 2 diabetes patients from 2005 to 2018.
    • “The risk was reduced by more than half for gallbladder cancer, meningioma, pancreatic cancer and hepatocellular carcinoma. Esophageal, colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, multiple myeloma and kidney were among the other cancers for which there was a significant risk reduction. The study did not find a difference in cancer risk reduction among those treated with GLP-1s compared with those taking metformin, an older diabetes drug. 
    • “In an interview with Bloomberg, Arif Kamal, MD, chief patient officer at the American Cancer Society and who was not involved in the research, called the new evidence on GLP-1s “compelling.”
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “In examining the electronic records of more than 18,000 overweight or obese adults in the United States, health data analytics company Truveta found that Lilly’s tirzepatide helped patients lose more weight than Novo’s semaglutide, with the effects growing over time.
    • “Results of the study, which looked at data from May of 2022 and September of 2023, were published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine monthly review.
    • “”After use of tirzepatide for three months, patients lost an average of 5.9% of their body weight compared to 3.6% for semaglutide. Over a year’s time, those on tirzepatide lost an average of 15.3% of their body weight compared to 8.3% for semaglutide users.
    • Additionally, tirzepatide patients were much more likely to lose 15% of their body weight than those using semaglutide. While 42% of those on tirzepatide reached the benchmark after one year of treatment, only 18% of those on semaglutide could say the same. 
    • “Lilly’s tirzepatide is the active ingredient found in its diabetes product Mounjaro and its obesity treatment Zepbound, while Novo’s semaglutide is the compound used to make its diabetes blockbuster Ozempic and its obesity follow-on Wegovy.
    • “Importantly, the Truveta study looked at the drugs that are approved for diabetes. The authors noted that “future studies are needed to compare versions labeled for weight loss.”
  • Per an NIH press release,
    • “A series of experiments with highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI H5N1) viruses circulating in infected U.S. dairy cattle found that viruses derived from lactating dairy cattle induced severe disease in mice and ferrets when administered via intranasal inoculation. The virus from the H5N1-infected cows bound to both avian (bird) and human-type cellular receptors, but, importantly, did not transmit efficiently among ferrets exposed via respiratory droplets. The findings, published in Nature, suggest that bovine (cow) HPAI H5N1 viruses may differ from previous HPAI H5N1 viruses and that these viruses may possess features that could facilitate infection and transmission among mammals. However, they currently do not appear capable of efficient respiratory transmission between animals or people.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “Extended-release 7-day injectable buprenorphine was safe and tolerable for most patients who had minimal-to-mild opioid withdrawal, a nonrandomized trial found.
    • “Among 100 adult patients with minimal-to-mild opioid withdrawal scores who were given a 24-mg dose of extended-release buprenorphine, only 10 people (10%, 95% CI 4.9%-17.6%) saw a 5-point or greater jump in withdrawal symptoms within 4 hours of injection, reported Gail D’Onofrio, MD, of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, and colleagues.” * * *
    • “The study examined whether patients with untreated opioid use disorder (OUD) and minimal-to-mild withdrawal could tolerate a 7-day dose of buprenorphine. Patients with OUD typically aren’t treated with medication until they are in significant withdrawal, due to fear of precipitated withdrawal. For that reason, “[n]o one has ever even attempted to give buprenorphine in that [0 to 7] range,” D’Onofrio said.” * * *
    • “[This is a real game-changer for emergency physicians and clinicians, even in the clinic, who would be able to induce people on buprenorphine much earlier than they previously could have,” D’Onofrio said.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Eli Lilly LLY has agreed to buy biopharmaceutical company Morphic Holding MORF for $3.2 billion in a deal that bolsters the drugmaker’s immunology pipeline.
    • “Eli Lilly on Monday said it would pay $57 a share for Morphic, a 79% premium to Friday’s closing price of $31.84 for the Waltham, Mass., company.
    • “Morphic is developing therapies for the treatment of serious chronic diseases, with a lead program targeting the inflammatory bowel diseases ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
    • “Eli Lilly late last year won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of its Omvoh treatment for moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis in adults.
    • “Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly said it expects to complete the acquisition, which isn’t subject to any financing conditions, in the third quarter.”
  • Modern Healthcare relates,
    • “More than half of people surveyed would feel just as safe getting hospital-level care at home as they would in a facility, according to the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.
    • “Healthcare systems across the country are placing big bets on hospital-at-home programs, pushing access to more rural communities and lobbying state Medicaid programs to reimburse for the service. A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services waiver reimbursing for acute care at home expires at the end of this year, but bipartisan members of Congress are backing legislation that would provide Medicare reimbursement for another five years. More than 330 hospitals across 37 states offer hospital-level care at-home programs through the CMS Acute Hospital Care at Home waiver.” * * *
    • “The survey did not require participants to have prior experience with hospital-level care at home or knowledge of the service. It did provide participants with a brief explanation of how hospital-at-home programs operate.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “A recent proposal to report prior authorization to insurance plans through CPT codes was withdrawn at the eleventh hour when its physician advocate made an unexpected discovery: For certain codes and in very narrow circumstances, the prior auth requirements were already in place.
    • “Alex Shteynshlyuger, M.D., director of urology with New York Urology Specialists, had previously brought forward a time-based proposal that would ensure physicians are compensated for time spent on prior auth claims. He believed the changes would also reduce the number of claim requirements imposed by plans and limit the amount of appeals and could lead to better patient outcomes.
    • “Following the proposal, however, the American Medical Association (AMA) informed Shteynshlyuger that prior authorization is already explicitly mentioned in official procedure descriptions for half a dozen CPT codes. This required Shteynshlyuger to withdraw the proposal so he could revise and resubmit at a later date.
    • “Each CPT code includes a short description detailing the type of visit or examination. Longer descriptions—where the prior auth mentions were contained—are also stored in databases that can be purchased, but those are rarely encountered.
    • “As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen the long description in my lifetime,” said Shteynshlyuger.”
  • and
    • “Nearly 5 million fewer people delayed care from 2019 to 2022, a study from the Urban Institute with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation revealed.
    • “The study shows 4.75 million non-elderly Americans skipped necessary medical care, dropping from 12.1% to 9.7% in 2022.
    • “For families below 138% of the federal poverty line, there was a 27% reduction in cost barriers. A 19% reduction was evident for families between 138% and 249% of the federal poverty line.
    • “Researchers say these outcomes are a direct result of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirements and enhanced tax credits.
    • “Our findings show significant improvements in health insurance coverage and healthcare access under federal and state policy changes enacted during the public health emergency,” said Michael Karpman, principal research associate at the Urban Institute, in a statement. “The continued unwinding of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement and the potential expiration of enhanced Marketplace subsidies after 2025 could make these gains in coverage and access difficult to sustain.”

Midweek Update

From Washington, DC,

  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation tells us
    • “On July 2, 2024, President Biden signed the National Plan to End Parkinson’s Act into law.”
    • “Now that the bill has been signed into law, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will establish the National Parkinson’s Project, a first-ever federal initiative to prevent and cure Parkinson’s disease, treat its symptoms and slow or stop its progression. It will also establish a federal advisory council that will provide recommendations and guidance for making progress against Parkinson’s disease and atypical parkinsonisms.”
  • A Labor Department press release informs us,
    • “The U.S. Department of Labor has released a proposed rule with the goal of protecting millions of workers from the significant health risks of extreme heat. If finalized, the proposed rule would help protect approximately 36 million workers in indoor and outdoor work settings and substantially reduce heat injuries, illnesses and deaths in the workplace.”  * * *
    • “The proposed rule would require employers to develop an injury and illness prevention plan to control heat hazards in workplaces affected by excessive heat. Among other things, the plan would require employers to evaluate heat risks and — when heat increases risks to workers — implement requirements for drinking water, rest breaks and control of indoor heat. It would also require a plan to protect new or returning workers unaccustomed to working in high heat conditions.” * * *
    • “Employers would also be required to provide training, have procedures to respond if a worker is experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness, and take immediate action to help a worker experiencing signs and symptoms of a heat emergency. ” 
  • An HHS press release adds,
    • “FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are encouraging everyone to plan and act now to protect themselves against the dangers of heat-related illness and deaths. Extreme heat is the leading cause of death among all weather-related hazards in the U.S., but this health impact is largely preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 1,220 people in the U.S. are killed by heat events each year. Older adults, young children, and those individuals with health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes are at a greater risk for heat-related illnesses.” * * *
    • A Full List of Heat and Health Resources That Can Help: The list can be found at 2024 HHS Resources on Heat and Health – PDF.
  • The Washington Post lets us know,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration has decided to revoke its authorization for the use of a stabilizer for fruity and citrus-flavored food and beverages, known as brominated vegetable oil (BVO), because it is unsafe.
    • “The agency concluded that the intended use of BVO in food is no longer considered safe,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday. It added that based on studies conducted in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, it found that BVO has “the potential for adverse health effects in humans.”
    • “The vegetable oil is modified with bromine, a natural chemical element that can be used as an alternative to chlorine in swimming pools and is often used as a fire retardant. It has also been used in sedatives.”
    • “BVO is an ingredient in a handful of sports drinks and sodas, but according to the FDA, “today, few beverages in the U.S. contain BVO.” Sugary soda consumption in the United States has also been falling for more than two decades. Perhaps the best-known drink in the United States that still contains BVO is Sun Drop citrus soda, as well as some store-brand orange, pineapple and citrus-flavored sodas from Giant, Food Lion, Walmart and others.”
  • Reg Jones, writing in FedWeek, discusses the leave without pay program for federal employees.
  • BioPharma Dive points out five FDA decisions that may be issued in the third quarter of 2024.
  • Federal News Network reports,
    • “With a net gain of more than 80,000 civilian employees during fiscal 2023, the federal workforce posted yet another year of growth.
    • “Between 2019 and 2023, more than 140,000 employees joined the civil service, an increase of about 7%, according to data that the non-partisan, non-profit Partnership for Public Service compiled and released this week.
    • “The majority of the growth in the past couple of years occurred in 2023 alone — the federal workforce grew by 4% in just that one year, the Partnership said. The latest increase brings the grand total of full-time federal employees to just over 2 million.
    • “These professionals play a crucial role in protecting our national security, promoting public health, driving economic development and more,” the Partnership wrote in its data report, published Monday. “They are a fundamental part of a well-functioning government.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Three years after President Biden hoped July 4, 2021, would mark the country’s independence from covid, the coronavirus is still here as new variants drive yet another summer uptick.
    • “The country is indeed free from the waves of mass death that once overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, as well as policies restricting how Americans had fun and went to school and work.
    • ‘But just as the American Revolution didn’t fully eradicate the British threat (see: the War of 1812), the coronavirus remains a public health issue, inflicting milder but disruptive illness on most people and posing a greater danger to the medically vulnerable.” * * *
    • “Experts say wastewater data is best interpreted as a way of understanding which way the virus is trending.
    • “We have consistently seen over the past three years that there is a winter surge and there is also a summer surge,” Marlene Wolfe, program director for WastewaterSCAN, a private initiative that tracks municipal wastewater data, and an assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “Right now, we are waiting to see whether we actually will see a downturn over the next couple of weeks and we’ve hit the peak here, or whether those levels will actually go up.”
  • GovCIO notes,
    • “Health policy officials are targeting new elements for U.S. Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) standards to help researchers and developers speak the same language for technology around cancer care and treatment.
    • “How do we think about these additional data elements to solve particular use cases so that our federal agency partners can programmatically build on that for the programs that they have and it allows everyone to be tethered and based on what the health care delivery system already supports?” National Coordinator for Health IT Micky Tripathi, who also recently assumed a dual role as acting chief AI officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at a May summit.
    • “Health agencies are building a pipeline of cancer data elements for USCDI. Tripathi said ONC partners have already agreed upon the first set of data elements that aligns with reporting requirements. Agencies involved include ONC, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).”
  • STAT News discloses,
    • “A new observational study on Wednesday reported for the first time a potential link between Novo Nordisk’s GLP-1 drugs Ozempic and Wegovy and an eye condition that can cause vision loss.
    • “After hearing anecdotes of patients on the diabetes and obesity drugs experiencing nonarteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION, researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear analyzed data from a registry of patients at their institution to see if there was a broad trend.
    • “Among 710 patients with type 2 diabetes, there were 17 cases of NAION in patients prescribed semaglutide (the scientific name of both drugs). This translated to a cumulative rate of 8.9% over three years. That compares with six cases in patients prescribed non-GLP-1 diabetes drugs, calculated as a cumulative rate of 1.8%. Through statistical analyses, the researchers estimate that there was a 4.28 times greater risk of developing the condition in patients prescribed semaglutide, according to the study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology.
    • “Studying 979 patients who had overweight or obesity, researchers found 20 cases of NAION in people prescribed semaglutide, calculated as a cumulative rate of 6.7%. In comparison, there were three cases in people prescribed non-GLP-1 obesity drugs, calculated as a cumulative rate of 0.8%. The researchers estimate that there was a 7.64 times greater risk of developing the condition in patients prescribed semaglutide.”
  • Per a National Institutes of Health press release,
    • “Results from a large study supported by the National Institutes of Health show that protein analyses taken during the first trimester of pregnancy did not improve predictions for identifying people at risk for experiencing conditions related to having high blood pressure during pregnancy. Since there is an urgent need to better predict people at risk for developing conditions related to having high blood pressure during pregnancy, also called hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, researchers have been studying if proteins taken from blood or urine samples could provide this insight. This study provides the largest data to date based on using protein analyses from blood samples during early pregnancy.
    • “For this study, researchers analyzed 6,481 proteins from 1,850 study participants who had a first pregnancy between 2010 and 2013. Participants provided a blood sample during the study enrollment and had study check-ins during their second and third trimesters, after delivery, and two to seven years after their pregnancy. The protein analysis was used in different modeling equations to assess if proteins or their combinations with clinical data, such as maternal age and cardiovascular disease risks, during early pregnancy could provide clues for the 753 participants who experienced a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. The conditions assessed included gestational hypertension, marked by high blood pressure that typically develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and preeclampsia, a significant rise in blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy that can damage organs and is marked by elevated levels of protein in the urine.
    • “The prediction models, which included three different types of assessments, did not significantly improve risk predictions for these events. If the models did show predictive ability, they did not drastically improve criteria physicians currently use to assess risks. These criteria currently include risk factors such as having obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or a baby later in life.”
  • The NEJM Catalyst offers an article
    • “highlight[ing] the persistent challenges and opportunities surrounding the impact of value-based care (VBC) arrangements on patient safety, despite the widespread adoption of VBC models. In the context of recent declines in patient safety, the authors contend that this crucial component of health care value has not received sufficient attention in most VBC contracts.
    • “The authors propose strategies for how payers can integrate patient safety measures into VBC contracts and align financial incentives with quality performance, drawing on the example of Elevance Health’s initiative, the Quality-In-Sights: Hospital Incentive Program. In this program, patient safety measures comprise 80% of the overall score.
    • “The program suggests that a sustained and productive collaboration between payers and providers offers potential for integrating patient safety measures into VBC models to drive clinical improvements and financial efficiencies, but it requires commitment from all stakeholders in the health care ecosystem.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “E-cigarette use among individuals eligible for [USPSTF recommended] lung cancer screening was independently associated with a reduced likelihood of screening, a cross-sectional study of U.S. adults revealed.” * * *
    • “Former smokers who use e-cigarettes remain at increased risk of lung cancer and should be targeted by interventions to improve adherence to LCS [lung cancer screening],” Wang and co-authors concluded.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News reports,
    • “More than two dozen Medicare Advantage insurers received higher quality marks for 2024, based on a STAT review of new data released July 2 by the federal government.
    • “Ten health insurance companies, including UnitedHealth Group’s UnitedHealthcare and CVS Health’s Aetna, received critical upgrades in some of their offerings that will allow them to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in extra taxpayer-funded bonuses.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues offers more details on the plans that got a boost to five stars due to the CMS action.
  • Beckers Payer Issues also informs us,
    • “Walmart has held talks with Humana about a potential sale of its shuttered Walmart Health clinics, Fortune reported July 2. 
    • “Multiple sources familiar with the situation told Fortune that Walmart has held discussions with potential buyers for its clinics, including Humana, the only potential buyer named in the report. It is unclear if talks are ongoing, according to the publication.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • GSK struck a deal to buy the rights to CureVac’s CVAC -6.59%decrease; red down pointing triangleCovid-19 and flu vaccines for up to 1.45 billion euros ($1.56 billion), in a bid to regain ground lost to newcomers to the vaccine market during the pandemic.
    • “The deal bolsters the U.K. pharmaceutical company’s vaccine portfolio at a time when bird-flu concerns are boosting demand. Vaccines accounted for roughly a third of GSK’s sales last year.
    • “GSK’s deal with CureVac follows in the footsteps of a vaccine licensing agreement between Sanofi and Novavax in May valued at up to $1.4 billion.
    • “Both GSK and Sanofi were among the biggest makers of vaccines before the pandemic, but fell behind rivals and new entrants that launched shots based on messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology as Covid-19 turbocharged demand. The mRNA-based vaccines that were widely used to combat Covid-19 use messenger ribonucleic acid instead of an actual bacteria or virus in the production process.”
  • Plan Advisor lets us know,
    • “Many employers are spending money on benefits that do not match the objectives of their workforce, based on a recent survey by Payroll Integrations, which connects payroll provider programs with employers.
    • “According to Payroll Integrations’ recent survey, summarized in the 2024 State of Employee Financial Wellness Report, only 18% of workers expressed interest in the programs their employers are now funding. While 41% of employers indicated they intend to increase their spending on financial education and planning services, workers would rather see their employers make larger investments in retirement plans (43%) and health insurance (54%).
    • “Employees are feeling the financial pressure from inflation, higher costs of living and the rise of insurance costs and now, more than ever, employers feel a responsibility to step in to help support their financial well-being,” said Doug Sabella, Payroll Integrations’ CEO, in a release that accompanied the report. “But there’s a clear disconnect between what employers think employees want in terms of financial wellness offerings and benefit programs and what employees feel they need to make a difference.”
    • “While workers in Generation Z want their companies to make lifestyle benefits top priority, older generations place more emphasis on health care and retirement, Payroll Integrations found. Baby Boomers ranked pensions as the most essential benefit, Gen X and Gen Y workers selected additional compensation, Millennials prioritized health savings accounts, and Gen Z employees picked lifestyle compensation.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Beckers Payer Issues reports,
    • “Making expanded ACA subsidies permanent would add $335 billion to the national deficit between 2025 and 2034, the Congressional Budget Office estimated. 
    • “Premium tax credits have spurred record enrollment in ACA marketplace plans. These subsidies, implemented in 2021, are set to expire at the end of 2025 unless Congress votes to extend them. 
    • “In a June 24 letter to the chairs of the House ways and means and budget committees, the CBO estimated making subsidies permanent would cost $415 billion overall — the result of a $250 billion increase in spending and a $164 billion decrease in tax revenue. 
    • “These costs would partially be offset by a decline in offers of employment-based insurance, the CBO estimated, resulting in a total add of $335 billion to the budget.  * * *
    • “Payer executives have told investors they are optimistic Congress will cut a deal to extend the subsidies or make them permanent.”
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us,
    • “A leading Democrat and health legislator is urging the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to better enforce Medicare Part D program requirements for pharmacy benefit managers.
    • “By evading such requirements, PBMs are threatening the financial health of the country’s smaller pharmacies, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, wrote to the agency in a letter (PDF).
    • “I am alarmed to hear reports that PBM contracting practices are straining the finances of pharmacies and directly contributing to their closures,” he said. “Specifically, I am concerned PBMs are not adhering to the new rule reining in direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees that took effect on January 1 and undermining Medicare’s pharmacy access standards as intended by Congress.”
  • The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report titled “Ending Unequal Treatment: Strategies to Achieve Equitable Health Care and Optimal Health for All” which follows up on a well-known 2003 report on social determinants of health.
  • Per an FDA press release,
    • “Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a draft guidance, “Diversity Action Plans to Improve Enrollment of Participants from Underrepresented Populations in Clinical Studies,” to assist medical product sponsors in submitting Diversity Action Plans to support certain clinical studies. Diversity Action Plans are intended to increase clinical study enrollment of participants of historically underrepresented populations to help improve the data the agency receives about the patients who may potentially use the medical product. * * *
    • “Comments on the draft guidance should be submitted within 90 days after publication in the Federal Register to Regulations.gov. All written comments should be identified with the docket number and with the title of the guidance document.”
  • Federal News Network informs us,
    • “For more than a week, federal employees enrolled in FSAFEDS have not been receiving payments for approved reimbursement claims made in their Flexible Spending Accounts.
    • “The program suspended all reimbursement payments beginning June 16 as an effort to further strengthen anti-fraud and security measures, Federal News Network confirmed with a government source who explained the issue on the condition of anonymity.
    • “At this time, the FSAFEDS is holding all claims payments out of an abundance of caution,” FSAFEDS wrote Tuesday in a post on X. “FSAFEDS has taken this action due to recently discovered fraudulent claims activity. We are working to resolve and restore all claims payment activities as soon as possible.”
    • “The pause on reimbursement payments, however, has been lifted and payments to employees should resume soon, Federal News Network has learned. FSAFEDS plans to process all reimbursements currently on hold by the end of the week.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today tells us,
    • “All adults ages 75 years and older should receive a single dose of any respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, and adults ages 60 to 74 years who are at increased risk of severe RSV disease should receive a vaccine, according to a unanimous 11-0 vote by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
    • “Also, people who have already received the RSV vaccine are not recommended to receive a booster, based on data that showed another dose did not improve outcomes.
    • “These recommendations supplant the current recommendation that adults ages 60 and older may receive RSV vaccination after engaging in shared clinical decision-making with their healthcare provider.
    • “There are currently three RSV vaccines available for use in older adults — GSK’s adjuvanted RSV prefusion F protein-based vaccine (Arexvy) Pfizer’s unadjuvanted, bivalent RSV prefusion F protein vaccine (Abrysvo), and Moderna’s mRNA-1345 vaccine (mRESVIA).
  • The American Hospital Association News notes,
    • “The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response June 25 announced a flu pandemic preparedness and response strategy in response to the threat of H5N1 bird flu in humans. The strategy, released through ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, has four objectives: strategic implementation and deployment of the national pre-pandemic influenza vaccine stockpile; enhanced protection through novel vaccines; leverage therapeutics through deployment, early availability and development of novel products; and ensure rapid and effective diagnostics tools to inform rapid antiviral prescription and treatment.” 
  • BioPharma Dive calls attention to the fact “Women with a common hormonal disorder have few good treatment options. Could GLP-1 drugs help? There are no drugs specifically for polycystic ovary syndrome, a chronic condition that can cause infertility. One study is testing whether Wegovy might be beneficial.”
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “[Verona Pharma’s] Ohtuvayre [which the FDA approved for marketing today] becomes the first novel treatment advance in more than a decade for COPD, an inflammatory condition which restricts airflow from the lungs and leaves patients struggling to breathe. Ohtuvayre is approved as an add-on medicine with current therapies.
    • “As a selective dual inhibitor of the phosphodiesterase 3 (PDE3) and phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) enzymes, Ohtuvayre combines two properties in one medicine, setting it apart in COPD for its ability to both open the airways of patients and reduce their inflammation.
    • “It’s really the first novel mechanism as an inhaled therapy in over 20 years for COPD,” David Zaccardelli, Verona’s CEO said in an interview with Fierce Pharma. “We believe its bronchodilator and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory activity has the potential to change the treatment paradigm.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “A few of your favorite ice cream products might no longer be in the freezer this summer after a prominent supplier to brands such as Hershey’s and Friendly’s issued a recall notice over a potential listeria contamination.
    • “Maryland-based Totally Cool recalled products from 13 brands distributed nationwide in retail locations and through direct delivery after sampling by the Food and Drug Administration discovered the presence of Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium that causes listeria infections, the agency said Monday.
    • “The brands involved were Abilyn’s Frozen Bakery, Amafruits, Chipwich, Cumberland Farms, Dolcezza Gelato, Friendly’s, Hershey’s Ice Cream, Jeni’s, LaSalle, Marco, Taharka Brothers, the Frozen Farmer and Yelloh. More than 65 products were recalled, including ice cream cakes and sandwiches, as well as sorbets, according to a list published by the FDA that includes expiration dates.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Kaufmann Hall discusses the state of play in healthcare antitrust enforcement.
  • The Wall Street Journal predicts “The War Over Cheaper Ozempic Won’t End Well for Some Investors. Once Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk increase supply of weight-loss medications, companies such as Hims & Hers may find it trickier to sell compounded versions of the drugs [due to the nuances of FDA law.]”
  • MedTech Dive points out “Abbott and Dexcom are launching the first over-the-counter CGMs. Here are 7 questions on the new tech. Experts expect the release of new over-the-counter glucose monitors in the U.S. to fuel more widespread use of the devices.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Blue Shield of California is making it easier for members to access their personal health data through its new Member Health Record.
    • “The platform will combine health data both from claims as well as from providers in one place and is available both online and through Blue Shield’s app so members can connect virtually. The Member Health Record will first launch for a “select group” of Medicare Advantage members and will be rolled out to all of its members by the end of the year.
    • “The health record will include information on lab results, immunizations, diagnoses and conditions alongside historical health data that have been shared with the plan, including details tallied before the member joined Blue Shield.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • KFF Health News reports,
    • “U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared firearm violence a public health crisis, as gun deaths and injuries punctuate daily life in America.
    • “On nearly every day of 2024 so far, a burst of gunfire has hit at least four people somewhere in the country. Some days, communities have endured four or five such shootings.
    • “The nation’s top doctor called on policymakers to consider gun safety measures such as bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and universal background checks for all firearm purchases. His advisory also urges a “significant increase” in funding for research on gun injuries and deaths, as well as greater access to mental health care and trauma-informed resources for people who have experienced firearm violence.”
  • NPR discusses what the declaration will do.
  • The U.S. Public Health Service Task Force issued a draft recommendation today which “concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for food insecurity on health outcomes in the primary care setting.” The public comment period ends on July 22, 2024.
  • Reg Jones, writing in FedWeek, explains “Earning, Accumulating and Using Sick Leave in the Federal Government.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned clinicians, health authorities and the public Tuesday about an increased risk for dengue virus infections in the United States because of the record-breaking global incidence of the mosquito-borne viral disease.
    • “In the first six months of 2024, countries in the Americas have reported more than 9.7 million dengue cases, twice as many as in all of 2023, exceeding the highest number ever recorded in a single year, the CDC said in a health advisory. Puerto Rico declared a public health emergency because of the unusually high number of cases reported in the winter and spring, the dry season, when dengue cases are typically low.
    • “Since January, 745 dengue cases have been identified among U.S. travelers who became infected abroad, the agency said. Dengue cases typically increase during the warmest months that are yet to come. Last year, there were 1,829 travel-associated cases in the U.S. * * *
    • “With increased global and domestic incidence of dengue, the CDC is urging health-care providers to be on the lookout for dengue among people with fever who have been in areas with dengue transmission within 14 days of the start of illness. Infants, pregnant people, adults over 65 years old and people with certain medical conditions are at increased risk for severe dengue.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review lets us know,
    • “Teva Pharmaceuticals is launching the first authorized generic of Victoza, the first generic GLP-1 product available in the United States.
    • “By launching an authorized generic for Victoza (liraglutide injection 1.8mg), we are providing patients with type 2 diabetes another option for this important treatment,” Ernie Richardsen, SVP, Head of U.S. Commercial Generics at Teva, said in a June 24 news release.”
  • Highlighting the importance of a generic GLP-1 product is this Wall Street Journal article reporting that
    • Blockbuster obesity drug Wegovy has been approved in China, opening the door for maker Novo Nordisk to begin selling it in the world’s second-largest economy, where the appetite for similar treatments is surging. * * *
    • “Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic drug—which contains the same semaglutide active ingredient as Wegovy—was approved to treat diabetes in China in 2021. Sales of the drug in the country more than doubled on year in 2023, reaching 4.82 billion Danish kroner ($693.6 million).
    • “Demand for weight-loss drugs is surging in China, where the proportion of overweight and obese adults reached almost 51% in 2022, creating a frenzy among local manufacturers to develop their own versions of the popular treatments, especially as Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide patent expires there in 2026, which will pave the way for generic versions.”
  • MedPage Today notes,
    • “Disrupted circadian rhythms in cognitively normal adults were tied to higher subsequent amyloid-beta levels, prospective data showed.
    • “Higher daily variability at baseline — an indicator of fragmented 24-hour activity rhythms — was associated with higher PET amyloid burden 8 years later (β=0.15, P=0.02) after adjusting for age, sex, APOE4 status, and other factors, according to Julia Neitzel, PhD, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and co-authors. * * *
    • “Considerable interest surrounds the role of sleep dysfunction in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” observed Matthew Pase, PhD, of Monash University in Victoria, Australia, who wasn’t involved with the study.
    • “If poor sleep contributes to dementia, improving sleep symptomatology could be one strategy to lower dementia risk,” he told MedPage Today.
  • NPR discusses why “Your gut microbes may influence how you handle stress.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review reports,
    • “The University of Alabama System’s board of trustees unanimously approved an agreement to acquire Ascension St. Vincent’s Health System.
    • “Birmingham-based UAB will assume ownership of all Ascension St. Vincent’s care sites under the agreement, announced June 25. The transaction still needs approval from federal regulators and the Catholic Church. UAB and Ascension expect the $450 million deal to close in the fall of 2024, according to the Shelby County Reporter.
  • and
    • identifies the twenty most socially responsible hospitals in the U.S., per Lown Institute. Duke Regional Hospital, in Durham, NC, leads the pack.
  • Per Fierce Pharma,
    • “Physicians don’t mind patients choosing at-home testing options over coming in for an in-person clinic visit—in fact, they overwhelmingly support it, according to the results of a new survey.
    • “Ixlayer’s report this week is based on a poll of more than 140 U.S. physicians representing a variety of specialties. All together, nearly 90% agreed that at-home tests are more convenient to many patients and can improve access to diagnostic care, and almost as many said they believe offering at-home testing options can help speed up diagnoses and, ultimately, improve patient outcomes.
    • “There is a large subset of my patients where making routine office visits is difficult, either complicated by age, travel time, costs, or time constraints. So I see having a convenient, at-home solution as a plus for improving medical care,” one of the survey’s respondents said.
    • “The overwhelming majority of the doctors surveyed, 91% of the group, said they were open to providing at-home testing kits to their patients, and 80% agreed that the remote tests could support or even enhance the healthcare system’s existing workflows.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management recently posted new Postal Service Health Benefits Program FAQs concerning its May 2024 proposed rule supplementing existing guidance on that program. The public comment period on that proposed rule is next Monday June 24.
    • Here’s an FAQ on a point that the FEHBlog mentioned but he has not seen in any other publication:
      • While the proposed rule reflects that Medicare Part D-eligible annuitants and their Part D-eligible family members would be automatically group enrolled into the Part D EGWP, it reflects that they may choose to opt out of receiving prescription drug coverage through the PSHB Part D EGWP. This proposed rule provides, consistent with the statute, that the Part D EGWP offered by their PSHB plan is the only PSHB prescription drug benefit available for Part D-eligible PSHB annuitants and their Part D-eligible covered family members. As proposed, Medicare Part D-eligible annuitants and their family members who choose to opt out of or disenroll from the PSHB plan’s Part D EGWP would not have access to prescription drug benefits through their PSHB plan and would not pay a lower premium than those enrolled in the Part D EGWP. An individual who opts out of or disenrolls from the Part D EGWP would be allowed to enroll again during the next open season or an applicable Qualifying Life Event (QLE) if they wish.
  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “While years in the making, the Office of Personnel Management’s upcoming plans to try to cut down on unneeded health insurance costs will also arrive to open arms from the Government Accountability Office.
    • “Beginning in 2025, OPM is adding stricter eligibility requirements to try to root out ineligible enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program — something that’s been high on GAO’s radar for at least the last few years. A 2022 GAO report showed that OPM spends up to $1 billion each year on ineligible participants erroneously enrolled in FEHB.
    • “One of the biggest benefit systems in the country, and for decades, nobody checked these things,” Comptroller General Gene Dodaro told lawmakers on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee during a June 13 hearing. * * *
    • “Current FEHB eligibility determination and enrollment is highly decentralized and requires cooperation between nearly 100 employing offices responsible for determining eligibility and enrolling more than 8 million members,” OPM said in April. “If funded, OPM could extend this same central enrollment system to all FEHB enrollments, which would allow OPM to manage and make consistent all FEHB enrollments and remove individuals who cease to be eligible for the program.”
    • “OPM, as part of its fiscal 2025 budget request, is proposing legislation to build a centralized enrollment system for FEHB. With a central database, OPM would be able to more quickly address the problem and avoid the spending errors. That system, if it’s implemented, would be modeled after the centralized system OPM just recently built for the upcoming Postal Service Health Benefits program.”
      • FEHBlog note — While all of this is welcome progress, the most glaring, and as yet unresolved, internal control issue is that OPM reports enrollment and premiums to carriers separately rather than using the HIPAA standard electronic enrollment roster transaction 820 which would allow carriers to reconcile each enrollee with his or her premium payments. Carriers are entitled to this reconcilable information because they hold the insurance risk on these plans. Moreover, shouldn’t we make sure that the enrollee is paying the correct premium before checking family member eligibility?
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, announced on Monday that he would push for a warning label on social media platforms advising parents that using the platforms might damage adolescents’ mental health.
    • “Warning labels — like those that appear on tobacco and alcohol products — are one of the most powerful tools available to the nation’s top health official, but Dr. Murthy cannot unilaterally require them; the action requires approval by Congress.”
  • STAT News adds,
    • “His call to action on Monday was more strident, garnering praise from advocates of stricter social media controls, especially for young people. “Yes, this is a consumer product that is unsafe for children and teens,” wrote NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, a strong proponent of limiting phone time, on X.
    • “But for several experts operating in this field, the type and extent of social media harm exacted on children isn’t quite as clear as Murthy seems to suggest. Indeed, said Michaeline Jensen, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina, Greensboro, there isn’t sufficient evidence to conclude social media is safe — but there isn’t enough to conclude the opposite, either.
  • STAT News also lets us know,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved Merck’s new pneumococcal vaccine for adults 18 and older.
    • “The vaccine, which will be sold under the name Capvaxive, is designed to protect against pneumococcal pneumonia, which hospitalizes about 150,000 adults in the United States every year and kills about 1 in 20 who develop it, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. * * *
    • “Before Capvaxive can be put into use, it must receive a recommendation from the CDC. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the CDC on vaccination policy, meets next week for one of its three regularly scheduled meetings. A draft agenda for the meeting shows that a vote on Capvaxive is scheduled for Thursday, June 27.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced on Monday that is gearing up to end a program that offered financial assistance to providers impacted by the cyberattack on Change Healthcare.
    • “The agency said that the accelerated and advance payment program launched in response to the hack will end on July 12. The initiative sought to ease cash-flow disruptions that were caused by the cyberattack.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • STAT News reports,
    • “The hope for many cancer patients who go through surgery is that they’ll be cured after the surgeon removes the tumor. The question that lingers is whether they got it all out — if the surgery happened in time before cancer cells scattered off of the primary tumor to seed unseen metastases or if some microscopic malignancy was left behind near the original cancer site.
    • “To answer this question, clinicians are increasingly turning to blood tests that detect circulating tumor DNA, known as ctDNA. The idea is that finding tumor DNA in the blood probably means that cancer cells are still growing somewhere in the body, even at a low level. These tests are starting to be used in a variety of cancers — and for the most part, clinicians agree that if the test is positive, the cancer will likely recur. The trouble is that scientists aren’t sure what should happen next.
    • “We are all recognizing that if a patient has detectable circulating tumor DNA, it’s not a question of if the cancer’s coming back, but when,” said Van Morris, a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center. “The field recognizes the power of this tool, but I think there remain many questions of how best do we utilize that in the day-to-day management of patients.”
    • “Some of those questions include whether clinicians should step up the intensity of treatment if patients are positive for ctDNA, whether they should step down treatment if patients are negative for ctDNA, or how long they should treat patients. And if you do any of these things, it’s still not clear if that would have any meaningful impact on patients’ overall survival or quality of life in most settings. The only way to answer these questions will be by confirming hypotheses in prospective randomized trials, which are ongoing.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “New data showcase promise, growing pains of CAR-T in autoimmune disease.
    • “While one expert described clinical trial results to date as “unprecedented,” reports of relapses in some patients drew questions about the therapies’ ultimate potential.”
  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports points out,
    • “Five diet changes that can help lower blood pressure.
    • “Adding potassium and cutting back on alcohol can help reduce the need for meds if you have hypertension, or even prevent it in the first place.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Born last November, Fern had blood drawn from her heel for North Carolina’s mandatory newborn screening, which tested for more than 60 medical conditions. Nothing was found. That could have been the end of the story. Instead, Tiffany and her husband, Matthew Vogt, a physician and scientist in Durham, decided to take the nonprofit research institute RTI International up on a groundbreaking offer.
    • “Free of charge, parents in North Carolina can have experts conduct a more extensive scan and review their baby’s entire genetic blueprint for 200 different conditions. One is Pendred syndrome, a condition not covered by the standard, more limited newborn screening.
    • “Researchers in North Carolina and New York are studying whether this far more comprehensive approach can save lives and improve children’s health. Two decades after scientists sequenced the first human genome, the two studies reflect the rapid emergence of a new kind of health care called genomic medicine, spawned by that landmark achievement.
    • “Early results show that genome sequencing is identifying conditions not disclosed through the traditional newborn screening required by all 50 states. Since the study in North Carolina began in September 2023, researchers have examined the genomes of more than 1,800 babies; 40 were deemed likely to have medical conditions that were not previously diagnosed. One newborn was flagged as likely to have two previously undiagnosed conditions.
    • “Some of those were for potentially life-threatening conditions,” said Holly Peay, lead investigator for the Early Check program led by RTI International.
    • “Since launching the GUARDIAN program with its collaborators in September 2022, New York State has sequenced the genomes of more than 10,000 babies; 299 tested positive for one of the 450 conditions the state has focused on.
    • “For one child, it was even lifesaving,” said Wendy Chung, head of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, who is leading New York’s study.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “The prevalence of chronic hypertension in pregnancy in the United States doubled from 2007-2021, but only about 60% of those with the potentially life-threatening condition were treated with antihypertensive medications, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported study of nearly 2 million pregnancies. The study, which was funded by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), did not explore the reasons for the increase, but rising maternal age, growing obesity rates, and other factors likely played a role, according to researchers. The findings were published today in the journal Hypertension.
    • “These findings are deeply concerning because of the high rate of U.S. maternal mortality, which is linked to chronic hypertension in pregnancy,” said study lead Stephanie Leonard, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Stanford University School of Medicine in California. “Despite the availability of safe and effective treatments for chronic hypertension, the study speaks to an urgent need for improvement in care for this serious condition.” * * *
    • “To manage hypertension during pregnancy, experts recommend that women check their blood pressure at home and keep it under control, visit with a doctor often, and take antihypertensive medications as prescribed.”
  • Per a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration press release,
    • “Researchers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that among a cohort of 137,000 Medicare beneficiaries who experienced a nonfatal overdose in 2020, almost 24,000 (17.4%) experienced a subsequent nonfatal overdose, and about 1,300 (1%) died from overdose in the following year. Results were published today in JAMA Internal Medicine, identifying both effective interventions and significant gaps in care.
    • “People who have experienced one overdose are more likely to experience another,” said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and the leader of SAMHSA. “But we found that when survivors received gold-standard care such as medications for opioid use disorder and naloxone, the chances of dying from an overdose in the following year drop dramatically. In short, medications for opioid use disorder, opioid overdose reversal medications, and behavioral health supports save lives.”
    • “The study identifies effective, lifesaving interventions following initial nonfatal overdoses. The odds of dying from a subsequent lethal overdose decreased among cohort members who received methadone (58% lower odds), buprenorphine (52% lower odds), or behavioral health assessment or crisis services (75% lower odds). The risk of overdose mortality among those who filled a prescription for naloxone was also reduced by 30%.
    • “However, significant gaps in care were also noted. Only 4.1% of the cohort received medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), and only 6.2% filled a prescription for naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, despite these being gold-standard interventions. Beneficiaries receiving MOUD waited a mean of 72 days between their nonfatal overdose and receiving medication.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “E-cigarettes were about as effective at helping people quit smoking as the gold-standard pharmaceutical drug, varenicline, according to a clinical trial published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
    • “The trial randomized 458 people who smoked daily and wanted to quit to receive either a nicotine-containing e-cigarette and placebo tablets, varenicline and an e-cigarette without nicotine, or a placebo tablet and a nicotine-free e-cigarette for 12 weeks. All three groups were also given intensive tobacco cessation counseling.
    • “After 26 weeks, roughly equal percentages of participants using varenicline and e-cigarettes — 43.8 percent and 40.4 percent, respectively — had stopped smoking. The difference in quit rates between the two groups was not statistically significant.
    • “The JAMA study is the first published randomized controlled trial to compare varenicline, also known as Chantix, directly to e-cigarettes. Several studies have demonstrated that e-cigarettes can help adults quit smoking. However, most studies have compared e-cigarettes to placebo alone, or to nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and lozenges, which help smokers manage their withdrawal symptoms.
    • “The trial is likely to cause a stir within the tobacco-control community, which has been bitterly divided over the question of whether e-cigarettes are a help or hindrance for adults who smoke cigarettes, and whether they should be recommended by doctors as a way to kick a smoking habit. While countries like the United Kingdom actively encourage smokers to use these products to help them quit cigarettes, nations including the United States and Japan have been far more conservative. Backers of e-cigarettes say this study shows the U.K. has the right idea.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • In Medicare Advantage STAR ratings news, Modern Healthcare tells us,
    • “Nonprofit health insurance companies historically have outperformed for-profit competitors on star ratings and could be disadvantaged when their rivals are boosted, but the Alliance of Community Health Plans doesn’t see a concern.
    • “It is equitable that plans that are going to have their scores recalculated for ’24 and have a change in their revenue have a chance to modify their ’25 bids because they were at a different place when they submitted it,” said Michael Bagel, associate vice president of public policy at the trade group for nonprofit insurers.
    • “Allowing only insurers that get increased scores to resubmit bids could provoke lawsuits, Meekins said. “There’s still the potential for legal challenges to that because there’s a bit of game theory that goes into the bid process and what you think other people are going to do,” he said.
    • “CMS has not said how it will handle star ratings for 2025, whether it will reinstitute the methods the courts overturned on technical grounds or whether it will appeal the Elevance Health and SCAN Health Plan decisions.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review identifies “37 health systems with strong operational metrics and solid financial positions, according to reports from credit rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service released in 2024.”
  • Fierce Healthcare offers a special report naming “the top 10 nonprofit health systems by 2023 operating revenue.”
  • MedCity News relates
    • “Retailers are facing several headwinds in healthcare in 2024. Walmart and Dollar General both recently ended healthcare endeavors, and CVS Health is reportedly looking for a private equity partner for Oak Street Health (which it acquired in 2023). VillageMD, which is backed by Walgreens, is shuttering numerous clinics.
    • “Still, Mary Langowski, executive vice president and president of U.S. healthcare at Walgreens Boots Alliance, sees a strong future for retailers in healthcare.
    • “I happen to be very bullish on the role of retail in healthcare and frankly, having a very central role in healthcare,” she said. “And part of that is because over 80% of people want health and wellness offerings in a pharmacy and in a retail setting. Consumers want the ease, they want the convenience of it. And those are important things to keep in mind, that demand is there.”
    • “Langowski, who joined Walgreens in March, made these comments during a Tuesday fireside chat at the AHIP 2024 conference held in Las Vegas. She added that what the industry is seeing is not an “evolution” of whether retailers will exist in healthcare, but a shift around what the “right model is going to be.” 
  • The Washington Post notes,
    • “If your doctor can’t see you now, maybe the nurse practitioner can.
    • “Nurse practitioners have long been a reliable backstop for the primary-care-physician shortfall, which is estimated at nearly 21,000 doctors this year and projected to get worse.
    • “But easy access to NPs could be tested in coming years. Even though nearly 90 percent of nurse practitioners are certified to work in primary care, only about a third choose the field, according to a recent study.
    • “Health-care workforce experts worry that NPs are being lured toward work in specialty practices for the same reason that some doctors steer clear of primary care: money.”


Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington DC,

  • Federal News Network lets us know,
    • “For federal employees, a bill pending in the Senate would bring expanded coverage of fertility treatments through the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program.
    • “But the Right to IVF Act, which Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced last week, did not garner the 60 votes needed to move forward with a floor vote Thursday afternoon. Almost all Republicans voted against the measure to advance the legislation, resulting in a 48-47 tally.
    • “The legislation rolls together three previous bills all aiming to improve access and insurance coverage for in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In part, the bill would have impacts specifically on FEHB enrollees. One component of the Right to IVF Act aims to set higher requirements for FEHB carriers to offer IVF coverage.
    • “The Office of Personnel Management increased FEHB carrier requirements for IVF treatments for plan year 2024. But the legislation looks to further extend the requirements of IVF to cover both treatments and medications, as well as expanding to more types of assisted reproductive technology (ART).”
  • Many large FEHB plans cover ART procedures. Competition will cause other plans to follow their lead.
  • Federal News Network also identifies House of Representatives policy riders to FY 2025 appropriations bills that are relevant to federal employees and their benefit programs.
  • The American Hospital Association News relates,
    • “The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee June 13 held a hearing about transitioning to value-based care. The AHA submitted a statement to the subcommittee for the hearing, expressing support for value-based care and sharing principles the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation should consider when designing alternative payment models. Those principles include adequate on-ramp and glidepath to transition to risk; adequate risk adjustment; voluntary participation and flexible design; balanced risk versus reward; guardrails to ensure participants don’t compete against themselves when they achieve optimal cost savings and outcomes; and upfront investment incentives.” 
  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled an anti-abortion group contesting the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone does not have a legal basis to sue, putting an end to a drawn-out and high-profile court battle.
    • “The court held the plaintiffs’ “desire to make a drug less available to others” did not give them standing to challenge the FDA’s actions around mifepristone.
    • “The plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that FDA’s relaxed regulatory requirements likely would cause them to suffer an injury in fact,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the court’s opinion. “For that reason, the federal courts are the wrong forum for addressing the plaintiffs’ concerns about FDA’s actions.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds,
    • “An appeals panel [in August 2023] rolled back much of the [district court’s] ruling, saying it was too late to challenge the drug’s original approval. But the appeals court did find that the plaintiffs had standing to sue, and it ruled the FDA’s efforts beginning in 2016 to make the pill more available were unlawful. The Supreme Court had previously put that ruling on hold, preserving the status quo of widespread mifepristone access while it considered the case. * * *
    • “The pill case won’t be the last time the justices weigh in on abortion access this term. The court in the next couple of weeks is expected to decide a separate case out of Idaho that centers around the question of whether a federal law that requires hospitals to provide stabilizing care for patients at risk of death or serious injury trumps state abortion bans that allow doctors to perform the procedure only if a woman’s life is in jeopardy.”
  • STAT News notes,
    • “Both President Biden and former President Trump love to claim credit for getting more Americans $35 insulin.
    • “But the credit should actually go to a giant pharmaceutical company — just the type that both men claim to have challenged.
    • “Eli Lilly, an $800 billion pharma giant and one of three insulin manufacturers in the United States, first proposed an experiment allowing Medicare insurance plans to offer $35 monthly insulin in 2019, CEO David Ricks and former Medicare agency chief Seema Verma said in interviews with STAT.
    • “It is true. We approached CMS with that idea,” Ricks said, referring to the government Medicare agency.
    • “Verma gave Ricks credit. “He is an unsung hero. He was actually the mastermind of all of this,” she said.”
  • Per Department of Health and Human Services press releases,
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded more than $11 million to 15 organizations to establish new residency programs in rural communities. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden announced the new awards while visiting rural health clinic in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin today. Building on HRSA’s Enhancing Maternal Health Initiative, one program will create the first obstetrics and gynecology Rural Track Program in the country, and six others will develop new family medicine residency programs with enhanced obstetrical training in rural communities.”
    • “For more information about the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program, visit https://www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/grants/rural-health-research-policy/rrpd.”
  • and
    • “The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is announcing up to $500 million in Project NextGen funding to plan and execute multiple Phase 2b clinical trials evaluating novel vaccines administered as a nasal spray or as a pill to protect against symptomatic COVID-19.
    • “We learned a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic that we can use to better prepare for future public health crises. That includes finding new ways to administer vaccines to make it even easier for everyone to protect themselves from illness,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We are making progress on the development of cutting-edge treatments, such as vaccines administered as a nasal spray or as a pill. The Biden-Harris Administration won’t stop until we have the next generation of innovative vaccines, therapeutics, and other tools to protect against COVID-19, or any other pathogen that could threaten the American public.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Avoid raw milk. Lay off cheeses made with unpasteurized milk. And cook your beef to medium- or well-done temperatures.
    • “These are the precautions that public health officials and doctors recommend as they track the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in U.S. cattle. Ten states have H5N1 outbreaks in cows, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and at least three U.S. dairy farmworkers have been diagnosed with bird flu. 
    • “A man in Mexico contracted a different strain of bird flu—H5N2—earlier this month and died, though he died from underlying conditions, according to the Mexican government.
    • “Doctors and federal officials say the public health risk of getting H5N1 is currently very low unless you work on a farm, and stress that there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission. What’s raised concern is that the most recent case—found in a dairy worker in Michigan earlier this month—had respiratory symptoms unlike the previous two cases where the primary symptom was pinkeye. 
    • “Viruses with respiratory symptoms are more contagious and transmissible than conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, so doctors and scientists say they are watching closely. For now, it has been more than a week since the worker tested positive and there have been no known cases of transmission.”  
  • The NIH director in her weekly blog tells us,
    • We know stress can take a toll on our mental health. Yet, it’s unclear why some people develop stress-related mental health disorders and others don’t. The risk for developing a stress-related mental health disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depressive disorder (MDD) depends on a complex interplay between the genetic vulnerabilities we are born with and the impact of traumatic stress we experience over our lifetimes.
    • Given this complexity, it’s been difficult for researchers to pinpoint the underlying biological pathways in the body that ultimately produce changes associated with PTSD, major depression, or other mental health conditions. Now, a study reported in a special issue of Science on decoding the brain uses a comprehensive approach to examine multiple biological processes across brain regions, cell types, and blood to elucidate this complexity. It’s an unprecedented effort to understand in a more holistic way the essential biological networks involved in PTSD and MDD. * * *
    • “There’s clearly much more to discover in the years ahead. But these insights already point to important roles for known stress-related pathways in fundamental brain changes underlying PTSD and MDD, while also revealing more novel pathways as potentially promising new treatment targets. With further study, the researchers hope these findings can also begin to answer vexing questions, such as why some people develop PTSD or major depression after stressful events and others don’t.”
  • STAT News points out that “With placenta-on-a-chip, researchers hope to gauge how drugs and toxins impact pregnancy.”
    • “[Mechanical engineer Nicole] Hashemi and her colleagues received a three-year, $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to advance their current placenta-on-a-chip model. They plan on designing systems that can be integrated into the model to help collect data in real time. Hashemi told STAT that one system could look at changes in the shapes of cells when exposed to chemicals or physical stressors.
    • “The placenta-on-a-chip technology is simple but potentially powerful, and similar efforts are being made to replicate the environments of other human organs. The small chip is usually about the size of a rubber eraser, etched with tiny channels through which fluids move — offering a simplified, functional model of an organ to test drugs or to study the progression of disease. Researchers can grow cells and run fluids that act like blood through chambers in the chip to create environments similar to those in the human body.
    • “According to Dan Huh, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and a leader in developing many organs-on-a-chip including the placenta and lung, maintaining the environment is almost like tricking the cells into thinking that they’re still in the body so that they “do what they’re supposed to do.”
  • MedPage Today tells us,
    • “Disrupted access to prescription stimulants for patients with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may increase risks of injury or overdose, the CDC warned on Thursday following the indictment of an online ADHD medication prescriber over fraud allegations.
    • “Several ADHD stimulants such as immediate-release amphetamine (Adderall) are already in shortage, and the new federal healthcare fraud indictment may further disrupt care for as many as 50,000 patients with ADHD, the CDC detailed.
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association released a research letter about trends in Naloxone dispensing from U.S. retail pharmacies.
    • “Naloxone prescriptions dispensed from retail pharmacies increased from 2019 to 2023, with the largest single-year increase observed in 2022. This increase may reflect efforts to expand naloxone prescribing, including state-level standing orders3 and clinical practice guidelines. Although statistically significant increases were observed among most prescriber specialties between 2019 and 2023, nearly two-thirds of dispensed naloxone was prescribed by advanced practitioners and primary care specialties in 2023. Continued efforts such as evidence-based academic detailing and electronic health record alerts can support clinicians in prescribing naloxone.
    • “The observed decrease in retail pharmacy–dispensed naloxone prescriptions during Q3 and Q4 2023 may be due to naloxone becoming available over the counter,4 though trend analysis indicated the decline was not statistically significant. Studies have found that over-the-counter naloxone has a higher out-of-pocket cost than insurance-paid naloxone prescriptions,5 indicating the continued importance of prescribed naloxone and naloxone accessed in community-based settings. * * *
    • “Although naloxone dispensing has increased in recent years, opportunities remain to expand access given the continued high burden of opioid overdoses,1 such as by increasing co-prescribing of naloxone for patients with high-risk opioid prescriptions2,6 and reducing financial barriers.5

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports good news for Medicare Advantage insurers,
    • “The federal government plans to redo this year’s quality ratings of private Medicare plans, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that would deliver hundreds of millions in additional bonus payments to insurers next year.
    • “The decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could be announced as soon as Thursday. It comes in the wake of two court rulings that faulted the agency’s ratings, in cases filed by insurers SCAN Health Plan and Elevance Health.
    • “By paving the way for higher payments, the CMS move would provide a win for Medicare insurers at a time when their business is under pressure from rising healthcare costs and rates for next year that came in lower than investors had expected.'”
  • Mercer Consulting explores “Unlocking the power of [healthcare] price transparency data.”
  • MedTech Dive informs us,
    • “Philips has launched its Duo Venous Stent System in the U.S. to treat patients with blockages in their veins, the company said Wednesday.
    • “The implant, which won approval in December, is designed to address the root cause of chronic deep venous disease and comes in two forms for use in different types of veins. 
    • “Philips acquired the device in its 2022 takeover of Vesper Medical. The company paid 227 million euros upfront for Vesper to expand its image guided therapy business.”
  • and
    • “Medline has asked hospitals to remove thousands of endotracheal tubes because of a risk that components can tear or detach, blocking a patient’s airway. 
    • “The company recalled more than 168,000 Medline Sub-G Endotracheal Tubes and more than 13,000 kits, according to a Food and Drug Administration notice posted on May 28. The tubes are used for mechanical ventilation and have ports to prevent fluid from draining into patients’ lungs and causing pneumonia. 
    • “Medline recalled the products because the inflation tube and other components can detach or tear from the main tube, causing it to leak or deflate. If the device comes apart during use, it could also obstruct the patient’s airway or cause choking, the FDA said in a Tuesday notice.
  • and
    • “Abbott is recalling a system monitor used with the Heartmate cardiac pump because screen display issues could pose a risk to patients. The Class 1 recall affects 4,842 monitors distributed in the U.S. and worldwide, according to a June 7 database entry by the Food and Drug Administration.
    • “In an urgent medical device correction letter to physicians in May, Abbott said no serious adverse health consequences were reported and no devices are being removed from the market.
    • “The latest recall follows three others from earlier this year involving the Heartmate left ventricular assist system, the only such mechanical circulatory support device on the U.S. market after Medtronic stopped selling its Heartware pump in 2021.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplas

From Washington, DC,

  • The Washington Post reports
    • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) this week wrote to eight pharmaceutical company CEOs, urging them to remove 130 patents from a key federal registry, according to letters shared with The Washington Post. The Democrats are targeting Novo Nordisk, including some of its patents related to expensive drug Ozempic; GlaxoSmithKline; and other companies that produce asthma and diabetes medications.
    • The 130 patents are among more than 300 patents that the Federal Trade Commission in April identified as “junk patent listings” that should be removed from the registry and are blocking competitors from producing cheaper alternatives. Monday is the deadline for the companies to remove the patents or reaffirm that they believe the patents are legal, according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the private enforcement process.
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday expanded the approval for GSK’s vaccine to protect against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, authorizing its use for at-risk adults as young as 50.”The Food and Drug Administration on Friday expanded the approval for GSK’s vaccine to protect against respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, authorizing its use for at-risk adults as young as 50.
    • “Arexvy, which was the first RSV vaccine approved, now becomes the first to be available to adults under the age of 60 who are not pregnant. Prior to this FDA decision, Arexvy was licensed for use in people 60 and older.”
  • Tammy Flanagan writing in Govexec discusses the state of federal civil service retirement: CSRS and FERS.
  • Govexec adds,
    • “The government’s backlog of pending retirement claims from federal workers hit an eight-year low last month. “The government’s backlog of pending retirement claims from federal workers hit an eight-year low last month.
    • “The Office of Personnel Management’s retirement process and subsequent backlog has long dogged the federal government’s HR agency, frustrating agencies and departing federal employees alike, in large part due to paper-based legacy personnel systems.
    • “But last year, OPM instituted a number of measures to try to make immediate improvements to the process, including dedicating more resources and manpower during the early-year busy season for retirement claims and setting up a new dashboard for claimants to better understand the process and avoid common pitfalls.
    • “In May, OPM received 6,751 new retirement applications, a slight decrease from the 6,901 it received the previous month. But after a modest decrease in the number of claims actually processed in April, the agency increased its pace again last month, processing 8,793 claims.
    • “By the end of the month, the backlog had fallen to 14,035, compared to 16,077 pending claims at the end of April. That marks the smallest retirement backlog OPM has experienced since May 2016, when it also finished the month with a backlog of 14,035 applications.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control informs us,
    • Summary
      • Seasonal influenza, COVID-19, and RSV activity is low nationally.
    • COVID-19
      • Most key indicators are showing low levels of activity nationally. However, COVID-19 test positivity has increased to 4.5%. Wastewater viral activity is showing increases in some states. We also estimate that COVID-19 infections are growing or likely growing in 30 states and territories, declining or likely declining in 1 state or territory, and are stable or uncertain in 18 states and territories, based on Rt estimates of epidemic growth. An increasing proportion of the variants that cause COVID-19 are projected to be KP.3 and LB.1 (CDC COVID Data Tracker: Variant Proportions).
    • Influenza
    • RSV
      • Nationally, RSV test positivity remains low. Hospitalization rates are low in all age groups.
    • Vaccination
  • The Washington Post offers background on bird flu — How it spreads, milk and egg safety and more.
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The American Cancer Society has begun an ambitious, far-reaching study focusing on a population that has long been overlooked, despite high rates of cancer and cancer-related deaths: Black women.”The American Cancer Society has begun an ambitious, far-reaching study focusing on a population that has long been overlooked, despite high rates of cancer and cancer-related deaths: Black women.
    • “The initiative, called VOICES of Black Women, is believed to be the first long-term population study of its size to zero in specifically on the factors driving cancer prevalence and deaths among Black women.
    • “Researchers plan to enroll 100,000 Black women without cancer, ages 25 to 55, in Washington, D.C., and 20 states where most Black American women reside. The subjects will be surveyed twice a year about their behaviors, environmental exposures and life experiences, and followed for 30 years; any cancers they may develop will be tracked.
    • “Similar studies by the American Cancer Society in the past yielded critical lessons about what causes cancer — for example, identifying cigarette smoking as a cause of lung cancer and linking red- and processed-meat consumption to increased risk of colon cancer.”
  • STAT News points out,
    • “The moment when a person stops taking their antidepressant is fraught. Not only can patients see their psychiatric symptoms return, but they can experience a wide variety of new symptoms in the days and weeks immediately following the medication change.
    • “Symptoms like nausea and headache can be manageable, and typically begin and end within days of ending the medication. But more disruptive effects like insomnia, irritability, and sensory disturbance, or even severe ones like suicidal ideation or lethargy, can lead patients to reconsider their decision to stop treatment, even when they resolve relatively rapidly.
    • “A new systematic review of studies on antidepressant discontinuation published on Tuesday in The Lancet Psychiatry provides insight into the frequency and gravity of those symptoms. The review, which included 79 studies capturing 21,000 patients, found that about 15% experienced withdrawal symptoms after weaning from antidepressants. In 2 to 3% of the cases, the symptoms were severe.
    • “The analysis “is an important and long overdue contribution to the research literature,” said Awais Aftab, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, who did not participate in the study. It confirms that withdrawal symptoms do happen with clinically relevant frequency, and should be managed with care. But it demonstrated a lower incidence than recent estimates based on online surveys, which generated public alarm when they suggested symptoms may occur in half or more of the patients.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Humana and CVS, two of the largest Medicare Advantage insurers in the country, are poised to seriously downgrade their plan benefits and geographic presence next year as they chase profits in the privately run Medicare program.”Humana and CVS, two of the largest Medicare Advantage insurers in the country, are poised to seriously downgrade their plan benefits and geographic presence next year as they chase profits in the privately run Medicare program.
    • “As a result, hundreds of thousands of Medicare Advantage seniors — and the billions in revenue they represent — could come up for grabs, representing a significant opportunity for insurers looking to take on more members despite ongoing challenges in MA.
    • “The size of the turnover depends on a number of factors. Deciding which benefits to cut versus keep is a tough calculus, and there are guardrails from the federal government limiting cutbacks, experts say.
    • “Those decisions have been made — bids were due to the CMS on Monday. However, it will be months before the industry knows how much turbulence Humana and CVS might cause in their drive to bolster profits next year, and which insurers might benefit.
    • “Of the national payers, market leader UnitedHealth may be best situated to pick up switching seniors, solidifying its dominance in MA, experts say.
    • “I think there will be a huge shakeup,” Alexis Levy, the managing director of health consultancy Chartis’ payer advisory practice, said.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues notes,
    • “Artificial intelligence has the potential to lower internal and member costs, for insurers while also increasing profits, but the industry has largely not embraced these opportunities, according to a June 5 analysis from McKinsey.”Artificial intelligence has the potential to lower internal and member costs, for insurers while also increasing profits, but the industry has largely not embraced these opportunities, according to a June 5 analysis from McKinsey.
    • “Incremental approaches will continue to yield only minor savings, as we have seen to date across most of the industry,” the analysts wrote. “To capture full value, payers must reimagine the end-to-end processes of each domain.”
    • Three key takeaways: 
      • 1. “If payers fully implemented already available generative AI and automation technologies, on average they could save 13-25% on administrative costs, 5-11% on medical costs and increase revenues by 3-12%.
      • 2. “Marketing and sales, utilization management, and IT are the divisions with the largest potential opportunities when using AI.
      • 3. “Payers that want to better use AI technology should have these six key things: a strategic plan, the right talent, a conducive operating model, technological capabilities, consumable data and the ability to ensure adoption and scale.
      • “In general, most payers are ill-equipped to pursue this opportunity,” the analysts wrote. “To do so, they have to close the gap that exists between their current capabilities and those needed to fully address the six areas outlined above.”
  • STAT News relates,
    • “Amid rising concern over prescription drug shortages, a new report finds that the number of shortages has increased over the past decade, most are lasting longer than ever before, and the problem is affecting medicines used to treat a wide range of maladies.
    • “Specifically, the average shortage lasted for more than three years in 2023 compared to about two years in 2020, and 27 of the 125 drugs in short supply were not available for more than five years. And 53% of new shortages occurred among generic sterile injectable medicines, according to the report from U.S. Pharmacopeia, an independent organization that develops standards for medicines.
    • “Meanwhile, most medicines for which shortages existed cost less than $5; nearly one-third of injectables cost less than $2; and two-thirds of solid oral medicines cost $3 or less. These low prices also translated into more product discontinuations, which rose by 40% from 2022 to 2023, and from 100 drugs to 140 during that time. This was also the highest rate of product discontinuations since 2019.
    • “A key culprit, according to U.S. Pharmacopeia, often are thin profit margins. “Economic pressures, especially the very low prices that generics manufacturers recover for many medicines, along with contracts that are frequently broken, have left our generic medicine supply chain fragile,” said Anthony Lakavage, senior vice president for global external affairs, in a statement.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • FedWeek informs us that
    • “Congress has started to craft the appropriations bills and the annual DoD authorization bill, the key measures for decisions on the upcoming year’s federal employee raise and on workplace policy changes.
    • “While it’s generally expected that none of those measures will be enacted into law before the elections — when Congress returns next week from its current recess, it will have only nine scheduled working weeks before November — the measures for the meantime will serve to stake out positions. * * *
    • “The primary bill affecting federal workplace policies, the financial services-general government measure, is set for voting next week at the subcommittee level and the following week for at the committee level.”
  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management is working to address a spike in fraudulent activity on hundreds of accounts in a flexible spending account (FSA) program for federal employees.
    • “Several hundred federal employees currently enrolled in FSAFEDS have experienced recent fraudulent activity on their accounts. Scammers have used the employees’ personal information to either create new, fraudulent FSAs, or otherwise make fraudulent reimbursement claims on existing FSAs. * * *
    • “The fraudulent activity in FSAFEDS is relatively limited in scope, since it’s affecting just a few hundred federal employees’ accounts. In total, the scammers have managed to shore up a couple hundred thousand dollars, Politico first reported last week.
    • “Since becoming aware of the fraud, HealthEquity has already taken additional security measures by implementing Login.gov requirements and setting up dual-factor authentication for federal employees to be able to log in to their FSAFEDS accounts. * * *
    • “Agency benefits officers and payroll providers are advising federal employees who use FSAFEDS to review and verify their leave, earnings, and FSA account statements. If employees notice any suspicious charges or activity, they can call FSAFEDS at 877-372-3337.”
  • The Congressional Research Service posted a Legal Sidebar titled “HHS Finalizes Rule Addressing Section 1557 of the ACA’s Incorporation of Title IX” of the Education Amendments of 1972.
  • Newfront reminds us,
    • “IRS Notice 2023-70 adjusts the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) fee to $3.22 per covered individual for health plan years ending on or after October 1, 2023 and before October 1, 2024, which includes 2023 calendar plan years. This represents a $0.22 per covered individual increase from last year’s PCORI fee (from $3.00).
    • “The annual PCORI fee must be reported and paid to the IRS by July 31, 2024, via the second quarter Form 720.”
  • The American Hospital Association News reports,
    • “A coalition of 230 national associations, including the AHA, submitted a letter the week of May 20 to the Federal Trade Commission requesting a stay on the Sept. 4 effective date of the Non-Compete Clause Final Rule to allow for judicial review.
    • “Under Section 705 of the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies ‘may postpone the effective date of action taken by it, pending judicial review’ when ‘justice so requires,'” the letter notes. “We strongly encourage you to exercise this power on the Noncompete Rule as FTC and other agencies recently have on other rulemakings.”
    • “The organizations said a lack of FTC guidance on key pieces of the rule, such as what it means to be in a policymaking position or how the FTC will apply its functional test, has created substantial uncertainty for businesses and employees nationwide. The final rule is currently being challenged in court by several parties, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A decision is expected this summer.”
  • Mercer Consulting discusses how Part D enhancements for 2025 may impact Part D creditable coverage reporting, an OPM requirement for FEHB carriers.
    • “One of the outstanding questions that was addressed by CMS guidance is what the standard Part D coverage actuarial value will be for testing creditable coverage. Helpfully, CMS guidance provided that “discounts paid by manufactures are not included in the [Part D] plan paid amount when making a determination about creditable coverage.”
    • “This helpful clarification confirmed Mercer’s original interpretation that while it may be somewhat harder for some group health plans to pass creditable coverage testing, the passing threshold is not as drastic of an increase as many initial outside reports originally suggested.
    • “In addition, CMS clarified that it will continue to permit use of its 2009 creditable coverage simplified determination methodology, without modification to the existing parameters, for 2025 for group health plan sponsors not applying for the retiree drug subsidy. CMS will re-evaluate the continued use of the existing simplified determination methodology, or establish a revised one, for 2026 in future guidance.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The National Institutes of Health lets us know,
    • “Feeding children peanut products regularly from infancy to age 5 years reduced the rate of peanut allergy in adolescence by 71%, even when the children ate or avoided peanut products as desired for many years. These new findings, from a study sponsored and co-funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), provide conclusive evidence that achieving long-term prevention of peanut allergy is possible through early allergen consumption. The results were published today in the journal NEJM Evidence.
    • “Today’s findings should reinforce parents’ and caregivers’ confidence that feeding their young children peanut products beginning in infancy according to established guidelines can provide lasting protection from peanut allergy,” said NIAID Director Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., M.P.H. “If widely implemented, this safe, simple strategy could prevent tens of thousands of cases of peanut allergy among the 3.6 million children born in the United States each year.”
    • “The new research findings come from the LEAP-Trio study, which builds on the seminal results of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) clinical trial and the subsequent LEAP-On study, both sponsored and co-funded by NIAID.”
  • The HHS OIG issued a report on the inclusiveness of NIH-funded studies.
    • “What OIG Found
      • Two-thirds of the clinical trials in our sample had inclusive enrollment plans, but one-third did not plan to include all racial and ethnic groups.
      • Slightly more than half of clinical trials in our sample were missing required information that would explain the planned target population.
      • Most completed clinical trials in our sample missed planned enrollment targets for underrepresented groups.
      • NIH monitors clinical trial enrollment but has had limited success spurring improvement.
    • W”hat OIG Recommends
      • Hold researchers accountable for clearly describing the rationale for planned study population, as required by NIH policy.
      • Develop additional ways of supporting researchers in meeting inclusion enrollment targets.
      • Promptly take steps to align NIH’s demographic data collection and reporting with the revised OMB requirements and obtain more precise clinical trial inclusion enrollment data.
    • “NIH concurred with the three recommendations.”
  • STAT News reports “Heat waves associated with increased risk of preterm birth in the U.S.”
    • “A new investigation, published on Friday in JAMA Network Open, confirmed the link to early deliveries at a massive scale, in a large cohort study capturing over half of the births that occurred in the United States between 1993 and 2017. Its results shed light on the way existing health inequities may be exacerbated by a worsening climate.
    • “The study looked at more than 53 million singleton births that occurred in the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. during the hottest months of the year. Looking back at heat waves between May and September, researchers counted preterm births (between 28 to 37 weeks of gestation) and early births (between 37 and 39 weeks) within four to seven days of the spike. During that period, there were 2.15 million preterm births, and 5.8 million early births.
    • “After a heat wave, which the study defined as four consecutive days in which the mean temperature was higher than the local 97.5th percentile, preterm births increased by 2%, and early births by 1%. But the distribution of these adverse outcomes was uneven: Mothers who were 29 or younger, had a lower level of education, and belonged to a minority ethnic or racial group saw a 4% increase in preterm births, and a 3% increase in early deliveries.”
  • Medscape seeks to untangle the complex relationship between obesity and cancer.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Merck & Co. is close to a $1.3 billion deal to buy Eyebiotech, a move that would push the big drugmaker into the large and growing market for eye-care. “Merck & Co. is close to a $1.3 billion deal to buy Eyebiotech, a move that would push the big drugmaker into the large and growing market for eye-care. 
    • “Under the terms, Merck would pay the $1.3 billion in cash upfront to acquire the closely held biotech, according to people familiar with the matter. Merck could make an additional $1.7 billion in milestone payments for the company, which goes by the name EyeBio.
    • “The deal could be announced as early as Wednesday, the people said. Merck’s venture arm was an investor in EyeBio. 
    • “EyeBio’s lead drug, Restoret, is in development to treat eye conditions including a form of age-related macular degeneration that leads to blurred vision and potentially blindness. In older people with the disease, known as Wet AMD, a part of the retina wears down, and fluid leaks from blood vessels.” 
  • and
    • “Cancer Is Capsizing Americans’ Finances. ‘I Was Losing Everything.’
    • “Higher drug prices, rising out-of-pocket costs and reduced incomes create economic strain for many patients.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Johnson & Johnson is adding to its portfolio of dual-targeting antibody drugs, announcing on Tuesday a deal to acquire an experimental skin disease medicine for $1.25 billion.
    • “Per deal terms, J&J will buy Yellow Jersey Therapeutics, a spinout newly created by the drug’s developer, Swiss biotechnology startup Numab Therapeutics. The acquisition hands J&J a drug known as NM26 that’s ready for Phase 2 testing in atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema.
    • “In a statement, J&J said NM26 has the potential to offer “distinctive benefits” versus existing treatments for atopic dermatitis, which include Sanofi and Regeneron’s Dupixent and AbbVie’s Rinvoq. The drug targets two proteins, IL-4Ra and IL-31, that are linked to inflammatory diseases.”
  • STAT News relates,
    • “An experimental drug from Insmed Incorporated successfully reduced lung problems among patients with an airway disease in a closely watched Phase 3 trial, sending the company’s share price soaring early Tuesday. 
    • “The drug, brensocatib, reduced so-called pulmonary exacerbations by roughly 20% versus placebo in patients with bronchiectasis, hitting the trial’s primary endpoint. The trial, called the ASPEN study, tested two dosages of the drug, and the company said both significantly cut rates of pulmonary exacerbations.” 
  • Beckers Hospital Review notes,
    • “Novo Nordisk is contesting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ calls to reduce the list prices of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., Bloomberg reports.  
    • “In late April, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, chaired by Mr. Sanders, launched an investigation into Novo Nordisk’s list pricing for GLP-1 drugs. This followed research showing that Ozempic could be manufactured for less than $5 per month, significantly lower than the U.S. list price of nearly $1,000 for a monthly supply.
    • “Mr. Sanders requested information from Denmark-based Novo Nordisk by May 8, but the drugmaker requested an extension to submit its responses. 
    • “In a letter issued to Mr. Sanders May 24, Novo Nordisk said it is prepared to work with lawmakers to address “systemic issues so that everyone who can benefit from its medicines is able to get them,” but argued that focus on its list prices for the drugs is misplaced since it retains about 60% of the list price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S. after rebates and fees are paid to middlemen, Bloomberg reports. 
    • “Novo Nordisk also said that focusing on the cost disparity is unfair because the development of the GLP-1 drugs required billions in upfront investment. The drugmaker said it spent over $10 billion to develop the GLP-1 medicines and that, “under current market conditions, the company expects that net prices will continue to decline for both Ozempic and Wegovy,” Bloomberg reports.”
  • and
    • “Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center recently awarded a team of researchers $300,000 to aid them in a “first-of-its-kind” drug supply chain dashboard. 
    • “On May 21, the Washington, D.C.-based college announced $15 million in funding for 40 projects. One of the winning projects is “The Johns Hopkins Drug Supply Chain Data Dashboard: Improving Data Transparency and Increasing Resiliency in the U.S. Pharmaceutical Supply Chain.”
    • “The dashboard “will provide timely insights to tackle drug shortages and supply chain disruptions,” according to Tinglong Dai, PhD, a Johns Hopkins professor of operations management and business analytics who is part of the research team.”
  • HR Dive points out that the recent Fair Labor Standards Act overtime rule changes effective on July 1, 2024. HR Dive shares some its articles about this rule.

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s proposed supplemental Postal Service Health Benefits Program (PSHBP) rule appears in todays’ Federal Register. The public comment deadline is June 24.
  • The proposed rule includes a requirement that PSHBP annuitants eligible for Medicare Parts A or B must participate in their PSHB plans’ Medicare Part D EGWP. Those who opt out will not be eligible for their PSHB plans’ regular prescription drug benefits. Here is a link to the proposed rule’s preamble where OPM lays out it thought process.
  • Healthcare Dive tells us,
    • “The House Budget Committee met Thursday to discuss the impact of healthcare mergers and acquisitions on cost, quality and access and arrived at a bipartisan consensus: Something needs to be done to halt the rampant pace of consolidation before it inflates medical costs further.
    • “What, exactly, remains unclear, though lawmakers and witnesses during the hearing expressed support for standardizing Medicare payments between hospital-owned outpatient sites and independent physician offices for the same services.
    • “Such site-neutral policies are “very bipartisan,” testified Sophia Tripoli, the senior director of health policy at patient advocacy group Families USA. “It is a no brainer.”
    • “Congress has been increasingly interested in tamping down on healthcare consolidation amid a mountain of evidence it increases costswithout a corresponding increase in care quality, harming Americans’ ability to access and afford medical care. After a merger, hospitals can jack up their prices anywhere from 3% to 65%, according to a Rand review from 2022.
    • “We just can’t afford to have this continued increase in prices,” said Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kan., during the hearing.”
  • BioPharma Dive lets us know,
    • “A top Food and Drug Administration official on Friday again advocated for the speedy approval of gene therapies for rare diseases. But he didn’t drop any clues on where the agency stands on a coming decision to possibly broaden use of one of them, a Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment the regulator cleared last year.
    • “At a meeting hosted by the patient advocacy group CureDuchenne, Peter Marks, head of the FDA office that reviews gene therapies, said the agency’s thinking has changed in recent years to become more patient focused. That mindset has led it to more aggressively look for ways to speed the development of rare disease gene therapies.
    • “Although we’re a regulatory agency,” he said, the regulations “have to ultimately serve getting products to patients. So we’re trying to focus on the patient, and use that to negotiate the regulations to get there as rapidly as possible.”
    • “Those comments build on points Marks has made before. Last year, at a meeting held by a different advocacy group, he advocated for flexibility in reviewing rare disease gene therapies while fighting off criticism about accelerated approvals, which allow drugmakers to bring therapies to market based on interim measures of benefit. On Friday, he again threw support behind speedy clearances, noting that they are a “very important” tool in bringing forward rare disease treatments.”
  • Tammy Flanagan writes in Govexec about “What is the retirement age for federal employees?”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control informs us today,
    • “The amount of respiratory illness (fever plus cough or sore throat) causing people to seek healthcare remains low nationally.
    • “Nationally, emergency department visits with diagnosed COVID-19, influenza, and RSV are at low levels.
    • “Nationally, COVID-19, influenza, and RSV test positivity remained stable at low levels compared to the previous week.
    • “Nationally, the COVID-19 wastewater viral activity level, which reflects both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, is minimal.”
  • STAT News reports
    • “Stroke prevalence has been climbing over the past decade, reversing a steady decline among all Americans while rising the most among adults under 65, a new CDC analysis reports.
    • “Strokes still strike more adults older than 65, but the increase at younger ages mirrors another recent turnaround: rates of heart failure deaths, which had been dipping, are rising the most in adults under 45.
    • “The rising prevalence comes even though medicines to tamp down such risk factors as hypertension and high cholesterol, as well as technologies to treat strokes, are much more available in wealthier countries like the U.S. than elsewhere around the world.
    • “Stroke rates in the United States had fallen by 3.7% during a five-year stretch ending in 2010, but they headed back up by 7.8% through 2022. The increase was nearly double — 15% — for adults younger than 65. Thursday’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report broke it down further to a jump of 14.6% among adults age 18 to 44 and 15.7% among those age 45 to 64.”
  • and
    • “Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic cut the risk of death in a trial of patients with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease, suggesting it may offer some added benefits over other classes of drugs approved to treat this population.
    • “Specifically, the diabetes drug cut the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths by 29% and all-cause deaths by 20%. Given the study parameters, this implies that over three years, 39 people would need to be treated to prevent one death from any cause, according to new results presented Friday at a meeting of the European Renal Association and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    • “Ozempic also lowered the risk of major heart complications — including cardiovascular-related death, heart attack, or stroke — by 18%, driven primarily by the reduced rate of heart-linked death.
    • “The full results of this trial, called FLOW, affirm the primary result reported earlier this year that Ozempic reduced the risk of major kidney events — including kidney failure, reduction in kidney function, or death from kidney or heart causes — by 24%.”
  • The New York Times relates,
    • “Colorectal cancer rates are rapidly rising among adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and the most common warning sign for the disease is passing blood in the stool, according to a new scientific review.
    • “Rectal bleeding is associated with a fivefold increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to the new analysis, which looked at 81 studies that included nearly 25 million adults under 50 from around the world.
    • “Abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits and anemia are other common warning signs of the disease and should not be ignored, said the researchers, who published the paper on Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Eli Lilly plans to spend another $5.3 billion building production capacity for its popular obesity and diabetes drugs, responding to immense demand for the medicines with what it claims is now the largest investment of its kind in U.S. history.
    • “The commitment announced by Lilly Friday adds to $3.7 billion the drugmaker already planned to invest in a manufacturing site it’s constructing in Lebanon, Indiana, some 30 miles from its corporate headquarters in Indianapolis.
    • “The site will help Lilly make the active drug ingredient tirzepatide, which is in its weight loss shot Zepbound and diabetes treatment Mounjaro. Despite pressing hard to expand manufacturing capacity, Lilly has so far had trouble keeping the drugs in steady supply. Certain dose strengths of both products are currently listed as in shortage by the Food and Drug Administration, with limited availability at least through the end of June.”
  • Beckers Behavioral Health points out,
    • “UnitedHealth Group’s Optum has acquired Plymouth, Minn.-based CARE Counseling, the Star Tribune reported May 23. 
    • CARE Counseling has 10 locations in the Minneapolis area, and employs over 200 clinicians. 
    • “Expanding and diversifying our behavioral health care delivery capabilities through this combination will build on a strong foundation of patient-centered, high-quality and affordable care in an environment that supports and enables the talented clinicians delivering these critical services,” UnitedHealth Group told the Star Tribune. “We look forward to working with CARE Counseling to build on their deep roots in the community.”
  • Reuters reports,
    • “CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), opens new tab has been seeking a private equity partner to fund growth at Oak Street Health, a primary care provider it bought a year ago, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.
    • “The company has been working with financial advisers to help find capital to back new clinics that will be opened by Oak Street, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.
    • “The deliberations are in a preliminary stage and the structure could change, while there is no guarantee a deal will be reached, according to the report.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call reports,
    • “The House overwhelmingly voted to table Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s attempt to oust Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday night, with nearly all Republicans and most Democrats coming to Johnson’s rescue.
    • “The final tally was 359-43, with 11 Republicans and 32 Democrats voting against the motion to table Greene’s resolution. Seven Democrats voted “present.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management tells us,
    • “The annual limit on HSA contributions for self-only coverage in 2025 will be $4,300, a 3.6 percent increase from the $4,150 limit in 2024, the IRS announced May 9. For family coverage, the HSA contribution limit will jump to $8,550, up 3 percent from $8,300 in 2024.
    • “The jump in the contribution limits is significantly less than the roughly 7 percent increase seen from 2023 to 2024.
    • “The IRS did not yet release the 2025 catch-up contribution for savers age 55 and older. It currently stands at $1,000 for 2024, unchanged from 2023.
    • “Meanwhile, for 2025, a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) must have a deductible of at least $1,650 for self-only coverage, up from $1,600 in 2024, or $3,300 for family coverage, up from $3,200, the IRS noted. Annual out-of-pocket expense maximums (deductibles, co-payments and other amounts, but not premiums) cannot exceed $8,300 for self-only coverage in 2025, up from $8,050 in 2024, or $16,600 for family coverage, up from $16,100.
    • “The IRS also announced that the excepted-benefit HRA limit will be $2,150 in 2025, up from $2,100.”
  • Here’s a link to the IRS announcement.
  • Fierce Healthcare points out,
    • “The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday it has established a new task force to take on healthcare monopolies and collusion.
    • “The task force, called HCMC for short, will guide the division’s enforcement strategy and policy approach in healthcare, including by facilitating policy advocacy, investigations and, where warranted, civil and criminal enforcement in healthcare markets, the agency said in a press release.”
  • Govexec lets us know,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management continued to make gains in its backlog of federal employees’ pending retirement applications, though progress has begun to slow.
    • “The federal government’s dedicated HR agency processed 7,647 claims in April. That marks a sharp decrease from the 10,711 claims handled in March but remains above the 6,901 new claims OPM received last month.
    • “Overall, the backlog of pending claims ticked down to 16,077 by the end of April, a decrease of roughly 750 from March’s backlog of 16,823. The federal government’s retirement backlog has fallen 23% since January, but remains short of OPM’s “steady state” goal of 13,000 pending claims.”
  • Fedweek explains the circumstances under which an FEHB enrollee can make coverage changes outside of Open Season. Meanwhile, Reg Jones wraps up his series on FEGLI coverage.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • “U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, releasedwhite paper detailing proposals to improve the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Last year, Cassidy requested feedback from stakeholders on policies Congress could consider to modernize NIH.  * * * Read the full white paper here.  
  • The NIH Director in her blog lets us know,
    • Precision oncology, in which doctors choose cancer treatment options based on the underlying molecular or genetic signature of individual tumors, has come a long way. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a growing number of tests that look for specific genetic changes that drive cancer growth to match patients to targeted treatments. The NCI-MATCH trial, supported by the National Cancer Institute, in which participants with advanced or rare cancer had their tumors sequenced in search of genetic changes that matched them to a treatment, has also suggested benefits for guiding treatment through genetic sequencing. But there remains a need to better predict treatment responses for people with cancer.
    • “A promising approach is to analyze a tumor’s RNA in addition to its DNA. The idea is to not only better understand underlying genetic changes, but also learn how those changes impact gene activity as measured by RNA sequencing data. A recent study introduces an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tool, dubbed PERCEPTION (PERsonalized single-Cell Expression-based Planning for Treatments In ONcology), developed by an NIH-led team to do just this.1 This proof-of-concept study, published in Nature Cancer, shows that it’s possible to fine-tune predictions of a patient’s treatment responses from bulk RNA data by zeroing in on what’s happening inside single cells.”
  • NIH announced,
    • “Starting people with opioid use disorder on extended-release, injectable naltrexone (XR-naltrexone) within five to seven days of seeking treatment is more effective than the standard treatment method of starting within 10-15 days, but requires closer medical supervision, according to results from a clinical trial(link is external) supported by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Published in JAMA Network Open, the findings suggest that this rapid treatment protocol could make XR-naltrexone more viable as a treatment option for opioid use disorder, which continues to take lives at an alarming rate.
    • “When someone is ready to seek treatment for opioid use disorder, it is crucial that they receive it as quickly as possible,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., NIDA director. “This study paves the way for more timely care with one of the three medications for opioid use disorder we have available, better supporting people in their ability to choose the treatment option that will work best for them.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Health Task Force made available for public comment a draft research plan about the “Early Introduction of Allergens to Prevent Food Allergies in Infants: Counseling.” The comment period ends on June 5, 2024.
  • The Institutes for Clinical and Economic Review
    • releasedDraft Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of imetelstat (Geron Corporation) for the treatment of anemia in myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
    • “This preliminary draft marks the midpoint of ICER’s eight-month process of assessing this treatment, and the findings within this document should not be interpreted to be ICER’s final conclusions.
    • The comment deadline is June 10, 2024.
  • The Wall Street Journal explores the quest for treatments to keep weight off after taking blockbuster drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy. Reading the article makes the FEHBlog think that that the drug manufacturers put the cart before the horse.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Some 23% of what patients owe is collected by hospitals before treatment, according to an analysis of first-quarter data this year from 1,850 hospitals by Kodiak Solutions, a healthcare consulting and software company. For the same period in 2022, the figure was 20%.
    • “They are seeking advance payment for nonemergencies, they say, because chasing unpaid bills is challenging and costly. Roughly half the debt hospitals wrote off last year was owed by patients with insurance, the Kodiak analysis found.
    • “We need those patients who are able to pay to do so,” said Leslie Taylor, a spokeswoman for University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, which owns one general hospital in Arkansas and will—after discussing with doctors—reschedule some procedures until patients can pay.
    • “For patients, the hospitals say, knowing the cost ahead of service gives them the opportunity to comparison-shop and avoid getting walloped with a huge bill unexpectedly. * * *
    • “Still, finding money for treatment is a challenge for many American households. Half of adults say they can’t afford to spend more than $500 on medical care should they be suddenly sick or injured, a survey by health policy nonprofit KFF found. They would need to borrow. 
    • “In addition, determining how much a patient will owe can be tricky. How much each patient pays depends on their health plan, its deductible or other out-of-pocket costs and the prices the plan negotiated with a hospital to pay.” 
  • Fierce Healthcare relates that doctors are trying to add a CPT code for prior authorization which would give them health plan reimbursement for this administrative services.
  • MedTech Dive alerts us that “Surgical robots are ‘gift that will keep on giving,’ ortho firms say. Stryker, Zimmer and Globus reported double-digit sales growth in their robot segments and outlined plans for new products.”
    • “Orthopedics companies posted record robot sales in the first quarter, even as they plan new product launches in the second half of 2024.
    • “Stryker reported record installations of its Mako surgical robot in the first quarter, although it didn’t share an exact number. Jason Beach, Stryker’s vice president of finance and investor relations, said the company has seen “really good results” from direct-to-consumer ads promoting the surgical robot to people who might consider a hip or knee replacement.” 
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “AstraZeneca will no longer manufacture or supply its COVID-19 vaccine Vaxzevria, announcing Tuesday it is voluntarily withdrawing the shot due to a “decline in demand,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to BioPharma Dive. 
    • “Prior to the announcement, the company had already taken steps to pull Vaxzevria from the market in Europe. It submitted a withdrawal request there in March which took effect on May 7. 
    • “The decision to withdraw the vaccine comes just after the company reported plummeting yearly sales for Vaxzevria, and reportedly admitted in court documents that the shot can cause a rare side effect that leads to a combination of blood clots and low platelet levels. AstraZeneca didn’t mention safety concerns as a reason for the vaccine’s withdrawal, however.”