Midweek Update

Midweek Update

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front

The Wall Street Journal reports

The seven-day moving average of new Covid-19 cases recently topped 94,000 a day, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show, nearly four times lows reached in late March. The true number of new cases is likely significantly higher, epidemiologists say, because so many people are self-testing at home or not testing at all. 

The rise in cases hasn’t translated thus far into major surges in severe illness. The seven-day average of confirmed cases in hospitalized patients reached about 18,550 on Wednesday, up from lows near 10,000 in mid-April, but far below a record peak above 150,000 in January. The numbers include people who test positive on routine screening after getting hospitalized for other reasons. The daily average of reported deaths has slipped under 300 a day, the lowest point since last summer.

But * * * the more an outbreak spreads, the more likely it will reach the most vulnerable including elderly people and others with compromised immune systems, the experts say, and the more likely the virus will continue to mutate.

Bloomberg Prognosis adds

As Covid-19 again surges across the US, many people are going without time-sensitive therapeutics like Paxlovid because doctors worried about shortages are reluctant to prescribe the drugs. But the situation has changed and supplies are now abundant.

The Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency-use authorizations for the drug to treat mild to moderate Covid-19 in people who are at high risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines those as individuals ages 50 years or older, unvaccinated, or with certain medical conditions like kidney, liver, lung and heart disease, diabetes, cancer and HIV. It also recommends the drug for people who are immunocompromised, pregnant, obese, cigarette smokers or suffering from mood disorders.

You can find the one stop test to treat locations “by using the Department of Health and Human Services’ Test to Treat Locator or by calling 1-800-232-0233.”

Kaiser Health News recommendsimproving ventilation and filtration of the air. ‘Ventilation matters a lot,’ said Dr. Amy Barczak, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. ‘If you’re taking care of someone at home, it’s really important to maximize all the interventions that work.’”

Viral particles float through the air like invisible secondhand smoke, diffusing as they travel. Outside the home, viruses are quickly dispersed by the wind. Inside, germs can build up, like clouds of thick cigarette smoke, increasing the risk of inhaling the virus.

The best strategy for avoiding the virus is to make your indoor environment as much like the outdoors as possible.

In related viral news, Beckers Hospital Review tells us

More than 400 children worldwide have developed unusual cases of acute hepatitis, and researchers are still searching for the cause of the outbreak, the World Health Organization said May 17.  

As of May 15, the WHO reported 429 probable cases in 22 countries, up from 348 cases a week prior, according to Philippa Easterbrook, MD, a senior scientist in the global hepatitis program at the WHO. Another 40 cases are still under investigation, and 75 percent of all affected children are under age 5. 

Twelve countries are reporting more than five cases, double the amount from last week. Of these 12 countries, nine are in Europe. In total, six children have died in the outbreak and 26 have required liver transplants, according to Dr. Easterbrook. 

As of May 17, researchers were still investigating the cause of the hepatitis outbreak. The leading hypothesis is that an adenovirus and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may be causing hepatitis in children. Scientists are exploring “how these two infections may be working together as co-factors either by enhancing susceptibility or creating an abnormal response,” Dr. Easterbrook said. 

From the healthcare policy front, AHIP today launched

Healthier People through Healthier Markets, a new policy roadmap and set of solutions to improve health care affordability and access for every American. The effort is focused on boosting competition in health care markets and reining in harmful practices that hurt American families. With the launch of this policy roadmap, AHIP sent letters to President Biden and the leadership of Congress that lay out a detailed set of legislative and regulatory enforcement actions to increase competition in health care, drive down costs, and improve health care access for patients.

The FEHBlog supports this approach.

From the mental healthcare front, Govexec reports

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday urged federal agencies to ensure their employees are aware and can access the mental health benefits provided to federal workers, in light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month.

In a memo to agency heads, OPM Director Kiran Ahuja noted that promoting the federal workforce’s wellbeing, including mental health, is a priority in President Biden’s management agenda.

“We want to make sure that all federal employees understand the supports available to them and underscore that there should be no shame or stigma for taking care of their mental health,” Ahuja wrote. “[As] a reminder, employee assistance programs and Federal Employees Health Benefits health plans offer mental health services to employees and their family members. We encourage agencies to proactively communicate to their workforces about their options and encourage employees to contact their agency benefits officers or EAP coordinator to learn more.”

The FEHBlog encourages OPM to better coordinate mental health care services among FEHB plans, EAPs and wellness programs.

From the telehealth front

  • mHealth Intelligence informs us “In the second half of 2020, only 14.1 percent of children used telehealth due to the pandemic, but use was higher among those with asthma, a developmental condition, or a disability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.”

From the survey department, Beckers Payer Issues advises that “Castlight Health analyzed more than 160 million commercial medical claims nationwide to reveal insights about healthcare utilization patterns from 2018 to 2021.” Castlights report ranks the fifty States and DC based on average medical spending per member in 2021.  

From the miscellany department —

  • Beckers Payer Issues reports “Anthem shareholders voted at their annual meeting May 18 to change the company’s name to Elevance Health.”
  • Federal News Network discusses the Postmaster General’s plans to close and consolidate Postal facilities across the delivery network. “The network transformation initiative will impact nearly 500 network mail processing locations, 1,000 transfer hubs and 100,000 carrier routes. It will also impact 10,000 delivery units, which USPS defines as post offices, stations, branches or carrier annexes that handle mail delivery functions.”
  • FedSmith tells us “Starting May 26, 2022, federal retirees will notice a new process for signing into the OPM Retirement Services Online website. The login process will now be managed through the federal government’s Login.gov website and will require you to create a new username and password at login.gov if you do not currently have one.”

Midweek update

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front

The American Hospital Association informs us

COVID-19 vaccinations prevented an estimated 107,000 Medicare hospitalizations between January and May 2021, resulting in $2.6 billion in savings for Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, according to a new report by the Department of Health and Human Services. The report estimates the impact of COVID-19 vaccination during a five-month period shortly after the first vaccine was authorized and recommended for health care workers and elderly people in long-term care facilities. Future analyses will examine hospitalizations prevented by vaccination during the delta and omicron waves, HHS said.

Bloomberg Prognosis tells us

Pfizer Inc. executives said patients who suffer a relapse in Covid-19 symptoms after taking a full course of Paxlovid should take more of the treatment, though current U.S. guidelines limit use to five consecutive days.

“Paxlovid does what it has to do: it reduces the viral load,” Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in an interview. “Then your body is supposed to do the job.” But for unknown reasons, the CEO said, some patients aren’t able to clear the virus with the first course of treatment.

In cases where virus levels do rebound, Bourla said, “then you give a second course, like you do with antibiotics, and that’s it.”

As noted in the article, the fly in the ointment is that the FDA emergency use authorization does not expressly approve a second course of the medication.

From the Rx coverage front

MedCity News reports on Bristol Myers Squibb’s (BMS) NEX-T program to improve CAR-T treatments.

The company has described NEX-T as changes to manufacturing driven by the translational insights it has gleaned from treating thousands of patients with its CAR T therapies. In addition to a faster turnaround time, the strategy is intended to reduce the costs of the overall process.

One of the key goals for the next-generation of cell therapies is treating solid tumors.

Another strategy that BMS is pursuing is going after two targets with a single therapy, reducing the risk that a tumor escapes from the treatment

Looking at the flip side of this coin, Forbes reports

Health plans and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) that manage drug costs speaking at this year’s Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit in Las Vegas say specialty drugs now account for 50% or greater of the total prescription spending they manage. In some cases, employer clients are seeing specialty costs account for 60% or even greater of their total drug spending.

“It really is frightening for our clients,” Lucille Accetta, senior vice president of pharmacy benefit management and specialty product development at CVS Health told hundreds of attendees at the Asembia event, which runs through Thursday and drew more than 5,000 people from the healthcare industry. “We have to be the best purchaser for our clients.” * * *

To reign in the costs of prescription drugs while maintaining access to life-saving treatments, health plans and pharmacies say they are more closely monitoring patients as soon as they are on the drug, said Rina Shah, group vice president of pharmacy operations and services at Walgreens.

The Forbes article adds

Abarca Health [is] an independent PBM that manages more than $5 billion in drug costs annually for more than four million Americans has executives at this week’s Asembia meeting talking up its efforts to better manage specialty pharmacy costs.

The company’s Assura solution launched earlier this year “guarantees the net cost of drugs, including specialty medications, by offering an annual fixed per script cost for a health plan’s entire population,” Abarca said in announcing the new pricing solution earlier this year. The guarantee, Abarca CEO Jason Borschow says, is adjusted each year based on drug benefit coverage changes.

From the healthcare business front

Healthcare Dive informs us

Even as COVID-19’s benefit waned, new plan members across multiple product lines helped drive CVS to $2.3 billion in profit in the first quarter, slightly higher than the $2.2 billion brought in at the same time last year.

In results published Wednesday, the company beat Wall Street expectations on earnings and revenue, with a topline of $76.8 billion, up 11% year over year.

Fierce Healthcare explains how CVS has shifted from a retail to a digital marketing focus.

The Wall Street Journal reports

Moderna Inc. MRNA 5.81% said that its first-quarter revenue and profit tripled from a year earlier on higher sales of its Covid-19 vaccine and that a fall booster-shot campaign could drive continued sales gains.

The biotechnology company’s revenue topped $6 billion in the period ended March 31, beating analyst expectations and rising from $1.94 billion a year earlier, driven almost entirely by sales of its messenger RN

Moderna Inc. MRNA 5.81% said that its first-quarter revenue and profit tripled from a year earlier on higher sales of its Covid-19 vaccine and that a fall booster-shot campaign could drive continued sales gains.

The biotechnology company’s revenue topped $6 billion in the period ended March 31, beating analyst expectations and rising from $1.94 billion a year earlier, driven almost entirely by sales of its messenger RNA-based vaccine, branded as Spikevax. * * *

Moderna is the latest drugmaker to show surging sales due to demand for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, following recent reports fromEli Lilly & Co., Merck & Co. and Pfizer Inc.

From the health risks front, MedPage Today explains that

Seven risk factors, some modifiable and some not, accounted for the vast majority of risk for first-time acute myocardial infarction (MI) in young adults, according to a case-control study.

The seven factors — diabetes, depression, hypertension, smoking, family history of premature MI, low household income, and hypercholesterolemia — were responsible for 83.9% of the total acute MI risk in young women and 85.1% of the risk in young men, reported Harlan Krumholz, MD, SM, of Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues.

The UPI reports

Older adults who obtain a flu shot are less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke and are at lower risk for death from heart-related health events in the year after getting vaccinated, an analysis published Friday found.

Just under 4% of older adults vaccinated against the seasonal virus experienced a “cardiovascular event” within the next year compared to just over 5% of those who did not receive the shot, data published Friday by JAMA Network Open showed.

From the meetings department,

  • HHS provides a readout of a high-level meeting among Labor Department, health insurance and business executives “to discuss compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, adequacy of in-network providers and mental health and substance use disorder treatment during the pandemic, as the nation observes Mental Health Awareness Month.”
  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance reviews the presentations at last week’s Quality Talks conference.

From the federal employee benefits front, FedWeek discusses OPM’s planned improvement to processing retirement applications as unveiled in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget document. Processing federal retirement benefits will be a heavy lift for OPM until Congress simplifies the pension calculation.