Friday Factoids

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Bloomberg News reports,
    • “Federal agencies are aiming to issue final regulations this year that aim to make the arbitration process more efficient for No Surprises Act health care payment disputes, an IRS official said.
    • “The regulations are a priority for the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services departments, said IRS Office of Chief Counsel Senior Technician Reviewer Kevin Knopf during a Thursday panel at the Federal Bar Association’s Insurance Tax Seminar.
    • “The proposed rules aim to reduce certain administrative fees tied to participating in an independent dispute resolution system that arbitrates clashes between medical providers and health insurers over payments. They also aim to clarify requirements to prove that a dispute is eligible for the dispute resolution process.” 
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced,
    • “Today, on National Heat Awareness Day, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is launching a new tool to help communities prepare for extreme heat and prevent heat-related illness, especially among those most at risk. The Heat and Health Index (HHI) is the first nationwide tool to provide heat-health outcome information at the ZIP code level. The HHI will help state and local officials identify communities, at the zip code level, most likely to experience negative health outcomes from heat, ensure that outreach and medical aid reach the people who need it most, and help decision-makers prioritize community resilience investments.”
  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance released a fact sheet about Mental Health Awareness Month, which ended today.
  • HHS’s Agency for Health Research and Quality tells us,
    • “As we round out Older Americans Month, it is crucial that we continue to recognize the significant contributions of older adults and the urgent need to transform and improve their healthcare. Our current system is ill-equipped to meet the complex needs of older adults, who often contend with multiple chronic conditions. This inadequacy leads to fragmented and sub-optimal care, resulting in poor health outcomes, avoidable adverse events, hospitalizations, institutionalization, and increased costs. 
    • “To meet these challenges, AHRQ remains committed to using its research capabilities to build the evidence base and identify solutions ready for action. To do so, the agency has released a Special Emphasis Notice to announce its strong interest in funding health services research to improve care quality for older adults.  Research proposals for enhancing service access, delivery, organization, and equitable distribution are welcome. In particular, AHRQ seeks research to address critical questions related to the development, implementation, evaluation, and scalability of person-centered models of care to optimize older adults’ physical and mental health, functional status, and overall well-being.” 
  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a third vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus, clearing a shot from biotechnology company Moderna one year after granting a green light to vaccines from GSK and Pfizer.
    • The vaccine, dubbed mResvia, is for the prevention of disease caused by respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in adults 60 years of age and older. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to meet next month to provide recommendations on the shot’s use. Moderna had said it expects the vaccine to be available in time for the fall immunization season in the U.S.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) adds,
    • “The RSV vaccine is not currently an annual vaccine, meaning people do not need to get a dose every RSV season. Currently, CDC recommends only a single dose of RSV vaccine for adults ages 60 and older, using shared clinical decision-making. Additional surveillance and evaluation activities are ongoing to determine whether older adults might benefit from receiving additional RSV vaccines in the future. So far, RSV vaccines appear to provide some protection for at least two RSV seasons.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • HHS posted a “Fact Sheet: In Response to H5N1, HHS and USDA Focus on Protecting Farmworkers.” For more information on the ongoing response, please visit FDACDC, and USDA’s ongoing H5N1 update pages.
  • STAT News reports,
    • “There are a lot of reasons why updated data on Pfizer’s Lorbrena, a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, might not seem to be a big deal. The results are an update on the clinical trial that resulted in the Food and Drug Administration granting Lorbrena full approval in 2021, so in a sense they are not even that new. For Pfizer investors, Lorbrena isn’t that big a deal, either. The medicine, for patients whose lung tumors have particular genetic mutations, generated only $575 million last year — an amount that is up 57% from the year prior, but that still constitutes only 1% of the drug giant’s annual sales.
    • “But there is one number that makes the Lorbrena data quite eye-catching: In the updated data, the daily pill decreased the risk that cancer would progress or that a patient would die by 81% over five years.
    • “That’s a stunning number, especially when one considers that Lorbrena was not being compared to an inert placebo but to Xalkori, another Pfizer targeted cancer drug.
    • “Put a different way, 60% of the patients who received Lorbrena were alive and had not seen their tumors progress in the five years of the study, compared to 8% who received Xalkori.
    • “The data are being presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
  • BioPharma Dive informs us,
    • “People with chronic myeloid leukemia, a simmering cancer of the bone marrow, are often treated with one of several targeted drugs that, over the past two decades, have helped to substantially prolong survival from the disease.
    • “Study results revealed Friday suggest that Scemblix, the newest of those therapies, can be both safer and more effective, potentially supporting wider use of it as an initial treatment. The results are from a late-stage clinical trial run by Scemblix’s maker, Novartis, and will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting.
    • “In the trial, dubbed ASC4FIRST, Scemblix led to treatment responses in significantly more participants than did other targeted drugs, which included the mainstay therapy Gleevec as well as more recently introduced medicines. Additionally, more people given Novartis’ drug experienced what’s called a “deep molecular response,” which over time can be considered a remission and allow treatment to be stopped.
    • “Study researchers also reported “markedly favorable safety and tolerability” for Scemblix, compared to Gleevec and the other so-called kinase inhibitors it was tested against.”
  • Medscape notes,
    • A personalized diet, created by integrating microbiome analysis with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, is a promising approach to the management of irritable bowel syndrome(IBS) symptoms, leading to enhanced symptom relief and greater gut microbiome diversity than a standard low–fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP) diet, new research suggests.
  • and
    • “About 9 out of 10 people will have a genetic difference in their DNA that can impact how they respond to common medications,” said Emily J. Cicali, PharmD, a clinical associate at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, Gainesville, Florida.
    • “Cicali is the clinical director of UF Health’s MyRx, a virtual program that gives Florida and New Jersey residents access to pharmacogenetic (PGx) tests plus expert interpretation by the health system’s pharmacists. Genetic factors are thought to contribute to about 25% or more of inappropriate drug responses or adverse events, said Kristin Wiisanen, PharmD, dean of the College of Pharmacy at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Illinois.
    • “Pharmacogenetics helps consumers avoid drugs that may not work well for them or could cause serious adverse events. It’s personalized medicine,” Cicali said.
    • “Through a cheek swab or blood sample, the MyRx program — and a growing number of health system programs, doctors’ offices, and home tests available across the United States — gives consumers a window on inherited gene variants that can affect how their body activates, metabolizes, and clears away medications from a long list of widely used drugs.”
  • The Wall Street Journal recounts the experiences of readers months after stopping GLP-1 drug treatment.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Employee Benefit Research Institute relates.
    • According to findings of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI)/Greenwald Research Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey, most plan enrollees are satisfied with their health plan, but high-deductible health plan (HDHP) enrollees are less likely to be extremely or very satisfied than traditional plan enrollees.
    • HDHP and traditional plan enrollees are both satisfied with the quality of care received and choice of doctors.
    • Differences in overall satisfaction may be driven by cost sharing. HDHP enrollees are less likely than traditional plan enrollees to be extremely/very satisfied with out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs and other health care services.
  • Beckers Hospital Review reports,
    • “The Justice Department has rejected bankrupt Dallas-based Steward Health Care’s suggested auction timeline for its physician group Stewardship Health to be sold to UnitedHealth Group’s subsidiary Optum. 
    • “In a May 28 bankruptcy court filing, obtained by Becker’s, Brian Boynton, principal deputy attorney general for the justice department, detailed how the debtor-in-possession financial deal between Steward and its landlord Medical Properties Trust interferes with the health system’s “obligation to comply with the United States’ antitrust review” of the Stewardship Health, Optum deal and should not be approved.”
  • and calls attention to an American Hospital Association report identifying the inpatient and outpatient services that are biggest money losers for hospitals.
  • Healthcare Dive points out,
    • “Most of the nation’s leading nonprofit healthcare providers reported progress toward financial recovery during earnings for the quarter ended March 31.
    • “However, improvements varied widely by health system, and the industry at large has a long way to go before it is back to profitability levels enjoyed pre-pandemic — if it fully rebounds at all, analysts told Healthcare Dive.
    • “Nonprofits struggled with cost challenges, confirming reports from analysts at credit rating agencies Moody’s Ratings and Fitch Ratings that predicted expenses, particularly labor costs, would continue to vex providers in 2024.
    • “Analysts also expected this year to bring a bifurcated financial recovery for the sector, where health systems that could successfully contain costs would recover more quickly.
    • “With early financial data now in for 2024, that expectation appears to be playing out.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced,
    • Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, through its Administration for Community Living, released “Aging in the United States: A Strategic Framework for a National Plan on Aging – PDF.” The report lays the groundwork for a coordinated effort – across the private and public sectors and in partnership with older adults, family caregivers, the aging services network, and other stakeholders – to create a national set of recommendations for advancing healthy aging and age-friendly communities that value and truly include older adults. The national plan on aging will advance best practices for service delivery, support development and strengthening of partnerships within and across sectors, identify solutions for removing barriers to health and independence for older adults, and more. Developed by leaders and experts from 16 federal agencies and departments working together through the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) on Healthy Aging and Age-Friendly Communities, the report also reflects input from community partners and leaders in the aging services network.
  • The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employee Benefit Security, Lisa Gomez, reminds us,
    • “May is Mental Health Awareness Month, reminding us of the critical need to prioritize mental well-being – especially in the workplace where many spend a significant portion of their time. Did you know that more than 1 in 5 adults in America live with a mental illness? Mental health issues can affect job performance, relationships and overall well-being. Understanding your rights and support systems can make a world of difference. 
    • “Here are three actions you can take to get the mental health care you deserve through your job-based health plan: 
    • Use your benefits: * * * For more information, read our publication “Understanding Your Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits.”
    • Don’t take no for an answer: * * * You also can look at our publication “Filing a Claim for Your Benefits” for steps to help navigate this process. 
    • Contact the Department for help:  Know that support for your mental health journey is available – you don’t have to go through it alone. One source of support is found by contacting a benefits advisor with the Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration at askebsa.dol.gov or by calling 1-866-444-3272 for assistance with any questions or problems you encounter when trying to use the mental health and substance use disorder benefits under your job-based health plan. The benefits advisors can help you understand your rights, your health plan and its appeal process.”
  • The American Hospital News lets us know,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention May 29 published a blog co-authored by AHA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, highlighting efforts by federal agencies and the hospital field to address the mental health and well-being of health care workers following incidents of workplace violence. The blog contains several resources, such as AHA’s Hospitals Against Violence Initiative, the Building a Safer Workplace and Community infographic, and information about #HAVhope Friday on June 7 * * *.
  • HR Dive informs us,
    • “Employers run afoul of federal law when they fire someone for not disclosing a disability during a job interview or for waiting until after they were hired to ask for an accommodation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned in a May 21 lawsuit.
    • “Per the complaint in EEOC v. All Day Medical Care Clinic, LLC, on her first day of work, a scheduling assistant for a Maryland-based healthcare provider notified the CEO she had a vision impairment and needed a magnifier and Zoomtext software as an accommodation. The CEO allegedly advised her that things would have been different if she’d mentioned her disability and accommodation needs during her interview and told her to leave, according to court documents.
    • “The EEOC sued the healthcare provider for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, “job applicants do not need to reveal their disabilities before being hired,” Debra Lawrence, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Philadelphia district office, explained in a press release. “When an employer penalizes an employee for not raising issues of disability and reasonable accommodation, it is requiring the employee to reveal information the employee legally does not have to divulge,” Lawrence said. All Day Medical Care did not respond to a request for a comment prior to press time.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “A third farmworker in the United States has been found to be infected with bird flu, heightening concerns about an outbreak among dairy cattle first identified in March.”A third farmworker in the United States has been found to be infected with bird flu, heightening concerns about an outbreak among dairy cattle first identified in March.
    • “The worker is the first in this outbreak to have respiratory symptoms, including a cough, sore throat and watery eyes, which generally increase the likelihood of transmission to other people, federal officials said on Thursday.
    • “The other two people had only severe eye infections, possibly because of exposure to contaminated milk.
    • “All three individuals had direct exposure to dairy cows, and so far none has spread the virus to other people, Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news briefing.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “Using a combination of cutting-edge immunologic technologies, researchers have successfully stimulated animals’ immune systems to induce rare precursor B cells of a class of HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs). The findings, published today in Nature Immunology, are an encouraging, incremental step in developing a preventive HIV vaccine.”
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review released,
    • “its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of ensifentrine (Verona Pharma) for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of ensifentrine (Verona Pharma) for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • “COPD is a common cause of severe respiratory problems,” said ICER’s Chief Medical Officer, David Rind, MD. “People with COPD can experience persistent shortness of breath and fatigue that can significantly affect their daily activities. Current evidence shows that ensifentrine decreases exacerbations when used in combination with some current inhaled therapies and is well-tolerated by patients, but there are uncertainties about how much benefit it may add to unstudied combinations of inhaled treatments.” * * *
    • Key Clinical FindingsKey Clinical Findings
      • “ICER does not have significant concerns about harms with ensifentrine. We have high certainty that ensifentrine added to maintenance therapy, compared with maintenance therapy alone, results in at least a small net health benefit, and may result in substantial net health benefit (“B+”). We have somewhat greater certainty in the benefits when ensifentrine is added to the regimens studied in the clinical trials than when added to optimized modern inhaler therapies for COPD.
    • Key Cost-Effectiveness Findings
      • “Ensifentrine has not yet been approved by the FDA, and the manufacturer has not announced a US price if approved. ICER has calculated a health-benefit price benchmark (HBPB) for ensifentrine to be between $7,500 to $12,700 per year.”
  • The Centers for Medicare Services is contemplating moving coverage of PreExposure Prophylaxsis using Antiviral Therapy to prevent HIV infection from Medicare Part D to Medicare Part B.
  • The Wall Street Journal relates,
    • “Screens are inherently harmful to our sleep, right?
    • “It isn’t that black and white, some sleep experts now say.
    • “Spurred by recent research, sleep scientists and doctors are rethinking the conventional wisdom. In some cases, they are backing away from dogmatic approaches such as cutting out screens two hours before bedtime. And they are questioning how much the dreaded “blue light” actually delays sleep.
    • “It is becoming more evident that the tech in and of itself isn’t always the problem,” says Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine in New York. “We need to figure out how to tailor the recommendations to the person.”
  • Mercer Consulting discusses “Help for opioid addiction: Some progress, much more to do.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Payer Issues shares the views of 32 payer executives about changes to healthcare delivery in the next ten years. For example,
    • Bruce Rogen, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan: Longitudinal patient records on each patient accessible by providers caring for the patient having a complete history of clinical data sourced from multiple EMRs and across payers and over time going back years if not decades.
    • AI platforms that are able to access the longitudinal patient record to engage the patient in preventive care, filling gaps in care, managing medication refills, enhancing medication compliance, and obtaining prior authorization from payers when indicated.
    • Teams of healthcare providers using the longitudinal patient record and the AI platforms to provide care anywhere and everywhere (hospital, post-acute, home care, remote, virtual) and focusing on prevention. The team includes physicians, nurses, navigators, care coordinators, pharmacists, social workers, behavioral health psychologists and counselors, community healthcare workers and home care workers.
    • Ilan Shapiro, MD. Chief Health Correspondent, Medical Affairs Officer and Senior Vice President at AltaMed (Los Angeles): In 10 years, healthcare delivery will likely be more patient-centric and value-based, with AI technology playing a crucial role in both treatment and prevention of illnesses. Patients will be incentivized for proactive wellness steps, fostering a culture of health promotion. Nationwide care coordination will be streamlined, reducing constraints and enhancing accessibility. This transformation will empower patients and healthcare teams, ensuring that care is brought back to the community level.
  • Per FierceHealthcare
    • “Well-being programs continue to be a central focus for employers, and they’re evolving the reach of these offerings into new areas such as the social determinants of health, according to a new survey.
    • “The Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments released their annual look at employers’ strategies around wellness on Wednesday, and found nearly all of the 160 surveyed firms said they view well-being programs as a being key to their overall strategy. These employers said they intend to continue funding these programs at current levels.
    • “In addition, more than half (51%) said they plan to build out their well-being programs to tackle social needs in the next three to five years.”
  • The Wall Street Journal examines the connection between private equity investments and growing healthcare costs.
    • “Consolidation is as American as apple pie.
    • “When a business gets bigger, it forces mom-and-pop players out of the market, but it can boost profits and bring down costs, too. Think about the pros and cons of Walmart and “Every Day Low Prices.” In a complex, multitrillion-dollar system like America’s healthcare market, though, that principle has turned into a harmful arms race that has helped drive prices increasingly higher without improving care. 
    • “Years of dealmaking has led to sprawling hospital systems, vertically integrated health insurance companies, and highly concentrated private equity-owned practices resulting in diminished competition and even the closure of vital health facilities. As this three-part Heard on the Street series will show, the rich rewards and lax oversight ultimately create pain for both patients and the doctors who treat them. Belatedly, state and federal regulators and lawmakers are zeroing in on consolidation, creating uncertainty for the investors who have long profited from the healthcare merger boom.”
  • STAT News considers the lack of consensus over the meaning of value-based care. Sigh.
    • “Mai Pham, president of the Institute for Exceptional Care, said her benchmark for success is not how health care providers are feeling. It’s what is actually happening to the nation’s health, and the status quo in her view is unacceptable. Life expectancy among Americans has plateaued, and life expectancy for Americans in the prime years of their lives is falling. This trend, Pham noted, started before the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s happening across races and geography.
    • “It’s difficult to say whether value-based care has been a success. Medicare has tried a broad range of programs and strategies, each of which has involved a broad range of organizations. Some have done well, others have not.
    • “So it’s not a binary answer,” Pham said. “What I would say is that it has not lived up to the hype.”
  • mHealth Intelligence tells us,
    • “Though telehealth use skyrocketed among United States adults with private health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research reveals that rural residents utilized telehealth less than their urban peers.
    • “The research, published by the AARP Public Policy Institute last week, examined changes in telehealth use from 2019 to 2021 among people younger than 65 enrolled in private, employer-sponsored health insurance plans.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

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

From the public health and medical research front,

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

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

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

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • OPM’s proposed supplemental Postal Service Health Benefits Program rule was posted on the Federal Register’s public inspection list today. The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow and the comment deadline will be thirty days thereafter.
  • The American Hospital News informs us,
    • “The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions May 23 passed legislation that included proposals on mental health and emergency pediatric services during a markup session. The AHA submitted a statement for the hearing, expressing support for the passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act (S. 3679), which would reauthorize grants for health care providers to establish programs offering behavioral health services for front-line workers, as well as a national education and awareness campaign providing health leaders with evidence-based solutions to reduce health care worker burnout. The AHA also expressed support for the bill as a member of the Healthcare Workforce Coalition, which earlier this week sent a letter to Senate HELP Committee leadership.” 
  • and
    • “The AHA praised Congress May 23 for their support and introduction of the bipartisan Hospital Inpatient Services Modernization Act, which would grant a five-year extension to the hospital-at-home program. 
    • “Standing up a H@H program requires logistical and technical work, with an investment of time, staff and money,” AHA wrote in letters to Senate and House leaders. “In addition to being approved for the federal waiver, some providers must navigate additional regulatory requirements at the state level. For some, this whole process could take a year or more to complete before that first patient is seen at home. A longer extension of the H@H program would provide much-needed stability for existing programs to continue providing care to their patients, and it would give time for others to start programs allowing more patients to benefit from this innovative program.” 
  • and
    • “The AHA May 23 submitted statements for a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health hearing on challenges for private physician practices, and a House Budget Committee hearing on the budgetary effects of consolidation in health care. For the Ways and Means Committee hearing, AHA noted how physicians are challenged by increased costs, inadequate reimbursements and administrative burdens from public and private insurer practices.”  
  • Healthcare Dive lets us know,
    • “Drugmakers are allowed to limit and impose conditions on pharmaciesthey send discounted drugs to under the 340B program, [the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit] ruled Tuesday.
    • “The ruling is a win for drug manufacturers, who were previously threatened with fines from the federal government for violating guidance regarding which pharmacies they would send discounted drugs to.
    • “The Court of Appeals upholds a prior District Court ruling, which sided with drugmakers Novartis Pharmaceuticals and United Therapeutics after they sued the HHS in 2021. It’s the latest ruling regarding the controversial 340B drug program — a separate appellate court also ruled with drugmakers early last year.”
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “An independent panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration recommended the agency approve Guardant Health’s blood-based colon cancer detection test. If the agency follows the recommendation, it will clear an early hurdle for the test’s broader adoption.
    • “The expert panel spent hours listening to presentations from Guardant, the FDA, and members of the public before voting on the screening test, called Shield. The panel’s nine voting members then voted on whether the test was safe, effective, and whether its benefits outweigh its risks, with eight, six, and seven panelists endorsing those views, respectively.
    • “FDA approval is a requirement for winning coverage from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which could be the difference between Guardant’s test becoming widespread — or irrelevant.” 

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today relates,
    • “Over the last 2 years, most new cases of mpox in the U.S. occurred in unvaccinated people, and less than 1% occurred in people who were fully vaccinated against the disease, according to CDC data.
    • “Among 32,819 U.S. mpox cases reported to the CDC from May 2022 to May 2024, only 0.8% occurred among people who had received two doses of the mpox vaccine Jynneos, while 75% of cases occurred among unvaccinated people, reported Sarah Anne Guagliardo, PhD, of the CDC’s Mpox National Response Team, and colleagues in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
    • “Despite a perceived increase in [mpox] infections among fully vaccinated persons during 2024, this report indicates that, to date, persistent vaccine-derived immunologic response among persons who received the 2-dose vaccine series exists,” the authors wrote.”
  • and
    • “An at-school vaccination program in France significantly increased human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine coverage, according to results of the PrevHPV cluster randomized trial.
    • “Among girls and boys ages 11 to 14 years, a school-based program offering HPV vaccinations significantly increased median HPV vaccination coverage by an adjusted 5.5 percentage points after 2 months of the intervention, Morgane Michel, PhD, of the Universite Paris Cite, and colleagues reported in JAMA Network Open.
    • “The intervention consisted of three components: free at-school HPV vaccination, education and motivation of adolescents and their parents, and a training program for general practitioners (GPs). “Free HPV vaccination on school premises was the only component that consistently and significantly increased vaccination coverage,” Michel and colleagues wrote.”
  • STAT News observes,
    • “You’d think if there were a vaccine that would prevent tens of thousands of cases of cancer a year, people would want it for themselves and for their kids.
    • “But new data being released Thursday ahead of the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology show that just isn’t the case.
    • “The data showed that the vaccine reduced the risk of HPV-related cancers by 56% in men and 36% in women — numbers that actually probably understate the efficacy of the vaccine because participants in this observational study likely got the vaccine too late to prevent all HPV infections. The data were analyzed by researchers led by Jefferson DeKloe, a research fellow at Thomas Jefferson University. * * *
    • “There is not really any debate, at this point, that this vaccine would prevent tens of thousands of cases of cancer a year if it were used more widely. It’s a miraculous product, and we should be using it.”
  • KFF reports
    • “This brief examines disparities in mental health care by race and ethnicity and other factors based on data from the 2023 KFF Racism, Discrimination and Health Survey, a large, nationally representative survey based on responses from over 6,000 adults. The survey provides unique data on access to the health care system and how factors such as racism and discrimination impact these experiences and overall health and well-being. Key findings include:
    • Among adults who report fair or poor mental health, White adults (50%) are more likely to say they received mental health services in the past three years compared with Black (39%) and Hispanic adults (36%). Across racial and ethnic groups, about half of all adults (53%) who report that they received mental health services said they were very or extremely helpful.
    • Adults identify cost concerns and scheduling difficulties as primary barriers to mental health care, and Hispanic, Black, and Asian adults disproportionately report additional challenges, such as finding a provider who can understand their background and experiences, lack of information, or stigma or embarrassment. Among adults who received or tried to receive mental health care, Asian (55%), and Black (46%) adults are more likely to report difficulty finding a provider who could understand their background and experiences compared to their White counterparts (38%). Among those who thought they needed mental health care but did not try to find a provider, Hispanic adults are more likely than White adults to say the main reason was they didn’t know how to find a provider (24% vs. 11%) and/or that they were afraid or embarrassed to seek care (30% vs. 18%).
    • Adults who report unfair treatment or negative experiences with a provider are twice as likely as those without these experiences to say they went without needed mental health care. Four in ten (41%) adults who report they were treated unfairly or with disrespect by a health care provider and about one-third (35%) of adults who say they’ve had at least one negative experience with a health care provider say they did not get mental health services they thought they needed compared to smaller shares of those who do not report these experiences (18% and 15%, respectively).
    • Reported awareness of the 9-8-8 mental health hotline remains low overall, particularly among Black, Hispanic, and Asian adults. As of Summer 2023, about one in five (18%) adults say they have heard a lot or some about 9-8-8, with Black (16%), Hispanic (11%), and Asian (13%) adults less likely to say they have heard about 9-8-8 than White adults (21%). At the same time, about one in five (21%) adults say they or a family member has ever experienced a severe mental health crisis that resulted in serious consequences such as homelessness, hospitalization, incarceration, self-harm, or suicide, with this share rising to 39% among young (ages 18-29) White adults.”
  • and
    • “Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is often an underrecognized substance use disorder (SUD) despite its substantial consequencesOver half of US adults (54%) say that someone in their family has struggled with an alcohol use disorder, making it the most prevalent non-tobacco substance use disorder. Yet, only one-third of adults view alcohol addiction as a crisis, compared to over half who see opioids as such. Federal data show that 1 in 10 people had an alcohol use disorder in the past year, over 4 in 10 alcohol users report binge drinking in the past month, and per capita alcohol consumption is higher than the decade prior. Treatment rates for alcohol use disorders are notably low, especially for the use of medication, a recommended AUD treatment component. Although the opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2017, no similar declaration exists regarding alcohol deaths. However, HHS has set a priority goal of reducing emergency department visits for acute alcohol use, mental health conditions, suicide attempts, and drug overdoses by 10% by 2025.”
  • The Washington Post adds,
    • “More people in the United States say they are using marijuana daily or near daily, compared with people who say they are drinking alcohol that often, according to a new study.
    • “In 2022, about 17.7 million people reported daily or near-daily marijuana use, compared with 14.7 million people who reported drinking at the same frequency, said the report, which was based on more than four decades of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It was the first time the survey recorded more frequent users of cannabis than alcohol, the report added.
    • “The research was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Addiction. The research window spans the years 1979 to 2022, and the 27 surveys that were analyzed involved more than 1.6 million participants during that time frame.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “Enticed by the immense market opened by GLP-1 weight loss drugs Wegovy and Zepbound, a handful of biotech companies are trying to develop next-generation, longer-lasting therapies based on a very different approach: RNA interference.
    • “This Nobel Prize-winning science works by degrading the biological blueprints that RNA use to make proteins — without the genetic instructions, the troublesome proteins are never made and the gene is essentially muted.
    • “If the companies succeed, it would be a significant shift in the obesity treatment revolution, away from weekly drugs targeting hormones to medications that could be given much less frequently — twice a year or even less — and pinpoint genetic contributors to weight.
    • “Scientists at Regeneron and Alnylam are aiming to silence a gene expressed in the brain called GPR75, what Regeneron Chief Scientific Officer George Yancopoulos calls the “laziness gene.” Through sequencing of almost 650,000 people, they found that those with a mutation to the gene have a lower body-mass index and lower risk of obesity.
    • “Alnylam has also homed in on the INHBE gene, expressed in the liver. Scientists found that people with mutations in the gene have a lower waist-to-hip ratio — a surrogate for abdominal fat, the type of fat that’s especially harmful and is linked to cardiovascular problems. Other companies like Wave Life Sciences and Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals have caught on and are also pursuing RNAi therapies aimed at blocking INHBE.”
  • Medscape explains the scientific impact of the recent creation of a map of the human ovary.
  • BioPharma Dive takes “An early look at cancer drug study results; Clinical trial abstracts posted Thursday ahead of this year’s ASCO meeting give a peek at anticipated datasets from Immunocore, Merck & Co., J&J and Arcus.”
  • The NIH Director writes in her blog,
    • “Human consciousness requires a person to be both awake and aware. While neuroscientists have learned a great deal from research about the underlying brain networks that sustain awareness, surprisingly little has been known about the networks that keep us awake.
    • “Now, an NIH-supported team of researchers has mapped the connectivity of a neural network they suggest is essential for wakefulness, or arousal, in the human brain. According to the researchers, this advance, reported in Science Translational Medicine , is essential for understanding human consciousness. It may also lead to new ways of understanding what happens in the brain when people lose consciousness, with potentially important implications for treating those who have entered a coma or vegetative state.
    • “The team—led by Brian Edlow , Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Hannah Kinney , Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School—set out to map the brain network that sustains wakefulness in a manner similar to earlier research that identified the default mode network, which influences awareness. Default networks in the brain are most active when people are at rest rather than focused on a goal-oriented task.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “Express Scripts — one of the largest pharmacy benefit managers in the country — has notched a major partnership with independent pharmacies, amid contentious relations between the two industries.
    • The Cigna-owned PBM unveiled a collaboration on Thursday with pharmacy network CPESN USA to coordinate care delivery for seniors on Medicare with hypertension and diabetes, two common chronic conditions. CPESN’s independent pharmacies will also help identify at-risk patients and improve medication management, according to a release.
    • “Express Scripts and CPESN plan to expand the partnership based on client feedback, said a spokesperson for Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business and the division that includes Express Scripts. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “After several years of modest or declining growth, the average pay for doctors jumped 5.9% in 2023, rebounding from a decline of 2.4% in 2022.”After several years of modest or declining growth, the average pay for doctors jumped 5.9% in 2023, rebounding from a decline of 2.4% in 2022.
    • “Most medical specialties experienced positive growth in 2023, with the top 10 seeing annual growth rates exceeding 7%, according to the 2024 Physician Compensation Report from professional medical network Doximity. 
    • “Among specialties, hematology and family medicine claimed the top two spots, with double-digit percentage growth compared to 2022 (12.4% and 10.2%, respectively).” 
  • Beckers Hospital Review lists the forty highest paid physician specialties based on this report.
  • Beckers Health IT calls attention to Newsweek’s list of “the top digital health companies in the U.S. for 2024, including a breakout of 50 data analytics companies.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review identifies “10 new drug shortages, according to drug supply databases from the FDA and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Govexec lets us know,
    • “The U.S. Postal Service is pausing some of the most controversial reforms to its mailing network as its leadership has agreed to the demands of a growing, bipartisan chorus in Congress. 
    • “The mailing agency has halted its plans to consolidate dozens of processing facilities until at least Jan. 1, 2025, ensuring the network overhaul is paused until after the upcoming presidential election in which millions of Americans will be voting by mail. A large swath of lawmakers across the ideological spectrum have called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to delay or cease the changes, some of which would shift the bulk of mail processing across state lines. 
    • “The decision marks a reversal for DeJoy, who just last week remained resolute in defending his vision as the only viable path forward for his agency. He called the issue an existential one, saying his reforms were “what we must continue to do to survive.” 
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality posted its March 2024 “NATIONAL HEALTHCARE QUALITY AND DISPARITIES REPORT CHARTBOOK ON PATIENT SAFETY.”
  • Per an FDA press release, “[o]n Monday [May 13], the FDA issued a safety communication to warn patients, caregivers, and health care providers not to use Cue Health’s COVID-19 Tests due to an increased risk of false results. The FDA had also issued a Warning Letter to Cue Health after an inspection revealed that the company made changes to these tests and that the changes reduced the reliability of the test to detect SARS-CoV-2 virus.” 

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “The coronavirus has once again evolved, in a familiar echo of past years. Unlike earlier iterations of the virus, this new variant is not sparking widespread havoc.
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is monitoring a variant called KP.2 and does not see evidence it causes more severe illness than other strains. Laboratory tests have shown that KP.2 is not causing a surge in infections or transmission, the agency said.
    • “The CDC has identified a second emergent variant, KP.1.1. But it is KP.2 that is leading the pack. Both new variants belong to a group of coronavirus variants dubbed “FLiRT” by scientists. The acronym was coined to describe a combination of mutations found in the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. * * *
    • “KP.2 has symptoms similar to earlier versions of the virus, including fever, chills, cough and muscle or body aches.”
    • The current vaccines are effective against KP.2. [“H]ealth experts predict that the new formulation of the coronavirus expected for the fall could offer even stronger protection because it will probably be tailored to thwart the new variant.”
  • Beckers Hospital News informs us,
    • “On average, people taking Novo Nordisk’s weight loss drug Wegovy see a 10% reduction in weight, which is sustained for four years, according to findings from a major trial published May 13.  * * *
    • “Wegovy is tied to a 20% reduced risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events — a benefit that was seen across the board, irrespective of how much weight people lost.” 
  • STAT News adds,
    • “Novo Nordisk will test whether its GLP-1 drugs can help people with alcohol-associated liver disease, and, as part of that, will study if the treatments will change the amount of alcohol people drink.
    • “This appears to be the first time the company is getting involved in research to see if the booming class of GLP-1 diabetes and obesity drugs can affect substance consumption, a question that academic researchers have been probing but the pharmaceutical industry has so far avoided.
    • “The nine-month study will try three drugs alone and in combinations against placebo. The primary outcome being tested is change in liver scarring, or fibrosis, and one of the secondary outcomes is changes in alcohol consumption. The news of the study was first reported by Bloomberg.
    • “The medications that will be tested include the blockbuster semaglutide, sold as the diabetes drug Ozempic and obesity drug Wegovy, as well as CagriSema, a drug Novo is developing that combines semaglutide with the dual amylin and calcitonin receptor agonist cagrilintide. A third drug, NNC0194-0499, targets FGF-21, a hormone produced by the liver that plays a role in inflammation.”
  • NIH’s All of Us Program posted its latest newsletter.
  • Per an Institute for Clinical and Economic Research press release,
    • “The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) today posted its revised Evidence Report assessing the comparative clinical effectiveness and value of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy (MDMA-AP; Lykos Therapeutics) for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). * * *
    • Key Clinical Findings
    • “Although ICER attempted to explore the concerns raised about MDMA-AP and the MAPP trials, ICER was not able to assess the extent that bias influenced reporting of benefits or the frequency with which there may have been misreporting of harms. As such, ICER concluded that the current publicly available evidence is insufficient (“I”) to assess the overall net benefit of MDMA-AP. 
    • Key Cost-Effectiveness Findings
    • “Given the “I” rating, the economic analyses of MDMA-AP in this Evidence Report are only exploratory analyses that provide insights into costs and benefits if it is assumed that the results of the MAPP trials are accurate. ICER did not calculate a health-benefit price benchmark for MDMA-AP.”
  • Benefitfocus released an “Employee Benefits Strategy Playbook for Mental Healthcare.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive lets us know,
    • “The majority of the nation’s leading for-profit hospital systems by revenue reported net gains during the first quarter led by stronger than expected inpatient volumes.
    • “The boost in inpatient volumes and associated revenue comes just a quarter after providers said they would be betting more heavily on outpatient services to drive growth
    • “Increases in inpatient revenues is an area to watch as providers weigh whether and how to adjust their portfolios. Community Health Systems, for example, has been on a selling spree recently in an attempt to deleverage its balance sheets, while HCA Healthcare, Tenet Healthcare and Universal Health Services are expanding services in key markets. 
    • “Should inpatient care utilization continue to rise over multiple quarters, it could influence hospitals’ capital spending, according to research notes from analysts.”
  • BioPharma Dive tells us,
    • “Biosimilars are gaining ground. The IRA could push them further next year.
    • “As commercial momentum builds, coverage incentives for the Medicare market are expected to favor biosimilars in 2025.”
  • Modern Healthcare reports,
    • Behavioral health provider Talkspace rolled out services Tuesday to 13 million Medicare members across 11 states and will expand to 33 million members nationwide by the end of the year.
    • Talkspace services are available to those with traditional Medicare in California, Florida, New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Missouri, Maryland, South Carolina, New Mexico and Idaho. The company plans to offer services to Medicare Advantage members later on, as well.

Midweek Update

From Washington, DC

  • Modern Healthcare tells us,
    • “Congress took the first step Wednesday to extend expiring telehealth rules, hospital at home services and other programs aimed at rural hospitals.
    • “The House Ways and Means Committee passed the Preserving Telehealth, Hospital, and Ambulance Access Act of 2024 by a vote of 31-0, setting it up for passage by the full House later this year. * * *
    • “One potentially controversial provision in the bill requires pharmacy benefit managers that work with Medicare Part D plans to de-link the compensationthey pay themselves from the rebates they secure based on drugs’ high list prices. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) said the provision will save the government about $500 million, although official estimates were not yet available. The provision does not apply to the broader commercial market, though Schneider and Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.) both called for expansion of the provision to the commercial market. Large PBMs oppose such provisions.”
  • Govexec lets us know,
    • “A new report from the Congressional Budget Office found that a gap between the combined pay and benefits of federal workers and their private sector counterparts has nearly disappeared between 2015 and 2022, raising new questions about President Biden’s proposed 2% average pay raise for the federal workforce in 2025.
    • “Federal policymakers generally rely on one of two reports comparing the compensation of federal and private sector workers. First is an annual analysis compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for review by the Federal Salary Council, which compares only the wages of similar jobs, is the preferred citation of Democrats and federal employee unions. * * *
    • “CBO’s analysis, which is typically conducted every five years and is preferred by conservatives, compares “total compensation”—wages plus the cost of benefits like health care, paid leave and retirement—of federal and private sector employees with similar educational backgrounds. This model has traditionally concluded that the cost of federal employees’ pay and benefits is moderately higher than their counterparts in the private sector, although federal workers with master’s or professional degrees still tend to earn less.
    • “The latest version of CBO’s report, which was released last month, covers only 2022, rather than the traditional 2015-2020 period, due to the economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that the total compensation gap between federal and private sector jobs cratered between 2015 and 2022, falling from 17% in its last analysis to just 5%.”
  • Per May 8 HHS press releases,
    • “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), is announcing the Increasing Organ Transplant Access (IOTA) Model. The proposed model, which would be implemented by the CMS Innovation Center, aims to increase access to kidney transplants for all people living with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), improve the quality of care for people seeking kidney transplants, reduce disparities among individuals undergoing the process to receive a kidney transplant, and increase the efficiency and capability of transplant hospitals selected to participate. This proposed model would build on the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of improving the kidney transplant system and the collaborative efforts between CMS and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to increase organ donation and improve clinical outcomes, system improvement, quality measurement, transparency, and regulatory oversight.” * * *
    • “The proposed rule on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model can be accessed from the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/current. Standard provisions are included in the proposed rule that would be applicable to all Innovation Center model participants that begin participation in a model on or after January 1, 2025.
    • View – PDF a fact sheet on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model.
    • “More information on the Increasing Organ Transplant Access Model is available on the model webpage.”
  • and
    • “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), announced $46.8 million in notices of funding opportunities to promote youth mental health, grow the behavioral health workforce, improve access to culturally competent behavioral care across the country, and strengthen peer recovery and recovery support. President Biden made tackling the mental health crisis and beating the opioid epidemic key pillars in his Unity Agenda for the nation. Today’s announcement will help communities transform how they address behavioral health.”
  • Beckers Clinical Leadership notes,
    • “Starting this summer, rural health clinics seeking Medicare reimbursement can apply through a new accreditation program from The Joint Commission. 
    • “On May 7, The Joint Commission said it has received deeming authority from CMS for a new rural health clinic accreditation program, which is meant to support patient safety improvements by reducing variation and risks in the delivery of primary care and personal health services.” 

From the Food and Drug Administration front,

  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “Geneoscopy received Food and Drug Administration approval for its Colosense noninvasive colorectal cancer screening test, the company said Monday.
    • “The stool-based test, which Labcorp will offer, is approved for screening people aged 45 years or older who are at average risk of developing colorectal cancer. The indication puts Geneoscopy in competition with Exact Sciences’ Cologuard test.
    • “Geneoscopy focused on the opportunity in people aged under 50 years in its statement about the approval. Around 2% of people in that cohort used a stool-based test in 2021, but Evercore ISI and TD Cowen analysts expect Colosense to have a limited impact on Exact.”
  • STAT News points out,
    • “The Apple Watch has secured a new qualification from the Food and Drug Administration that could make the smartwatch an appealing tool for medical device companies hoping to illustrate the benefits of a common heart procedure.
    • “Last week, the Apple Watch’s Atrial Fibrillation History feature became the first digital tool qualified under the Medical Device Development Tools (MDDT) program. Released in 2022, the feature estimates a user’s A-fib burden, or how much time they spend in atrial fibrillation, which is an irregular heart rhythm that can cause shortness of breath and fatigue, and is also linked to an increased risk of stroke.
    • “The qualification means that FDA has determined in advance that sponsors can use the feature as a secondary endpoint in clinical trials without having to do additional work. Specifically, the Apple Watch is qualified for use as a secondary endpoint in clinical trials for cardiac ablation devices, which reduce the electrical signals that cause A-fib by scarring the heart with extreme heat or cold energy. Pulsed field ablation is the latest version of the technology, using a controlled electric field to scar tissue rather than the riskier thermal energy.”
  • Regulatory Focus notes,
    • “The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is piloting a program to enhance communication between drugmakers, investigators, and its drug shortage team during inspections to prevent facilities from unnecessarily shutting down and potentially contributing to shortages of essential drugs, said Patrizia Cavazzoni, MD, director of the agency’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).
    • “Cavazzoni made these remarks during a webinar hosted by the Alliance for a Stronger FDA on Monday, during which, she said “we strongly encourage manufacturers not to stop manufacturing as the result of an inspection.” She added that manufacturers sometimes shut down production lines based on what they are hearing during the inspection, which she said could worsen shortages.”

From the public health and medical research front

  •  The Washington Post reports that “Olive oil use [is] associated with lower risk of dying from dementia. An observational study has found that regular olive oil consumption may have cognitive health benefits.”
    • Vasilis Vasiliou, a professor and the chair of the department of environmental health sciences at Yale School of Public Health, said the Harvard study “has been done very carefully,” and there is a broader effort to try to “find a mechanism” as to why olive oil, or other parts of the plant, could be beneficial to cardiovascular or cognitive health.”Vasilis Vasiliou, a professor and the chair of the department of environmental health sciences at Yale School of Public Health, said the Harvard study “has been done very carefully,” and there is a broader effort to try to “find a mechanism” as to why olive oil, or other parts of the plant, could be beneficial to cardiovascular or cognitive health.
    • “We don’t believe it’s one compound or two. The olive oil has the phenolic antioxidants, which are very important for protecting against oxidative stress,” Vasiliou said. “But there is a lot of other stuff that’s going on there.”
  • Per MedPage Today,
    • “Use of cannabis and nicotine together during pregnancy was associated with higher risks for infant death and maternal and neonatal morbidity compared with no exposure to either substance, with dual-use risk estimates higher than with either substance alone, a retrospective population-based cohort study.
    • “Compared with use of neither substance, the risk of infant death was more than twice as high with combined use in pregnancy after controlling for possible confounders (adjusted risk ratio [aRR] 2.18, 95% CI 1.82-2.62), reported Jamie O. Lo, MD, MCR, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and colleagues.
    • “By comparison, risks were 65% higher with cannabis use only (aRR 1.65, 95% CI 1.41-1.93) and 62% higher with nicotine use only (aRR 1.62, 95% CI 1.45-1.80) versus no exposure, the researchers detailed in JAMA Network Open.
    • “Lo told MedPage Today in an email that she and her colleagues were surprised to see the increased infant death rate in the combined cannabis and nicotine users compared with those using each substance alone.
    • “We also did not expect so many maternal and neonatal/infant outcomes to be worse with combined cannabis/nicotine use,” she added.”
  • The National Cancer Institute posted its periodic cancer information highlights.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will launch clinical trials to investigate potential treatments for long-term symptoms after COVID-19 infection, including sleep disturbances, exercise intolerance and the worsening of symptoms following physical or mental exertion known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). The mid-stage trials, part of NIH’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative, will join six other RECOVER studies currently enrolling participants across the United States testing treatments to address viral persistence, neurological symptoms, including cognitive dysfunction (like brain fog) and autonomic nervous system dysfunction. The new trials will enroll approximately 1,660 people across 50 study sites to investigate potential treatments for some of the most frequent and burdensome symptoms reported by people suffering from long COVID.
    • “People 18 years of age and older who are interested in learning more about these trials can visit trials.RECOVERCovid.org(link is external) or ClinicalTrials.gov and search identifiers NCT06404047NCT06404060NCT06404073NCT06404086NCT06404099NCT06404112.” 
  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “A profoundly deaf baby who received Regeneron’s experimental gene therapy was able to hear normally within six months, the company announced Wednesday.
    • “The data, presented at a medical conference, build on initially promising research released in October. The baby was dosed at 11 months of age, one of the youngest children in the world to receive gene therapy for genetic deafness, Regeneron said. A second patient, treated at age 4, also showed hearing improvements at a six-week assessment, the company said.
    • “Both children suffer from a type of deafness caused by mutations in a gene known as otoferlin. The initial research on Regeneron’s DB-OTO therapy is part of an ongoing Phase 1/2 trial known as CHORD enrolling infants and children in the U.S., U.K. and Spain.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • MedCity News informs us,
    • “About a third of employers are integrating value-based care into their employer-sponsored insurance, according to a new survey. Another third of employers are determining the “best-fit strategies for their organization” when it comes to accountable care.
    • “The report was published Sunday by the Milken Institute with support from Morgan Health, a JPMorgan Chase healthcare unit for employer-sponsored insurance. The Milken Institute is a nonprofit think tank focused on financial, physical, mental and environmental health. The survey received responses from 72 employers of varying sizes and industry types.
    • “The researchers found that when making health benefit decisions, expanding preventive care, improving access to primary care and focusing on whole-person health are the top three tenets of accountable care. The lowest-ranked tenets are reducing health outcome disparities and increasing access to digital care.”
  • Fierce Healthcare adds,
    • “Employers are in a strong position to lead the charge in changing the conversation around obesity care, according to a new report from the Milken Institute.
    • “The group released a how-to guide employers of all sizes can use to push for obesity to be recognized as a chronic condition, driving a more multifaceted model for care and addressing the stigma that exists around weight.
    • “The guidebook notes that obesity and conditions related to it are having a major impact on healthcare costs, accounting for $425.5 billion in costs for the civilian workforce, according to a recent study. This includes higher medical costs for both employers and employees as well as costs related to absenteeism.
    • “Sarah Wells Kocsis, director of the Center for Public Health at the Milken Institute and one of the paper’s authors, told Fierce Healthcare that employers are starting to take notice of this issue and lead a conversation that’s “decades in the making.”
    • “We’re really at an inflection point,” she said. “Our goal here is to put this in writing and explain what a strong case there is to think about obesity as a chronic disease.”
  • HealthDay explains,
    • “Worries over health-related costs are plaguing the minds of older Americans of all backgrounds, a new poll suggests.
    • “Five of the six health-related issues that most people found very concerning had to do with health care costs, according to results from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. 
    • “And the sixth issue – financial scams and fraud – also had to do with money, results show.
    • “In this election year, these findings offer a striking reminder of how much health care costs matter to older adults,” Dr. John Ayanian, director of the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, where the poll is based, said in a news release. The poll is supported by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.
    • “Overall, 56% of people over 50 said they’re concerned about the cost of medical care for older adults, poll results show.”
  • Per mHealth Intelligence,
    • New research reveals that a text message and telephone-based virtual care approach can improve rates of screening, identification, and treatment of maternal mental health conditions.
    • Published in Health Affairs, the study assessed an intervention that addresses various barriers to adopting maternal mental health screening and referral to treatment. Medical University of South Carolina researchers noted that perinatal mental health disorders, perinatal substance use disorders (SUDs), and intimate partner violence are common during pregnancy and the postpartum year. According to data from the Mental Health Leadership Alliance, maternal mental health conditions affect 800,000 families each year in the United States.
  • BioPharma Dive offers a helpful database of patent expiration dates for thirty top-selling medicines.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Govexec reports
    • “Weeks following the news that Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja would step down, agency Deputy Director Rob Shriver has been appointed acting director of the federal government’s dedicated HR agency.
    • “Shriver announced the news in a post on LinkedIn. * * *
    • “According to the Vacancies Act, Shriver may serve as acting OPM director for 210 days, or until Dec. 2. If he is ultimately nominated to succeed Ahuja on a permanent basis, he likely will be able to remain in the acting director role during the Senate confirmation process, thanks to his service as her “first assistant” in a Senate-confirmed position.”
  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “Highlighting the work federal employees and other civil servants perform, and especially noting their efforts in administrating pandemic recovery programs, President Joe Biden expressed his appreciation for public servants across the country. In keeping with tradition, the White House issued a proclamation that May 5 will mark the beginning of Public Service Recognition Week.
    • “PSRW is traditionally celebrated the first full week of May. Many federally-focused organizations, including the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, show appreciation for public servants during the month of May.”
  • Govexec adds,
    • “Sammie Tafoya, a foreign service officer assigned to Haiti, said she didn’t know what the State Department was when her African history professor encouraged her to apply to work there. 
    • “Whenever I wrote for his class, he said…‘I think what you are looking for — the idea of being able to push change and to be able to write to inform the people that have power to make policies — there’s actually an agency for that. It’s the State Department. It’s the Foreign Service,’” she said. 
    • “Tafoya is one of 25 finalists announced Monday for the Partnership for Public Service’s 2024 Service to America Medals. Nicknamed the Sammies after the award’s namesake, Samuel J. Heyman, who founded the nonpartisan organization, the program has been around since 2002 and honors excellence and innovation in the career federal service. 
    • “The finalists will be recognized at a reception on Thursday, and winners will be announced ahead of an awards ceremony on Sept. 11 at the Kennedy Center.  * * *
    • “A full list can be found here.” 
  • The Society for Human Resource Management informs us,
    • “On May 3, President Joe Biden vetoed a resolution to overturn the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB’s) joint employer rule. However, the rule has been blocked by a federal district court in Texas, and litigation might continue.
    • “Overcoming the veto by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and House of Representatives is unlikely. The resolution passed the House by a 206-177 vote on Jan. 12 and cleared the Senate by a 50-48 vote on April 10. SHRM had urged Biden not to veto the measure.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Time reports,
    • “Scientists are proposing a new way of understanding the genetics of Alzheimer’s that would mean that up to a fifth of patients would be considered to have a genetically caused form of the disease.
    • “Currently, the vast majority of Alzheimer’s cases do not have a clearly identified cause. The new designation, proposed in a studypublished Monday, could broaden the scope of efforts to develop treatments, including gene therapy, and affect the design of clinical trials.
    • “It could also mean that hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone could, if they chose, receive a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s before developing any symptoms of cognitive decline, although there currently are no treatments for people at that stage.
    • “The new classification would make this type of Alzheimer’s one of the most common genetic disorders in the world, medical experts said.”
  • and
    • “A new study, published Saturday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed growing disparities in child death rates across racial and ethnic groups. Black and Native American youths ages 1 to 19 died at significantly higher rates than white youths — predominantly from injuries such as car accidents, homicides and suicides.
    • “Dr. Coleen Cunningham, chair of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, and the pediatrician in chief at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, who was not involved in the study, said the detailed analysis of the disparities documented “a sad and growing American tragedy.”
    • “Almost all are preventable,” she said, “if we make it a priority.”
  • The Wall Street Journal discusses efforts in the U.S. to eliminate cervical cancer using the HPV vaccine.
    • “Doctors are rallying around an audacious goal: eliminating a cancer for the first time. 
    • “Cervical cancer rates in the U.S. have dropped by more than half since the 1970s. Pap tests enable doctors to purge precancerous cells, and a vaccine approved in 2006 has protected a generation of women against human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that causes more than 90% of cervical cancers. 
    • “With this evidence that the disease is preventable, groups that have worked for decades to end polio and malaria are turning to cervical cancer, plotting to take cases down to null. The World Health Organization is urging countries to boost vaccination, screening and treatment. Doctors in the U.S. are working on a national plan.” 
  • Beckers Hospital Review lets us know,
    • “A 12-year-old boy is the first commercial patient in the world to receive an FDA-approved gene therapy for sickle cell disease, The New York Times reported May 6.
    • “Kendric Cromer is a 12-year-old boy from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and the first to receive Lyfgenia, a gene therapy treatment created by Somerville, Mass.-based Bluebird Bio. Kendric’s treatment, which costs about $3.1 million, is covered by his family’s insurance. He underwent the first part of treatment at Washington, D.C.-based Children’s National Hospital, in which physicians removed his bone marrow stem cells, which Bluebird will genetically modify for his treatment. The modified cells will be returned in three months.
    • “The FDA gave two companies authorization to sell gene therapy to people with sickle cell disease, a genetic disorder that affects roughly 100,000 people, most of them Black. 
    • “Bluebird estimates it can only treat 85 to 105 patients each year with sickle cell or beta thalassemia, who can receive a similar gene therapy. Children’s National, meanwhile, said it can accept only 10 gene therapy patients a year.”
  • The American Medical Association points out “What doctors wish patients knew about osteoporosis.”
  • The National Institute for Mental Health updated its website about coping with traumatic events.
  • The Washington Post notes, Ultrasound technology is used in many ways. Addiction is the next frontier. The use of the high-frequency sound waves is also being adapted to treat Alzheimer’s disease, tumors and psychiatric disorders.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare offers a look at how “major payers fared in a Q1 dragged by a cyberattack, MA challenges,” and Beckers Payer Issues ranks major payers by first quarter 2023 and 2024 medical loss ratios.
  • Beckers Payer Issues discusses major Medicare Advantage insurer plans for 2025.
  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “Dallas-based Steward Health Care, the largest physician-led hospital operator in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this morning in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, following months of financial struggles including missed payments to its landlord and vendors.
    • “Steward operates more than 30 hospitals across eight states, according to a spokesperson for the company. The filing marks the largest provider bankruptcy in decades, according to Laura Coordes, professor of law at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.” 

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • MedTech Dive reports
    • “The Food and Drug Administration released a final rule on Mondaystrengthening its authority over laboratory developed tests (LDTs), advancing a policy that has drawn fierce opposition from healthcare industry groups.
    • “The rule amends agency regulations to make explicit that in vitro diagnostics are devices under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, including when the manufacturer of the IVD is a laboratory.
    • “The FDA said it will phase out its enforcement discretion approach for LDTs so that in vitro diagnostics manufactured by a laboratory will generally fall under the same enforcement policy as other tests.”
  • HHS’s Office for Civil Rights issued frequently asked questions about the final ACA Section 1557 rule issued on Friday.
  • Bloomberg lets us know,
    • “The US Department of Labor has rescinded a Trump-era rule that made it easier for small businesses and self-employed people to use cheaper association health plans that don’t comply with all the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. 
    • “The final Biden rule (RIN:1210-AC16) on association health plans was issued by the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration Monday after clearing White House review, and will take effect 60 days after its April 30 publication in the Federal Register.”
  • HHS announced,
    • “Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced $105 million in funding to support more than 100 community-based organizations working to improve maternal and infant health. HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson highlighted the news during a visit to Southside Medical Center, a new Healthy Start awardee, in Atlanta, Georgia. Georgia is the second stop on HRSA’s national Enhancing Maternal Health Initiative tour. Today’s Healthy Start funding announcement will support the health care and social needs of moms and babies in high need communities to help improve community health and tackle the unacceptable disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. * * *
    • “For the full list of award recipients, visit the Healthy Start awards page.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “After decreasing for 27 years, the number of U.S. residents with tuberculosis has increased every year since 2020, with 9,615 cases recorded last year in the 50 states and D.C., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”After decreasing for 27 years, the number of U.S. residents with tuberculosis has increased every year since 2020, with 9,615 cases recorded last year in the 50 states and D.C., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • “The finding was based on data from the agency’s National Tuberculosis Surveillance System, which collects information from state and local health departments.
    • Caused by bacteria, tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs and spreads easily from person to person through the air. People who have the disease can spread the bacteria when they cough, sneeze or simply talk. * * *
    • “The latest numbers reflect a 16 percent increase in U.S. tuberculosis cases from 2022 to 2023, and the highest number of TB cases in the country since 2013, the CDC report says. The tally also reflects increases in all age groups and among people born in the United States as well as those born elsewhere, although the report found a larger increase among people born outside the United States vs. U.S.-born individuals (18 percent vs. 9 percent).
    • “Despite the recent increases, the CDC report describes the incidence of TB in the United States as “among the lowest in the world.”
  • The New York Times tells us,
    • “Physical fitness among children and adolescents may protect against developing depressive symptoms, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a study published on Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
    • “The study also found that better performance in cardiovascular activities, strength and muscular endurance were each associated with greater protection against such mental health conditions. The researchers deemed this linkage “dose-dependent”, suggesting that a child or adolescent who is more fit may be accordingly less likely to experience the onset of a mental health disorder.”
  • The CDC updated its online guidance about action to fight antimicrobial resistance.
    • Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. Antimicrobial resistance has been found in every U.S. state and country. Addressing this threat requires continued aggressive action to:
      • Prevent infections in the first place
      • Improve antibiotic and antifungal use to slow the development of resistance
      • Stop the spread of resistance when it does develop
    • We all have a role to play, from travelers, animal owners, and care givers to patients and healthcare providers. Find out how you can help.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare relates,
    • “Inpatient volume growth across HCA Healthcare’s entire hospital portfolio and other steady gains on payer mix, length of stay and operating expenses have set the large chain on a strong trajectory for 2024, executives told investors Friday.
    • “The 188-hospital for-profit reported first-quarter net income of $1.59 billion ($5.93 per diluted share) and $17.34 billion in revenues.
    • “Those numbers are up from the $1.36 billion ($4.85 per diluted share) and $15.59 billion of the same period last year, and squarely ahead of consensus estimates of $5.09 earnings per share and $16.82 billion in revenues.”
  • and
    • “Teladoc acting CEO Mala Murthy sought to assure investors Thursday that the virtual care giant is poised for future growth even as it faces pressure in a saturated telehealth market.
    • “Following the abrupt departure of longtime CEO Jason Gorevic earlier this month, Teladoc is focused on boosting its top- and bottom-line performance as its shares have come under pressure, down more than 40% year-to-date.
    • “Teladoc is in a time of transition. And, as part of this evolution, the board of directors decided that it was time to look for a new leader for our company, someone to help us write the next chapter in our growth story,” Murthy, also Teladoc’s chief financial officer, said during the company’s first-quarter earnings call Thursday.”
  • Per Beckers Hospital Review,
    • “Increased reliance on imaging for diagnosis and efficient patient care mixed with higher volumes of patients has left hospitals scrambling to meet demand with the few radiologists they have.
    • “There are over 1,400 vacant radiologist positions posted on the American College of Radiology’s job board, according to a bulletin posted on its website. The total number of active radiology and diagnostic radiology physicians has dropped by 1% between 2007 and 2021, but the number of people in the U.S. per active physician in radiology grew nearly 10%, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. An increase in the Medicare population and a declining number of people with health insurance adds to the problem.”
  • and
    • Demand for Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic is high across the U.S., but interest varies by state, according to research conducted by Bison Pharmacy
    • Bison Pharmacy, a Canadian-based prescription referral service, analyzed monthly volume data on Google searches for “Ozempic” and “Ozempic price” in each state. 
    • New York is at the top of the list and Mississippi is on the bottom.

Weekend Update

From Washington DC,

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times reports
    • “Federal regulators on Friday said that they had not yet discovered live bird flu virus in the first batch of retail milk samples they tested, a reassuring indication that the milk on store shelves remains safe despite an outbreak of the virus among dairy cows.
    • “In an online update, the Food and Drug Administration said an initial set of tests looking for live virus, not just genetic fragments, suggested that the pasteurization process was effectively neutralizing the pathogen.
    • “These results reaffirm our assessment that the commercial milk supply is safe,” the F.D.A. wrote in the update, adding that the testing efforts were ongoing.
    • “Officials also tested infant and toddler formula, which incorporate powdered dairy, and did not find the virus, the agency wrote.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced yesterday,
    • “A dose-sparing intradermal mpox vaccination regimen was safe and generated an antibody response equivalent to that induced by the standard regimen at six weeks (two weeks after the second dose), according to findings presented today at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Global Congress in Barcelona. The results suggest that antibody responses contributed to the effectiveness of dose-sparing mpox vaccine regimens used during the 2022 U.S. outbreak(link is external).”
  • The New York Times explains how our country can improve the rate of vaccinations against Hepatitis C.
    • “Dr. Francis Collins, who headed the National Institutes of Health for decades until retiring in 2021, has been spearheading a White House initiative aimed at eliminating the disease.
    • “In an interview, he said he was motivated by memories of his brother-in-law, Rick Boterf, who died of hepatitis C just before the introduction of the new cures. An outdoorsman, Mr. Boterf endured five years of liver failure waiting for a transplant, and even that procedure wasn’t enough to save him from the destructive virus.
    • “The more I looked at this, the more it just seemed impossible to walk away,” Dr. Collins said.
    • The initiative, which was included in President Biden’s latest budget proposal, calls for about $5 billion to establish a five-year “subscription” contract. The federal government would pay a flat fee and, in return, receive drugs for every patient it enrolled for treatment. * * *
    • “Dr. Collins acknowledged that on its own, a national drug-purchasing agreement like Louisiana’s would not be sufficient to turn the tide.
    • “Anybody who tries to say, ‘Oh, it’s just the cost of the drug, that’s the only thing that’s gotten in the way,’ hasn’t looked at those lessons carefully,” he said. To that end the proposal also calls for a $4.3 billion campaign to raise awareness, train clinicians and promote treatment at health centers, prisons and drug treatment programs.”
  • The New York Times offers an in-depth look at anti-depressant medications. Here’s why an in-depth look is useful reading.
    • “Antidepressants are among the most prescribed medications in the United States. This is, in part, because the number of people diagnosed with depression and anxiety has been on the rise, and prescriptions jumped sharply among some age groups during the pandemic.
    • “Despite the prevalence of these medications, some patients have “significant misconceptions” about how the drugs work, said Dr. Andrew J. Gerber, a psychiatrist and the president and medical director of Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn.
    • About 80 percent of antidepressants are prescribed by primary care doctors who have not had extensive training in managing mental illness.
    • “Dr. Paul Nestadt, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said patients tell him, “‘You know, Doc, I’ve tried everything.’” But often, he said, “they never got to a good dose, or they were only on it for a week or two.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Here’s a link to a the brief text of Senate bill 4811 that would allow over 100,000 reservists and National Guard members who also are federal employees to transfer from the FEHB to the lower cost Tricare Reserve Select healthcare program effective January 1, 2025.
  • Kevin Moss, writing in Govexec, points out the advantages of FEHB high deductible health plans.
  • Beckers Hospital Review alerts us,
    • “A Senate committee opened an investigation into Novo Nordisk’s list prices for Ozempic and Wegovy, Novo Nordisk’s diabetes and weight loss drugs. 
    • “In an April 24 letter to Novo Nordisk’s CEO, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions said Ozempic and Wegovy are “exorbitantly expensive,” which restricts access to the drugs for millions of Americans. 
    • “In the U.S., a four-week supply of Ozempic costs $969, and Wegovy is $1,349. That’s up to 15 times more than what Novo Nordisk charges in Canada, Europe and Japan, the letter said. 
    • “In 2023, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals spent more than $38 billion on the two products, which contain the same drug, semaglutide. They were the No. 1 pharmaceutical expense for U.S. healthcare, according to research published April 24.”
  • STAT News confirms,
    • “Spending on GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy ballooned last year and they’re set to cost the U.S. health care system and the federal government still more this year and beyond, two new reports released Wednesday show.
    • “One study from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists found that GLP-1 treatments were a main driver of the increase in overall drug spending by health entities such as pharmacies and hospitals last year. In particular, expenditures on Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide — sold as Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for obesity — doubled to $38.6 billion, making the drug the top-selling medicine in 2023.
    • “The other report, by health policy research organization KFF, looked at the impact of the recent approval of Wegovy to prevent cardiovascular complications. Medicare is barred from covering drugs for weight loss purposes, but the new approval means the federal payer can now cover Wegovy when prescribed to reduce heart risks. As a result, Medicare could spend $2.8 billion in a year on the single drug, the researchers conservatively estimate.
    • “Taken together, the reports provide a window into the pressure that GLP-1 drugs could place on overall health care spending going forward, especially as more people take the medications. The treatments have been in short supply, but drugmakers are ramping up manufacturing capacity to meet the unprecedented demand from patients. The pharma companies are also seeking approval for even more indications like heart failure and sleep apnea.”
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the sale of an antibiotic for the treatment of urinary tract infections in women, giving U.S. health providers a powerful new tool to combat a common infection that is increasingly unresponsive to the existing suite of antimicrobial drugs.
    • “The drug, pivmecillinam, has been used in Europe for more than 40 years, where it is often a first-line therapy for women with uncomplicated U.T.I.’s, meaning the infection is confined to the bladder and has not reached the kidneys. The drug will be marketed in the U.S. as Pivya and will be made available by prescription to women 18 and older. * * *
    • Utility Therapeutics, the U.S. company that acquired the rights to pivmecillinam, said it would be available in 2025. The company is also seeking F.D.A. approval for an intravenous version of the drug that is used for more serious infections and is usually administered in a hospital setting.
    • “Health practitioners said they were elated to have another tool in their arsenal given the growing challenge of antimicrobial resistance, which makes existing medications less effective as pathogens mutate in ways that allow them to survive a course of antibiotics.”
  • As we learned yesterday, “Day One Biopharmaceuticals drug Ojemda is now FDA-approved for advanced pediatric low-grade glioma, the most common type of brain cancer in children. The regulatory decision for Ojemda covers a broader swath of patients than a drug combination from Novartis approved for treating this childhood cancer.” MedCity News adds,
    • “Ojemda is available as an immediate-release tablet or an oral suspension, both administered once weekly. Dosing of the Day One drug is according to body surface area, which is consistent with dosing for other pediatric medications, Blackman said. Day One has set a $33,816 wholesale price for a 28-day supply. That means the annual cost of the therapy will top $440,000. Ojemda’s price is the same for all packages of the drug and will not change as a child grows and needs higher doses, Chief Commercial Officer Lauren Merendino said.
    • “The two formulations of Ojemda can be taken at home, which minimizes disruption to the lives of patients and families, Merendino said. Day One’s goal is to establish Ojemda as the physician’s first choice of therapy for pLGG. Merendino said the drug should become available in about two weeks.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Dairy cows must be tested for bird flu before moving across state lines, under a federal order issued Wednesday, as evidence mounts that the virus is more widespread than feared among cows in the United States.
    • Biden administration officials said the move is meant to contain transmission of the virus known as H5N1 and to reduce the threat to livestock, but they maintained that the risk to humans remains low. * * *
    • “An order issued by the U.S. Agriculture Department that takes effect Monday requires every lactating dairy cow to be tested before moving across state lines. Cows carrying the virus would have to wait 30 days and test negative before being moved, officials said. Positive test results would trigger additional requirements for herd owners to disclose information, including the movement of animals, to aid epidemiologic investigations, and for laboratories and state veterinarians to report cases to the USDA.
    • “Requiring positive test reporting will help USDA better understand this disease and testing before interstate movement will limit the spread of the virus,” Mike Watson, administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told reporters.
    • “This is an evolving situation, and we are treating it seriously and with urgency,” he said.”
  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans discusses “What Health Plan Sponsors Should Know About the Emerging Mental Health Needs of Youth.”
  • The National Cancer Institute released its latest Cancer Information Highlights.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “In a proof-of-concept study, researchers demonstrated the effectiveness of a potential new therapy for Timothy syndrome, an often life-threatening and rare genetic disorder that affects a wide range of bodily systems, leading to severe cardiac, neurological, and psychiatric symptoms as well as physical differences such as webbed fingers and toes. The treatment restored typical cellular function in 3D structures created from cells of people with Timothy syndrome, known as organoids, which can mimic the function of cells in the body. These results could serve as the foundation for new treatment approaches for the disorder. The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), appears in the journal Nature.
    • “Not only do these findings offer a potential road map to treat Timothy syndrome, but research into this condition also offers broader insights into other rare genetic conditions and mental disorders,” said Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, part of NIH.”
  • A primary care expert writing in Medscape offers a commentary on the new Shield blood test available for colon cancer screening.
    • “We will need to be clear [to patients] that the blood test is not yet endorsed by the USPSTF or any major guideline group and is a second-line test that will miss most precancerous polyps. As with the stool tests, it is essential to emphasize that a positive result must be followed by diagnostic colonoscopy. To addend the cancer screening maxim I mentioned before, the blood test is not the best test for CRC, but it’s probably better than no test at all.”
  • Health IT Analytics tells us,
    • “Researchers from the University of Virginia (UVA) have developed a machine learning tool designed to assess and predict adverse outcome risks for patients with advanced heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), according to a recent study published in the American Heart Journal.
    • “The research team indicated that risk models for HFrEF exist, but few are capable of addressing the challenge of missing data or incorporating invasive hemodynamic data, limiting their ability to provide personalized risk assessments for heart failure patients.
    • “Heart failure is a progressive condition that affects not only quality of life but quantity as well,” explained Sula Mazimba, MD, an associate professor of medicine at UVA and cardiologist at UVA Health, in the news release. “All heart failure patients are not the same. Each patient is on a spectrum along the continuum of risk of suffering adverse outcomes. Identifying the degree of risk for each patient promises to help clinicians tailor therapies to improve outcomes.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Prices for surgery, intensive care and emergency-room visits rise after hospital mergers. The increases come out of your pay. 
    • “Hospitals have struck deals in recent years to form local and regional health systems that use their reach to bargain for higher prices from insurers. Employers have often passed the higher rates onto employees. 
    • “Such price increases added an average of $204 million to national health spending in the year after mergers of nearby hospitals, according to a study published Wednesday by American Economic Review: Insights. 
    • “Workers cover much of the bill, said Zack Cooper, an associate professor of economics at Yale University who helped conduct the study. Employers cut into wagesand trim jobs to offset rising insurance premiums, he said. “The harm from these mergers really falls squarely on Main Street,” Cooper said. 
    • “Premiums are rising at their fastest pace in more than a decade, driven up by persistently high inflation across the economy. Rising costs have fueled contentious negotiations that have led some hospitals and insurers to cancel contracts, leaving patients in the lurch. 
    • “Hospital mergers make the price pressures worse.” 
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Biogen has seen “encouraging early trends” in the launch of its postpartum depression pill Zurzuvae, revealing in first quarter earnings drug sales that surpassed the estimates of Wall Street analysts.
    • “Biogen said sales of Zurzuvae between January and March hit $12 million, up from $2 million in the fourth quarter of 2023 and doubling consensus estimates of $5 million to $6 million. The company didn’t, however, reveal the number of prescriptions filled for Zurzuvae, making demand for the drug difficult to track. 
    • “Zurzuvae, which was discovered by Biogen partner Sage Therapeutics and approved by the Food and Drug Administration last August, is the only pill available specifically meant to treat postpartum depression, or PPD. But its sales prospects are uncertain, as the condition often goes undiagnosed, and many who are diagnosed don’t receive treatment.”  
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “A year ago, when Novo Nordisk announced it would cut the price of multiple insulin products by up to 75%, President Biden, lawmakers, and patient groups all counted the move as a win.
    • But several months later, Novo decided to discontinue one of those products, the basal insulin Levemir.
    • “Though the insulin won’t officially be off the market until the end of this year, patients are already running into supply disruptions and insurance cutoffs, leaving them with few options. The discontinuation, which is happening only in the U.S., has now drawn alarm from some Democratic senators, who sent a letter to Novo last week demanding an explanation.
    • “The turn of events highlights a key gap in policy efforts: Even if officials can get drugmakers to cut prices, the companies can choose to just pull a drug off the market, without guaranteeing that other manufacturers will continue to make the compound.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues informs us,
    • “Humana reported $741 million in net income in the first quarter of 2024. 
    • “The company published its first quarter earnings report April 24, beating investor expectations. In Q1 2023, Humana posted $1.2 billion in net income.
    • “Total revenue in the first quarter was $29.6 billion, up 10.7% year over year. 
    • “Humana’s medical loss ratio was 88.9% in the first quarter, which the company projects will rise to about 90% for the full year.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review notes,
    • “Cleveland Clinic’s eHospital program has expanded and now monitors 248 patient beds in ICUs and other units across the organization’s network.
    • “The eHospital program launched in 2014 as a pilot in one intensive care unit. The program is centered around a component known as the “bunker,” an operations center on Cleveland Clinic’s main campus. The operations center is staffed from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily by a team consisting of two critical care nurses and a physician. Their primary responsibility is to monitor patients across various ICU units within the Cleveland Clinic network.”
  • and identifies the 25 most expensive hospital drugs.
    • “Keytruda (pembrolizumab) was nonfederal hospitals’ costliest drug expense in 2023, according to research published April 24 in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
    • “In 2021 and 2022, COVID-19 drug Veklury (remdesivir) was the No. 1 pharmaceutical expense for the nation’s hospitals. Most medicines on the list saw modest changes from the prior year except for TNKase (tenecteplase), a cardiovascular therapy that cost hospitals 87.9% more in 2023.”