Tuesday Tidbits

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Federal News Network lets us know,
    • “Enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program just began seeing better coverage of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) for the first time this year. But some members of Congress are looking to take things a step further.
    • “More than 175 House and Senate Democrats are urging the Office of Personnel Management to require every FEHB carrier to expand their offerings and cover costs for both infertility treatments and medications, starting in plan year 2025.
    • “That requirement “would reflect the reality that IVF is one of the most effective treatments for families struggling with infertility, and growing in popularity, with its usage nearly doubling from 2012 to 2021,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), wrote in a letter to OPM Tuesday.”
  • The Congressional letter does not reflect the fact that at least one option of many large FEHB plans do cover IVF treatments and likely more plans will offer that coverage for 2025 due to competition because growing families are good FEHB customers.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services released the 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (National Strategy) and accompanying Federal Action Plan. * * * To learn more about the 2024 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and Federal Action Plan, visit www.hhs.gov/nssp.”
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced,
    • “a new initiative aimed to help reimagine the home environment as an integral part of the health care system. The Home as a Health Care Hub is intended to enable solutions that seamlessly integrate medical devices and health care, prevention and wellness into people’s lives and may: 
      • “Help medical device developers consider novel design approaches. 
      • “Aid providers to consider opportunities to extend care options and educate patients.
      • “Generate discussions on value-based care paradigms.
      • “Open opportunities to bring clinical trials and other evidence generation processes to underrepresented communities.”
  • The American Hospital Association News tells us,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission April 23 voted 3-2 to issue a final rule that would ban as an unfair method of competition contractual terms that prohibit workers from pursuing certain employment after their contract with an employer ends. The final rule does not apply to existing agreements with executives earning more than $151,164 annually who are in policymaking positions. In addition, although the Commission recognized that it does not have jurisdiction over not-for-profit entities, it reserved the right to evaluate an entity’s non-profit status and noted that some “entities that claim tax-exempt nonprofit status may in fact fall under the Commission’s jurisdiction.” Specifically, it stated that “some portion of the 58% of hospitals that claim tax-exempt status as nonprofits and the 19% of hospitals that are identified as State or local government hospitals in the data cited by AHA likely fall under the Commission’s jurisdiction and the final rule’s purview.”
    • “The rule takes effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register and includes model language that employers can use to communicate to workers.  The United States Chamber of Commerce has already indicated that it will file suit to challenge the final rule.”
  • Healthcare Dive adds
  • HR Dive notes,
    • “The U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday it will publish a final rule raising the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum annual salary threshold for overtime pay eligibility in a two-step process. Starting July 1, the threshold will increase from $35,568 to $43,888 per year. It will then increase to $58,656 on Jan. 1, 2025.
    • “The changes will expand overtime pay eligibility to millions of U.S. workers, the agency said. DOL’s 2025 threshold represents a jump of about 65% from the Trump administration’s 2019 rule and is slightly higher than the $55,068 mark that DOL proposed in 2023.
    • “The threshold will automatically update every three years using current wage data — which would next occur on July 1, 2027 —  but DOL said in the proposed rule that updates may be temporarily delayed if the department chooses to engage in rulemaking to change its methodology or update mechanism.”
  • Per FedWeek,
    • “The inspector general’s office at OPM has posted a warning against calling a phone number once associated with the agency’s Employee Express FEHB enrollment site (888-353-9450), saying the number “is currently in use by fraudsters/bad actors who have practiced financial exploitation tactics.”
    • “This phone number was provided on U.S. Department of State human resources notices to employees and Foreign Service retirees. It may also be or have been provided on other participating federal agencies’ human resources or information. This customer service phone number is no longer in use by OPM or the federal government,” it says.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports, “Removing ovaries with a hysterectomy might increase risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia.”
    • “A removal of the ovaries before menopause and before age 46 years may cause an acceleration of the aging processes across many organs, for example, the brain, and many tissues of the body, for example, the bones,” says Dr. Walter Rocca, who is a professor of epidemiology and neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and has written studies on the topic. * * *
    • “Rocca was co-author of a 2021 Jama Network Open study that found that women under 46 who removed both of their ovaries with or without a hysterectomy had an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment and performed worse on cognitive tests 30 years later compared with women who didn’t undergo the procedure.
    • Another study Rocca co-wrote found that women who had ovaries removed before age 50 faced higher risks for several conditions years later, including heart disease and osteoporosis.
    • Other studies have linked the procedures to an increased risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease and accelerated aging.
    • “Sometimes, patients push to have their ovaries out at a younger age to help with symptoms such as pelvic pain or to avoid a subsequent surgery, says Dr. Daniel Breitkopf, chair of OB-GYN at Mayo Clinic and a member of ACOG’s board of directors. He usually advises waiting.
    • “I would rather do an oophorectomy five or 10 years later so then we have five to 10 years of benefit of those ovaries on your health,” he says.” 
  • The Washington Post informs us,
    • “Viral fragments of bird flu have been identified in samples of milk taken from grocery store shelves in the United States, a finding that does not necessarily suggest a threat to human health but indicates the avian flu virus is more widespread among dairy herds than previously thought, according to two public health officials and a public health expert who was briefed on the issue.
    • “The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it had been testing milk samples throughout the dairy production process and confirmed the detection of viral particles “in some of the samples,” but it declined to provide details.
    • “The presence of genetic fragments of the virus in milk is not unexpected. Pasteurization typically works to inactivate pathogens, said Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health. It generally does not remove genetic material, Nuzzo said, but typically renders pathogens unable to cause harm to people.”
    • “The greater concern, however, “is that it’s showing up in a lot more samples, meaning the infection is more widespread in dairy herds than we thought,” said one public health official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share information not yet made public.”
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “Day One Biopharmaceuticals said Tuesday the Food and Drug Administration gave accelerated approval to its targeted pill for one of the most common forms of childhood brain tumors, pediatric low-grade glioma.
    • “The weekly pill, previously known as tovorafenib, will be marketed as Ojemda. These tumors generally regress when patients become adults, but toxic treatments are often needed to keep them at bay until then. The hope is that Ojemda can spare some children from, for example, radiation, which can devastate tumors but also healthy tissue throughout the brain and bring lifelong consequences.  * * *
    • “Day One plans to release a price Wednesday morning. 
    • “The authorization is particularly notable because industry has historically developed few drugs for children with cancer, instead focusing on adults, where there is a larger market.” 
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Neurocrine Biosciences, a drugmaker focused on the brain and nervous system, said Tuesday that one of its experimental medicines succeeded in a clinical trial evaluating it as a treatment for major depression.
    • “The medicine hit the Phase 2 trial’s main goal as well as “key secondary endpoints,” according to Neurocrine, which plans to meet with the Food and Drug Administration to discuss a path to late-stage testing. If positive results continue to pile up, the medicine could become the first of its kind to secure an approval.
    • “Eiry Roberts, Neurocrine’s chief medical officer, called the newly released data “very encouraging” and reflective of the medicine’s potential to alleviate many of the symptoms associated with major depressive disorder.”
  • HealthDay relates,
    • “The dangerous heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation is becoming more common in middle-aged people, a new study warns.
    • “More than a quarter of patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) seeking care for A-Fib during the last decade were younger than 65, researchers found.
    • “That’s much higher than the 2% prevalence of A-Fib commonly estimated among non-seniors, researchers said.
    • “Common knowledge among cardiologists is that, in people under 65, A-Fib is extremely uncommon and not detrimental. But there really hasn’t been any data to back that up,” said lead researcher Dr. Aditya Bhonsale, a UPMC cardiac electrophysiologist.
    • “The study also found that younger patients with A-Fib were more likely to die or to be hospitalized for heart failure, stroke or heart attack.”
  • Medscape discusses four recently FDA approved therapies that “are likely to be particularly important for primary care clinicians.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Health Payer Intelligence reports,
    • “Provider markups on specialty drugs increased 2024 commercial health insurance premiums by $13.1 billion, according to research from Oliver Wyman commissioned by AHIP.
    • “Provider-administered drugs can be delivered directly to providers from a specialty pharmacy—known as white bagging—or providers can purchase the drugs from the manufacturer or distributor and store the drug until the patient needs it, also called buy and bill.
    • “In the buy-and-bill method, hospitals and physicians can add a markup to the drug, which patients are responsible for paying. Delivering drugs through white bagging is generally more affordable for patients and payers because pharmacies do not add markup charges.
  • mHealth Intelligence relates, “Though telehealth utilization resulted in improvements in some healthcare utilization and quality measures, it was also linked to a 1.6 percent increase in healthcare spending, according to new research published in Health Affairs.”
  • STAT News adds,
    • “In the early days of the pandemic, as social distancing forced patients out of doctors’ offices, health care organizations scrambled to offer care online. In turn, health care accreditation organizations rushed to tweak their standards, filling a void in best practices for virtual visits.
    • “But as telehealth has matured, accreditation bodies — typically nonprofits that offer a seal of approval to organizations that pass their audits — are trying to address the nuance of digital care head-on. Today, the Joint Commission announced a new telehealth accreditation that will launch on July 1. Later that month, the National Committee for Quality Assurance plans to release its own virtual care standards, with applications for a new accreditation opening in November.”
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) announced,
    • ICER and NEWDIGS at Tufts Medical Center “have collaborated to publish a new white paper today that provides clear policy and market solutions to help manage the challenges of paying for gene therapies. The paper, entitled, “Managing the Challenges of Paying for Gene Therapy: Strategies for Market Action and Policy Reform,” was developed with input from a diverse set of patient advocacy groups, payer organizations, large and small biopharmaceutical manufacturers, providers, and others.”
    • “The specific policy reforms and market-based tools ICER and NEWDIGS identify in the paper are intended to help the US health system address these challenges to achieve more equitable and affordable access for patients to the growing number of gene therapies expected to be approved in the coming years. Options such as value-based pricing, value-based outcomes contracts, warranties, subscription insurance models, installment payment arrangements, and a federal carve-out benefit program are explored. For each option, the white paper analyzes the relative advantages and potential unintended consequences, along with suggestions for implementation, and an exploration of unique opportunities for combination or layered approaches.
    • “Gene therapies have the possibility to transform thousands of lives, but only if we ensure sustainable access to them for all patients,” said Sarah K. Emond, MPP, President and CEO of ICER. “It is incumbent upon the entire health care system to focus on innovative payment solutions that can address the challenges of paying for high-cost, one-time treatments. This paper should help stakeholders understand the menu of options available to move beyond responding to the high costs with reduced access, while meaningfully addressing the concerns around clinical uncertainty and budget impact.”
    • “Each condition, therapy and payer is unique, so a single solution cannot satisfy all situations,” said Mark Trusheim, Strategic Director of NEWDIGS. “With a menu of options which can be combined in a single contract or assembled from existing market offerings, each community can construct the most effective approach to ensuring appropriate patient access in their area.”
  • Reuters reports,
    • “Eli Lilly (LLY.N), said on Monday that it will acquire a manufacturing facility from Nexus Pharmaceuticals to produce injectable medicines.
    • “Lilly expects production at the facility based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, to begin at the end of 2025.”
    • “Soaring demand for GLP-1 agonists, a class of highly effective diabetes and obesity drugs which suppress appetite and promote a feeling of fullness, has led to constrained supply for drugmakers such as Lilly and Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues lets us know,
    • “A merger between Humana and Cigna could still be in the cards according to one analyst, Bloomberg reported April 22. 
    • “The math now works for a [Cigna and Humana] fusion,” Jeffries analyst David Windley wrote April 22. Since the two companies abandoned a proposed merger in December, Cigna’s stock prices have risen by 37% and Humana is down 31%, according to Bloomberg. 
    • “Cigna could strike a deal to acquire Humana for around $420 per share, Mr. Windley wrote in a note to clients. An acquisition would add to Cigna’s growth if it does not pay more than $470 per share for the company, according to Jeffries.” 
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “About a week ago, cybersecurity experts identified posts from the criminal group RansomHub that suggested the data from the Change Healthcare hack was up for sale.
    • “Those listings have since been pulled, according to a twitter post from Brett Callow, a threat analyst at Emsisoft. It’s unclear at present what led the group to suspend the sale, as they were seeking an additional ransomware payout from Change’s parent company UnitedHealth Group.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Providers and drugmakers are once again at odds over the 340B drug discount program: this time, over a rule finalized by the Biden administration on Thursday making changes to its dispute resolution process.
    • “The final rule, which will become effective in mid-June, is meant to make dispute resolution more accessible and efficient, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, or HRSA, the agency that oversees 340B. Along with lowering barriers to enter the process, the rule requires parties to make a good faith effort to resolve disputes before bringing them to arbiters and creates an appeals process if either party doesn’t like the result.
    • “Provider groups the American Hospital Association and 340B Health said the rule should streamline the arbitration process and preserve the integrity of the controversial program. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical lobby PhRMA said the new process “panders to 340B hospitals” while ignoring drugmakers’ concerns.”
  • KFF lets us know,
    • Federal data from 2019 shows just 4% of potentially eligible enrollees participated in the program, a figure that appears to have held steady through 2023, according to a Mathematica analysis. About 12,000 physicians billed Medicare under the CCM mantle in 2021, according to the latest Medicare data analyzed by KFF Health News. (The Medicare data includes doctors who have annually billed CCM at least a dozen times.)
    • “By comparison, federal data shows about 1 million providers participate in Medicare.
    • Even as the strategy has largely failed to live up to its potential, thousands of physicians have boosted their annual pay by participating, and auxiliary for-profit businesses have sprung up to help doctors take advantage of the program. The federal data showed about 4,500 physicians received at least $100,000 each in CCM pay in 2021. * * *
    • “This program had potential to have a big impact,” said Kenneth Thorpe, an Emory University health policy expert on chronic diseases. “But I knew it was never going to work from the start because it was put together wrong.”
    • “He said most doctors’ offices are not set up for monitoring patients at home. “This is very time-intensive and not something physicians are used to doing or have time to do,” Thorpe said.”
  • Reg Jones offers “A Refresher Course on FEGLI Life Insurance” in FedWeek.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control reports today,
    • “The amount of respiratory illness (fever plus cough or sore throat) causing people to seek healthcare continues to decrease across most areas of the country. This week, 2 jurisdictions experienced high activity compared to 1 jurisdiction experiencing high activity the previous week. No jurisdictions experienced very high activity. 
    • “Nationally, emergency department visits with diagnosed influenza are decreasing. Emergency department visits with COVID-19 and RSV remain stable at low levels.  
    • “Nationally, COVID-19, influenza, and RSV test positivity decreased compared to the previous week. 
    • “Nationally, the COVID-19 wastewater viral activity level, which reflects both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections, remains low.” 
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Despite Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approval of seven next-generation antibiotics to fight infections caused by resistant “gram-negative” bacteria, clinicians frequently continue to treat antibiotic-resistant infections with older generic antibiotics considered to be less effective and less safe, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Clinical Center. Researchers examined the factors influencing doctors’ preference for newer antibiotics over traditional generic agents to shed light on the decision-making processes among clinicians when treating patients with challenging bloodstream infections caused by gram-negative bacteria and significant comorbidities.
    • “The study revealed that at a considerable proportion of hospitals, particularly smaller facilities located in rural areas, staff were reluctant to adopt newer antibiotics. Researchers identified a large cost disparity between older and newer classes of antibiotics; the newer drugs can cost approximately six times more than the older medications, which could disincentivize prescribing.
    • “Researchers also highlight that next-gen agents are prescribed more often at hospitals where lab results that show the medications are effective against a patient’s bacterial infection are reported to prescribers. Scientists suggest that earlier and more widespread availability of such lab testing might improve use. Additionally, authors recommend that future public health policies and economic strategies on further development and use of similar antibiotics should be designed to identify and overcome additional barriers.
    • “Gram-negative bacteria are a class of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs and increasingly resistant to most antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are able to find new paths of resistant and pass along genetic material that enables other bacteria to become drug resistant.”
  • The American Hospital Association News adds,
    • “In clinical trials involving 220,000 patients at 59 HCA Healthcare hospitals, algorithm-driven computerized alerts helped clinicians better identify the appropriate antibiotic for 28% of patients with pneumonia and 17% of patients with urinary tract infections, according to studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published April 19 in JAMA. To reduce antibiotic resistance, physicians treating patients with a low risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria were prompted to give standard-spectrum antibiotics.”In clinical trials involving 220,000 patients at 59 HCA Healthcare hospitals, algorithm-driven computerized alerts helped clinicians better identify the appropriate antibiotic for 28% of patients with pneumonia and 17% of patients with urinary tract infections, according to studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published April 19 in JAMA. To reduce antibiotic resistance, physicians treating patients with a low risk for antibiotic-resistant bacteria were prompted to give standard-spectrum antibiotics.
    • “Pneumonia and urinary tract infections are two of the most common infections requiring hospitalization and a major reason for overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics,” said Sujan Reddy, M.D., medical officer in CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “The INSPIRE trials have found a highly effective way to help physicians follow treatment recommendations to optimize antibiotic selection for each patient. These trials show the value of harnessing electronic health data to improve best practice.”
  • Health IT Analytics tells us,
    • “Artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tools can improve the skin cancer diagnostic accuracy of clinicians, nurse practitioners and medical students, according to a study published last week in npj Digital Medicine.
    • “The researchers underscored that AI-based skin cancer diagnostic tools are developing rapidly, and these tools are likely to be deployed in clinical settings upon appropriate testing and successful validation.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Alvotech and U.S. commercial partner Teva have signed a “long-term agreement” with an unspecified company to boost access to their biosimilar version of AbbVie’s blockbuster drug Humira, Alvotech said Friday. An Alvotech spokesperson declined to provide specifics.
    • “The deal comes seven weeks after the Food and Drug Administration approved Alvotech’s biosimilar, Simlandi, which the agency previously rejected multiple times. For patients to receive treatment, Alvotech and Teva must first cut deals with drug wholesalers, pharmacies and insurers that negotiate prices before agreeing to cover the therapy.
    • “CVS Health, whose pharmacy benefit manager is the country’s largest by prescription claims, removed Humira from its national formularyon April 1. Wall Street analysts have already reported substantial declines in Humira prescriptions over the last few weeks, when compared to the same period in 2023.”
  • According to Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Change Healthcare has reinstated 80% of the functionality for its claims, payment and pharmacy services following a February ransomware attack, the company said.
    • “Those three areas represent most of Change Healthcare’s customers and continue to be restored, according to an April 16 earnings call from parent company UnitedHealth Group.
    • “Now we’ve still got work to do,” said Roger Connor, CEO of OptumInsight, the UnitedHealth unit that includes Change, during the call. “We’ve got another set of products coming online … in the coming weeks, but pleased with that progress.”
  • The AHA News reports,
    • “Patients went out-of-network 3.5 times more often to see a behavioral health clinician than a medical/surgical clinician in 2021, and up to 20 times more often for certain behavioral health visits, according to a new study by RTI International. For example, patients went out-of-network 8.9 times more often to see a psychiatrist, 10.6 times more often to see a psychologist, 6.2 times more often for acute behavioral inpatient care, and 19.9 times more often for sub-acute behavioral inpatient care.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Social media is displacing physicians as the trusted authorities on whether patients should take one of the medicines. People are not only deciding to take a weight-loss drug—called GLP-1s— based on posts by friends and influencers but sometimes also skipping their doctor to go with one mentioned online.
    • “The virtual word-of-mouth can come across as authentic and accessible. People say they appreciate the tips and support they get from other online users. But many influencers and friends on social media play up all the pounds a person lost while playing down side effects that can be nasty, such as painful headaches and bouts of vomiting. Some omit the risks altogether.
    • “Unlike company drug advertisements, social-media posts don’t have to describe a drug’s side effects, suggest other resources or tell people to speak with their doctors.”
  • Ruh roh. This is why health plans are offering coaching services to these folks.

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Federal Times and Federal News Network discuss OPM’s plans to tighten internal controls over family member eligibility in the FEHBP. OPM’s actions will shift the burden of monitoring family member eligibility from the FEHB plans to employing agencies, which is where the responsibility belongs.
  • OPM also should be filling the greatest internal control gap in the FEHB – the fact that OPM does not allow carriers, which bear the insurance risk, to reconcile premium payments to individual enrollees. A cost effective solution is available by implementing the HIPAA 820 electronic enrollment roster transaction which systematically generates such reconciliations.
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Alvotech and Teva on Tuesday won Food and Drug Administration approval for Selarsdi, the second biosimilar poised to challenge Johnson & Johnson’s blockbuster psoriasis drug, Stelara.
    • “The FDA cleared Selarsdi for treatment of moderate to severe plaque psoriasis and active psoriatic arthritis in adults and children who are at least 6 years old. The companies said they expect to begin selling the medicine on or after Feb. 21, 2025, a delayed introduction due to a legal settlement with J&J.
    • “The two companies are likely to enter the market after Amgen, which won approval for an interchangeable biosimilar called Wezlana in October. Amgen is also subject to a legal settlement, and the company has said its product will launch no later than Jan. 1, 2025.”
  • Healthcare Dive had the time to report on the CBO report on Medicare Accountable Care Organizations which the FEHBlog noted yesterday.
    • “Accountable care organizations led by independent physicians save Medicare more money than other types of ACOs, according to a new Congressional Budget Office review of existing research.
    • Independent physician-led ACOs have clear financial incentives to reduce hospital care to lower spending, while hospital-led ACOs — which earn more revenue when patients are admitted — do not, the CBO found. Hospitals also have less direct control over what services patients receive.
    • “ACOs with a larger proportion of primary care providers also saved Medicare more money, along with ACOs whose initial spending was higher than their peers in the same region, according to the report.”
  • The FEHBlog’s primary care provider practices in such an ACO.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “A pill taken once a week. A shot administered at home once a month. Even a jab given at a clinic every six months.
    • “In the next five to 10 years, these options may be available to prevent or treat H.I.V. Instead of drugs that must be taken daily, scientists are closing in on longer-acting alternatives — perhaps even a future in which H.I.V. may require attention just twice a year, inconceivable in the darkest decades of the epidemic.
    • “This period is the next wave of innovation, newer products meeting the needs of people, particularly in prevention, in ways that we didn’t ever have before,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the H.I.V. prevention organization AVAC.
    • “Long-acting therapies may obviate the need to remember to take a daily pill to prevent or treat H.I.V. And for some patients, the new drugs may ease the stigma of the disease, itself an obstacle to treatment.”
  • STAT News lets us know,
    • “Eli Lilly reported positive results for its obesity drug Zepbound in obstructive sleep apnea, giving the medication a new edge in the highly competitive obesity market.
    • “The results also pave the way for Zepbound to potentially become the first approved treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA, a common disorder characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep.
    • “In one year-long Phase 3 study that looked at patients with obesity who were not on PAP therapy, a form of ventilation, those taking Zepbound experienced a reduction of 25.3 events per hour on the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), a measure of the number of times breathing stops and becomes restricted while sleeping. That compares with a reduction of 5.3 events in patients on placebo, Lilly said in a press release Wednesday.
    • “In another Phase 3 study in patients who were on PAP therapy, those on Zepbound had a reduction of 29.3 events per hour on the AHI, compared with a reduction of 5.5 events in patients on placebo.
    • “Severe OSA is defined as having over 30 events per hour, and moderate OSA is defined as 15 to 30 events per hour.”
  • CNBC adds,
    • “Most doses of Eli Lilly’s highly popular weight loss drug Zepbound and diabetes counterpart Mounjaro will be in short supply through the second quarter of this year due to increased demand, according to an update on the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage database.
    • “A previous update said some doses of both treatments would have limited availability through April.
    • “The new update suggests that the insatiable demand for a buzzy class of weight loss and diabetes drugs is still trouncing supply, even as Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk work to increase production of those treatments.” 
  • The Associated Press informs us,
    • “For decades, patients seeking medication for pain have had two choices: over-the-counter drugs like aspirin or powerful prescription opioids like oxycodone.
    • “Opioid prescriptions have plummeted over the last decade as doctors have become more attuned to the risks of addiction and misuse during the country’s ongoing drug epidemic.
    • “Vertex Pharmaceuticals recently reported positive results for a non-opioid painkiller, one of several medications the Boston-based drugmaker has been developing for various forms of pain. Patients taking the drug after surgery experienced more pain relief than those getting a placebo, although the drug didn’t meet a secondary goal of outperforming treatment with an opioid.
    • The AP interviews Vertex’s chief scientist Dr. David Altshuler about the company’s research and development plans.
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “In recent months, parts of the U.S. have reported outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough. While some regional outbreaks are expected each year, health officials are underscoring the importance of boosters in adults to protect infants from severe illness, NBC News reported April 17.  * * *
    • “The TDap vaccine is recommended for children 11 and older who have not received the DTaP series. Adults should receive a Tdap booster dose every 10 years, according to the CDC. 
    • “Anyone who comes to see [a] new baby should have had a recent inoculation with Tdap vaccine to provide a cocoon of protection around that baby,” William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious diseases at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told NBC News.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive relates,
    • “Steward Health Care is on the clock. 
    • “The Dallas-based healthcare network has until the end of the month to prove to lenders it has the cash on hand to begin repaying its significant debts — or it could face bankruptcy proceedings. 
    • “Demonstrating solvency could be a tall order because the health system owes a lot of parties a significant amount of money, according to analysts familiar with the system. 
    • “Should Steward fail, it would be one of the largest provider bankruptcies in decades, said Laura Coordes, professor of law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.” 
  • MedTech Dive notes, “Abbott looks to ‘highly productive’ device pipeline for future growth. CEO Robert Ford highlighted new and upcoming products throughout the earnings call, calling the recently approved Triclip valve a “billion-dollar opportunity.”
  • According to BioPharma Dive,
    • “An experimental drug designed to improve brain function in people with nerve-degrading disorders has failed a mid-stage study that tested it against Parkinson’s disease.
    • “The trial enrolled almost 90 participants, who once a day were given either a placebo or a drug from Sage Therapeutics called SAGE-718. Summary results released Wednesday showed no significant difference between the two groups in how their mental abilities changed over the course of six weeks, as measured by a scale clinicians use evaluate cognition. * * *
    • “Sage is still testing SAGE-718 across three additional trials that should have data this year. One, codenamed “Lightwave,” is focused on people with mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. The other two, “Surveyor” and “Dimension,” are investigating whether the drug can help Huntington’s disease patients with cognitive impairment.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out and names ten of twenty most popular drugs are in shortage.

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Govexec tells us,
  • “The House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation [HR 7868] aimed at preventing improper payments in the employer-sponsored health insurance program for federal workers, as well as to ensure roughly 1,200 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers receive the enhanced retirement benefits they were promised. * * *
  • “Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the committee’s ranking member, sought unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include language that would authorize additional funding go to OPM to cover the cost of the audit, but Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., expressed a willingness to amend the bill before it reaches the House floor authorizing a specific dollar figure, based on analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO does not “score” legislation until it has advanced out of committee.”
  • A client of the FEHBlog called to his attention today this April 1, 2024, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Part D instruction which calmed the FEHBlog’s nerves about the 2025 notice of creditable coverage which FEHB plans must issue:
    • Creditable Coverage
    • “Consistent with IRA changes, we are revising the regulatory definition of creditable coverage at § 423.56(b) to reflect that discounts paid under the Manufacturer Discount Program are not taken into account when determining actuarial value. Given various concerns raised by commenters and the significant changes to the Part D benefit for CY 2025 as a result of the redesign, CMS will continue to permit use of the creditable coverage simplified determination methodology, without modification to the existing parameters, for CY 2025 for non-EGWP group health plan sponsors not applying for the retiree drug subsidy under section 1860D-22(a) of the Act. The Final Program Instructions also specify that CMS will re-evaluate the continued use of the existing simplified determination methodology or establish a revised one for CY 2026 in future guidance.”
  • The FEHBlog loves simplicity.  
  • Fierce Healthcare informs us,
    • “The Biden administration is proposing a 2.6% increase for inpatient hospitals’ payments for the coming fiscal year, a $3.3 billion increase over the current year’s payout, as well as other policy adjustments intended to shore up surgical care coordination, drug supply, emergency preparedness monitoring, maternal health and care for the underserved.
    • “The potential updates came under Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)’s proposed Inpatient Prospective Payment Systems (IPPS) rule and the Long-Term Care Hospital pay rule, which were unveiled Wednesday afternoon.
    • “Hospitals that participate in the IPPS Quality Reporting Program and meaningfully use electronic records are projected to get a 2.6% increase to payments for fiscal year 2025, which begins in October. The pay raise is based on a projected hospital market basket update of 3%, which is reduced by a projected 0.4 percentage point productivity adjustment, according to a release on the rule.
    • “Long-term care hospitals are looking at a proposed 2.8% pay increase, which is a 1.6% or $41 million bump over the current year. This is “primarily due to the proposed update to the rate partially offset by a projected decrease in high-cost outlier payments in FY 2025 compared to FY 2024,” CMS wrote in a release.”
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized the nation’s first drinking water standard for “forever chemicals,” a group of persistent human-made chemicals that can pose a health risk to people at even the smallest detectable levels of exposure.
    • “The new rules are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to limit pollution from these per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, which can persist in the environment for centuries. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, low birth weights, high cholesterol, and negative effects on the liver, thyroid and immune system.
    • “EPA officials estimate that the federal rule will reduce PFAS exposure in drinking water for about 100 million people.
    • “This is the first time the EPA has set a drinking water standard for a new contaminant since 1996. Some states — including Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington — have already passed drinking water standards for certain PFAS.”
  • Govexec explains employer-sponsored dental benefits for federal employees and annuitants.
  • Reg Jones, writing in Fedweek, discusses “Extended Health Insurance Benefits for Children of Deceased Federal Employees and Retirees.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • STAT News tells us,
    • “Cancer vaccines have traveled a potholed road over the last decade. But as researchers from different companies and academic institutions presented promising early data at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in San Diego this week, experts said there’s a collective feeling of turning a corner.
    • “There’s a lot more interest in vaccines” now that the technology is improving, said Roy Herbst, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center.”
  • MedPage Today informs us that “Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) during pregnancy was not associated with the development of autism or attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, a large Swedish nationwide cohort study found.”
  • The National Institutes of Health informs us,
    • “Researchers at the National Institutes of Health applied artificial intelligence (AI) to a technique that produces high-resolution images of cells in the eye. They report that with AI, imaging is 100 times faster and improves image contrast 3.5-fold. The advance, they say, will provide researchers with a better tool to evaluate age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other retinal diseases.
    • “Artificial intelligence helps overcome a key limitation of imaging cells in the retina, which is time,” said Johnny Tam, Ph.D., who leads the Clinical and Translational Imaging Section at NIH’s National Eye Institute.”
  • Per a Neurovalens press release,
    • “Modius Stress becomes company’s second product cleared for use in US 
    • “Neurovalens, a global leader in non-invasive neuro-technology, has received medical device clearance from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to treat anxiety with its Modius Stress device.
    • “Based in Belfast, Neurovalens is a health-tech company that specialises in combining neuroscience and technology to tackle a range of global health challenges. 
    • “The company’s medical devices have been designed to deliver non-invasive electrical stimulation to key areas of the brain and nervous system without the need for surgically implanted electrodes. 
    • “Modius Stress is designed to treat anxiety by delivering a small and safe electrical pulse to the head for a period of 30 minutes before bed, during which users can do other activities, such as watching TV or reading.”  
  • Per a Bristol Myers Squibb press release,
    • Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) today announced new interim results from the Phase 3 EMERGENT-4 open-label extension trial evaluating the long-term efficacy, safety and tolerability of KarXT (xanomeline-trospium) in adults with schizophrenia. Long-term efficacy data from the trial were presented in a poster titled, “Maintenance of Efficacy of KarXT (Xanomeline and Trospium) in Schizophrenia” (Poster F264) at the Annual Congress of the Schizophrenia International Research Society (SIRS) being held April 3-7, 2024, in Florence, Italy.
    • “We are pleased to see a continued and consistent meaningful reduction in symptoms of schizophrenia across 52-weeks in an outpatient setting, beyond what was seen in the short-term, in-patient five-week trials (EMERGENT-2 and EMERGENT-3),” said Roland Chen, MD, senior vice president and head, Immunology, Cardiovascular and Neuroscience development, Bristol Myers Squibb. “We look forward to continued conversations with the FDA and to sharing additional data from the EMERGENT program later this year.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “Vertex Pharmaceuticals on Wednesday said it would buy biotechnology company Alpine Immune Sciences and its experimental kidney disease drug for $65 per share, or approximately $4.9 billion in cash.”Vertex Pharmaceuticals on Wednesday said it would buy biotechnology company Alpine Immune Sciences and its experimental kidney disease drug for $65 per share, or approximately $4.9 billion in cash.
    • “Through the deal, which the companies expect to close in the second quarter, Vertex will gain access to povetacicept, a therapy for IgA nephropathy, or IgAN. The drug is set to enter Phase 3 testing by the end of the year. 
    • “The acquisition is the largest in Vertex’s 35-year history and comes as the company works to expand into kidney disease treatment.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review relates,
    • “Three pharmacy benefit managers accounted for nearly 80% of all prescription claims handled in 2023, according to an April 9 report from the Drug Channels Institute.
    • “To compile the list, Drug Channels analyzed estimated total equivalent prescription claims managed across the industry in 2023. CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRX managed 79% of prescription claims last year, the same percentage as in 2022.” 
  • Beckers Payer Issues lets us know,
    • “AHIP, the American Medical Association and the National Association of ACOs have released a playbook of voluntary best practices for value-based care payment arrangements. 
    • “National Association of ACOs President and CEO Clif Gaus said that in the past decade, value-based care has grown from “almost nothing to an undeniably significant aspect of our health system,” according to a joint April 10 news release from the organizations. 
    • “This iteration of the playbook synthesizes what we’ve learned over the last decade plus, so that payers, physicians, hospitals and ACOs can implement payment and delivery models that improve outcomes and lower costs,” Dr. Gaus said.” 

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Federal Times tells us,
    • “The federal government again processed a high number of retirement applications last month, even though its overall pace slowed.
    • “In March, the Office of Personnel Management packaged 680 more cases than it did the month before and took in about 850 fewer applications, chopping the backlog by 14%. The rate of processing was slightly slower than in February, but the average case is still being processed in roughly two months or less, which is OPM’s goal, according to the data.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “For decades, the Food and Drug Administration’s accelerated approval pathway has helped companies get drugs for serious unmet medical needs to patients — and the market — sooner. But about half of cancer drugs approved via this route fail to improve patient survival or quality of life in subsequent clinical trials after more than five years of follow-up, according to new findings presented Sunday at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.
    • “The data come from an analysis of cancer drugs granted accelerated approval over the past decade. In some cases, failure to show clinical benefit didn’t stop the FDA from converting accelerated approvals into full approvals, and the authors note the agency’s conversion decisions have increasingly been based on less stringent evidence of a drug’s benefits.
    • “The study also found evidence that drugs granted accelerated approval, meant to be a temporary designation, are spending less time in limbo. In 2013, it took an average of 9.9 years after accelerated approval for cancer drugs to be pulled from the market if follow-up trials didn’t show a benefit; by 2017, that timing dropped to 3.6 years.
    • “The findings, presented during a press briefing at the AACR meeting, were also published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study’s authors say the results aren’t an argument against the use of drugs available via accelerated approval, but underscore the importance of doctors communicating both the potential benefits and uncertainty surrounding these products to patients. They urged drugmakers to more routinely collect quality-of-life data during confirmatory studies, and the FDA to press companies to gather stronger evidence of clinical benefit to support a drug’s full approval.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post and Consumer Reports explain what to do about jaw pain and when to worry.
  • STAT News lets us know,
    • “Cancer cases among younger people have been rising for years, a trend researchers have struggled to explain. New evidence suggests a significant factor: younger generations seem to be aging faster at the cellular level than their predecessors.
    • “A team of scientists at Washington University in St. Louis tracked data from nearly 150,000 people between the ages of 37 and 54 in the U.K Biobank, a massive biomedical database. They used nine blood-based markers to calculate their biological age, a measure that captures the overall state of a person’s cells and tissues.
    • “Sharing results on Sunday here at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting, they found that people born after 1965 were more likely to have a biological age that outpaced their chronological age. People with higher levels of accelerated aging had a 17% increased risk of developing any solid tumor cancer, with higher risk increases for lung, gastrointestinal, and uterine cancer.”
  • and
    • “A controversial heart pump from Abiomed reduced the number of deaths in severe heart attack patients, according to a highly anticipated randomized trial presented at the American College of Cardiology conference and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Sunday.
    • “The trial, which took 10 years to enroll, followed 355 patients for 180 days in Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom who came into the hospital with a heart attack and dangerously low blood flow, known as cardiogenic shock. Half of the patients received standard care, which typically included medication and about 20% of the time included life support, and the other half received Abiomed’s left-sided heart pump, called the Impella, for 48 hours. * * *
    • “Though the Impella pump has been on the market for decades, there has never been a randomized controlled trial proving its benefit. The pump also comes with grave risks, puncturing ventricles or interfering with other heart devices if not properly inserted. Abiomed has been admonished by the Food and Drug Administration for not disclosing these risks to the agency as required under the law. Despite the safety risks and the lack of a randomized trial, the Impella has been widely adopted by interventional cardiologists, becoming a moneymaker for the device maker.
    • Several cardiologists STAT spoke with described Sunday’s results as a “striking” win for a patient population that has few treatment options proven to save lives.
  • and
    • “Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy improved symptoms and physical function in patients who had obesity, diabetes, and a common type of heart failure, boosting Novo’s attempt to get the popular drug approved for yet another usage beyond weight loss.
    • “The study, being presented here on Saturday at the American College of Cardiology conference and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reports results from the second large trial Novo has conducted on Wegovy in heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, or HFpEF. The first trial, which showed positive results last year, was in patients who had obesity and HFpEF, but not diabetes.
    • “Novo said it submitted the results of these two trials to regulators earlier this year and is seeking approval for a new indication in HFpEF. Wegovy just last month got FDA clearancefor its first usage besides weight loss — preventing cardiovascular complications in people with heart disease.
    • “Wegovy is part of a booming class of diabetes and obesity treatments called GLP-1 drugs that deliver substantial amounts of weight loss, but they’re costly and have been slow to gain widespread insurance coverage. Getting additional indications beyond weight loss could boost drugmakers’ arguments that the drugs are worth their cost and help streamline coverage.”
  • The Wall Street Journal lets us know about “the calming power of rituals. Don’t just tell yourself to calm down: Adopting a routine for stressful moments—as many top athletes and performers do—can measurably reduce your agitation.
    • “A study by researchers at the University of Toronto showed exactly how this works. They taught subjects a physical ritual, then had them complete difficult button-pressing tests designed to induce errors, while monitoring their brain activity. The researchers were able to measure that an electrical response known as error-related negativity, or ERN, was reduced after subjects performed their rituals. In other words, participants were less focused on their mistakes, and that helped them stay closer to the moderate level of arousal ideal for performance under the Yerkes-Dodson law.
    • “No ritual has the power to make rock stars or savants out of us. We still have to contend with the realities of aptitude and proficiency and the discipline of daily practice. But rituals can give us a way to manage our nerves, dial into the skills we’ve worked so hard to achieve and give us that elusive something more that allows us to step into the spotlight and shine.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “For years now, there has been immense excitement for liquid biopsies—blood tests that can detect cancer early. Eventually, tests like the Galleri developed by Grail could revolutionize the practice of medicine by allowing patients to catch and treat the disease early.
    • “When it comes to colon cancer, though—the second biggest cause of cancer deaths behind lung cancer—blood-based tests have proved disappointing. The latest setback came last week, after privately held Freenome announced top-line results from a clinical study for the early detection of colon cancer among average-risk adults. The results failed to impress investors.  * * *
    • “The key reason Freenome’s results released last week didn’t excite investors is that they indicated the test wasn’t very good at catching precancer signs, which is the main thing doctors are looking for with early screenings. While the clinical study reported an overall 79.2% sensitivity in detecting colorectal cancer, it reported a sensitivity of 12.5% for detecting advanced adenomas, or precancerous polyps. That is far below the 42% sensitivity achieved by Cologuard [, a stool sample test.]”
  • Healthcare IT News discusses Rush Memorial’s virtual intensive care unit.
    • “The virtual ICU has enabled Rush Memorial surgeons to feel comfortable performing more surgeries, knowing there is the clinical expertise to care for those patients in recovery in the ICU.
    • “If you are considering implementing a technology like this to provide needed coverage in your hospital, I highly recommend it,” Tressler advised. “Just be sure you are finding a vendor that has done it before, that has the experience and expertise to help you set it up appropriately, as well as the flexibility to work with your existing workflows.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Health insurers are gearing up to release their first-quarter results over the next several weeks, and a new analysis from Fitch Ratings finds that ongoing concern about utilization in Medicare Advantage (MA) has made for a cloudy outlook.
    • “The analysts wrote in the insurance dashboard report that payers with a significant presence in the MA space faced elevated medical loss ratios last year amid a spike in care utilization. Others, meanwhile, saw their MLRs decline last year, according to the report.
    • “The significant increase in 4Q23 senior market utilization reported by some companies creates significant uncertainty around profitability for the sector in 2024,” the analysts wrote.
    • “Despite the uncertainty, analysts at Fitch said earlier this year that the spike in utilization would likely be credit-neutral for the industry. In the dashboard report, the authors note that operating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was about 6.8% last year across the seven largest publicly traded insurers.”
    • “That’s a slight decrease from 7% in 2022, according to the report. These seven payers account for about 70% of membership in the U.S., according to the report.”
  • McKinsey & Co. explains how price transparency could affect U.S. healthcare markets.
    • “This article puts price transparency rules in context and explores their implications, including:
      • “the existence of price dispersion in US healthcare that is not explained by differences in quality of care
      • “how price transparency rules address some market inefficiencies driving this price dispersion but leave others unresolved
      • “that patients—if given proper incentives and information—would be interested in shopping for care that amounts to 20 to 25 percent of US healthcare claims spend, potentially unlocking gains in affordability for consumers
      • “the potential for price transparency rules, together with other innovations, such as advances in technology and analytics, to empower patients to shop for care more than ever, helping offset growth in healthcare costs
      • “implications for healthcare industry stakeholders, potential shifts in industry profit pools, and first-mover advantages for organizations that capitalize on this opportunity to improve healthcare for US consumers.”

Weekend Update

Today is World Health Day.

  • McKinsey & Co. tells us,
    • “The good news: People are living longer. The bad news: People are spending more time in poor health. Global longevity has risen substantially in the past 60 years, increasing life spans by 20 years on average, but every additional year of life is paid for with an average of six months in ill health. According to a recent report from the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI), a focus on immediately influenceable interventions at the city level can add approximately 20 billion to 25 billion years of higher-quality life at a global level—that’s an average of five additional years per person living in urban areas. All organizations across sectors have a role to play to capture this opportunity, write McKinsey’s Hemant AhlawatErica Hutchins CoePooja Kumar, and Drew Ungerman.”
  • On April 5, 2024, “House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) announced a markup will take place on Wednesday, April 10 at 10:00 am ET to consider a series of legislation,” including
    • H.R. 7868, the FEHB Protection Act: The bill requires federal agencies to verify that an employee is eligible to add a family member to their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) health coverage plan. This bill also requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to consider coverage of ineligible individuals when conducting FEHBP fraud risk assessments and requires a comprehensive audit be conducted of employee family members currently enrolled in the FEHBP. Finally, the bill requires OPM to disenroll any ineligible individual found to be receiving FEHBP coverage.
  • Congress should be including in H.R. 7868 a provision requiring federal agencies to use the HIPAA 820 electronic enrollment roster transaction which would allow carriers to systematically reconcile individual enrollees with their premium payments. None of the provisions in HR 7868 would provide a greater improvement in internal controls than implementing the HIPAA 820 because half of the FEHB enrollment is self only. Moreover, what is the sense of confirming family member enrollment if the enrollee in question is not paying for family coverage?
  • The current premium reconciliation process known as CLER was implemented in 2001, eleven years before the HIPAA 820 was introduced. The time has long passed for CLER to be replaced by the much more efficient HIPAA 820.

From the FEHB front,

  • FedWeek highlights how FEHB plans coordinate their benefits with other coverage.
  • Tammy Flanagan writing in Govexec discusses the importance of knowing Medicare and FEHB coordination of benefit rules before requesting agency help.
  • In the Federal Times, Reg Jones answers the following question “Will my spouse be covered once I qualify for Medicare Part B?

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The National Institutes of Health announced today,
    • “Adults with heart disease risks who received daily reminders or incentives to become more active increased their daily steps by more than 1,500 after a year, and many were still sticking with their new habit six months later, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health that published in Circulation(link is external).
    • “The improvements, which also resulted in an extra 40 minutes of moderate exercise each week, correlated with a 6% reduced risk of premature death and a 10% reduced risk of cardiovascular-related deaths, compared to data from prior studies. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends(link is external) that most adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, like fast cycling, or a combination of the two, paired with twice-weekly strength sessions.
    • “Researchers found that while a simple daily reminder was effective in helping people move more, offering financial incentives or point-based rewards, such as in a game, was even more effective. However, combining the two incentives proved most effective. Participants who got both were still logging improvements in activity levels six months after the rewards stopped.
    • “Even moderate exercise can drastically reduce cardiovascular risk, so finding low-cost ways to get people moving and stay in a fitness program that they can do at home is a huge win for public health,” said Alison Brown, Ph.D., R.D., a program officer at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH.”
  • The New York Times offers an interview with Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
    • What’s the big picture on teens and drug use?
      • People don’t really realize that among young people, particularly teenagers, the rate of drug use is at the lowest risk that we have seen in decades. And that’s worth saying, too, for legal alcohol and tobacco.
    • What do you credit for the change?
      • One major factor is education and prevention campaigns. Certainly, the prevention campaign for cigarette smoking has been one of the most effective we’ve ever seen.
      • Some of the policies that were implemented also significantly helped, not just making the legal age for alcohol and tobacco 21 years, but enforcing those laws. Then you stop the progression from drugs that are more accessible, like tobacco and alcohol, to the illicit ones. And teenagers don’t get exposed to advertisements of legal drugs like they did in the past. All of these policies and interventions have had a downstream impact on the use of illicit drugs. * * *
      • “But we don’t want to become complacent. The supply of drugs is more dangerous, leading to an increase in overdose deaths. We’re not exaggerating. I mean, taking one of these drugs can kill you.”
  • Fortune Well explores the non-invasive colorectal cancer screening alternatives to a full blown colonoscopy.
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Black and White patients face significant disparities in access to kidney transplants depending on whether their residential neighborhoods and transplant centers were racially segregated, a recent study has found.
    • “The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at 162,587 first-time live-donor kidney transplantation candidates in the national transplant registry from January 1995 through December 2021. Participants were tracked for an average of 1.9 years. * * *
    • “Overall, 7.1 percent of Black candidates in segregated neighborhoods received a live kidney transplant over a three-year period, while 9 percent of their Black counterparts in less segregated areas received a transplant. The percentage of White candidates who received similar transplants was similar in highly segregated neighborhoods and more diverse areas during the period — 19.7 percent and 20.1 percent, respectively. * * *
    • “The analysis adds to a growing body of literature about social disparities that affect Black patients’ access to kidney transplantation in the United States. Overall, Black patients are likelier to develop kidney failure than their White counterparts, yet they experience treatment delays and are less likely to get kidneys from live donors.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare lets us know,
    • “Four in 10 therapists are planning to raise their fees in 2024, a new survey has found.
    • “Heard, a bookkeeping and accounting firm for therapy practices, surveyed more than 2,260 therapists across all 50 states and D.C. The findings were published in a report on the financial state of private practices. It found that half of therapists are somewhat or very concerned about the economy impacting their practice in the coming year.
    • “At the same time, in last year’s report, 64% of therapists said they were planning to raise their fees in 2023. Yet only a third did.
    • “Despite cash pay popularity, three-quarters of therapists still accept some form of insurance. Aetna was the most common payer with which therapists paneled, followed by Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Anthem and Oxford. Aetna also had the highest average reimbursement rate at $141 per session, while Humana had the lowest at $96.’ 

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • From a Senate press release,
    • Today, Senator Rick Scott and Senator Tom Carper announced the bipartisan FEHB Protection Act to stop fraud within the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program, the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country which covers eight million federal employees, retirees and family members. The FEHB Protection Act will codify Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommendations to require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to verify eligibility before adding family members, additionally, the bill requires an audit and removal of those ineligible for the program to ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely and program benefits are protected for truly eligible individuals. This legislation follows a study conducted by the GAO at Senator Scott’s request, which revealed that OPM’s mismanagement of the FEHB program allowed ineligible individuals to obtain employer-sponsored health coverage at the hefty price tag of approximately $1 billion in taxpayer dollars every year.
    • The FEHBlog doubts the accuracy of GAO’s projection because half of the FEHB enrollment is self only and FEHB family sizes are notoriously small. In any case, this approach will not solve the problem because OPM reports enrollment actions and premiums separately even though using the HIPAA 820 electronic enrollment roster transaction would allow carriers to confirm receipt of premium for each enrollee systematically.
  • From the American Hospital Association News,
    • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services March 27 finalized a rule proposed in 2022 to standardize Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal processes and make it easier for eligible children and adults to stay covered. According to CMS, the final rule eliminates CHIP waiting periods, annual and lifetime coverage limits and the practice of locking children out of coverage if a family is unable to pay premiums; improves the transfer of children from Medicaid to CHIP when a family’s income rises; gives individuals at least 15 days to provide additional information when applying for the first time and 30 days to return documentation when renewing coverage; prohibits conducting renewals more often than every 12 months; and prohibits in-person interviews for older adults and those with disabilities. The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the April 2 Federal Register.
  • and
    • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services March 27 released the fiscal year 2025 proposed rule for inpatient rehabilitation facilities, which would update IRF payments by an estimated 2.8% overall (or $280 million) in FY 2025. This includes a 3.2% market basket update, which is reduced by a 0.4% productivity adjustment. IRF payments would be further decreased by an estimated $25 million due to the proposed update for outlier payments.
  • and
    • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this week released a guide to health plan resources for health care providers impacted by the Change Healthcare cyberattack, including health plan contact information, noting in an accompanying letter that many providers continue to face significant disruptions as a result of the cyberattack or difficulty getting information from health plans about prospective payments and other flexibilities. The letter also encourages providers to review HHS’ voluntary cybersecurity performance goals.
  • It is worth adding that the United Healthcare Group updated its Change Healthcare Cyberattack response page today.

From the public health front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “On Monday, government leaders in Puerto Rico declared a dengue epidemic after a spike in cases of the mosquito-borne disease hit the island.
    • “From the start of the year through March 10, there were 549 cases, including 341 hospitalizations and 29 severe cases, according to the most recent data provide by the Puerto Rico Department of Health. Cases are concentrated in cities including San Juan, Bayamon, Guaynabo and Carolina.
    • “Between 2010 and 2020, more than 30,000 dengue cases were reported from four U.S. territories, with Puerto Rico reporting the most. In 2012, Puerto Rico reported 199 deaths, which was the last time the commonwealth declared a dengue epidemic.”
  • The Wall Street Journal ponders,
    • “How closely should you be tracking your blood-sugar levels? * * *
    • “Soon, people without diabetes will be able to buy a monitor without needing to cajole a doctor into prescribing them one. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the over-the-counter sale of a continuous glucose monitor, also known as a CGM. The devices allow people to continuously monitor their blood sugar levels.
    • “People who obsess over their health data or have an unhealthy relationship with food should avoid CGMs, most doctors say. Users might misinterpret normal glucose fluctuations as unhealthy, causing anxiety and prompting them to restrict certain foods. It isn’t clear that healthy patients would benefit from using a CGM over the long term.
    • “However, people at higher risk of developing diabetes, and those who are interested in working with their doctors to make lifestyle changes, might find it helpful. The technology could spot early signs of insulin resistance, possibly helping otherwise healthy people avoid Type 2 diabetes, some doctors say. 
    • “If we identify these patients sooner, we can suggest lifestyle modifications as well as maybe the initiation of weight-loss medications,” says Dr. Brenda Dorcely, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health.” 

Tidbits from the OPM FEHB carrier conference

  • The FEHBlog attended OPM’s virtual FEHB carrier conference today. Here are some tidbits.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Beleaguered health system Steward Health Care has agreed to sell its physician network, Stewardship Health, to healthcare behemoth UnitedHealth Group for an undisclosed sum, according to documents filed with Massachusetts regulators on Tuesday.
    • “Under the deal, UnitedHealth’s care delivery subsidiary Optum Care would acquire Steward’s nine-state footprint of primary care providers and clinicians. It will also acquire all of Stewardship’s stock. 
    • “The Health Policy Commission, an independent Massachusetts agency tasked with monitoring state healthcare spending, will have 30 days to assess the potential impact of a Optum-Steward deal on healthcare costs, quality and access, HPC director David Seltz said in a statement. Already, some legislators and health M&A experts are urging a close review of the transaction, citing antitrust concerns.”
  • Per MedTech Dive,
    • “Johnson & Johnson is in talks to acquire Shockwave Medical, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
    • “A deal could come in the next few weeks. However, the report noted that talks could fall through, or another company could pick up Shockwave. J&J and Shockwave both told MedTech Dive they do not comment on market rumors or speculation.
    • “Shockwave makes medical devices that break up calcium deposits in coronary arteries using sound pressure waves, a technique called intravascular lithotripsy (IVL).”
  • Beckers Payer Issues offers an interview with Aetna’s chief medical officer about managed care lessons from Medicaid to Medicare.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • STAT News reminds us,
    • “The public will soon find out whether the federal government is willing to meet the health insurance industry’s demands and deposit more money into the bank accounts of next year’s Medicare Advantage plans.
    • “Budget officials within the Biden administration started reviewing final payment regulations for 2025 Medicare Advantage plans last week after more than 42,000 public comments rolled into the federal government’s inbox. Those rules will come out no later than April 1.
  • Becker’s Hospital CFO Report adds,
    • “Onerous” authorization requirements and high denial rates have health systems considering whether to drop Medicare Advantage plans, according to a report from the Healthcare Financial Management Association and Eliciting Insights. 
    • “HFMA Health System CFO Pain Points Study 2024” is based on a survey of 135 health system CFOs conducted in January. 
    • According to the report, 16% of health systems are planning to stop accepting one or more Medicare Advantage plans in the next two years. Another 45% said they are considering the same but have not made a final decision.
    • Health systems have been increasingly pushing back on Medicare Advantage. Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of San Diego-based Scripps Health, told Becker’s last year that “it’s becoming a game of delay, deny and not pay.” Scripps terminated Medicare Advantage contracts effective Jan. 1 for its integrated medical groups. The medical groups, Scripps Clinic and Scripps Coastal, employ more than 1,000 physicians, including advanced practitioners. Mr. Van Gorder said the health system was facing an annual loss of $75 million on MA contracts.  
    • “Providers are going to have to get out of full-risk capitation because it just doesn’t work — we’re the bottom of the food chain, and the food chain is not being fed,” he said.
    • Despite tensions with some health systems, the Medicare Advantage program had a 95% quality satisfaction rating among enrolled members in 2023.
  • The FEHBlog notes that MA plans are subject to the Affordable Care Act’s medical loss ratio. The medical loss ration encourages health plans to make payments to providers.
  • FedSmith lets us know,
    • The Federal Salary Council (FSC) recently proposed adding about 15,000 federal employees to existing locality pay areas for 2025 from the “Rest of the U.S.” Being added to a locality pay area usually results in higher pay for impacted employees.
    • FSC is recommending the Pay Agent add Wyandot County, OH, to the Columbus, OH, locality pay area and Yuma County, AZ, to the Phoenix, AZ, locality pay area. These recommendations do not create new locality pay areas. In this case, they are adding employees to existing pay areas using various techniques to reduce employees in the “Rest of the U.S.” and add more to higher-paying locality pay areas.
    • A proposal from the Federal Salary Council does not mean a decision to make these additions is finalized. The recommendations have to be approved by the President’s Pay Agent. That approval usually follows, although not necessarily in the recommended time frame. Once the Pay Agent decides to move ahead, the Office of Personnel Management has to issue a proposed change in the Federal Register and a final decision in the Federal Register a few months later.
  • Reg Jones, writing in Fedweek, discusses “Survivor Annuity Benefits for Children of Deceased Federal Employees and Retirees.”
  • KFF discusses Medicare spending on GLP-1 drugs, like Ozempic, to treat diabetes.
    • “Gross spending on Ozempic alone increased from $2.6 billion in 2021 to $4.6 billion in 2022, pushing it to 6th place among the top-selling drugs in Medicare Part D that year, up from 10th place the year before.  
    • “The fact that covering GLP-1s under Medicare Part D for authorized uses is already making a mark on total Part D program spending could be a sign of even higher spending to come as Part D plans are now able to cover Wegovy for its heart health benefits, and if new uses for GLP-1s are approved.”
  • CNBC adds,
    • “Americans can’t seem to get enough of weight loss drugs despite their limited insurance coverage and roughly $1,000 monthly price tags before discounts. 
    • “But some patients are willing to pay more out of pocket for those treatments than others — and it’s strongly correlated to their annual income.
    • “That’s according to a recent survey from Evercore ISI that focused on GLP-1s, which include Novo Nordisk’s weight loss injection Wegovy and diabetes counterpart Ozempic.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The American Medical Association advises its members about measles, now at 64 cases, and tells patient what doctors wish they knew about vasectomies.
  • Medscape shares five things to know about Adult Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection.
  • The Washington Post features a Consumer Reports article on maintaining kidney health. “Hydration and exercise are just two of the keys to reducing the risk of kidney disease.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management offers nine mental health questions for employee engagement surveys.
  • CNN reports,
    • “Drugmaker Eli Lilly warned this week that two of its formulations of insulin would be temporarily out of stock through the beginning of April, citing a “brief delay in manufacturing.”
    • “The 10-milliliter vials of Humalog and insulin lispro injection will be in short supply at wholesalers and some pharmacies, Lilly said in a statement posted online Wednesday [March 20]. The company said that prefilled pen versions of those medicines are still available in the US and that it continues to manufacture the 10-milliliter vials “and will ship them as soon as we can.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal relates,
    • “Hospitals are adding billions of dollars in facility fees to medical bills for routine care in outpatient centers they own. Once an annoyance, the fees are now pervasive, and in some places they are becoming nearly impossible to avoid, data compiled for The Wall Street Journal show. The fees are spreading as hospitals press on with acquisitions, snapping up medical groups and tacking on the additional charges. 
    • “The fees raise prices by hundreds of dollars for widely used and standard medical care, including colonoscopies, mammograms and heart screening. 
    •  “Hospitals say facility fees help offset the extra costs that they incur to meet federal regulations. “It’s not as simple as same services, across-the-board,” said Jason Kleinman, director of federal relations for the American Hospital Association.” * * *
    • “Lawmakers and Congress have proposed limiting fees covered by Medicare, which advisers to the federal insurer have unanimously recommended. Under a bill passed by the House in December, Medicare would no longer pay hospital facility fees for chemotherapy and other drugs infused by doctors in clinics off a hospital campus, saving about $3.7 billion over 10 years. 
    • “The American Hospital Association opposes limiting the fees, saying restrictions would cut revenue to hospitals already squeezed financially by high labor costs and inflation.”   
  • Beckers Hospital CFO Report adds,
    • “Kaufman Hall’s latest “National Hospital Flash Report,” which is based on data from more than 1,300 hospitals, outlined three key areas that separate high-performing hospitals’ and low-performing hospitals when it comes to their operating performances: 
      • Outpatient revenue. In general, hospitals with higher and accelerating outpatient revenue are more profitable.
      • Contract labor. Hospitals that quickly reduced their percentage of contract labor demonstrate improved operating profitability. In addition, hospitals that aggressively marched down contract labor costs were correlated to rising wage rates for full-time staff. Rising wage rates appeared to attract and retain full-time staff, which has allowed those hospitals to decrease contract labor more quickly, all of which has led to increased profitability, according to the report. 
      • Average length of stay. A lower average length of stay corresponded with improved profitability. Hospitals that hyper-focused on patient throughput — which has led to appropriate and prompt patient discharge — have also proven this to be a solid financial strategy, according to the report.”
    • “Hospitals on the other end of the scale continue to struggle, with the poorest financially performing hospitals reporting negative margins from -4% to -19%, according to Kaufman Hall. Continuation of this level of performance is unsustainable and makes it impossible to reinvestment in community care.” 
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Novo Nordisk will pay as much as $1 billion to acquire RNA drug developer Cardior and its experimental treatment for heart failure, the companies announced Monday
    • “Cardior’s treatment, dubbed CDR132L, is currently being tested in a mid-stage study involving 280 people with heart failure who previously experienced a heart attack. Results are expected by September, according to a U.S. clinical trial database.
    • “In addition to that study, Novo said it plans to start another Phase 2 trial in heart failure patients whose heart muscle has become thick and stiff, also known as cardiac hypertrophy. Novo, which will pay an undisclosed upfront payment to Cardior per deal terms, expects the acquisition to close in the second quarter.”
  • and
    • “Abbvie is expanding its pipeline of inflammatory disease drugs, announcing Monday a small deal to acquire biotechnology company Landos Biopharma.
    • “Per the deal, Abbvie will buy Landos for $20.42 per share, or about $138 million. Abbvie has also agreed to pay a so-called contingent value right worth $11.14 per share, or another $75 million, if certain milestones are met. The upfront price represents a premium of about 155% to the closing price Friday of Landos stock.
    • “Landos is currently running a mid-stage trial of its lead drug, dubbed NX-13, in ulcerative colitis. Abbvie is also interested in NX-13’s potential in Crohn’s disease.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Change Healthcare said its largest claims clearinghouses would come back online over the weekend, more than a month after a cyberattack at the technology firm disrupted the healthcare sector. 
    • “More than $14 billion in charges have been prepared for processing, according to an update from parent company UnitedHealth Group on Friday. Change’s electronic payments platform has also been restored, and the company is working on payer implementations.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Federal News Network builds on OPM’s March 12 press release about the Postal Service Health Benefits Program launch in January 2025.
  • STAT News calls attention to healthcare points that you might have missed in the President’s FY 2025 budget. For example,
    • “The budget proposes for the first time a change to the law that would let pharmacists fill prescriptions for brand-name biologics with biosimilars without doctor permission. The measure is part of the administration’s plan to lower drug costs. * * *
    • “Besides budget boosts for behavioral health services, research, and the 988 crisis hotline, the administration is asking Congress for legislative changes to make mental health care more accessible. Those include eliminating Medicare’s 190-day lifetime limit on psychiatric services in hospitals, which it estimates would cost the program $2.9 billion over 10 years. * * *
    • “Medicare would also have to cover three behavioral health visits without cost-sharing, a move that could cost $1.5 billion over a decade. Biden wants to extend this requirement to private insurers as well, at an estimated cost of $428 million over that time.”
  • HealthDay informs us,
    • The White House on Wednesday launched a nationwide call for more training and better access to the lifesaving opioid overdose drug naloxone.
    • Called the Challenge to Save Lives from Overdose, the initiative urges organizations and businesses to commit to train employees on how to use opioid overdose medications, to keep naloxone in emergency kits and to distribute the drug to employees and customers so they might save a life at home, work or in their communities.
    • “Today, we’re calling on organizations and businesses — big and small, public and private — across the country to help ensure all communities are ready to use this lifesaving tool to reduce opioid deaths,” the White House said in a fact sheet announcing the new initiative. “As the drug supply has gotten more dangerous and lethal, we’re asking allies to join us because we all must do our part to keep communities safe.”
  • The CDC is offering free webinars on the RxDC process on March 27 and April 3.

From the Change Healthcare situation front,

  • United Healthcare updated its Change Healthcare situation response website this afternoon.
  • The HHS Office for Civil Rights, which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rule, issued a Dear Colleague letter about the Change Healthcare situation and announced opening an investigation of UHC about cyberattack and its fallout.
  • The Congressional Research Service posted an insight report titled “The Change Healthcare Cyberattack and Response Considerations for Policymakers.’
  • The American Medical Association explained how providers can navigate the Change Healthcare situation.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “Early detection of colon cancer can prevent a majority of deaths from this disease, possibly as much as 73 percent of them. But just 50 to 75 percent of middle-aged and older adults who should be screened regularly are being tested.
    • “One reason, doctors say, is that the screening methods put many people off.
    • “There are two options for people of average risk: a colonoscopy every 10 years or a fecal test every one to three years, depending on the type of test.
    • “Or, as Dr. Folasade P. May, a gastroenterologist at UCLA Health puts it, “either you take this horrible laxative and then a doctor puts an instrument up your behind, or you have to manipulate your own poop.”
    • “But something much simpler is on the horizon: a blood test. Gastroenterologists say such tests could become part of the routine blood work that doctors order when, for example, a person comes in for an annual physical exam. * * *
    • “A study published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a blood test searching for such [colon cancer] DNA called Shield and made by the company Guardant Health detected 87 percent of cancers that were at an early and curable stage. The false positive rate was 10 percent.
    • “But there is a caveat to the blood test: While it detects cancers, it misses most large polyps, finding just 13 percent of them. In contrast, the fecal test detects 43 percent and a colonoscopy finds 94 percent, Dr. Carethers said.
    • “While polyps are usually harmless, a few can turn into cancers, so doctors want to find all of them and remove them to prevent cancers from forming.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services posted a fact sheet on in vitro fertilization across our country.
  • BioPharma Dive tells us,
    • “Merck on Wednesday announced plans to start clinical trials testing a newer version of its vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, as well as a different regimen of the shot it currently sells.
    • “The trials are bids to improve upon vaccines Merck currently markets as Gardasil and Gardasil 9. One will test a shot meant to provide protection against more strains of HPV. The other will evaluate a single-dose regimen of Gardasil 9. Both studies should begin in the fourth quarter of this year. 
    • “Gardasil is approved for use against genital warts and to prevent several cancers caused by stains of HPV. The vaccine is one of Merck’s top-selling products and still growing. It generated $8.9 billion in sales in 2023, up 29% from the previous year.” 
  • STAT News informs us,
    • “For four decades, researchers and companies searched for ways to replace the broken blood-clotting genes that cause hemophilia, a multibillion dollar effort designed to turn a chronic, sometimes debilitating disease into a curable one. 
    • “But the first two gene therapies have so far been met with crickets. Only a handful of patients with hemophilia B, the rarer form of the disease, appear to have been treated worldwide since Hemgenix was approved in November 2022. After Roctavian was approved for hemophilia A last June, only three patients were treated through the rest of the year.
    • “The issue doesn’t appear to be access. Hemgenix and Roctavian, marketed by the Australian biotech CSL Behring and the San Francisco biotech BioMarin, are Malibu-mini-mansion expensive: $3.5 million and $2.9 million, respectively. But current hemophilia treatments can run over $1 million per year. So most insurers have been happy to pay the lump sum.
    • “​​You can’t blame the payers this time,” said Michael Sherman, former chief medical officer of the nonprofit insurer Harvard Pilgrim.” 
  • The National Cancer Institute posted research highlights.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have discovered that symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are tied to atypical interactions between the brain’s frontal cortex and information processing centers deep in the brain. The researchers examined more than 10,000 functional brain images of youth with ADHD and published their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study was led by researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health and National Human Genome Research Institute. * * *
    • “The findings from this study help further our understanding of the brain processes contributing to ADHD symptoms—information that can help inform clinically relevant research and advancements.”
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review published a “Final Evidence Report on Treatments for Paroxysmal Nocturnal Hemoglobinuria. — Independent appraisal committee voted that current evidence is not adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit for iptacopan over C5 inhibitor; committee voted that the evidence is adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit for add-on danicopan compared to C5 inhibitor alone.”
  • Medscape relates,
    • “Chronic smoking remains a major cause of premature mortality on a global scale. Despite intensified efforts to combat this scourge, a quarter of deaths among middle-aged adults in Europe and North America are attributed to it. However, over the past decades, antismoking campaigns have borne fruit, and many smokers have quit before the age of 40 years, enabling some case-control studies.
    • “Among those abstainers who made the right choice, the excess mortality attributable to smoking over a lifetime would be reduced by 90% compared with controls who continued smoking. The estimated benefit is clear, but the analysis lacks nuance. Is smoking cessation beneficial even at older ages? If so, is the effect measurable in terms of magnitude and speed of the effect? An article published online on February 8, 2024, in The New England Journal of Medicine Evidenceprovided some answers to these questions.”

From the HIMSS conference front,

  • Healthcare IT News reports “Samsung focuses on intuitive mobile tech and wearables at HIMSS24. These technologies can help cure healthcare worker burnout, patient confusion and inefficient communications between care teams, says a top exec and nurse.”
  • Forbes explains why AI is taking center stage at the conference.
    • “At the HIMSS conference in Orlando, healthcare leaders, including CIOs, CMIOs, CNIOs, and other C-suite members, were focused on AI as the central theme. They explored how healthcare organizations can better utilize their clinical data. They identified security, AI platforms, and workforce optimization as the three main areas for healthcare AI development.”
  • In related news, Health IT Analytics lets us know,
    • “Researchers from Mount Sinai have been awarded a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop artificial intelligence (AI)-driven prediction models to flag risk of cardiovascular disease events in patients with obstructive sleep apnea.
    • “The American Heart Association (AHA) indicates that obstructive sleep apnea increases patients’ risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, hypertension and stroke. The use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines is often prescribed to treat sleep apnea, but evidence to suggest the benefits of CPAP use in relation to cardiovascular event rates is limited.
    • “To bridge this gap, the research team will build machine learning (ML) tools to identify obstructive sleep apnea patients at high risk for atherosclerosis progression and cardiovascular events like stroke and heart attack.”

In other U.S. healthcare business news,

  • The Wall Stree Journal reports,
    • “People seeking a popular new weight-loss drug will have a new home-delivery option from a familiar name: Amazon.com.
    • Amazon Pharmacy, which has sold prescription medicines online since 2020, will now handle some of the home delivery of anti-obesity therapy Zepbound and other Eli Lilly drugs that are ordered through the drugmaker’s new direct-to-consumer service, the companies said Wednesday.
    • “The service, called LillyDirect, connects patients with telehealth services specializing in obesity that can write prescriptions for Zepbound or another weight-loss drug. The service also arranges for a prescription to be processed and mailed directly to customers.” 
  • The Society for Human Resource Management notes,
    • “According to the latest Employer Costs for Employee Compensation report, released March 13 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employers spent 3.8 percent more on wages and benefits in December 2023 compared to September 2023.
    • “Total employer compensation costs for private-industry workers averaged $43.11 per hour worked in December 2023. Wages and salaries averaged $30.33 per hour worked and accounted for 70.4 percent of employer costs, while benefit costs averaged $12.77 per hour worked and accounted for the remaining 29.6 percent, according to the BLS report.
    • :That’s a significant jump from the total employer compensation costs for those same workers last fall, and one indicating that despite slowing compensation growth over the past year, bigger hikes are not yet over.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Federal News Network reports,
    • “The House passed a $460 billion package of spending bills Wednesday that would keep money flowing to key federal agencies through the remainder of the budget year. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation before a midnight Friday shutdown deadline.
    • “Lawmakers are negotiating a second package of six bills, including defense, in an effort to have all federal agencies fully funded before a March 22 deadline. In the end, total discretionary spending set by Congress is expected to come in at about $1.66 trillion for the full entire year. 
    • “A significant number of House Republicans have lined up in opposition to the spending packages, forcing House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to use an expedited process to bring the bill up for a vote. That process requires two-thirds of the House to vote for the measure for it to pass.
    • “The House passed the measure by a vote of 339-85.”
  • The American Hospital Association News adds,
    • “The House March 5 voted 382-12 to pass the AHA-supported Preventing Maternal Deaths Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3838), bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize federal support for state-based committees that review pregnancy-related deaths to identify causes and make recommendations to prevent future mortalities. Passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee last July, the bill also would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with the Health Resources and Services Administration to disseminate best practices to prevent maternal mortality to hospitals and other health care providers.”
  • Per an HHS press release,
    • “Today, in support of President Biden’s Unity Agenda, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced the launch of nearly $50 million for HRSA’s Rural Opioid Treatment and Recovery Initiative and released the initiative’s funding application. Funding will support establishing and expanding comprehensive substance use disorder treatment and recovery services in rural areas, including by increasing access to medications for opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine. Opioid use disorder is particularly concerning in rural communities and accessing treatment can be challenging due to geographic isolation, transportation barriers, and limited substance use disorder providers. This week, HRSA hosted more than 800 rural community leaders working at the grassroots level to build their communities’ capacity to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic. * * *
    • “Applications will be accepted through May 6, 2024, and the funding opportunity is posted at: https://grants.gov/search-results-detail/349409.
    • “To learn more about other programs under the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, visit https://www.hrsa.gov/rural-health/opioid-response.”
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “Coming on the heels of debuting its new public-facing repository of high-ranking federal officials, the Office of Personnel Management released guidance last week outlining how agencies should report data to the website and how often. 
    • “The March 1 guidance details how agencies will comply with the Periodically Listing Updates to Management (PLUM) Act, which moved OPM away from maintaining the quadrennial Plum Book after this year to an annually updated website that offers information about senior agency leaders, Senior Executive Service members and other top or non-competitively appointed officials. 
    • “OPM officials launched the new website in January, phasing out the physical Plum Book that dated back to President Eisenhower’s 1952 request for a list of every position his administration would have to fill. 
    • “At the time of its launch, the PLUM reporting website possessed the names, roles and pay levels of more than 8,000 executives, with plans to grow to 10,000 with subsequent updates.”
  • The Hill notes,
    • “Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed a bill Wednesday protecting in vitro fertilization (IVF) providers from the state Supreme Court’s recent ruling that frozen embryos are to be considered children. 
    • “The legislation, titled SB 159, will shield IVF providers from lawsuit or criminal charges over the “death or damage to an embryo,” during the IVF process. The bill passed by both the state Senate and House shortly before heading to Ivey’s desk Wednesday night.” 

From the FEHB front,

  • An expert, writing in Govexec, offers tips for federal retirees on making the decision whether or not to enroll in Medicare Part B. FEHBlog tip — Income adjusted Medicare Part B premiums usually are temporary while the Medicare Part B late enrollment penalty is forever.
  • Reg Jones, writing in FedWeek, discusses “Your Federal Benefits in Divorce.”

From the U.S. public health and medical research front,

  • HR Morning offers employers guidance on how to improve employee health.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “More than 70% of American Indian young adults aged 20-39 and 50% of American Indian teens have cholesterol levels or elevated fat in the blood that put them at risk for cardiovascular disease, suggests a study supported by the National Institutes of Health. In some cases, these levels — specifically high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often thought of as “bad cholesterol,” — were linked to plaque buildup and cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
    • “The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, came from a 19-year-review of the Strong Heart Family Study, part of the Strong Heart Study — the largest study of cardiovascular health outcomes and risk factors among American Indian adults. Researchers followed more than 1,400 participants, ages 15-39, between 2001-2003 and 2020. At the beginning of the study, 55% of participants ages 15-19 had abnormal cholesterol levels, as did 74% of those ages 20-29, and 78% of those ages 30-39.”
  • and
    • “Four children have remained free of detectable HIV for more than one year after their antiretroviral therapy (ART) was paused to see if they could achieve HIV remission, according to a presentation today at the 2024 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Denver. The children, who acquired HIV before birth, were enrolled in a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health in which an ART regimen was started within 48 hours of birth and then closely monitored for drug safety and HIV viral suppression. The outcomes reported today follow planned ART interruptions once the children met predefined virological and immunological criteria.”
    • “These findings are clear evidence that very early treatment enables unique features of the neonatal immune system to limit HIV reservoir development, which increases the prospect of HIV remission,” said NIAID Director Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., M.P.H. “The promising signals from this study are a beacon for future HIV remission science and underscore the indispensable roles of the global network of clinicians and study staff who implement pediatric HIV research with the utmost care.”
  • and
    • “Long-acting, injectable antiretroviral therapy (ART) suppressed HIV replication better than oral ART in people who had previously experienced challenges taking daily oral regimens and was found safe in adolescents with HIV viral suppression, according to two studies presented today at the 2024 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Denver. Both studies were sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, in collaboration with other NIH institutes.
    • “The HIV community is just beginning to unpack the enormous potential of long-acting antiretroviral medications for HIV treatment and prevention, and we need population-specific data for everyone to benefit,” said NIAID Director Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., M.P.H. “These findings open up new possibilities for millions of people with HIV, particularly those whose health suffers due to challenges of daily pill taking.”
  • MedPage Today lets us know,
    • “Rates of emergency surgery, serious complications, and hospital readmissions were higher among Medicare patients living in primary care shortage areas, according to a cross-sectional retrospective cohort study of data from 2015 to 2019.
    • “Medicare beneficiaries living in areas with the most severe primary care shortages had higher rates of three types of emergency surgeries compared with those living in areas with the least severe shortages (37.8% vs 29.9%; risk ratio [RR] 1.26, 95% CI 1.17-1.37, P<0.001), reported Sara Schaefer, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and co-authors.
    • “Those in areas with the most severe shortages were also more likely to have serious complications (14.9% vs 11.7%; adjusted RR 1.27, 95% CI 1.12-1.44, P<0.001) and readmissions (15.7% vs 13.5%; adjusted RR 1.16, 95% CI 1.01-1.33, P=0.03), they noted in Health Affairs.
    • “However, beneficiaries in areas with the most and least severe shortages had similar rates of 30-day mortality (5.6% vs 4.8%; adjusted RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.93-1.47, P=0.17) and any complications (25.9% vs 24.5%; adjusted RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.97-1.15, P=0.21).
    • “Schaefer told MedPage Today that what surprised her most about the study was the strength of the association for the primary endpoint. Across multiple iterations of analyses, the trend remained consistent, she said.”
  • Health Day relates that according to “researchers reported March 5 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.”
    • “Sugary and diet drinks both appear to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation.
    • “Two liters weekly of diet drinks increased risk by 20%, and sugary drinks raised risk by 10%.
    • “Conversely, one liter weekly of unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice lowered risk by 8%.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Pittsburgh-based UPMC, a 40-hospital system, has reported a 2023 operating loss of $198.3 million (-0.7% operating margin) on revenue of $27.7 billion. 
    • “Those figures compare with a $162.1 million operating gain on revenue of $25.5 billion in 2022. Expenses in 2023, totaling $27.9 billion, were approximately 10% up on 2022. That included a 13.6% jump in insurance claims expenses. 
    • “The healthcare system’s measure of inpatient activity grew 3% over the previous year while average outpatient revenue per workday rose 10% and average physician revenue per weekday grew by 9%.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out four U.S. hospitals with uncertain futures.
  • Beckers Hospital Review also reports,
    • “Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Co. plans to begin manufacturing epinephrine and norepinephrine this week at its 22,000-square-foot drug facility in Dallas, Mr. Cuban confirmed to Becker’s on March 5. 
    • “The $11 million drug manufacturing plant, which originally planned to start operating in late 2022, will focus on producing injectable drugs that often fall into shortages. 
    • “Epinephrine is an emergency treatment for severe allergy reactions, and norepinephrine is a blood pressure medication. Injection solutions of the former have been in unsteady supply since at least 2012. Neither the FDA nor the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists list norepinephrine as a current shortage. 
    • “Next on the docket are pediatric oncology drugs, according to Fortune and Politico.” 
  • Beckers Payer Issues calls attention to the fact that
    • “Twenty-six states [listed in the BPI article] now have more than half of their Medicare enrollees in Medicare Advantage plans, according to a March 5 report from Chartis, a healthcare advisory services firm. 
    • “Nationwide, half of Medicare-eligible beneficiaries are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans.”