Thursday Miscellany

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC, —

  • The New York Times reports
    • “Top White House officials and Republican lawmakers were closing in on Thursday on a deal that would raise the debt limit for two years while capping federal spending on everything but the military and veterans for the same period. Officials were racing to cement an agreement in time to avert a federal default that is projected in just one week.
    • “The deal taking shape would allow Republicans to say that they were reducing some federal spending — even as spending on the military and veterans’ programs would continue to grow — and allow Democrats to say they had spared most domestic programs from significant cuts.
    • “Negotiators from both sides were talking into the evening and beginning to draft legislative text, though some details remained in flux.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds
    • “The Treasury Department is preparing to change how the U.S. processes federal agencies’ payments if the debt ceiling is breached, dusting off a contingency plan crafted after the 2011 borrowing-limit standoff, people familiar with the matter said.
    • “Just days away from becoming unable to pay all of the government’s bills on time unless Congress raises the debt limit, Treasury officials have been quietly laying the groundwork for potentially delaying some payments after June 1.
    • “Under the backup plan created for a debt-limit breach, federal agencies would submit payments to the Treasury Department no sooner than the day before they are due, the people familiar with the talks said. That would represent a change from the current system, in which agencies may submit payment files well before their due dates. The Treasury Department processes them on a rolling basis, often ahead of the deadlines. Some payments are already sent to the department one day early, one person said. 
    • “The plan would enable the Treasury to make daily decisions about whether it can pay all of the government’s bills the next day.”
  • Back to the New York Times,
    • “The [U.S.] House of Representatives passed legislation on Thursday that would make permanent harsh criminal penalties and strict controls on fentanyl-related drugs, with scores of Democrats joining nearly all Republicans in a vote that reflected the political challenges of tackling what both parties consider America’s most pressing drug crisis.
    • “The bill, approved by a vote of 289 to 133, would permanently list fentanyl-related drugs as Schedule I controlled substances, a designation that mandates severe prison sentences for highly addictive, nonmedicinal chemicals, and which is now set to expire at the end of 2024.
    • “The bipartisan vote reflected agreement among Republicans and a solid bloc of Democrats that stiffening penalties for fentanyl-related drugs is a necessary component of the federal response to the crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were roughly 75,000 synthetic opioid overdose deaths in 2022, with fentanyl being a main culprit.”
  • Federal News Network informs us
    • “With many agencies’ return-to-office plans still uncertain, Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee want to take matters into their own hands.
    • “GOP committee leaders changed their strategy for trying to get more federal telework data, now reaching out directly to agency heads. In a series of 25 letters, the lawmakers asked for up-to-date  numbers of teleworking federal employees, after saying the Biden administration was “not adequately tracking the specific levels of telework.”
    • “The Biden administration “has not provided current data about the specific amount of telework occurring within federal agencies or across the entire federal workforce. Furthermore, it has provided no objective evidence concerning the impact of elevated telework on agency performance — including any deleterious impacts,” lawmakers said in the letters, published May 18.”

From the Rx coverage front —

  • Today the Food and Drug Administration granted full marketing approval to Paxlovid, the Covid treatment pill, which in the FEHBlog’s opinion, brought us to the end of the pandemic. Here’s a link to a MedPage Today report on this FDA action
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Research released “a Final Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of resmetirom (Madrigal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) and obeticholic acid (Ocaliva®, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).”
    • “Independent appraisal committee narrowly voted that currently available evidence for resmetirom is adequate to demonstrate a net health benefit over lifestyle management, whereas current evidence for obeticholic acid was deemed inadequate to demonstrate a net health benefit —
    • “ICER analyses suggest resmetirom would achieve common thresholds for cost-effectiveness if priced between $39,600 – $50,100 per year assuming that short-term effects on liver fibrosis translate into longer-term reductions in cirrhosis; under the same assumptions, obeticholic acid would achieve common thresholds for cost-effectiveness if priced between $32,600 – $40,400 per year.
    • “Payers should develop coverage criteria based on non-invasive testing to foster equitable access to early detection and treatment across diverse communities.
  • BioPharma Dive tells us
    • “Apellis Pharmaceuticals on Thursday became the latest drugmaker to give up on a potential treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder that has frustrated researchers for decades.
    • “The decision came after a Phase 2 trial showed no benefit for the drug, known as systemic pegcetacoplan, compared with a placebo. It failed to meet the primary endpoint, measured by a statistical tool called the Combined Assessment of Function and Survival, as well as secondary goals assessing overall function, survival, lung function and muscle strength.
    • “The final results weren’t a total surprise; an independent board monitoring the study had already advised the company not to start a second, “open-label” part of the trial that would have offered the medicine to all participants after the initial 52-week research period. Apellis executives had also signaled to analysts that the trial had a low chance of success.”

From the miscellany department —

  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “Initial findings from a study of nearly 10,000 Americans, many of whom had COVID-19, have uncovered new details about long COVID, the post-infection set of conditions that can affect nearly every tissue and organ in the body. Clinical symptoms can vary and include fatigue, brain fog, and dizziness, and last for months or years after a person has COVID-19. The research team, funded by the National Institutes of Health, also found that long COVID was more common and severe in study participants infected before the 2021 Omicron variant.
    • The study, published in JAMA, is coordinated through the NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery initiative, a nationwide effort dedicated to understanding why some people develop long-term symptoms following COVID-19, and most importantly, how to detect, treat, and prevent long COVID. The researchers hope this study is the next step toward potential treatments for long COVID, which affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
  • The New York Times discusses the miraculous case of a paralyzed man who has begun to walk again thanks to brain and spine “implants that provided a “digital bridge” between his brain and his spinal cord, bypassing injured sections” of his body.
  • HealthDay relates
    • “Older Americans are increasingly likely to log into “patient portals” to access their health care information — but confidence levels vary. 
    • “About 78% of people aged 50 to 80 now use at least one patient portal, according to the new University of Michigan (U-M) National Poll on Healthy Aging. 
    • “Five years ago, just 51% in this age range used patient portals, the researchers said. 
    • “The poll also found that 55% of those who used patient portals had done so in the past month. About 49% had accounts on more than one portal. 
    • “This surge is partly due to the increase in use of telehealth visits, said Denise Anthony, the U-M School of Public Health professor who worked on the poll.
    • “This change makes access to secure portals even more important for older adults who want to see their doctors and other health care providers virtually. It also makes the disparities we found in our poll even more troubling,” Anthony said in a Michigan Medicine news release. 
    • “Older adults with annual household incomes below $60,000, and those who were Black or Hispanic, had lower rates of portal use. These groups were also less likely to say they’re comfortable using a portal.”
  • The Washington Post reports
    • “U.S. authorities have seized increasing quantities of illegal ketamine, according to new research, a trend that coincides with the psychedelic drug’s rising popularity as a treatment for mental health ailments.
    • “The number of ketamine seizures by federal, state and local law enforcement in the United States increased from 55 in 2017 to 247 in 2022, while the total weight increased by more than 1,000 percent over that time, according to a letter published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry. Most of the ketamine was in powder form, which could raise the risk of being adulterated with deadly drugs such as fentanyl.”

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.”

Weekend update

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The House of Representatives will be in session for Committee business and floor voting, while the Senate will be on a State work week this week. The Senate press gallery informs us, “In today’s (5/18/23) wrap-up, Schumer reiterated that as discussions concerning the debt ceiling continue over the next week, Senators should be able to return to the Senate within a 24-hour period.”

The Wall Street Journal reports

“President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to meet Monday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal to avoid a default on U.S. sovereign debt after negotiations to raise the federal borrowing limit reached an impasse.

“Talks between White House and House Republican negotiators largely ground to a halt this weekend, with both sides blaming the other for a failure to bridge their differences over spending levels. But Biden and McCarthy instructed their negotiating teams to resume their discussions, starting with a 6 p.m. meeting on Sunday. * * *

“There’s no agreement. We’re still apart,” McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters at the Capitol, though he said the call with Biden was productive.” * * *

“Leaders in Washington are rushing to come up with a deal to lift the country’s borrowing limit. If they are unable to do so, the country might be unable to pay all of its bills as soon as June 1, according to an assessment by the U.S. Treasury Department.  

“Appearing Sunday on NBC, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the “odds of reaching June 15th, while being able to pay all of our bills, is quite low.”

“Economists say that failure to lift the debt ceiling, and a subsequent default, would tip the economy into a recession. Moody’s Analytics predicts that a default would cost more than seven million jobs and cause the unemployment rate to move above 8%. The ratings company also predicts that the stock market would lose a fifth of its value.”


From the plan design front, the Wall Street Journal reports

“The Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday announced the largest-ever increase to the amount Americans can set aside in health-savings accounts each year.

“For 2024, the maximum HSA contribution will be $8,300 for a family and $4,150 for an individual. That is up from $7,750 for a family and $3,850 for an individual for 2023.

“Participants age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000, which means an older married couple could sock away $10,300 a year, up from $9,750 this year. In the last ten years leading up to retirement, a couple could accumulate more than $100,000 in these accounts. * * *

While workers can tap 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts for medical costs, health savings accounts offer more tax savings than both traditional or Roth retirement accounts. There is no tax going in, tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals if used for eligible healthcare expenses.”

The FEHBlog came to love the high-deductible health plan/health savings account arrangement. The Wall Street Journal endorses the FEHBlog’s viewpoint. The FEHBlog was cut off from the arrangement when he became Medicare primary in late 2019. Because the FEHBlog’s law firm has less than 20 employees, the FEHBlog found it necessary to drop his employer-sponsored coverage in favor of Medicare. Medicare coverage has been fine, but the FEHBlog misses contributing to his HSA. Younger employees should give the HDHP / HSA arrangement a close look.

The Wall Street Journal adds

“Remember one important caveat, however: If you’re sure to spend over the deductible, other plans may be more appropriate for you, such as the PPO plan that will cost you an additional $800. (You forgo the ability to save, but you also face a lower out-of-pocket maximum.) For instance, if you know with reasonable certainty that you need access to a more-expensive provider for a one-time procedure, then you should pick a plan that gives you this access, such as a PPO plan, and switch back to an HMO plan with an HDHP-and-HSA option during next year’s open-enrollment period.

“If you do end up choosing an HDHP, please remember: Do not cut back on care haphazardly, as many people do. Following a doctor’s recommendations is much more important than saving a bit of money.”

While the FEHBlog is not yet retired, he is intrigued by the Fortune Well article on cognitive decline following retirement. The article offers four ways to avoid this otherwise “universal trend.”

  1. Keep or get connected.
  2. Keep active.
  3. Keep stress to a minimum
  4. Keep working, regardless of pay.

Next stop, Walmart greeter??

From the U.S. healthcare business front, Healthcare Dive tells us

“Physician staffing firm Envision Healthcare has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing its $7.7 billion in debt obligations, declining patient volumes, “flawed” implementation of the No Surprises Act and exclusionary health insurers as reasons for its financial decline in a restructuring announcement on Monday.

“The bankruptcy wipes out private equity firm KKR’s investment in Envision. In 2018, the PE firm shelled out over $5 billion in 2018 to take Envision private in a deal valued at $9.9 billion, including debt. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that an Envision bankruptcy filing would be one of the steepest losses in KKR’s history.”

From the miscellany department, NPR Shots offers articles evaluating experimental cancer treatments and looking into a new NIH study:

There’s plenty of one-size-fits-all nutrition advice. But there’s mounting evidence that people respond differently to food, given differences in biology, lifestyle and gut microbiome.

“The National Institutes of Health wants to learn more about these individual responses through a Nutrition for Precision Health study, and this week researchers began enrolling participants to take part in the study at 14 sites across the U.S.

“It’s part of the All of Us research initiative that aims to use data from a million participants to understand how differences in our biology, lifestyle and environment can affect our health.

Holly Nicastro of the NIH Office of Nutrition Research says the goal of the precision nutrition study is to help develop tailored approaches for people. “We’ll use machine learning and artificial intelligence to develop algorithms that can predict how individuals will respond to a given food or dietary pattern,” Nicastro says.

“The study will take into account a person’s genetics, gut microbes, and other lifestyle, environmental and social factors “to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health,” Nicastro says.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC. Roll Call informs us,

“Top negotiators for President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy resumed talks Friday evening to lift the nation’s borrowing cap, ending a “pause” put in place hours earlier when Republicans expressed frustration with the White House position.

“After a nearly daylong setback, White House Counselor Steve Ricchetti, White House budget director Shalanda Young, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., and House Financial Services Chairman Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., resumed talks at the Capitol shortly after 6 p.m.”

From the public health front —

  • Reuters reports
    • “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people at high risk of mpox to get two doses of Bavarian Nordic’s (BAVA.CO) Jynneos vaccine, based on new evidence from a U.S. study showing that the regimen is more effective at preventing infection than one shot.
    • “The study, published on Thursday, offered some of the first evidence on the efficacy of the Jynneos vaccine, which was deployed last year during a global outbreak of mpox that affected more than 30,000 people in the United States.”
  • and
    • “A World Health Organization (WHO) advisory group on Thursday recommended that this year’s COVID-19 booster shots be updated to target one of the currently dominant XBB variants.
    • “New formulations should aim to produce antibody responses to the XBB.1.5 or XBB.1.16 variants, the advisory group said, adding that other formulations or platforms that achieve neutralizing antibody responses against XBB lineages could also be considered.
    • “The group suggested no longer including the original COVID-19 strain in future vaccines, based on data that the original virus no longer circulates in human beings and shots targeting the strain produce “undetectable or very low levels of neutralizing antibodies” against currently circulating variants.
    • “COVID-19 vaccine makers like Pfizer/BioNtech (PFE.N), , Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Novavax Inc (NVAX.O) are already developing versions of their respective vaccines targeting XBB.1.5 and other currently circulating strains.
    • “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also set to hold a meeting of outside experts in June to discuss the strain compositions of COVID-19 shots for later this year; vaccine manufacturers will be expected to update their shots once the strains are selected.”
  • CNBC reports
    • “NIH is enrolling patients in an early-stage clinical trial to test a universal flu vaccine based on mRNA technology.
    • “The technology is behind Moderna’s and Pfizer’s widely used Covid vaccines.
    • “Scientists hope the vaccine will protect against a wide variety of flu strains and provide long-term immunity so people do not have to receive a shot every year.” 
  • Health Payer Intelligence reminds us that the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover four categories of preventive services without cost-sharing when delivered in-network, not just U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Grades A and B recommendations. In addition,
    • “(1) Payers have to cover routine immunizations per the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a federal immunization committee. ACIP recommendations are finalized when adopted by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). * * *
    • “(2) The ACA rules around covering preventive care services for women are based on USPSTF and ACIP recommendations. But they also consider Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) guidelines, which draw from the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative (WPSI) standards. To comply with the requirements of preventive care services for women, payers must fully cover well-woman visits, breastfeeding support, and screening and counseling related to intimate partner violence and other conditions and circumstances. Contraceptives approved, granted, or cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are also covered. * * *
    • “(3) ACA preventive care coverage also encompasses services for children. These requirements are based on HRSA’s Bright Futures Project. They include well-child visits, immunizations, screenings, behavioral and developmental assessments, and more. As of May 2023, the immunization list covered conditions including but not limited to HPV, hepatitis A and B, rubella, influenza, and tetanus.” * * *
  • The Department of Health and Human Services “and the non-profit organization Baby2Baby announced a new pilot program to distribute a one-time only Newborn Supply Kit made up of essential goods and critical maternal health items to new mothers and their infants. * * * HS and Baby2Baby will first distribute 3,000 of the Newborn Supply Kits across Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico – three states experiencing deep levels of family poverty – via hospitals and community-based partner organizations. Any mother giving birth during pilot implementation at one of the partner sites will be eligible to receive a kit. * * * HHS also launched a new website,, that includes information across all Federal agencies for families on health, feeding, sleeping, child development and programmatic information.”

From the FDA front —

  • Biopharma Dive tells us
    • “A panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers on Thursday backed maternal use of Pfizer’s RSV vaccine for protecting young infants, but recommended its early use be closely monitored to confirm study safety data.
    • “The panel of outside advisers voted 14-0 that Pfizer’s vaccine, called Abrysvo, was effective in protecting infants from infections caused by respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, when given to their mothers during pregnancy.
    • “Despite some concerns around the shot’s potential risk, they agreed in a 10-4 vote that Pfizer’s data showed it to be generally safe. The FDA, which usually follows the advice of its advisers, is expected to decide whether to approve maternal use of the shot by August. Separately, its use in older adults is due for a decision this month.”
  • MedCity News relates
    • “The inflammatory bowel disorder Crohn’s disease can be treated by several different biologic drugs administered as injections or infusions. The FDA just approved the first daily pill for the chronic condition.
    • “Rinvoq, a blockbuster AbbVie drug already approved for multiple autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, is now approved as a treatment for moderately to severely active Crohn’s disease. The decision announced Thursday specifically covers the treatment of adults whose disease has not been adequately managed by tumor necrosis factors inhibitors, a class of biologic drugs currently used to treat the disorder.”
  • “Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the Beta Bionics iLet ACE Pump and the iLet Dosing Decision Software for people six years of age and older with type 1 diabetes. These two devices, along with a compatible FDA-cleared integrated continuous glucose monitor (iCGM), will form a new system called the iLet Bionic Pancreas. This new automated insulin dosing (AID) system uses an algorithm to determine and command insulin delivery.”

From the Rx coverage front

  • Healio tells us,
    • “Of adolescents with obesity receiving semaglutide in the STEP TEENS trial, 44.9% improved to overweight or normal weight.
    • “The odds of improving body mass index category with semaglutide were 23 times higher than placebo.”
  • STAT News adds.
    • Novo Nordisk is pausing ads for its obesity drug Wegovy as it struggles to keep up with surging demand, the latest hurdle in its rollout of the weight loss drug.
    • “To avoid stimulating further demand for this medicine, we’re pausing some key Wegovy promotional efforts,” the Danish drugmaker said in an emailed statement. “We are pausing all local television advertising and postponing planned national television advertising for Wegovy. We are also assessing our promotional efforts to healthcare professionals and adjusting accordingly.” The news was earlier reported by Endpoints.
  • Medscape informs us,
    • “Drug shortages in the United States hit a 10-year high in the first quarter of 2023, according to data from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). Among the top five drug classes affected by shortages are chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of cancer, many of which do not have alternatives.
    • “The shortage of certain cancer drugs has become a serious and life-threatening issue for cancer patients across the country,” said Karen E. Knudsen, MBA, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS) and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), in a statement. “I have heard from patients and practitioners who are directly experiencing the impact of these shortages.”
    • “As of earlier this month, there were 15 oncology drugs on the official US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) drug shortage list. The other top drug classes on shortage include drugs used for central nervous system (CNS) disorders,  antimicrobials, fluids and electrolytes, and hormones.” * * *
    • “Drug shortages in the United States have been a chronic problem for more than two decades, waxing and waning in intensity. In March, a hearing on drug shortages held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs noted that since 2001, the number of new drug shortages has ranged between 58 (in 2004) and 267 (in 2011). The trend toward new drug shortages declined from 2018 through 2021, but then rose to 160 in 2022.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • MedCity News points out,
    • “If you enter a drugstore in any major American city, there’s a good chance you might see a retail health clinic. In the past decade or so, healthcare stakeholders have gone back and forth as to whether these clinics will have a significant impact on healthcare delivery in the U.S. But a new report reveals that retail clinics are solidifying their position as a major force in the U.S. healthcare system.
    • “Retail clinic claims volumes have shot up by 200% in the past five years, according to the report, which was released Thursday by analytics company Definitive Healthcare
    • Claims growth for these clinics, which are usually located in stores like WalmartCVS and Walgreens, have greatly outpaced growth in claims for urgent care centers, emergency departments and physician practices. Urgent care center claims grew by 70% in the past five years. Meanwhile, emergency room usage dropped by 1%, and primary care office claims declined by 13%.
    • As of this year, there are more than 1,800 active retail clinics across 44 states. Most of these are in major metropolitan areas, with just 2% of clinics located in rural areas. The report argued that this paucity stems from the same factors that have produced care deserts in rural America — mainly low population density and difficulty attracting workers.
    • The report also revealed that about half of all retail clinics are concentrated in the following seven highly populated states: California, Georgia, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC, Roll Call reports

“Lawmakers from both parties suggested negotiators were making progress Thursday toward a bipartisan deal that would raise the $31.4 trillion debt limit, though days of talks still lie ahead.

“Scrambling to avert a debt limit breach that Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said could hit as early as June 1, negotiators are attempting to reach a framework for a deal by Sunday, when President Joe Biden returns from a trip to the G-7 summit in Japan.

“Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is negotiating with Biden through proxies, said he is hopeful that a deal could come as soon as this weekend. In a sign of progress, the two parties have begun to exchange offers, said House Rules Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla.

“We’ve made good progress this week, but the work continues,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer. “ No one will get everything they want.”

“If a deal is reached by Monday, the House would vote next week, with 72 hours notice after the text is posted. While the Senate is scheduled to be in recess next week, Schumer said his chamber would be prepared to reconvene with 24 hours’ notice to schedule a vote.”

Per STAT News

“Pharmacy benefit managers would be subject to new transparency rules under a bill that cleared a key House subcommittee, Modern Healthcare says. The Transparent PRICE Act of 2023, which received a unanimous vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, would require pharmacy benefit managers to annually provide employers with detailed data on drug spending, including acquisition costs, out-of-pocket spending, formulary-placement rationale, and aggregate rebate information. The bill also would order the Government Accountability Office to report on group health plan pharmacy networks, including those owned by health insurers.”

Fierce Healthcare discusses other healthcare actions taken by this subcommittee yesterday.

BioPharma Dive tells us

“The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against Amgen in its decade-long battle with Sanofi and Regeneron, affirming a lower court’s decision that Amgen’s rivals did not infringe on patents the biotechnology company held on a cholesterol-lowering medicine.

“In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court said two Amgen patents on its PCSK9 inhibitor Repatha fell short of a legal standard known as enablement, which requires the claimed invention be described well enough to allow a skilled person in the field to use it. * * *

“The court’s ruling could open the door for challenges to older classes of antibody therapies, [University of Illinois law professor Jacob]Sherkow said. “This decision is probably going to give challengers solace. They’re going to have good options when working with the enablement requirements to challenge competitors’ patents out there.”

From the public health front —

  • The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released its 2023 U.S. county health rankings while the UnitedHealthFoundation issued its 2023 Seniors Report from its America’s Health Rankings Services.
  • MedPage Today informs us
    • “The CDC encouraged populations at risk of contracting mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, to get fully vaccinated against the disease as part of preparations for summer during a briefing Thursday morning.
    • “Demetre Daskalakis, MD, the White House National Mpox Response Deputy Coordinator, noted that with summer gatherings on the horizon, mpox vaccination should be considered, as should overall sexual health and wellness.
    • “Getting ‘summer ready’ means mpox vaccination, but that’s not all it means — it also means to be up to date on all of your sexual health, and that includes HIV and STIs [sexually transmitted infections] like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia,” he said.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services posted a fact sheet with “Resources on Ways Communities Can Stay Protected from Mpox in Advance of Summer Months.”
  • The Wall Street Journal points out the important medical tests that Americans should consider undergoing over the decades of life.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force notified the public about a draft research plan concerning “Weight Loss to Prevent Obesity-Related Morbidity and Mortality in Adults: Interventions” that is open for comment until June 14, 2023.

From the Food and Drug Administration front, the Wall Street Journal reports

“The Food and Drug Administration for the first time cleared a test to gauge a mother’s risk of severe preeclampsia, a leading cause of pregnancy-related illness and death in the U.S.  

Thermo Fisher Scientific said Thursday that the blood test it already sells in Europe could be available in the U.S. soon. Its introduction could transform prenatal care in the U.S., doctors and maternal-health advocates said.”


From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • Beckers Hospital Review notes five new details about Kaiser Permanente’s Risant Health deal.
  • Fierce Healthcare discusses provider objections to what appears to the FEHBlog to be a reasonable new prior authorization program that UnitedHealthcare is introducing. No good deed goes unpunished.

From the miscellany department —

  • STAT News relates that
    • “A multibillion-dollar science agency tasked with slashing through research bureaucracy will start its work with a plan to help people regenerate bone.
    • “The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, launched a little more than a year ago, announced Thursday that its first official program would target bone and joint damage from osteoarthritis, a condition affecting more than 32 million Americans.”
  • Govexec discusses FEHB coverage of Covid tests and vaccines following the end of the PHE.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission weighs in on the Title VII compliance implications of employer use of artificial intelligence to make employment decisions.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

Roll Call tells us,

“President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday tapped proxies to negotiate directly over how to increase the debt limit with time running short before the government runs too low on funds.”


“Lawmakers are beginning to think about changing their plans and staying in Washington in the coming weeks as a standoff over increasing the debt limit bears down. Members of both parties’ leadership said on Tuesday that plans for the Senate to recess next week and the House to leave town the following week could shift.”

BenefitsLink pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service released a revenue procedure identifying inflation-adjusted high deductible health plan and health savings account amounts for use in 2024 just in time for FEHB high deductible health plan benefit proposals due May 31.

STAT News reports

“In an unexpected move, the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to block Amgen from acquiring Horizon Therapeutics, claiming the $27.8 billion deal would make it possible for Amgen to develop monopolies through a tactic that manipulates health coverage and drives up consumer costs.

“At issue is a practice known as bundling. Simply put, a drug company combines two or more medicines in a package deal for health plans and pharmacy benefit managers, which determine lists of medicines that are covered by insurance. The practice has previously sparked concerns that a drug company will unfairly offer higher rebates for bundles in order to win favorable placement.”

From the medical and drug research fronts —

  • The National Institute of Health informs us,
    • “A study from the National Institutes of Health shows that new cases of chronic pain occur more often among U.S. adults than new cases of several other common conditions, including diabetes, depression, and high blood pressure. Among people who have chronic pain, almost two-thirds still suffer from it a year later. These findings come from a new analysis of National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data by investigators from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) at the NIH, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and University of Washington, Seattle, and are published in JAMA Network Open.”
  • The New York Times reports
    • “The man should have gotten Alzheimer’s disease in his early 40s — he had a gene mutation that guaranteed it, or so it seemed. Scans of his brain even revealed severe atrophying and the hallmarks of the disease: rough, hard, amyloid plaques and spaghetti-like tangles of tau proteins. But the fatal brain disease did not appear until the man was 67.
    • “Now an intense research effort has discovered why. The man was protected because another mutation in a different gene blocked the disease from entering his entorhinal cortex. That tiny area of the brain is a hub for neurons involved in memory, recognition of objects, navigation and time perception. And it is there that scientists believe that Alzheimer’s disease begins.
    • “A paper on the finding was published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.
    • More than six million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s, a disease that has been notoriously difficult to treat. Yet here was a man with a mutation that causes the most severe and rapidly progressing form of Alzheimer’s. And his disease was delayed for two decades. If a drug could do what the mutation did, resulting in most people getting Alzheimer’s very late in life, the outcome could be transformative.”

From the SDOH front,

  • the National Institutes of Health shared
    • “New research shows that the economic burden of health disparities in the United States remains unacceptably high. The study, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health,  revealed that in 2018, racial and ethnic health disparities cost the U.S. economy $451 billion, a 41% increase from the previous estimate of $320 billion in 2014. The study also finds that the total burden of education-related health disparities for persons with less than a college degree in 2018 reached $978 billion, about two times greater than the annual growth rate of the U.S. economy in 2018.”

From the AI department,

  • Beckers Payer Issues informs us
    • Payers are putting artificial intelligence to work. 
    • Google recently launched a new AI-powered cloud program for prior authorization and claims processing. Elevance Health is piloting AI-powered concierge care for members. 
    • Becker’s asked 18 payer executives how AI will transform the insurance industry. [The interview squibs are available in the article.]

From the patient front, here is a link to HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research March 2023 Chartbook on Patient Safety.

Thursday Miscellany

From Washington DC —

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash
  • The Secretary of Health and Human Services issued a statement on the end of the Covid health emergency which occurred today.
    • Govexec and the Society for Human Resource Management respectively discuss the impact of this event on federal agencies and employers generally.
      • SHRM notes, “President Biden in April ended the pandemic national emergency weeks earlier than expected—but the premature ending won’t shift the deadlines spelled out in the administration’s guidance from March, including the extended deadline for special enrollment in health plans. * * * July 10 will also mark the end of some COBRA-related relief, under which employees were allowed extra time to pay their COBRA premiums or to decide whether they wanted to use the coverage.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “A highly anticipated meeting scheduled for Friday between President Biden and congressional leaders to chart a path forward on lifting the debt ceiling was postponed until next week, officials said.
    • “The delay will give White House and congressional staff more time to make progress in their closed-door spending talks, the officials said, adding that one of the lawmakers was unable to attend the meeting Friday because of a scheduling conflict.
  • STAT News informs us
    • “The Senate health committee on Thursday passed a package of bills aimed at speeding generic drug competition and reining in drug middlemen business practices. But they failed to pass an ambitious reform to the pharmacy benefit manager sector, despite strong bipartisan support for it.
    • “Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is pursuing the drug pricing reforms at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wants to hold a floor vote on an even bigger package of health bills later this year. The markup came just a day after the same panel held a major hearing on PBM and drugmakers’ role in high insulin prices.
    • “It’s not clear when the Senate would take up that package, and while the package is bipartisan, it’s not clear whether it has enough support among House Republicans to pass in that chamber. There are a few, tamer PBM bills that the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to mark up on May 17, but there is no indication that Senate and House lawmakers are coordinating on PBM legislation.
    • “The committee passed 18 to 3 a bill that would ban PBMs from using so-called spread pricing. It would also require that the middlemen disclose rebates, fees, and other payments they receive and to pass them on to the insurers for whom they negotiate those concessions. * * * The committee included an amendment from Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), that would let patients appeal insurer decisions to make them try cheaper drugs before getting more expensive drugs.”

From the public health front, Healio tells us that “Overweight and obese BMI during adulthood appeared associated with increased risk for colorectal cancer and non colorectal gastrointestinal cancers, according to study results published in JAMA Network Open.” The FEHBlog does not think that the new generation of obesity-reduction drugs needs publicity, but there you go.

From the Rx coverage and more front, the FDA announced

  • “the supplemental approval of Rexulti (brexpiprazole) oral tablets for the treatment of agitation associated with dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease. This is the first FDA-approved treatment option for this indication.”
    • Medpage Today adds, “Brexpiprazole’s labelopens in a new tab or window will continue to carry a boxed warning about the risk of increased mortality in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis treated with antipsychotic drugs. The warning further stipulates that the drug is not approved for patients with dementia-related psychosis who are not experiencing agitation associated with Alzheimer’s dementia.”
  • and “finalized recommendations for assessing blood donor eligibility using a set of individual risk-based questions to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV. These questions will be the same for every donor, regardless of sexual orientation, sex or gender. Blood establishments may now implement these recommendations by revising their donor history questionnaires and procedures.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review points out “The Biden administration has been taking action to address the prescription drug supply shortage, which has caused upheaval both for patients and providers, according to a May 10 Bloomberg report.”

From the medical research front —

  • STAT News reports
    • “Home to billions of cells that form trillions of connections, the human brain isn’t just the body’s most important organ; it’s also the hardest to study. But an international team of scientists using cutting-edge stem cell technology has devised a new way to better understand the brain’s cellular cleanup crew — and its connection to neurological disease.
    • “Researchers coaxed stem cells to grow into microglia, immune cells that roam the brain searching for signs of damage and that monitor and maintain neuronal connections. They then added microglia to brain organoids, tiny 3D structures of neurons that mimic some aspects of brain function, and transplanted these microglia-containing “mini-brains” into mice. Doing so caused microglia to look and behave much more like they would in a human brain compared to previous lab experiments conducted in a dish.
    • “The authors also found early hints that they could use these transplanted organoids to study disease, including the role that microglia might play in autism. Microglia in brain organoids derived from people with autism had larger cell bodies than cells from controls and had an overabundance of small cellular extensions associated with an active, inflammatory state researchers believe may contribute to the disorder.”
    • “The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Cell, are the result of a collaboration between scientists from San Diego to Germany to Israel. The study raises the possibility of using transplanted organoids to understand the complex crosstalk between neurons and immune cells across a range of diseases, and to perhaps one day use this system to test potential treatments.”
  • The Washington Post adds
    • “A skin patch being developed by a French pharmaceutical company to treat peanut allergy is showing promise in toddlers, according to a peer-reviewed study published Wednesday.
    • “The “peanut patch” outperformed a placebo in “desensitizing children to peanuts and increasing the peanut dose that triggered allergic symptoms,” said the study, which was funded by the company DBV Technologies and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.”

Midweek Update

From Washington, DC, the Wall Street Journal reports

  • “The Biden administration and Capitol Hill leaders are scrambling to avoid a first-ever government default that could arrive as soon as June 1, taking potential alternative strategies more seriously after months of deadlock over raising the country’s borrowing limit.  
  • “Publicly, both Republicans and Democrats are still sticking to their demands as the clock ticks. GOP lawmakers are seeking to force cuts to federal spending in exchange for supporting raising the debt limit, while Democrats continue to call for a debt-limit increase without any other policy conditions.
  • “Privately, though, Biden administration officials and lawmakers have started to weigh potential alternatives to their negotiating position, including a short-term increase in the borrowing limit that would buy them time to find a compromise, according to people familiar with the matter. Biden administration officials are also taking a fresh look at experimental ways the U.S. could potentially keep paying the government’s bills even if Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit, the people said.” 

From the Rx coverage front —

MedPage Today informs us,

  • “The FDA has approved the first-ever vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the agency announced on Wednesday.
  • “Marketed under the trade name of Arexvy, the adjuvanted RSV prefusion F protein-based vaccine is specifically indicated for preventing lower respiratory tract infections in adults 60 and over.
  • “Until now, no vaccine has existed to protect against RSV infection, a common scourge both for young children and older adults.  * * *
  • GSK said the vaccine would be available ahead of the 2023/2024 RSV season, and that the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will weigh in on the RSV vaccine’s appropriate use in June.”

Beckers Pay Issues points out,

  • “Payers are anticipating the cost of expensive new gene therapy drugs to be a significant issue in the coming years, according to a survey from the Pharmaceutical Strategy Group. 
  • “The survey, published May 1, asked 182 benefits leaders at employers and health plans about their organization’s specialty drug benefit design. 
  • “Read the full report here. 

From the drug research front, the Wall Street Journal reports

  • “An experimental Eli Lilly drug slowed cognitive and functional decline for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease in a new study that signals drugmakers are turning a corner in long-running efforts to find meaningful treatments for the memory-robbing disease.
  • “Based on the new data, Lilly said Wednesday it plans to apply this quarter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval to market the drug, setting up a potential agency decision later in 2023 or in 2024. * * *
  • “Researchers designed Lilly’s drug donanemab and Leqembi, from Eisai and Biogen, to work by targeting and reducing amyloid, a substance that forms plaque in the brain and is a prime suspect in fueling the worsening of Alzheimer’s. * * *
  • “In the study of more than 1,730 patients, the [intravenously administered] drug slowed patients’ decline by 35% compared with people who received a placebo over 18 months of treatment, Lilly said. Researchers gave the drug to elderly people who testing indicated were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. * * *
  • “The findings could bolster donanemab’s appeal to some doctors and patients when compared with Eisai and Biogen’s Leqembi, according to analysts.
  • “Leqembi slowed Alzheimer’s patients’ decline by 27% versus a placebo over 18 months in a separate study, though there were differences in the studies that make direct comparisons difficult.
  • “Yet Leqembi’s safety profile might give it an advantage over donanemab with other doctors and patients, analysts said.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front, Healthcare Dive informs us that “CVS [Health] lowers 2023 earnings outlook on Oak Street, Signify deal costs.”

  • “Despite lowering 2023 earnings guidance by 20 cents to a range of $8.50 to $8.70 per share, “we remain committed to achieving the $9 and $10 targets for 2024 and 2025,” CFO Shawn Guertin said on a Wednesday earnings call.”

From the patient safety front, the Leapfrog Group released

  • “the spring 2023 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade. An analysis found the average risk of three healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)— including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) and catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI)—spiked to a 5-year high in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 
  • “Additional highlights from the spring 2023 Safety Grades include:
  • “Twenty-nine percent of hospitals received an “A,” 26% received a “B,” 39% received a “C,” 6% received a “D,” and less than 1% received an “F.”
  • “The top ten states with the highest percentages of “A” hospitals are: New Jersey, Idaho, Utah, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Virginia and Massachusetts.
  • “There were no “A” hospitals in Delaware, the District of Columbia or North Dakota.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC, The Wall Street Journal reports

  • “Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. government could become unable to pay all of its bills on time as soon as June 1 if Congress doesn’t first raise the debt limit.
  • “President Biden on Monday invited the top Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill to meet next week to discuss raising the country’s roughly $31.4 trillion borrowing limit, the White House said soon after Ms. Yellen’s warning. 
  • “The new estimate released Monday sets a shorter timeline than forecasters had previously expected, putting the U.S. potentially just weeks away from the first default on the U.S. debt. Republicans and Democrats have been debating how to raise the debt ceiling for months, but they have so far made little progress toward reaching an agreement.  * * *
  • “Ms. Yellen said the Treasury’s latest projection was still uncertain. The Treasury could ultimately be able to pay the nation’s bills for several weeks beyond early June, she said. The Treasury tends to be conservative when communicating projected deadlines for possible default.
  • “It is impossible to predict with certainty the exact date when Treasury will be unable to pay the government’s bills,” Ms. Yellen wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.).” 

In public health emergency (PHE) news,

  • Govexec informs us “The White House announced on Monday it’s officially ending the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors when the public health emergency ends on May 11.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control issued public fact sheets on post-PHE coverage for over-the-counter Covid tests. OPM’s end of PHE guidance requires carriers to continue coverage of these items but allows cost sharing.

From the public health front —

  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “Researchers have found the “Eat, Sleep, Console” (ESC) care approach to be more effective than using the Finnegan Neonatal Abstinence Scoring Tool (FNAST) to assess and manage opioid-exposed newborns, according to a national, randomized controlled clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. Newborns cared for with ESC were medically ready for discharge approximately 6.7 days earlier and 63% less likely to receive medication as part of their treatment, compared to newborns cared for with FNAST. ESC prioritizes non-pharmacologic approaches to care, such as a low-stimulation environment, swaddling, skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. ESC also encourages parental involvement in the care and assessment of their infants. These findings are based on the hospital outcomes of a large and geographically diverse group of opioid-exposed infants. A two-year follow-up study of a subset of infants is ongoing. The current findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    • “Medical care for newborns who were exposed to opioids during pregnancy varies widely across hospitals,” said Diana W. Bianchi, M.D., director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which co-led the study with the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program. “These findings are an important step toward standard, evidence-based guidance for the care of these infants.”
  • The McKinsey Health Institute evaluates the impact of tech and social media on Gen Z mental health.
    • “Much like many relationships a person might have between ages 18 and 24, the relationship a young person has with social media can be complicated. No matter where they live, respondents in a new global survey said social media usage can lead to a fear of missing out (FOMO) or poor body image, but it also can help with social connections and self-expression.”

From the Rx coverage front, STAT News tells us,

  • “It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when obesity was a desert for drug development. Now that drugs originally conceived to control diabetes appear to be such sweeping successes in weight loss, competitors may soon crowd the field. Some candidates may move beyond the current class of GLP-1-based drugs, which mimic the hormone that helps regulate insulin and hunger. 
  • “STAT’s Elaine Chen and Allison DeAngelis explore novel approaches still in development, including some that don’t induce muscle loss, unlike the GLP-1 drugs, and some that mirror the effect of bariatric surgery. Still, among roughly 80 obesity treatments in development, more than half are GLP-1-based, according to tallies by STAT and analysts at TD Cowen. And combination treatments may be the future. Read more.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review points out that “Nursing shortages are easing for some hospitals after falling pay from temp agencies and new hospital perks drive more nurses back into permanent positions, The Wall Street Journal reported May 1.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues relates “Molina Healthcare reported double-digit growth in net income since the same period last year and raised its year-end earnings guidance, according to the company’s first-quarter earnings posted April 26.”
  • According to BioPharma Dive
    • “Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma on Sunday agreed to acquire Iveric Bio for about $5.9 billion, betting that a medicine the biotechnology company has developed for a common type of vision loss can help it build an eye drug business. * * *
    • “The deal hands Astellas a drug called Zimura that Iveric is studying as a treatment for a form of vision loss known as geographic atrophy. Iveric’s drug already succeeded in a pair of Phase 3 trials and is currently being reviewed by U.S. regulators. A decision is expected by Aug. 19.
    • “Pharmaceutical companies have increasingly turned to dealmaking to help offset patent losses that are soon expected for many of the industry’s top-selling drugs. Over the last two months, drugmakers have spent roughly $65 billion in total on buyouts, led by Pfizer’s $43 billion acquisition of cancer biotech Seagen, according to BioPharma Dive data.”