Midweek update

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “Negotiators worked Wednesday to reach an agreement on reining in government spending, which has emerged as the central hurdle to a deal to raise the debt ceiling, with a possible government default just a week away.
    • “U.S. stocks extended declines Wednesday, reflecting rising anxieties about the debt ceiling, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average posting a fourth-straight session of losses.
    • “The White House has offered a spending freeze for next year, while GOP negotiators have insisted that any deal must result in lower discretionary spending, calling it a critical step in starting to address the country’s growing debt, which now stands at $31.4 trillion.”

Healthcare Dive, MedPage Today, and Fierce Healthcare discuss a House Oversight and Accountability Committee hearing on prescription benefit managers held yesterday.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee cleared a bunch of healthcare-related bills for floor consideration today.

STAT News tells us, “Matt Eyles, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, is leaving by this October, the lobbying group said Wednesday.” Good luck, Mr. Eyles.

From the public health front —

  • Helen Branswell, writing in STAT News, points out
    • :An impressive number of vaccines and monoclonal antibody products are racing toward the end of the development pipeline, with two products aimed at protecting children expected to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration by autumn. One, a maternal vaccine developed by Pfizer, received a recommendation last week from FDA’s vaccine advisory committee.
    • “But there are sizable hurdles standing in the way of the implementation of these products, hurdles that could see the promise they offer squandered because of bureaucracy, health systems that don’t interact with one another, and steep price tags.”
  • Ms. Branswell discusses the hurdles with experts on the matter.
  • Forbes reports
    • This week, Achieve Life Sciences announced that its drug, cytisinicline, saw strong results in its latest phase III trial. While the drug has been used for decades in eastern Europe, it’s not yet been approved by the FDA. The drug works by targeting the nicotine receptors in the brain, CEO John Bencich tells Forbes. “It works to reduce the satisfaction you get while smoking, but also helps with the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.” 
    • The study, which followed 792 patients, had patients take the drug for either 6 weeks or 12 weeks. Both patients who received the drug and those who got a placebo also went through a behavioral program about quitting smoking. The company says that over 30% of those who took the drug for 12 weeks stopped smoking completely in the last four weeks of the study, compared to less than 10% in the placebo group. For six weeks of treatment, the drug had a nearly 15% success rate compared to 6% in the placebo group. The company saw similar success in a smaller study it reported in the spring on the success of the drug in helping patients quit vaping. Patients will be monitored for 24 weeks after completing the cessation program, and the company expects to file a new drug application with the FDA in the first half of 2024. 
  • This week’s Econtalk podcast offers an interview between host Russ Roberts and University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan about the macroeconomic angles of public health issues, like the Covid pandemic. Check it out.

From the interoperability front,

  • Fierce Healthcare relates
    • The total number of Epic customers pledging to join the electronic medical record provider in its participation in the Trusted Exchange Framework and the Common Agreement (TEFCA) has jumped to 27
    • After announcing the participation of 20 health systems plus health tech company KeyCare and health information exchange OCHIN on Monday, five more organizations have joined the pledge including Kaiser Permanente.
    • According to Matt Doyle, interoperability software development lead at Epic, the EMR company is optimistic that nearly all of the 2,000 hospitals and 600,000 clinicians that use Epic across the country will participate. 
  • Let’s go.

From the generative AI front,

  • Patient Engagement HIT tells us
    • Can ChatGPT really replace doctors? Probably not, at least for right now, as surveying shows that patient trust in chatbots and generative AI in healthcare is relatively low.
    • The report from The University of Arizona Health Sciences showed that around half of patients don’t fully trust AI-powered medical advice, like the information issued from chatbots like ChatGPT. Instead, patients still trust and prefer their traditional healthcare providers.
    • However, patients may be more receptive to chatbot medical advice if the AI is guided by a doctor’s or human’s touch.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC, the Wall Street Journal explains,

“President Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress approached this year’s debt-ceiling drama with a consistent mantra: They would absolutely never, ever, under any circumstances, negotiate over raising the country’s borrowing level.

“But now they are very much negotiating on the debt limit, just about a week before the June 1 date when the Treasury Department estimates the U.S. could run out of measures to avoid default. Talks are underway about how to find a package of spending cuts and other measures acceptable to enough Republicans and Democrats to clear Congress, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Biden meeting Monday and planning further talks to craft a deal framework in coming days.

“We’re not there yet” on a deal, said McCarthy on Tuesday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said: “While areas of disagreement remain, the president, the speaker and their teams will continue to discuss the path forward.”

Govexec adds,

“Most non-defense federal agencies appear headed for at least a spending freeze next fiscal year—if not an outright cut—as President Biden has offered to back down from his proposed spending increases in exchange for an increase to the government’s debt ceiling. 

House Republicans, who are spearheading negotiations with the White House to avoid a debt default that could occur as soon as June 1, have rejected that proposal, holding out for cuts compared to current spending levels. The two sides have been locked in marathon negotiations for the last week, agreeing to some costccc-cutting measures but remaining far from an overall agreement.”

 From the public health front —

  • Roll Call reports,
    • New HIV infections dropped 12 percent in 2021 compared to 2017, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates released Tuesday, with the biggest drops among young gay and bisexual men.
    • But the agency warned that HIV prevention efforts need to be accelerated to reach the national goals.
    • The data Tuesday credited the overall decrease to a 34 percent drop in infections among 13-24 year olds, with the largest declines among young gay and bisexual men. Annual HIV infections among young people decreased from 9,300 to 6,100, but among young LGBTQ men new infections dropped from 7,400 to 4,900.
  • McKinsey Health Institute released a survey shedding “light on the health perceptions and priorities of people aged 55 and older.”
    • “Among the results, unsurprisingly, is that older adults who have financial stability—no matter their country—are more likely than their peers to be able to adhere to healthy habits, including those that boost cognitive health.3 And contrary to the perception that older adults are tech laggards compared with their younger peers, the results find widespread technology adoption, especially in smartphone use, among the older adult population.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued draft recommendations and evidence reviews for the following projects: Oral Health in Adults: Screening and Preventive Interventions and Oral Health in Children and Adolescents Ages 5 to 17 Years: Screening and Preventive Interventions. Both recommendations are “I” for inconclusive. The public comment submission deadline is June 30, 2023.
  • The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivel Murthy circulated “a new Surgeon General’s Advisory on Social Media and Youth Mental Health – PDF. While social media may offer some benefits, there are ample indicators that social media can also pose a risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents. Social media use by young people is nearly universal, with up to 95% of young people ages 13-17 reporting using a social media platform and more than a third saying they use social media “almost constantly.”

From the medical research front —

  • The New York Times reports, “Researchers have for the first time recorded the brain’s firing patterns while a person is feeling chronic pain, paving the way for implanted devices to one day predict pain signals or even short-circuit them.”
  • The NIH Director’s Blog tells us, “Basic Researchers Discover Possible Target for Treating Brain Cancer.”

From the Rx coverage front —

  • The Drug Channels blog points out “The Top Pharmacy Benefit Managers of 2022: Market Share and Trends for the Biggest Companies.”
    • “We estimate that for 2022, about 80% of all equivalent prescription claims were processed by three companies: the Caremark business of CVS Health, the Express Scripts business of Cigna, and the OptumRx business of UnitedHealth Group. 
    • “This concentration reflects the significant transactions and business relationships among the largest PBMs that have further concentrated market share. Five of the six largest PBMs are now jointly owned by organizations that also own a health insurer, as illustrated in Mapping the Vertical Integration of Insurers, PBMs, Specialty Pharmacies, and Providers: A May 2023 Update
      • “The big three PBMs’ aggregate share of claims was similar to the 2021 figure. Compared with 2021, however, Cigna’s share declined due to customer losses, while OptumRx’s share grew slightly. Two other notable market changes affected the 2022 figures:
      • “In January 2022, Caremark added the specialty business back to its Federal Employee Program (FEP) mail and clinical pharmacy services contract. The specialty portion of the FEP had transitioned to Prime Therapeutics in 2018. 
      • “In late 2022, Prime Therapeutics completed its acquisition of Magellan Rx from Centene. For 2022, Magellan Rx managed $22.9 billion in drug spend and had annual claims volume of 220.9 million. Magellan Rx annualized claims are included with Prime’s figures above.
    • “Beginning in 2024, Express Scripts will begin a five-year agreement to manage pharmacy benefits for more than 20 million Centene beneficiaries. We estimate that the Centene business will bring $35 to $40 billion in total gross pharmacy spend and more than 550 million prescriptions. This forthcoming shift of Centene’s PBM business from CVS Health’s Caremark to Cigna’s Express Scripts will significantly alter the relative position of these companies. 
  • MedPage Today informs us,
    • “The first nalmefene hydrochloride nasal spray (Opvee) won FDA approval for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose in adults and pediatric patients 12 years of age and up, the agency announced.
    • “If administered quickly, the opioid receptor antagonist provides fast onset and long duration reversal of opioid-induced respiratory depression. It will be available for use by prescription in healthcare and community settings.”
  • The FDA announced
    • “approving Xacduro (sulbactam for injection; durlobactam for injection), a new treatment for hospital-acquired bacterial pneumonia (HABP) and ventilator-associated bacterial pneumonia (VABP) caused by susceptible strains of bacteria called Acinetobacter baumannii-calcoaceticus complex, for patients 18 years of age and older. 
    • “According to the World Health Organization, Acinetobacter species top the list of critical bacterial pathogens that pose the greatest threat to human health, highlighting the high level of need for additional treatment options amid growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.”

From the generative artificial intelligence front, STAT News provides expert perspectives and answers readers’ common questions about AI and healthcare.

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • Healthcare Dive relates,
    • “The newly rebranded Intermountain Health reported $549 million in net income for the first three months of 2023, an increase from the prior-year period when the health system posted a $298 million net loss. 
    • “The Salt Lake City-based system brought in $4 billion in revenue compared with $2.8 billion in the period ended March 31 last year. 
    • “Intermountain’s expenses still climbed 44% to $3.7 billion, with a large portion coming from employee compensation and benefits at $1.7 billion. But supply costs grew too, reaching $703 million during the quarter, an increase of 46% from a year earlier.”
  • Fierce Healthcare notes,
    • “Cleveland Clinic is starting 2023 on the right side of zero, reporting Tuesday a Q1 operating income of $32.3 million (0.9% operating margin) and a net income of $335.5 million.
    • “Though the nonprofit system had reported a $1.2 billion net loss across 2022, the first quarter’s numbers continue the upward momentum Cleveland Clinic enjoyed at the end of last year.
    • “Like many health systems have reported in recent weeks, the performance is also a substantial bounce back from Q1 2022when the omicron wave dragged Cleveland Clinic to a $104.5 million operating loss (-3.4% operating margin) and a $282.5 million net loss.
    • “On a year-over-year basis, total unrestricted revenues grew 15.7% by way of a 13.3% rise in net patient revenue, to $3.1 billion, and a 37.3% increase in other restricted revenues, to $425.3 million.”