Weekend update

Weekend update

Bluebonnets — The Texas State Flower– already starting to bloom in Austin

From Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives and the Senate will be in session for Committee business and floor voting this week.

From the public health front —

  • McKinsey & Co. offers “insights to discover why it’s impossible to experience good health alone, and what shifts you can make now to strengthen your social world” in order to combat loneliness.
  • Fortune Well discusses “[a] ‘super strain’ of an antibiotic-resistant stomach bug [XBR Shingella] that is on the rise in the U.S.” Fortunately, the CDC offers ways to prevent a Shingella infection:
    • Carefully washing your hands with soap and water before sexual activity, eating or preparing food, and after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, or cleaning up after someone who went to the bathroom;
    • Throwing away diapers in a covered, lined garbage can;
    • Cleaning up mess from diapers thoroughly and promptly;
    • Avoid swallowing water from lakes, ponds, and swimming pools and
    • Refraining from sex when you have diarrhea, and for two weeks after diarrhea resolves.

From the Rx coverage front —

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • The way doctors treat diabetes is changing.
    • For years, people with Type 2 diabetes who needed to take drugs to lower their blood-sugar levels started with an old medicine called metformin. New guidelines now recommend patients can start with one of the newer diabetes medicines, which can also reduce weight and protect the heart and kidney.
    • These newer diabetes drugs belong to two classes known by the acronyms SGLT-2 and GLP-1 for how they work.
    • The goal of the changes was to make treatment more specific to the patient rather than focused on the drug, said Dr. Nuha Ali El Sayed, an endocrinologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston who is vice president of healthcare improvement at the American Diabetes Association.
  • MedPage Today offers doctors ways to handle the current Adderall shortage.

From the worldwide healthcare front (and many FEHB plans (particularly nationwide plans) offer worldwide coverage), Beckers Hospital Review discusses  “Newsweek‘s 2023 list of top 250 global hospitals.”

From the plan design front, Financial Advisor points out an EBRI report on health savings accounts.

The New York Times Morning Column considers a renewed interest in workplace personality tests.

“Covid has opened our eyes to the fact that there are different ways in which we can work,” said David Noel, a human resources executive at Scotiabank, a Toronto-based bank with 90,000 employees. Partly for that reason, Scotiabank has begun to put more weight on personality tests, and less weight on résumés, when it makes hiring decisions.

In the post-pandemic era, personality tests seem to have a new relevance. They can help determine who will thrive in which work arrangements and what personality mix can maximize a team’s chance of success. Some advocates of the tests argue that they can also increase the diversity of a company’s work force by reducing the focus on standards that have traditionally benefited white men. Since Scotiabank began using personality tests more heavily in its campus hiring program, the share of its new employees who are Black has risen to 6 percent, from 1 percent.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, STAT News reports

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed legislation to prevent drug companies from gaming the patent system to delay competition from cheaper generics, but members in both parties said they still have concerns about the reforms.

It’s unclear when the bills might advance in either chamber. 

The Congressional Research Service released an analysis of healthcare coverage spending in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Health Affairs Council on Healthcare Spending and Value updates us on the recommendations proposed in its 2018 Road Map for Action.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that its Secretary Xavier Becerra had given the States 90 days advance notice of the end of the Covid public health emergency on May 11, 2023.

To help you and your communities in your preparations for the end of the COVID-19 PHE, I have attached a fact sheet to this letter that includes information on what will and will not be impacted by the end of the COVID-19 PHE.2 In the coming days, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will also provide additional information, including about the waivers many states and health systems have adopted and how they will be impacted by the end of the COVID-19 PHE. I will share that resource with your team when available.

MedPage Today informs us,

Early treatment with a single dose of pegylated interferon lambda in a highly vaccinated population of COVID-19 outpatients decreased the risk for hospitalization and emergency department (ED) visits lasting more than 6 hours, the phase III TOGETHER trial found.

Among nearly 2,000 participants with acute COVID symptoms and a risk factor for severe illness, 2.7% of those who received pegylated interferon lambda within a week of symptoms required hospitalization or ED visits, as compared with 5.6% of those given placebo (relative risk [RR] 0.49, 95% Bayesian credible interval [CrI] 0.30-0.76), reported Gilmar Reis, MD, PhD, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and colleagues.

Results were similar regardless of vaccination status (over 80% were vaccinated), and the treatment effect with the long-acting form of interferon lambda-1 was more pronounced in those who received the subcutaneous injection with 3 days of their symptoms.

From the miscellany department —

HHS released initial guidance for Medicare’s Prescription Drug Inflation Rebate Program created by last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.

Under the Medicare Prescription Drug Inflation Rebate Program, drug companies who raise prices faster than the rate of inflation will be required to pay rebates to the Medicare Trust Fund. Below is a timeline of key dates for implementing the Medicare Prescription Drug Inflation Rebate Program:

  • October 1, 2022: Began the first 12-month period for which drug companies will be required to pay rebates to Medicare for raising prices that outpace inflation on certain Part D drugs.
  • January 1, 2023: Began the first quarterly period for which drug companies will be required to pay rebates for raising prices that outpace inflation on certain Part B drugs.
  • April 1, 2023: People with Traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage may pay a lower coinsurance for certain Part B drugs with price increases higher than inflation.
  • 2025: CMS intends to send the first invoices to drug companies for the rebates.

The law has a circular aspect because the government needs a much lower general inflation index to get the full bang for the buck from this program. The notice also poses issues for public input.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans tells us,

The International Foundation has been tracking fertility and family-forming benefits over the past seven years. According to Employee Benefits Survey: 2022 Results, 40% of U.S. organizations currently offer fertility benefits (an increase from 30% in 2020).

  • 28% cover fertility medications (8% covered in 2016, 14% in 2018, 24% in 2020)
  • 30% cover in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments (13% in 2016, 17% in 2018, 24% in 2020)
  • 16% cover genetic testing to determine infertility issues (11% in 2018, 12% in 2020)
  • 17% cover non-IVF fertility treatments (6% in 2016, 11% in 2018, 11% in 2020).

In 2016, only 2% of organizations covered egg harvesting/freezing services. That jumped to 6% in 2018, 10% in 2020 and even higher in 2022, with 14% reporting that they cover the benefit.

Healthcare Dives points out, “National telehealth utilization increased 1.9% month-over-month among the privately insured population in November 2022, following one month of decline, according to a new analysis from Fair Health’s monthly tracker.” The bump is attributable to the tripledemic.

Fierce Healthcare relates, “UnitedHealthcare is rolling out a new wearables-based rewards program for members and their spouses. In UnitedHealthcare Rewards, eligible members can earn up to $1,000 per year by using wearable devices to complete health goals and activities, the insurance giant announced Wednesday.”

Health Payer Intelligence notes that “High deductible health plan (HDHP) enrollment hit a record high in 2021, with nearly six out of ten employer-sponsored health plan members enrolled in a high deductible health plan, according to a ValuePenguin survey.”

Benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan writing in Govexec, explains how federal employees can get the full advantage out of the Thrift Savings Plan, which is part of the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

The Biden administration will send its budget for the next fiscal year up to Capitol Hill on March 9, according to a memo from top White House aides.

That’s about a month later than the statutory deadline, which is the first Monday in February, though that target is often missed and there’s no penalty for doing so.

National Econonic Council Director Brian Deese and Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young laid out the timing in a memo to “interested parties” that also discussed agenda topics for Wednesday’s scheduled meeting between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The memo, first reported by ABC News, said Biden will ask McCarthy to “commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its financial obligations,” a reference to the upcoming fight over the statutory debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has warned that the U.S. could be in danger of missed payments by early June if Congress doesn’t act to raise or suspend the $31.4 trillion debt limit.

The memo also says Biden will urge McCarthy and House Republicans to release their own fiscal 2024 budget blueprint that spells out the spending cuts they want to attach to any debt limit deal and how their budget will balance if they plan to extend expiring tax cuts.

Senator Tina Smith (D MN) and a bipartisan group of colleagues sent several large health insurers a letter requesting answers to questions about ghost networks. It turns out the ghost networks are online provider directories with errors. The FEHBlog thinks that the Senators should be pressuring the No Surprises Act regulators to implement the provider directory accuracy provision in that law.

From the Omicron and siblings front, the New York Times explores why Paxlovid, a reliable treatment, is underprescribed by doctors.

Doctors prescribed it in about 45 percent of recorded Covid cases nationwide during the first two weeks of January, according to White House data. In some states, Paxlovid is given in less than 25 or even 20 percent of recorded cases. (Those are likely overestimates because cases are underreported.)

Why is Paxlovid still relatively untapped? Part of the answer lies in a lack of public awareness. Some Covid patients also may decide that they don’t need Paxlovid because they are already vaccinated, have had Covid before or are younger. (My colleagues explained why even mild cases often still warrant a dose of Paxlovid.) * * *

Experts have increasingly pointed to another explanation for Paxlovid’s underuse: Doctors still resist prescribing it. Today’s newsletter will focus on that cause.

Some doctors have concerns that are rooted in real issues with Paxlovid and inform their reluctance to prescribe it. But experts are unconvinced that those fears are enough to avoid prescribing Paxlovid altogether, especially to older and higher-risk patients.

“What I’m doing for a living is weighing the benefits and the risks for everything,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, the chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco. In deciding whether to prescribe Paxlovid, he said, the benefits significantly outweigh the risks.

This isn’t very encouraging.

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

Beckers Hospital Review reports

Six years after regulators approved Amjevita, a biosimilar to the nation’s most lucrative drug, Humira, Amgen’s drug jumped on the U.S. market Jan. 31 with two list prices.

The biosimilar to AbbVie’s most profitable drug will either cost 5 percent or 55 percent less than Humira’s price, according to Amgen. Humira costs $6,922 for a month’s supply, meaning Amjevita’s price — depending on the buyer — will be $6,576 or $3,115. The higher price is designed to entice pharmacy benefit managers, and the lower one is for payers, according to Bloomberg

As Humira’s 20-year, $114 billion, 247-patent-strong monopoly ends with the first biosimilar, more copycat versions are set to premiere in the next few months.

STAT News dives deeper into the implications of Amgen’s pricing approach.

AHIP responded yesterday to CMS’s final Medicare Advantage plan audit rule.

“Our view remains unchanged: This rule is unlawful and fatally flawed, and it should have been withdrawn instead of finalized. The rule will hurt seniors, reduce health equity, and discriminate against those who need care the most. Further, the rule would raise prices for seniors and taxpayers, reduce benefits for those who choose MA, and yield fewer plan options in the future. 

“We encourage CMS to work with us, continuing our shared public-private partnership for the health and financial stability of the American people. Together, we can identify solutions that are fair, are legally sound, and ensure uninterrupted access to care and benefits for MA enrollees.” 

Is the next step the courthouse?

Money Magazine offers a list of hospitals that provide bariatric surgery with Leapfrog safety grades.

From the mental healthcare front, Fierce Healthcare tells us

Parents can now be added alongside providers, health insurers and employers to the list of stakeholders with growing concerns about mental health, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

The study found that 40% of parents call the fact that their children might be struggling with anxiety and depression their No. 1 concern—something they’re extremely or very worried about—followed by 35% of parents who put the fear that their children are being bullied into that category.

From the tidbits department —

  • The NY Times lists ten nutrition myths that experts wish would be forgotten.
  • The NIH Directors blog explains why a “New 3D Atlas of Colorectal Cancer Promises Improved Diagnosis, Treatment.”
  • The National Association of Plan Advisors points out that “Despite a rebound in out-of-pocket health care spending in 2021, health savings account (HSA) balances increased on average over the course of the year, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently found. Its analysis of HSA balances, contributions, and distributions also found, “patients sought health care services more frequently in 2021—and spent more out of pocket, as well—than they did in 2020, yet the average end-of-year balance was higher than the average beginning-of-year balance.”

Busy Thursday

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill Roll Call reports

House Republicans are mulling an attempt to buy time for further negotiations on federal spending and deficits by passing one or more short-term suspensions of the statutory debt ceiling this summer, including potentially lining up the deadline with the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

No decisions on a cutoff date have been made, and it’s not yet clear when the Treasury Department will run out of cash to meet all U.S. financial obligations. But most analysts agree Congress will need to act at some point between early June and September, and lawmakers likely won’t want to leave the matter unaddressed before the August recess.


The Senate is taking its time getting to work for 2023.

Back in Washington after a two-and-a-half week recess, the chamber adjourned Thursday afternoon without adopting an organizing resolution, meaning committees will remain in their holdover state until at least next week.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced the Democratic committee assignments for the new Congress, with Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair, earning a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee.

From the Omicron and sibligns front, The American Hospital Association tells us

A Food and Drug Administration Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee [VRBAC] unanimously voted today to recommend harmonizing the composition of all primary series and booster doses administered in the U.S. For example, the composition of all vaccines administered going forward might be bivalent.

STAT News offers a complete report on today’s meeting. For example, STAT News explains

The FDA is also asking the members of VRBPAC their thoughts on its proposal that Americans get an annual Covid shot, in the way they get a flu shot, one that is reconstituted regularly to try to target the strains in circulation at the time. In documents the FDA made public before the meeting, it proposed choosing new vaccine strains in June for a vaccine campaign that would begin in September.

Covid is clearly here to stay, so this may sound sensible. But there are concerns some of this is still based on a leap of faith rather than a data-led process. For example, the idea that everyone might need an annual Covid booster will not earn a unanimous “yea” vote out of this expert panel.

The VRBAC recommendation is subject to FDA and CDC approval.

STAT News adds

The FDA on Thursday withdrew the authorization of Evusheld, the latest antibody therapy to be rendered ineffective by the mutations the virus has picked up. Notably, Evusheld — unlike other antibody therapies — was not for infected patients, but rather was given as a pre-exposure treatment to people at high risk for severe Covid-19, such as those with compromised immune systems.

In other FDA news

  • The FDA announced, “Given the growing cannabidiol (CBD) products market, the FDA convened a high-level internal working group to explore potential regulatory pathways for CBD products. Today we are announcing that after careful review, the FDA has concluded that a new regulatory pathway for CBD is needed that balances individuals’ desire for access to CBD products with the regulatory oversight needed to manage risks. The agency is prepared to work with Congress on this matter. Today, we are also denying three citizen petitions that had asked the agency to conduct rulemaking to allow the marketing of CBD products as dietary supplements.”
  • Fierce BioTech informs us “More than two years after submitting it for FDA review, Tidepool has scored the agency’s clearance for a smartphone app that allows people with Type 1 diabetes to build their own closed-loop “artificial pancreas” system.”

From the obesity treatment front —

HealthDay discusses findings made by “Utah researchers who followed patients for up to 40 years after they had one of four types of weight-loss (bariatric) surgery.” 

Weight-loss surgery can literally be a lifesaver, cutting death rates significantly during the course of a decades-long study

Death from all causes was 16% lower, while it was 29% lower for heart disease, 43% lower for cancer and 72% lower for diabetes

But there were some troubling findings: These patients were 83% more likely to die of liver disease and 2.4 times more likely to die by suicide, mostly seen in younger patients

STAT News provides a two minute long video explaining how the new obesity drugs work.

STAT News also describes an unusual alliance that has banded together to lobby Congress to repeal a provision in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2023 that prohibits Part D from covering obesity drugs. “Recent scientific advances, media coverage, and advocacy have helped raise the profile of the issue on Capitol Hill, said Jeanne Blankenship, the vice president for policy initiatives and advocacy at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. ‘It’s becoming front and center. I think we can’t turn our backs on it any longer,’ Blankenship said.”

From the Rx coverage front, Beckers Hospital Review introduces us to the three PBMs that have partnered with the Mark Cuban Pharmacy.

From the HIPAA / electronic health records front —

  • MedPage Today reports, “Unique Patient Identifier Funding Once Again Barred by Congress— Biden administration working on better patient matching instead.” The FEHBlog will never understand Congress’s intransigence here.
  • Healthcare Dive tell us “Interoperability continues to improve among U.S. hospitals, but there’s still a ways to go, according to new government data. More than six in 10 hospitals electronically shared health information and integrated it into their electronic health records in 2021, up 51% since 2017, the Office of the National Coordinator released in a Thursday data brief. The availability and usage of electronic data received from outside sources at the point of care has also increased over the last four years, reaching 62% and 71% respectively in 2021.”

From the NIH research front, NIH calls attention to its research studies on the role of the placebo effect in healthcare treatments and the link between hydration and better aging.

From the miscellany department —

  • Mercer Consulting “projects the 2024 inflation-adjusted amounts for health savings accounts (HSAs), high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and excepted-benefit health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) will rise significantly from 2023 levels.”
  • Benefits Consultant Tammy Flanagan, writing in Govexec, discusses the categories of family members who are eligible and ineligible for FEHB coverage.
  • HR Dive identifies five trends that will share HR this year.


Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, the Wall Street Journal reports

Kevin McCarthy and his allies launched a new round of talks late Wednesday with a small but stubborn band of conservative holdouts who have blocked his bid for House speaker, as Republicans sought a path forward following a second day of votes without a winner.

Mr. McCarthy didn’t reach the majority in of three votes on Wednesday, deepening doubts about whether he would ever be able to bring enough Republicans to his side and fueling talk of alternatives.

Twenty GOP lawmakers remained opposed, along with all Democrats, blocking the California Republican from getting the necessary majority of the full House. After the sixth vote, the House adjourned and reconvened at 8 p.m. [at which point the House voted 216 to 214 to call it a day and convene at noon on Thursday.]

A flurry of meetings were taking place by early evening with Republicans shuttling between offices. In one major concession, a McCarthy-aligned super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, agreed to stop picking candidates in primaries where the seat is expected to stay in Republican hands.

From the Omicron and siblings front, we have a man bites dog story.

First Nature informs us that “COVID drug Paxlovid was hailed as a game-changer. What happened?
Insufficient investment and fears about rebound and side effects are driving dowthe n use of a lifesaving antiviral.” The FEHBlog, who has had four Covid vaccinations, points his finger at the government for promoting vaccinations, which, while helpful for older and immunocompromised folks don’t prevent the illness yet, over Paxlovid, a treatment for virtually everyone.

Here’s the twist. CNBC reports

A new antiviral pill for Covid was found to be as effective as Paxlovid at curbing mild to moderate illness among people at high risk of severe disease in a Phase 3 trial in China.

The results, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that the treatment had fewer side effects than Paxlovid, the go-to antiviral for high-risk patients. Around 67% of people who took the experimental pill, called VV116, reported side effects, compared to to 77% who took Paxlovid.

The new pill was also less likely than Paxlovid to cause unexpected side effects due to reactions with other medications, such as those for insomnia, seizures or high blood pressure.

“You have a medication that looks to be just as good as Paxlovid, but less cumbersome,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

VV116 is similar to the antiviral remdesivir, which the Food and Drug Administration has approved as an IV infusion. But the team behind the new drug — pharma companies Junshi Biosciences and Vigonvita Life Science — tweaked the formula so that the body can absorb it in pill form, said Dr. Peter Gulick, an associate professor of medicine at Michigan State University. Gilead Sciences, which developed remdesivir, is testing a similar oral version of its drug.

From the Rx coverage front —

  • STAT News reports “Walgreens plans to seek certification to begin providing abortion pills under new Food and Drug Administration rules that allow the drugs to be distributed by retail pharmacies, the company told STAT on Wednesday.” P.S. FEHB plans can only cover abortion drugs when abortion is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.
  • The Drug Channels blog tells us

For 2022, brand-name drugs’ net prices dropped for an unprecedented fifth consecutive year. What’s more, after adjusting for overall inflation, brand-name drug net prices plunged by almost 9%.

The factors behind declining drug prices will remain in the coming years—and become even stronger due to forthcoming changes in Medicare and Medicaid. Employers, health plans, and PBMs will determine whether patients will share in this ongoing deflation.

Read on for details and make up your own mind. And please pass the news along to the drug pricing flat earthers (#DPFE) who refuse to accept that brand-name drug prices are falling—or that prescription drug spending is a small and stable portion of overall U.S. healthcare expenditures.

  • Health Payer Intelligence tells us

Insulin costs vary based on insurance coverage type and coverage types that lead to high healthcare spending can force patients to ration their insulin supplies, a report from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) uncovered.

Healthcare spending for individuals who have diabetes—including diabetes treatment, comorbidities, preventive care, and more—amounted to approximately $446 billion total in 2019. Drug costs, including spending on insulin, were responsible for nearly a third of that amount (32 percent).

Insulin users, who tend to be in a more severe stage of the disease, contributed 46 percent of the healthcare spending total among patients with diabetes. Average healthcare spending across the population of insulin users is 4.3 times higher than for non-institutionalized Americans. * * *

Medicare beneficiaries had the highest total out-of-pocket healthcare spending for the drug when compared to privately insured and uninsured individuals’ costs. Medicaid out-of-pocket healthcare spending on insulin was low and hard to estimate.

Most insulin users have either Medicare coverage (52 percent) or private insurance (33 percent). The remainder was covered by Medicaid or reported being uninsured.

It’s worth adding that Medicare covers insulin under Medicare Part B, not Part D.

From the U.S healthcare front —

  • The American Hospital Association relates “U.S. hospitals and health systems continued to experience negative operating margins through November 2022, Kaufman Hall reported today. Median operating margins were down 44% so far this year compared with 2021, as high labor and other costs continued to outpace revenues, according to data from over 900 hospitals.”
  • BioPharma Dive reports “Moderna said Wednesday it will pay $85 million to buy OriCiro Genomics, describing the company’s tools as “best in class” for the synthesis of plasmid DNA.”

From the telehealth front

  • The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research released a report on the use of telehealth during the Covid era.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management reminds us “Employers [sponsoring health plans including FEHB plans] will have the option to provide pre-deductible coverage of telehealth services for people with high-deductible health plans for another two years [through December 31, 2024].

From the No Surprises Act front, Health Dive digs into the recent CMS report on first-year experience with the NSA’s arbitration process.

The report from regulators provides insight on how the arbitration system is faring so far. It helps paint a picture of how frequently the portal is being used and the types of services payers and providers found themselves fighting over. It also shows what providers have initiated the most disputes.

The vast majority of disputes originated from emergency room visits.

About 81% of disputes (excluding air ambulance services) started in the emergency room.

The entities that initiated the most [arbitrations] were mainly physician staffing and revenue cycle management firms, including TeamHealth and Envision Healthcare, private equity backed practices that staff emergency rooms around the country. As a business strategy, the two work out of network, which can lead to surprise billing if the hospital remains in network, according to a prior study from Yale researchers.

The 10 groups that submitted the most disputes accounted for 75% of all the disputes involving out-of-network emergency services and non-emergency items.

From the public health front, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the results of its annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which shows how people living in America reported about their experience with mental health conditions, substance use, and pursuit of treatment in 2021. The 2021 NSDUH national report includes selected estimates by race, ethnicity, and age group. It is the most comprehensive report on substance use and mental health indicators that SAMHSA has released to date.” This HHS announcement summarizes the survey’s findings.

From the OPM front, Federal News Network reports on OPM’s plans to refresh its website, which in the FEHBlog’s opinion can’t come soon enough. “Aside from overhauling its main website, OPM is also planning to make more updates to its retirement services. It’s the area of the agency that encompasses the most legacy — or outdated — technology in all of OPM, [an OPM spokesperson] said. Bravo.

Thursday Miscellany

From Capitol Hill, the American Hospital Association tells us

The Senate today passed (68-29) an amended version of the $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations bill that funds the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year. The legislation also includes many provisions affecting hospitals and health systems.

The Senate also passed another short-term continuing resolution through Dec. 30 to allow time for the more than 4,000-page legislation to be enrolled and for President Biden to sign it. This ensures there will be no interruption of services or federal shutdown.

The omnibus spending bill, which includes relief from Medicare cuts and extensions of rural and telehealth programs, as well as the Dec. 30 continuing resolution, now go to the House, which is expected to consider them today . The president is expected to sign the short-term continuing resolution before current funding for the government expires at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 23, and to sign the omnibus later next week.

The Wall Street Journal adds, “House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said the House would vote on the bill Friday.”

In other 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act or omnibus news

  • The Hill reports on “last minute” changes to the omnibus, including provisions assisting nursing and pregnant workers.
  • Mercer Consulting alerts us to a two-year-long extension of telehealth flexibilities available to high deductible plans with health savings accounts.
  • Think Advisor and the Wall Street Journal provide an overview of the Secure 2.0 Act provisions in the omnibus. The Secure 2.0 Act affects 401(k) plans offered to employees and IRAs. The key provision that takes effect for 2023 is an increase in the required minimum distribution age from 72 to 73.
  • The Wall Street Journal reviews the other omnibus provisions affecting businesses.

From the public health front —

Beckers Hospital Review informs us

While the respiratory “tripledemic” continues to slam emergency rooms and children’s hospitals, there are two glimmers of hope on the horizon, according to a Dec. 22 report in The New York Times. 

COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus attack the body in different ways, and there are varying levels of disease severity across the U.S. Today, some scientists say RSV has peaked in most parts of the country.

“I think it’s likely that the RSV season has peaked in most parts of the country,” said Virginia Pitzer, ScD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at New Haven, Conn.-based Yale School of Public Health. “I think that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Additionally, there’s reason to believe next winter won’t be as burdensome for the American population and healthcare organizations.

Ironically, the safety precautions used to help stem the pandemic in the past couple of years have also kept adults and children from being exposed to the viruses that typically circulate this time of year, said Dr. Pitzer.

“There was a bit of a buildup of susceptibility at the population level,” she added. “It’s a worse than normal winter, but one that hopefully will not be repeated next year.”STS

The American Hospital Association tells us

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America today recommended hospitals and health systems no longer routinely screen symptom-free patients for COVID-19 upon admission or before procedures and rely instead on enhanced layers of infection prevention interventions.

“The small benefits that could come from asymptomatic testing at this stage in the pandemic are overridden by potential harms from delays in procedures, delays in patient transfers, and strains on laboratory capacity and personnel,” said Thomas R. Talbot, M.D., MPH, the chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a member of the SHEA Board of Directors. “Since some tests can detect residual virus for a long period, patients who test positive may not be contagious.”

STAT News reports

[According to a CDC report, a] baby born in the U.S. in 2021 has a life expectancy of 76.4 years, down from 77 years in 2020 and the lowest level the CDC has recorded since 1996. The age-adjusted death rate for Covid rose by 22.5% between 2020 and 2021, while death rates from unintentional injuries — one-third of which come from overdoses — rose by 12.3%.

HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Quality and Researched refreshed its Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Fast Stats website. The site provides “summary statistics on inpatient stays, emergency department visits, and priority topics, by select characteristics.”

From the OPM front, OPM’s medical director, Dr. Ron Kline announced today on Linked In that he is leaving OPM to take a new position beginning January 17, 2023 as

the Chief Medical Officer of the Quality Measurement and Value-Based Incentives Group (QMVIG) at the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality (CCSQ) at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

QMVIG is responsible for developing, evaluating and supporting the implementation of quality measurement programs across the entire federally-supported health care continuum. This includes Medicare’s Quality Payment Program and the Inpatient (i.e. Hospital) Quality Reporting Program. These measures and policies guide these innovative programs to improve healthcare quality for all Americans.

Best wishes, Dr. Kline, and thanks for your work with the FEHB over the past 3 1/2 years.

From the Rx coverage and medical research fronts –

MPR reports

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Actemra (tocilizumab) for intravenous (IV) use to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized adults who are receiving systemic corticosteroids and require supplemental oxygen, noninvasive or invasive mechanical ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

ICER released evidence reports on Alzheimer’s Disease treatments (draft) and hemophilia A and B (final) STAT News explains

The latest Alzheimer’s disease treatment from Eisai and Biogen needs to be cheaper than $20,000 a year to be cost-effective, according to a draft analysis from an influential nonprofit organization published Thursday.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, or ICER, dug into the evidence for lecanemab and concluded that the drug’s demonstrated benefits, a modest but statistically significant delay in the advance of Alzheimer’s, are worth between $8,500 and $20,600 per year. ICER’s calculations, which could change in response to public comment over the next month, are based on metrics meant to quantify the value of improvements to quality of life.

Eisai, which is leading the effort to commercialize lecanemab, has not disclosed how much it will charge for the medicine, saying only that it will prize affordability and access. That will soon change, as the drug, a twice-monthly infusion, is expected to win a preliminary Food and Drug Administration approval by Jan. 6. * * *

Lecanemab’s safety has come into sharp focus over the past two months after three patients died of major brain bleeds.

Regarding hemophilia therapies, ICER observes

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) today released a Final Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of etranacogene dezaparvovec (Hemgenix, CSL Behring,) for hemophilia B. ICER also updated the previous Hemophilia A assessment on valoctocogene roxaparvovec (Roctavian™, BioMarin).  

Key recommendations stemming from the roundtable discussion include:

  • The value of high-impact single and short-term therapies should not be determined exclusively by estimates of long-term cost offsets, particularly when the existing standard of care is acknowledged to be priced significantly higher than reasonable cost-effective levels.
  • Payers should work with manufacturers to develop and implement outcomes-based agreements to address the uncertainty and the high cost of gene therapies for hemophilia.
  • At least one national payer has suggested to patient representatives that step therapy with emicizumab is being considered prior to provision of coverage for Roctavian. Clinical experts and patient experts view this approach as lacking any clinical justification and appears to be only a method for trying to avoid the high one-time fee for gene therapy while assuming that patients may switch insurers before the cost-saving potential of gene therapy is fully realized. In short, step therapy does not appear to be a reasonable consideration for this treatment.

ICER’s detailed set of policy recommendations, including comprehensive considerations for establishing evidence-based prior authorization criteria, is available in the Final Evidence Report and in the standalone Policy Recommendations document.

NIH announced

Scientists used patient stem cells and 3D bioprinting to produce eye tissue that will advance understanding of the mechanisms of blinding diseases. The research team from the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health, printed a combination of cells that form the outer blood-retina barrier—eye tissue that supports the retina’s light-sensing photoreceptors. The technique provides a theoretically unlimited supply of patient-derived tissue to study degenerative retinal diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). 


From the miscellany department, the Wall Street Journal and MedPage Today explore the new AI text tool known as ChatGPT. From the Journal article

If you haven’t yet tried ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new artificial-intelligence chatbot, it will blow your mind. Tell the bot to write you anything—an email apologizing to your boss, an article about the world’s richest hamster, a “Seinfeld” script set in 2022—and it spits out text you’d think was written by a human. Knowledge of the topic, proper punctuation, varied sentence structure, clear organization. It’s all there.

Midweek update

Lincoln Memorial in the Fall

From the Federal Employee Benefits Open Season front —

  • FedWeek offers its Open Season report.

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

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

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

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

Beckers adds

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

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

In other public health news

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

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

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

Roll Call tells us

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

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

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

The National Institutes of Health announced

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

From the Food and Drug Administration front —

BioPharma Dive informs us

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

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

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

Fierce Pharma relates

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

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

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

From the Medicare front – –

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

From the ACA marketplace front —

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

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

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

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

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From the OPM front, Federal News Network reports on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs September 29, 2022, confirmation hearing for Robert Shriver, whom the President has nominated to serve as OPM Deputy Director.

From the Fourth Quarter 2022 front

  • STAT News provides “The Q4 health tech tracker: 17 key industry events and milestones to watch.”
  • The Society for Human Resource Management offers “4th Quarter 2022 ‘Quick Hits’ for Plan Sponsors.” This quick hit grabbed the FEHBlog’s attention:

Making a splash across the headlines was the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022(IRA), which President Biden signed on Aug. 16, 2022. The 273 pages of text make sweeping changes. However, few will affect employer-sponsored benefit plans, and most of those will have only indirect effects. 

One change that does directly affect a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) is the exception added to Section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code effective for plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2022, to enable HDHPs to cover the cost of insulin without first meeting the deductible. This first dollar coverage for insulin will protect Health Savings Account (HSA) eligibility for those who require an insulin regimen. Employers should determine if their plan requires an amendment to implement this change.

On a related note, TRI-AD calls to our attention the “2022 FSA relief provisions will no longer apply in 2023.”

From the public health front —

  • The American Hospital Association informs us that “Increasing bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccinations this year to 2020-2021 flu vaccination rates could prevent an additional 75,000 deaths and 745,000 hospitalizations and avert $44 billion in medical costs over the next six months, researchers estimate in a Commonwealth Fund blog post. Increasing COVID-19 booster coverage to 80% of eligible Americans aged five and older this year could prevent about 90,000 deaths and over 936,000 hospitalizations and avert $56 billion in medical costs, they add.”
  • CNBC reports

* The CDC, in a report, said monkeypox could spread indefinitely at a low level in the U.S.

* Monkeypox is unlikely to be eliminated from the U.S. in the near future, according to the CDC. 

* The outbreak is slowing as the availability of vaccines have increased and people have become more aware of how to avoid infection.

  • The New York Times gives us a briefing and advice on the upcoming flu season.
  • Beckers Hospital Review discusses patient safety wins obtained this year by five health systems.

From the innovations front, the American Hospital Association tells us

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeks comments through Dec. 6 on creating a National Directory of Healthcare Providers and Services to help patients locate providers and compare health plan networks, and reduce directory maintenance burden on providers and payers.

CMS seeks feedback on the concept and potential benefits; provider types and data elements to include; the technical framework for a national directory; priorities for a possible phased implementation; and prerequisites and actions CMS should consider to address potential challenges and risks.

Midweek Update

OPM announced today that the next Federal Benefits Open Season will be held from November 14 through December 12, 2022. The announcement tells us that OPM expects to post 2023 FEHB and FEDVIP premiums on its website in “late September.”

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Wall Street Journal offers a helpful set of FAQs on the new bivalent mRNA boosters that are currently rolling out for administration.

From the monkeypox front, the Food and Drug Administration announced action to expand testing for the disease.

From the public health front, McKinsey and Company released its

United States of Health Dashboard. [McKinsey describes the tool as] an easy-to-use data visualization tool that enables users to explore the impact of disease and ill health within individual states, the dashboard is informed by key metrics encompassing maternal and neonatal health, behavioral health, communicable disease, chronic disease, and environmental health. It measures the total loss of healthy years of life, assuming full health (also known as “the burden of disease”), that affect a state’s population over the course of one year.

The dashboard is designed to help current and newly tapped state leaders, public-health agencies, and other stakeholders identify the highest-priority areas for investment by offering insights into key questions such as: How do behavioral health challenges affect a state’s population? How well is chronic disease managed and infectious disease controlled? How do mothers and their newborn infants fare? How well are health risks in the environment managed? And which populations are most significantly impacted by these metrics?

For example, here is a link to the Texas dashboard.

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

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, with National Suicide Prevention Week running Sept. 4-10. In recognition of the effort to reduce the occurrence of suicide and destigmatize the conversation around it, AHA is proud to highlight resources available to our members and the public at large.

HR Director offers an interesting article about how HR professionals can approach this issue.

In the roughly dozen years since [he dealth with an employee suicide], [Matthew] Burr has advised every one of his clients (which include schools, financial firms and manufacturers, among other companies) to establish an EAP. Aside from a couple smaller companies, which have anywhere from five to 10 employees, every client has taken his advice. They were truly grateful to have done so ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, so their employees had support systems already in place during the unprecedented time.

From the U.S. healthcare business front

  • Healthcare Dive reports that Walmart and UnitedHealthcare have teamed up to offer a Medicare Advantage plan under a ten-year-long contract. “Ultimately, the goal is to serve hundreds of thousands of seniors and Medicare beneficiaries in value-based arrangements through multiple Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us “Cost Plus Drug Co. founder Mark Cuban expects his online pharmacy to soon grow past 1 million customers, the billionaire of Shark Tank fame said Sept. 6 during Vox‘s Code Conference.  ‘By the time I get back, we should, hopefully, be past a million patients in seven months,’ Mr. Cuban told Vox‘s Recode, referring to the late-January launch of Cost Plus Drug Co., according to CNET.”
  • Reuters reports, not surprisingly, that “CVS Health Corp’s (CVS.N) plan to buy healthcare services company Signify Health for about $8 billion will face a tough U.S. antitrust review even though the two companies do not compete directly in any markets, three experts said Tuesday.”

From the Rx coverage, BioPharma Dive discusses the near term future of biosimilar drugs.

From the health savings account front, Voya Financial discusses “five HSA funding strategies companies [or FEHB plans’ can employ to help boost employee saving.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The Wall Street Journal reports

A federal judge approved Blue Cross Blue Shield companies’ settlement of a sweeping antitrust suit filed on behalf of their customers, with the insurers agreeing to pay $2.67 billion and change certain practices that allegedly limited competition. * * *

Under the settlement, the Blue insurers would drop a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association rule that limits the share of each company’s total national revenue that can come from business that isn’t under Blue brands.

That change could increase competition among the companies if they choose to expand their non-Blue lines of business in one another’s geographies, insurance experts said.

The settlement would also loosen a rule that had limited the Blue insurers’ ability to compete with one another for the business of large national employers. Under the changes, certain national employers would be able to also request a bid from a second Blue insurer of their choice, setting up competition between the two Blues.

However, the settlement stops short of unwinding the Blues’ licensing setup that grants exclusive geographic branding rights to companies—the main original focus of the litigation. * * *

A spokeswoman for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said it was pleased with the approval, and is committed to finalizing and implementing the agreement.

The settlement should be implemented beginning in 30 days. There are limited appeal rights for class members. The Journal adds, “The Blue insurers still face a second, parallel antitrust suit filed on behalf of doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers.”

From the Omicron and siblings front, the New York Times offers advice on how to manage Omicron BA.5 symptoms, including sore throats, from home.

From the monkeypox front, Becker’s Hospital Review provides a state-by-state breakdown of U.S. monkeypox cases and offers physician perspectives on the monkeypox cases that they are treating. “‘The biggest misconception is that this is always a mild disease,’ Jason Zucker, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, said during an Aug. 5 call with reporters.”

Govexec reports that the FDA implemented its plan to significantly extend the supply of the preferred monkeypox vaccine. Bloomberg Prognosis provides more medical details on this development.

From the Rx coverage front, Fierce Healthcare discusses Optum’s latest drug development pipeline report and STAT News reports

For only the second time, Pfizer is offering a warranty for a medicine that will cover the cost for any patient or health plan if the medication fails to work, a move that expands an effort to appease concerns about high drug costs.

The newest warranty program began last month and covers Panzyga, which was approved last year in the U.S. to treat a rare neurological disorder called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, or CIPD. Patients can get repaid for four treatments — up to $16,500 each, or a maximum of $50,000 — if use is discontinued for clinical reasons. And insurers can also get reimbursed for their own outlays.

Unlike the first warranty program — which Pfizer began a year ago for its Xalkori lung cancer treatment — this newest warranty is only available to patients who are covered by commercial insurance or pay cash, not government health care programs.  The Xalkori program is available to patients who are covered by commercial insurance or those who pay cash but are also covered by Medicare.

And how about an Rx coverage tidbit? Bayer tells us with understandable pride

This year, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), the active ingredient that brought Aspirin to fame, celebrates its 125th anniversary. On August 10, 1897, Dr. Felix Hoffmann discovered the ideal formula for acetylsalicylic acid when he synthesized the first chemically pure and stable form of acetylsalicylic acid. * * *

Hoffmann’s breakthrough was entered in the trademark register of the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin in 1899 and received a patent in the USA the following year, and scientists continue to conduct research even to this day on Aspirin, other potential areas of application, and dosage forms. In 1969, the round tablet made its way to the moon with the astronauts in the Apollo 11 capsule.

From the U.S. healthcare business front, MedCity News examines CVS Health’s expansion into the primary and homecare markets.

From the plan design front,

  • AHRQ’s Medical Expenditure Panel released a survey on trends in health insurance at private employers, 2008 – 2021.
  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans offers four steps for evaluating your plan’s diabetes coverage.
  • The Congressional Research Service updated its health savings account report.

From the telehealth and fraud, waste and abuse fronts

Healthcare Dive informs us

More patients turned to telehealth to see a doctor in May than April, in step with an increase in COVID-19 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Fair Health’s latest monthly tracker of private insurance claim lines.

Virtual visits rose 10.2% in May, accounting for 5.4% of all medical claim lines in the month, compared to 4.9% in April, Fair Health said Monday. It was the second straight month that telehealth’s share of claims grew.

COVID-19 made the list of top five telehealth diagnoses in every region of the country in May, holding in the No. 2 spot in the Northeast while climbing to second place in the Midwest and West and third place in the South.

STAT News delves into how telehealth fraud concerns could impact the industry’s future.

In Postal Service news, Federal News Network reports that USPS is eyeing mail price increases for January 2023.

USPS Chief Financial Officer Joe Corbett said the agency remains “in a financial hole,” and that more progress under the 10-year reform plan is needed.

“While we have accomplished a tremendous amount executing on the [Delivering for America] plan, we still have a lot of work to do. We need to continue executing the management initiatives in our Delivering for America plan to fill this hole and return to Postal Service to continuous self-sustaining financial health,” Corbett said.

[Postmaster General] DeJoy said USPS contributions to the retirement health care plan for its employees, under Postal Service Reform Act, will resume in 2026, and will grow to about $6.7 billion a year.

“We will not be able to make these payments unless we timely engage and accomplish all our initiatives, and we are trying to do just that,” DeJoy said.