Friday Stats and More

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Cases in the U.S. website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 20th through 32nd weeks of this year (beginning May 14 and ending August 19; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

and here is the CDC’s latest overall weekly hospitalization rate chart for COVID-19:

It looks like we are on another downswing of COVID-19 cases and hopefully we all understand now the importance of social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding super spreader events so that the number of cases continues to trend down (in contrast to June and July).

The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that “Doctors from University of Utah Health and ARUP Laboratories announced Thursday that they will offer saliva testing for COVID-19 by September — after completing a study that found the spit test detected the virus as well as the traditional, and famously uncomfortable, nasal swab.”

Bill Phillips, founder of Spectrum Solutions, a company in Draper that manufactures saliva test kits, said the U.-ARUP study is in line with other research that shows the effectiveness of the spit test for detecting COVID-19. Such research, Phillips said, should promote broader acceptance of the saliva test over the nasopharyngal swab, both in and out of the medical community. Spectrum Solutions manufactures 100,000 saliva test kits a day in its Draper plant, Phillips said. The company is ramping up to produce 500,000 kits a day, using contractors in Wisconsin, North Carolina and California. Phillips’ company boasts a client list that includes the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard team, the Olympics, and several sports leagues. Last week, Spectrum Solutions became the test-kit supplier to Major League Baseball, with plans to produce 275,000 kits for the pandemic-shortened season.


On the flip side, the Centers for Disease Control released a survey disclosing that during late June 2020 40% of Americans were struggling with mental illness or substance abuse due in large part to the great hunkering down.

No bueno.

The Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker has issued a report on how insured health plans are covering COVID-19 treatment during this public health emergency.

Yesterday, the FEHBlog wrote about Uber Health. Today, he points out a Fierce Healthcare story about its mega-competitor Lyft Health.

In a new study released Wednesday, Lyft offers a look at the performance of its partnership with AmeriHealth Caritas DC, which was facilitated by Access2Care. Lyft rides were made available to 11,400 for routine visits and urgent care, and between April 2018 and April 2019 emergency department visits dropped by 40% and ambulance utilization decreased by 12%. Amerigroup Tennessee, an Anthem company, similarly signed on with Lyft, launching a pilot in 2019 in Memphis. To date, it has seen a 44% increase in primary care visits and a 50% decrease in primary care gaps.

Finally Federal News Network reports on the Postmaster General’s testimony today before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The House is scheduled to consider a Postal Service bill (HR 8015) tomorrow. Here’s the version of the bill which the House Rules Committee approved today. The bill seeks to maintain the status quo in Postal Service operations retroactive to January 1, 2020 and provide the Postal Service with $25 billion. $15 million of this sum will go to the Postal Service Inspector General. House passage of this bill may lead to a compromise COVID-19 relief measure.

Friday Stats and More

Happy Juneteenth!

According to the CDC’s COVID-19 cases in the U.S. website, which the FEHBlog tracks, over the past five weeks the numbers of new cases had taken a downward path for the first three weeks and then turned up for the past two weeks. New deaths have seen consistent weekly reductions over the same time span.

Week endingNew CasesNew Deaths
May 22159,4968,160
May 29148,2107,561
June 5142,8296,553
June 12155,3715,850
June 19161,2894,865

The FEHBlog had been wondering when the current COVID-19 emergency period expires. The American Hospital Association informs us that the expiration date is July 25. The AHA is seeking an extension.

In other news —

  • The Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration released “a proposed Self-Compliance Tool intended to help improve compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) and additional related requirements under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The tool [which was last updated in 2018[ will enable group health plans, plan sponsors, plan administrators, health insurance issuers and other parties determine whether a group health plan or a health insurance issuer complies with the provisions in both laws. EBSA is requesting public comments on the MHPAEA’s Self-Compliance Tool proposed revisions by July 24, 2020
  • The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration released non-essential business re-opening guidance.

Thursday Miscellany

Regrettably, the Wall Street Journal reported today a spike in COVID-19 cases in States, like Texas, Utah, Arizona, and Arkansas, that were not hard hit early on in the COVID-19 emergency.

Experts analyzing states with worrisome trends in serious cases are largely pointing to the onset of summer, when people began to congregate in resort spots. [FEHBlog note: Super-speader events are risky.]

Some also suspect that officials who allowed businesses to reopen after a relatively calm few weeks might have sent an inadvertent message that the problem had largely passed.

As if responding to the suspicious “some,” the Centers for Disease Control has released a social media toolkit to spread COVID-19 related advice on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.

It’s worth noting that the Wall Street Journal editorial page’s observation that “More infections are inevitable as states reopen, and there will be much trial and error. States need to be vigilant for outbreaks and protect high-risk areas and the vulnerable. But the costs of shutting down the economy are so great, in damage to lives and livelihoods, that there is no alternative to opening for the broader public good.”

In other news —

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one-fifth of patients who read ambulatory care notes reported finding a mistake in those notes, and 40% of those regarded the error as serious.

“Among patient-reported very serious errors, the most common characterizations were mistakes in diagnoses, medical history, medications, physical examination, test results, notes on the wrong patient, and sidedness,” the study authors explained.

That’s worrisome for patient healthcare as well as for other doctors and health plans who rely on these reports.

  • Health Payer Intelligence offers a thought provoking article on four data points that illustrate mental health parity. The rub is that “Mental and behavioral healthcare parity is about more than just equal reimbursement with similar medical and surgical services. It includes ensuring access to care by having enough providers in-network and making sure that the right types of specialists are available for members.”

Tuesday Tidbits

While the FEHBlog has been discussing the progress of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19, its time to turn to the Gilead drug remdesivir Fierce Pharma discusses today a recently released peer reviewed study that shows that the drug works well with patients suffering from moderate severity COVID-19.

The 1,063-patient study showed remdesivir’s benefits appear greatest for hospitalized patients in the middle of the disease-severity spectrum. For those who required oxygen supplementation but were not mechanically ventilated, remdesivir cut the time to recovery by 47% compared with placebo. But remdesivir didn’t much help patients with mild or moderate disease, and outcomes for patients on invasive ventilation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation were nearly the same in both arms of the study.

According to the article, studies are continuing on the efficacy of the drug for patients with mild severity COVID-19.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that physicians are concerned over fact that anti-anxiety and anti-depression prescriptions have spiked during the great hunkering down. “Many physicians have a low threshold for prescribing them. It’s very problematic,” says Bruce J. Schwartz, deputy chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. “Many people do develop a dependency on these medications.” The article offers alternate approaches, and FEHB plans now usually offer coaching services to help with the problems.

Speaking of healthcare coaching programs, CNBC reports that the great hunkering down has been good for companies that provide coaching or telehealth / digital health programs.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that their 2021 pilot program to lower insulin costs for Medicare beneficiaries is bearing fruit.

Based on CMS’s estimates, beneficiaries who use insulin and join a plan participating in the model could see average out-of-pocket savings of $446, or 66 percent, for their insulins, funded in part by manufacturers paying an estimated additional $250 million of discounts over the five years of the model. With a robust voluntary response from Part D sponsors, CMS anticipates beneficiaries will have Part D plan options in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, through either a standalone prescription drug plan (PDP) or a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage. Beneficiaries will be able to enroll during Medicare open enrollment, which is from October 15, 2020 through December 7, 2020, for Part D coverage that begins on January 1, 2021.

Well done. Hopefully the Medicare approach will be translatable to employer sponsored coverage like the FEHBP.