Tuesday Tidbits

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Beckers Health IT informs us,
    • “U.S. lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation Feb. 16 to better match patients with their EHRs.
    • “U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Bill Foster, PhD, D-Ill., sponsored the Patient Matching and Transparency in Certified Health IT, or MATCH IT, Act of 2024.
    • “Patient matching errors have led to unnecessary expenses, medical mistakes, and even patient deaths,” Mr. Kelly said in a Feb. 16 news release. “This bipartisan legislation works to improve interoperability between healthcare systems and decrease these fixable matching errors, all while protecting patient privacy.”
  • STAT News tells us,
    • “Nearly four decades after its first conception, the first TIL therapy, an immunotherapy that harvests cancer-fighting immune cells from the patient’s own body, received accelerated approval from the Food and Drug Administration for advanced melanoma. The therapy, called Amtagvi or lifileucel from Iovance, is the first cell therapy approved for a solid tumor.
    • “It’s so exciting and gratifying,” said Allison Betof Warner, a cell therapy researcher and physician at Stanford University who has worked on Amtagvi. “This is a game-changing moment for our field. We’ve seen huge success of cellular therapy for hematologic malignancies, and we’ve yet to capitalize on that for solid tumors. This is hopefully the first of many to come.”
    • “In a Phase 2 clinical trial, titled C-144-01, 153 patients who had already been on a median of three prior lines of therapy received lifileucel, and 31% of them responded to therapy. “These are in very late line patients. They’ve exhausted every standard care option,” Betof Warner said. “The most promising part of this therapy for me is that 42% of patients who responded were still responding for 18 months or longer. It’s truly incredible.”
    • “The therapy is not expected to work for every patient, partially because the regimen has high toxicity. It will also be expensive. The therapy is expected to be priced at $515,000.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review adds, “Buzz for gene therapies is loud, but drugmakers struggle to get treatments off the ground.”
    • “A major barrier for many companies in the space is sheer cost to develop these advanced medical therapies. Though the Biden administration and CMS announced Jan. 30 plans to bring down prices for gene edited therapies, progress will take time. 
    • “The number of patients being treated with the existing gene therapies that are approved and available on the market is expected to decline year over year by nearly 33%, according to Bloomberg.”
  • Per the Food and Drug Administration,
    • “On Friday, the FDA published an Outbreak Advisory for an investigation of E. coli O157:H7 linked to raw cheddar cheese. The FDA recommends that consumers, restaurants, and retailers do not eat, sell, or serve Raw Farm-brand Raw Cheddar Cheese (block or shredded) and to throw it away. This is an ongoing investigation and the FDA will update the Advisory should additional consumer safety information become available.”
  • BioPharma Dive reports,
    • “AstraZeneca’s targeted cancer therapy Tagrisso can now be used alongside chemotherapy to treat a common type of locally advanced or metastatic lung tumor, following a Food and Drug Administration approval Friday.
    • “The FDA cleared Tagrisso together with chemotherapy based on results showing the combination reduced the risk of disease progression or death versus Tagrisso alone, which is currently the first-line standard for non-small cell lung cancer that harbors mutations in a gene known as EGFR.
    • “Over the weekend, meanwhile, AstraZeneca reported new clinical trial data showing Tagrisso outperformed placebo following chemoradiotherapy for Stage 3 EGFR-mutated non-small cell lung cancer that couldn’t be surgically removed. The results, which AstraZeneca will share with regulators, could further support early use of Tagrisso.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Axios points out,
    • “More than half of U.S. newborns now appear to be protected by new RSV vaccines, according to updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
    • Why it matters: The virus is considered the second leading cause of death worldwide during the first year of a child’s life. The data suggests demand was strong despite broader vaccine skepticism and the potential for confusion over more childhood immunization options.”
  • The Wall Street Journal discusses a related RSV vaccine (Beyfortus) shortage — “A new antibody that protects babies from a deadly virus proved far more popular than drugmaker Sanofi expected.”
    • Beyfortus seller Sanofi in March last year set aggressive targets for how many doses to make, yet still underestimated demand. Some pediatricians delayed ordering immunizations because they didn’t know whether insurers would cover the $495 doses. And the U.S. government decided in August—months after Sanofi had locked in the number of doses it would make—to add the shot to the Vaccines for Children program, a federal initiative that covers children who are uninsured or on Medicaid, buying more than half of the doses.
    • Sanofi said it sought to distribute its shots equitably in the face of “unprecedented” demand and is working to increase supply for the next RSV season. 
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research issued a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey about “Characteristics of Young Adults Aged 18-24 Who Had Ever Used an Electronic Nicotine Product, 2021.”
    • “Nearly one-third (30.6 percent) of U.S. adults ages 18-24 reported ever having used an electronic nicotine product.
    • “More than one-third (38.3 percent) of non-Hispanic White young adults reported ever having used an electronic nicotine product, nearly double the rate for Hispanic young adults and 12 percentage points higher than for non-Hispanic Black young adults.”
  • Medpage Today notes,
    • “Nearly all medication abortions obtained via telehealth, whether via video or secure text messaging, were completed without further intervention and without adverse events, the prospective CHAT study found.
    • “Among over 6,000 abortions, 97.7% (95% CI 97.2-98.1) were completed without further intervention, and the completion rate was similar for patients who had video calls (98.3%) or used text messaging (97.4%), reported Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues.
    • “Less than 1% of patients had a serious abortion-related adverse event (0.25%) or were treated for an ectopic pregnancy (0.16%), and 1.3% of abortions were followed by emergency department visits, the authors wrote in Nature Medicine.”
  • The FEHBlog has subscribed to a Substack series called “Your Local Epidemiologist.”
    • “Your Local Epidemiologist (YLE)” is written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, M.P.H. Ph.D.—an epidemiologist, wife, and mom of two little girls. During the day, she is a senior scientific consultant to several organizations, including CDC. At night, she writes this newsletter. Her main goal is to “translate” the ever-evolving public health world so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions. This newsletter is free, thanks to the generous support of fellow YLE community members.”
    • Check it out.
  • Medpage Today offers an expert medical opinion concerning
    • “News surfaced last week suggesting a potential shift in COVID-19 isolation guidanceopens in a new tab or windowfrom the CDC. The planned guidance, which is expected to be released this spring for public comment, indicates a significant switch in how COVID-19 is conceptualized. The guidance would bring COVID-19 into line with how other common respiratory viruses are managed: with isolation recommended until the individual has mild and improving symptoms, and is fever-free (without pharmaceutical aid) for 24 hours.”
    • “With the news of the proposed guidance, many voices rose up to immediately attack the proposed guidance as a capitulation and not evidence-based. This was similar to the refrain from opponents when the federal or state governments dropped or loosened mask requirements or guidance.
    • I was not one of themopens in a new tab or window.
    • “Indeed, I welcome the proposed guidance change because it reflects the progress that has been made in the management of COVID-19. When evaluating this guidance, it is critical to understand that SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, is situated among the myriad respiratory viruses that infect humans.”
  • Medscape lets us know,
    • “Availability of telehealth services for mental healthcare varies widely from state to state, a new study shows. One fifth of all facilities contacted reported no mental telehealth options and wait times for those that did ranged from 4 days to > 2 months, depending on the state.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced,
    • “To prevent an emerging genomic technology from contributing to health disparities, a scientific team funded by the National Institutes of Health has devised new ways to improve a genetic testing method called a polygenic risk score. Since polygenic risk scores have not been effective for all populations, the researchers recalibrated these genetic tests using ancestrally diverse genomic data. As reported in Nature Medicine, the optimized tests provide a more accurate assessment of disease risk across diverse populations.
    • “Genetic tests look at the small differences between individuals’ genomes, known as genomic variants, and polygenic risk scores are tools for assessing many genomic variants across the genome to determine a person’s risk for disease. As the use of polygenic risk scores grows, one major concern is that the genomic datasets used to calculate the scores often heavily overrepresent people of European ancestry.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive reports,
    • “After federal legislation protecting consumers from surprise medical bills was implemented, a growing number of medical claims were in network, according to a new analysis.
    • “The No Surprises Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. From the fourth quarter of 2021 to the first quarter of 2022, in-network care as a percentage of all claim lines nationally increased 2.3%, according to the study by nonprofit Fair Health.
    • “It’s the latest research suggesting No Surprises has been successful in lowering the amount of unexpected out-of-network bills, though the rollout of the law has been tied up in lawsuits, and regulators currently face a backlog of billing disputes between payers and providers.”
  • and
    • “Insurers brace for continued Medicare Advantage medical costs. The big question coming out of the health insurance earnings season is how much elevated utilization among seniors is carrying over into 2024.”
  • EndPoint News points out,
    • “Cigna’s venture unit just made a bet on a startup focused on cardiometabolic conditions that wants to play a role in prescribing GLP-1 medications.
    • 9amHealth said on Tuesday it raised $9.5 million in a Series A extension led by The Cigna Group Ventures. It adds to $16 million from the Series A raised in April 2022 by the startup, which provides virtual visits, prescriptions and lab tests related to conditions like hypertension, type 2 diabetes and weight management.”
    • “Cigna’s investment comes as health plans and pharmacy benefit managers (the PBM Express Scripts is a subsidiary of Cigna) are grappling with how to cover the high cost of GLP-1 medications for conditions like type 2 diabetes and weight loss. It’s among the first investments from an insurance company’s venture arm into a startup prescribing the drugs, which have turned into huge blockbusters and prompted broad conversations about their cost — and benefit — to the healthcare system.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Pharmaceutical companies are spending billions of dollars to develop drugs that can target cancer like guided missiles.
    • “Therapies known as antibody-drug conjugates, which help deliver chemotherapy directly to tumors, have gotten most of the attention and are farthest along: 
    • Pfizer’s $43 billion acquisition of biotech Seagen Inc. last year underscored how hot the field has become. 
    • “More quietly, a concept known as radiopharmaceuticals is also gaining ground. In recent months, interest in this space has led to a rise in dealmaking. The idea is similar to ADCs in that a patient receives an old treatment—in this case, a radioactive particle instead of chemotherapy drugs—but it is bound with a molecule that can chase down tumor cells. The technology is at a more nascent stage, but a steady growth of venture capital money and acquisitions by large pharmaceutical companies means this could well become a key part of the fight against cancer in the next decade or so.”
  • HR Dive discusses an EEOC lawsuit against a Georgia retirement community “for firing a 78-year-old receptionist after repeatedly asking her to retire. “The right to decide a retirement age lies with an employee, not their employer,” an EEOC official said.

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Federal Times reports,
    • “It took 13 years — with some stops, starts and stumbles in between — but as of today, the federal government now has a single website designed to deliver detailed, searchable information about all federal programs.
    • “The Office of Management and Budget flipped the switch Thursday on the new Federal Program Inventory, a platform it’s been building via various pilot efforts since December 2020. Officials acknowledge it doesn’t yet capture every single program: For now, only “domestic assistance” programs are included. But that broad category encompasses most federal spending, ranging from Social Security and Medicare to the smallest community block grant programs.
    • “As of now, the database includes spending and performance data on 2,388 programs, said Diedre Harrison, OMB’s deputy controller.”
  • The FEHBlog cannot locate the FEHBP in this database, FYI. What’s more,
    • “The Treasury Department and the IRS are calling on teleworking employees to return to the office for half of their workdays, starting in a few months.
    • “IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel told employees in an email Thursday that teleworking employees will need to return to the office 50% of the time, on any given month, starting on May 5.
    • “Our top priority, regardless of where employees are located at any point in time, will continue to be meeting our goals of serving taxpayers, ensuring tax compliance and maintaining our vital technology and operations,” Werfel wrote.
    • “The return-to-office plans will only impact IRS executives, managers and non-bargaining unit employees with telework agreements in the National Capital Region. The decision affects IRS headquarters, the agency’s New Carrollton Federal Building and other offices in the Washington, D.C. area.”
  • Healthcare Dive points out,
    • “The federal government received 13 times more surprise billing disputes in the first half of 2023 than it expected to receive in a full year, according to new CMS data.
    • “And the amount is growing each quarter, contributing to a growing backlog and straining the capacity of the system regulators set up to arbitrate disputes over medical bills between providers and health insurers.
    • “Of the 288,810 disputes filed in the first six months of 2023, fewer than half were closed, and arbiters rendered payment decisions in under a third of cases. Of those, providers won 77% of payment determinations, while health plans prevailed in 23% — noteworthy statistics given providers have argued the arbitration process is unfairly weighted toward insurers.”
  • The Commonwealth Fund discusses the status of creating a separate version of the No Surprises Act for ground ambulances.
  • Newfront fills us in on federal claim substantiation rules for flexible spending accounts, health reimbursement accounts, and health savings accounts.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Novartis and Roche Holding said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved their Xolair treatment to reduce allergic reactions following the exposure to one or more foods.
    • “The pharmaceutical companies on Friday said Xolair has been approved for patients aged one year and older with the IgE-mediated food allergy.
    • “Patients taking Xolair for food allergies should continue to avoid all foods they are allergic to, the companies added.
    • “Xolair, a prescription biologic medicine that is given as an injection, shouldn’t be taken as an emergency treatment for allergic reactions.”
  • BioPharma Dive adds,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration will decide by June 21 whether to loosen the restrictions surrounding use of Sarepta Therapeutics’ gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the company said Friday
    • “Sarepta’s gene therapy, Elevidys, was granted a conditional OK last June for children between 4 and 5 years of age who have Duchenne and can still walk. Sarepta aims to convert that nod to a full approval for all people with Duchenne and a confirmed mutation to a specific gene, even though Elevidys failed to hit its main goal in a study meant to confirm its benefits. 
    • “Sarepta, for its part, has argued that the collective evidence it’s accrued proves Elevidys is impacting the disease. Analysts appear optimistic of its chances, given the agency won’t convene a group of outside experts to review its request.”  

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The Centers for Disease Control tells us
    • In September 2023, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended updated 2023–2024 (monovalent XBB.1.5) COVID-19 vaccination for all persons aged ≥6 months to prevent COVID-19, including severe disease. Many variants co-circulated during fall 2023; the JN.1 lineage became predominant in January 2024. Few estimates of updated 2023–2024 vaccine effectiveness (VE) are available.
    • What is added by this report?
    • Receipt of updated COVID-19 vaccine provided approximately 54% increased protection against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with no receipt of updated vaccine. Vaccination provides protection against JN.1 and other circulating lineages.
    • What are the implications for public health practice?
    • All persons aged ≥6 months should receive updated 2023–2024 COVID-19 vaccine. CDC will continue monitoring COVID-19 VE, including against severe disease and for expected waning.
  • The CDC called attention to its website on RSV prevention.
  • MedCity News offers
    • “Three Tips To Improve Health Plans’ Chronic Conditions Management 
    • “During a virtual panel, leaders from across the industry shared their advice on how health plans can do a better job of achieving their goals for chronic management. For example, one executive said health plans should utilize remote monitoring tools for centralized observation and be wary of using the wrong metrics.” 
  • Benefits Pro lets us know,
    • “Older Americans may forego elective surgeries because they are worried about out-of-pocket expenses and time away from work, along with potential exposure to COVID-19.
    • “This is according to a study by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, which discovered that these factors tend to dissuade older Americans from going through with surgeries more than concerns about pain or the recovery process.
    • “Nearly half of those who said they were very concerned about cost and more than half of those who were very concerned about taking time off of work ended up not having a surgery they were considering, the study found. However, those who were concerned about surgery-related pain were just as likely as those with no concerns about pain to go ahead with surgery.”
  • Medscape calls attention to “How the New MRSA Antibiotic Cracked AI’s ‘Black Box.'”
    • “The MIT study is part of the Antibiotics-AI project, a 7-year effort to leverage AI to find new antibiotics. Phare Bio, a nonprofit started by MIT professor James Collins, PhD, and others, will do clinical testing on the antibiotic candidates.
    • “Even with the AI’s assistance, there’s still a long way to go before clinical approval.
    • “But knowing which elements contribute to a candidate’s effectiveness against MRSA could help the researchers formulate scientific hypotheses and design better validation, Lee noted. In other words, because they used explainable AI, they could be better positioned for clinical trial success.”
  • The New York Times reports,
    • “Growing numbers of children and adolescents are being prescribed multiple psychiatric drugs to take simultaneously, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland. The phenomenon is increasing despite warnings that psychotropic drug combinations in young people have not been tested for safety or studied for their impact on the developing brain.
    • “The study, published Friday in JAMA Open Network, looked at the prescribing patterns among patients 17 or younger enrolled in Medicaid from 2015 to 2020 in a single U.S. state that the researchers declined to name. In this group, there was a 9.5 percent increase in the prevalence of “polypharmacy,” which the study defined as taking three or more different classes of psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants, sedatives and drugs for A.D.H.D. and anxiety drugs.”
  • AP reports,
    • “Smoking has surpassed injecting as the most common way of taking drugs in U.S. overdose deaths, a new government study suggests.
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called its study published Thursday the largest to look at how Americans took the drugs that killed them.
    • “CDC officials decided to study the topic after seeing reports from California suggesting that smoking fentanyl was becoming more common than injecting it. Potent, illicit versions of the painkiller are involved in more U.S. overdose deaths than any other drug.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “CommonSpirit Health cut its operating losses in the three months ended Dec. 31by working with payers to speed the rate of reimbursement for services and implementing cost containment measures, according to earnings released on Thursday.
    • “The Chicago-based health system reported an operating income of $356 million for the quarter. Normalized for the California provider fee program, CommonSpirit logged an operating loss of $87 million. In the same period last year, CommonSpirit reported an operating loss of $440 million.
    • “CommonSpirit said supply and salary inflation continues to vex the system. Salaries and benefit expenses increased $413 million, or 9.3%, year over year, primarily due to higher salary costs.”
  • RevCycle Intelligence adds,
    • “Rural healthcare’s outlook just worsened, according to a new analysis from Chartis, a healthcare advisory firm.
    • “The updated analysis of key indicators such as rural hospital operating margin, facility closures, and loss of access to care and services paints a grim picture for rural hospitals in the US, particularly independent providers.
    • “Half of rural hospitals are operating in the red, the analysis found, and that percentage increased from 43 percent a year ago. More independent rural hospitals are operating at a loss at 55 percent, while 42 percent of health system-affiliated rural hospitals have a deficit. The analysis noted that almost 60 percent of rural hospitals in the US are now affiliated with a health system.
    • “With more rural hospitals facing revenue losses, 418 facilities are “vulnerable to closure,” the analysis showed.
    • “America’s rural hospitals have been battling against drivers of instability for more than a decade, but this newest research suggests this crisis has accelerated quickly to previously unseen levels,” Michael Topchik, national leader of The Chartis Center for Rural Health, said in a statement. “To learn the percentage of rural hospitals in the red has shifted 7 [percent] and now includes half of all rural hospitals is startling and should serve as an urgent call to action for everyone invested in rural healthcare.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Nearly all healthcare executives believe new digital health technologies are worth the cost, even though they have yet to see a financial return from it, a new survey reveals.
    • “The inaugural Health Pulse Survey was conducted by Ernst & Young and reached more than 100 payer and provider administrative executives across the U.S. It found that the appetite for digital health solutions has risen, particularly since COVID-19. The pandemic was a catalyst for the industry.
    • “COVID prompted a lot of digital health tech investments by payers and providers—it was out of necessity,” Kaushik Bhaumik, EY’s U.S. health technology leader, told Fierce Healthcare. “People had to connect with their patients through digital channels.” 
  • Reuters reports,
    • “A small but rapidly growing number of U.S. adolescents began treatment with Novo Nordisk’s weight-loss drug Wegovy last year, a powerful new tool to address record rates of pediatric obesity, according to data shared exclusively with Reuters.
    • “In the first 10 months of 2023, 1,268 children ages 12 to 17 with an obesity diagnosis started taking Wegovy, according to U.S. insurance claims data compiled by health technology company Komodo Health.”

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Govexec reports,
    • “Key congressional negotiators have reached an agreement on how to divvy up funding for the fiscal 2024 spending bills, clearing a major threshold that will allow appropriators to finalize those measures. 
    • “The deal, confirmed by a source familiar with talks, was hammered out after weeks of negotiations between Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who respectively chair the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, and establishes how much money will be allocated to each of the 12 bills Congress must pass to fund government each year. With those allocations set, lawmakers can now complete their work of setting line-by-line funding for every program and office in agencies across government.”
  • Federal News Network tells us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management is issuing a final rule to bar the government from considering a person’s current or past pay when determining their salary for federal employment. Administration officials said this step will help limit pay discrimination and ensure compensation is based on an applicant’s skills, experience and expertise.
    • “A similar proposal will offer protections to those employed by federal contractors.
    • “The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is issuing a proposal to prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from seeking and considering information about a job applicant’s compensation history when hiring or setting pay for anyone who works on a government contract.
    • “The proposal also requires contractors and subcontractors to disclose salary ranges in job postings.
    • “Administration officials said the proposal would help federal contractors recruit, diversify and retain talent, improve job satisfaction and performance and reduce turnover.”
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is holding a virtual summit this Wednesday January 31 “for policymakers, advocates, researchers, and a wide variety of stakeholders with equities in the Food is Medicine space to engage in a substantive conversation about why food is medicine is important, what actions are being taken to promote this concept, and what stakeholders can do to bolster this work.”
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services informs us about
    • “Increased participation in CMS’ accountable care organization (ACO) initiatives in 2024, which will increase the quality of care for more people with Medicare. Of note, CMS is announcing that 19 newly formed accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (Shared Savings Program) are participating in a new, permanent payment option beginning in 2024 that is enabling these ACOs to receive more than $20 million in advance investment payments (AIPs) for caring for underserved populations. An additional 50 ACOs are new to the program in 2024, and 71 ACOs renewed their participation, bringing the total to 480 ACOs now participating in the Shared Savings Program, the largest ACO program in the country. CMS also announced that 245 organizations are continuing their participation in two CMS Innovation Center models — ACO Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) and the Kidney Care Choices (KCC) models.”
  • Bloomberg reports,
    • “Justice Department investigators are scrutinizing the healthcare industry’s use of AI embedded in patient records that prompts doctors to recommend treatments.
    • “Prosecutors have started subpoenaing pharmaceuticals and digital health companies to learn more about generative technology’s role in facilitating anti-kickback and false claims violations, said three sources familiar with the matter. It comes as electronic health record vendors are integrating more sophisticated artificial intelligence tools to match patients with particular drugs and devices.
    • “It’s unclear how advanced the cases are and where they fit in the Biden administration’s initiative to spur innovation in healthcare AI while regulating to promote safeguards. Two of the sources—speaking anonymously to discuss ongoing investigations—said DOJ attorneys are asking general questions suggesting they still may be formulating a strategy.”
  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Federal legislation holding patients blameless for surprise medical charges prevented more than 10 million unexpected bills in the first nine months of 2023, according to a new analysis by health insurance groups.
    • “The survey of U.S. payers from AHIP and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association also highlighted a “growing and troubling trend” — an increasing number of claims going through the payment negotiation process set up by the No Surprises Act.
    • “Regulators forecast that 17,000 claims would go through that process, called independent dispute resolution, each year. However, AHIP and BCBSA estimate almost 670,000 claims were submitted to IDRbetween January and September 2023 alone.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “Philips has agreed to stop selling new sleep therapy devices or other respiratory care products in the U.S., roughly two-and-a-half years after launching its massive recall of related products, the company said Monday. 
    • “The company agreed to the action as part of a consent decree it is entering into with the U.S. Department of Justice, representing the Food and Drug Administration. Philips has been negotiating the decree in light of the quality problems that led to its recall of more than 15 million sleep therapy and respiratory care devices. The decree is now being finalized ahead of its submission to a U.S. court for approval.
    • “Philips shared details of the agreement as part of its fourth-quarter earnings call.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • ABC News reports,
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning clinicians to remain on alert for measles cases due to a growing number of infections.
    • “Between Dec. 1, 2023, and Jan. 23, 2024, there have been 23 confirmed cases of measles including seven cases from international travelers and two outbreaks with five or more infections each, according to an email sent this week.
    • “Cases have been reported in PennsylvaniaNew JerseyDelaware and the Washington, D.C. area so far.
    • “Most of these cases were among children and adolescents who had not been vaccinated against measles, despite being eligible.
    • “According to the CDC, most measles cases in the U.S. occur when unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Americans travel internationally, contract the disease and then spread it to those who are unvaccinated upon their return.”
  • Bloomberg offers background on the effective measles vaccine.
    • “The measles, mumps and rubella combined vaccine is so effective that in the US, thanks to a widely accepted vaccine campaign, measles was declared eliminated in 2000.
    • “But the disease has made a comeback. A now-discredited studypublished in the journal The Lancet in 1998 suggested that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. This is not true, but some parents became reluctant to immunize their children. Dahl’s letter about the measles vaccine has had an online revival multiple times in the past decade, as measles spread repeatedly in children who’d never gotten their shots.
    • “The disease is flaring up again now, this time in Europe, where the World Health Organization waved a warning flag last week. The region reported more than 40,000 cases between January and November of last year, compared to 942 in 2022. The havoc the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked on basic preventative care is partly to blame.”
  • The National Institutes of Health provides us with an emotional wellness tookit.
  • MedPage Today points out,
    • A multiparametric blood test for prostate cancer showed potential to avoid more than half of unnecessary biopsies without sacrificing accuracy, a large prospective study showed.
    • In a comparison against the current PSA testing standard of ≥4 ng/mL, the Stockholm3 biomarker, which incorporates a PSA cutoff of 15 ng/mL with other proteins and genomic information, would have spared 56% of men from biopsies for grade group (GG) 1 or benign disease. The standard PSA cutoff would have avoided 19% of unnecessary biopsies, decreasing to 10% with a cutoff of ≥3 ng/mL.
    • Sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values with the multicomponent test either approximated or surpassed those achieved with conventional PSA testing, reported Scott Eggener, MD, of the University of Chicago, at the Genitourinary Cancers Symposium

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Health Payer Intelligence notes,
    • “UnitedHealth Group saw revenue growth of over 14 percent in 2023, while adding 1.7 million new consumers to its Medicare and commercial offerings, executives shared during the UnitedHealth Group Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2023 Earnings Conference Call.
    • “Last year was a “year of balanced, sustainable growth for UnitedHealth Group,” according to Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues lets us know,
    • “Though Medicare Advantage enrollment keeps climbing, the program may not have the profitability it once did for insurers. 
    • “In a January analysis shared with Becker’s, Moody’s analysts wrote that the program “seems to be losing some of its luster,” facing a significant increase in medical costs and lower reimbursement rates from CMS. 
    • “Earnings in Medicare Advantage shrunk by 2.1% among the insurers Moody’s rated from 2019 to 2022, despite premiums and members growing by 40% in the same time period.”
  • and
    • After a called-off merger between Humana and Cigna, executives at both companies say the companies are focused on staying on their existing courses. 
    • Neither company has directly addressed the called-off merger, but they have each fielded questions from investors on the outlook for the future. 
  • Beckers Hospital Review explains how the Ozempic boom affects hospital pharmacies.

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “Congressional leaders struck a cautiously optimistic tone Wednesday on reaching a deal combining tighter border security with aid for Ukraine, as they emerged from meeting with President Biden at the White House.
    • “House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) said the hour-and-20-minute sit down was “productive” while reiterating Republicans’ demand that changing border law was a condition for further funding Kyiv, which is one piece of a stalled $110.5 billion foreign-aid package championed by Biden.”
  • and
    • “The Biden administration on Wednesday finalized requirements to streamline the process for doctors and patients seeking health insurance approval for medical care and treatments.
    • “The rule aims to shorten the timeline for the so-called prior authorization process to as little as 72 hours for many of the tens of millions of people who get their health insurance through Medicare Advantage, Medicaid or an Affordable Care Act health plan by automating some of the processing of the requests.
    • “Plans would also have to share more information with doctors about the status of decisions and information on denials, with a turnaround time of seven calendar days for non-urgent requests.”
  • Here is a link to the CMS fact sheet on the final rule.
    • “Impacted payers must implement certain operational provisions, generally beginning January 1, 2026. In response to public comment on the proposed rule, impacted payers have until compliance dates, generally beginning January 1, 2027, to meet the API development and enhancement requirements in this final rule. The exact compliance dates vary by the type of payer.”
  • STAT News reports that the federal government dismissed its appeal of a D.C. district court decision vacating a Trump Administration rule favoring use of copay accumulators by health plans. “Insurers can still use the copay accumulators when patients use brand drugs that do have generic competition.”
  • MedPage Today tells us,
    • “The FDA cleared an artificial-intelligence (AI)-powered device designed to non-invasively detect skin cancer in the primary care setting, the agency announced on Tuesday.
    • “Developer DermaSensor said the device uses AI-powered spectroscopy technology to non-invasively evaluate cellular and subcellular characteristics of a lesion for any of the three common skin cancers — melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The wireless, handheld device then provides a result in real time using an FDA-cleared algorithm.”
  • MedTech Dive informs us,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration issued an alert for patients and healthcare providers about the risks associated with an Exactech shoulder replacement device after the company “declined to initiate a voluntary recall.”
    • “FDA officials advised healthcare professionals against implanting Equinoxe Shoulder Systems packaged in defective bags because of a risk of oxidation that can accelerate device wear or failure. The issue could lead to patients needing additional surgery to replace or correct devices.
    • “Exactech recalled other orthopedic devices in 2021 and 2022, initially because of excessive and premature wear of unknown cause, and later because it found a problem with its packaging.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review points out 35 states where respiratory illness levels remain high or very high, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
  • The Wall Street Journal lets us know,
    • “Americans are living longer, but spending less time in good health.
    • “The estimated average proportion of life spent in good health declined to 83.6% in 2021, down from 85.8% in 1990, according to an analysis of the latest data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease study, a research effort based at the University of Washington.
    • “The decrease of time spent in good health is partly because medical advances are catching and treating diseases that once would have killed us. But it is also because of the rising prevalence, often among younger people, of conditions such as obesity, diabetes and substance-use disorders.
    • “Declining health takes a deep physical and emotional toll on patients and their caregivers. There are also broad ramifications on society, including rising health costs that eat into household budgets, as well as more people who want to work but can’t.
    • “The period of life spent not healthy is getting larger and larger and the implications of that are enormous,” says Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University. “70 is the new 80.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review adds,
    • “The expected increase in new cancer diagnoses this year is record-setting, even as overall cancer mortality is expected to continue its decline, the American Cancer Society said in its latest report.
    • “The report was based on the most recent data on population-based cancer occurrences and outcomes collected by central cancer registries through 2020 and mortality data from the National Center of Health Statistics through 2021.
    • “The projected number of new diagnoses tops 2 million for the first time, with an increase in six out of 10 top cancers. Notably, colorectal cancer new cases have shifted mortality patterns in adults younger than 50 and have moved up from being the fourth leading cause of cancer death to the first in men and second in women.”
  • AHRQ announced the following study result:
    • “Diagnostic errors can result in significant morbidity and mortality. This large cohort study reviewed the health records of 2,428 adult inpatients who were transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU) and/or died in the hospital to estimate frequency, cause, and harms of diagnostic errors. Nearly a quarter (23.0%) of patients in the cohort experienced a diagnostic error, and 6.6% of patients who died had a diagnostic error. Delays in ordering and interpreting tests and problems with clinical assessment were the most common contributing factors resulting in transfer to ICU and/or death.”
  • According to Healio,
    • “Rates of long COVID were similar between groups of people who received Paxlovid and those who do not.
    • “COVID-19 rebound is not linked to an overall risk for long COVID.”
  • Per Beckers Payer Issues,
    • “RSV vaccinations brought more older adults to their primary care offices in the last months of 2023, one factor behind rising medical costs in Medicare Advantage, UnitedHealth Group executives said. 
    • “Andrew Witty, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, told investors on a Jan. 12 call that more visits to primary care providers for RSV vaccines led to increased medical service costs in other areas for the Medicare population. 
    • “To be clear, all of that is good news for healthcare. These are seniors, many of whom had not been to the office in a long time,” Mr. Witty said. “They’ve come back in now, got vaccinated, and physicians have picked up on other things.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive notes,
    • “Cigna announced a slew of leadership updates on Wednesday, including an expansion of chief financial officer Brian Evanko’s role.
    • “Evanko will continue to hold the CFO positionand he’ll also serve as president and CEO of the company’s Cigna Healthcare division, its benefits business, which includes the U.S. Commercial and U.S. Government segments.”  
  • Per Beckers Payer Issues,
    • “Humana plans to lay off a small portion of its workforce, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Jan. 16. 
    • “Humana did announce some limited workforce reductions last week,” a Humana spokesperson told Becker’s Jan. 16. “The impacted positions represented a small percentage of our total workforce and were geographically dispersed across multiple locations.”
  • Forbes reports,
    • “Three months ago, venture capital firm General Catalyst announced an unusual move: The creation of an entirely new company that would someday acquire a multi-billion dollar health system that could serve as a proving ground for new technologies.
    • “On Wednesday, that company – the Healthcare Assurance Transformation Corporation, or HATCo – revealed its intended target: Akron, Ohio-based Summa Health, a nonprofit three-hospital system and health insurer.”
  • Medical Economics notes,
    • “This year promises to be a Super Bowl of telehealth, according to plans by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA).
    • “The year 2024 has at least two major factors that could be hugely influential for telehealth, according to the organization and its affiliated ATA Action advocacy nonprofit.
    • “It’s a presidential election year, and it will bring the end of the telehealth flexibilities that Congress enacted by during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued after the end of the public health emergency. Those need to remain in place, said Kyle Zebley, ATA senior vice president for public policy and ATA Action executive director.
    • “With Congress back in session, the clock officially starts counting down,” Zebley said in a news release this month. “It’s time for the administration and our congressional leaders to take permanent action to ensure patients across the country have access to safe, affordable, and effective health care where and when they need it and provide certainty to beneficiaries and our nation’s health care providers. That would be a win-win.”
  • The Brookings Institution offers a report assessing early experience with arbitration under the No Surprises Act.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Roll Call tells us,
    • “The Senate overwhelmingly voted Tuesday night in favor of the first procedural move needed to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of this week.
    • “The chamber voted 68-13 to end debate on the motion to proceed to the shell legislative vehicle for the stopgap spending measure, which would run to March 1 for four of the dozen annual appropriations bills and until March 8 for the remaining eight.
    • “Leadership in both chambers are in favor of the stopgap measure, which is designed to give appropriators more time to negotiate final fiscal 2024 appropriations bills following the $1.66 trillion topline agreement Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., announced earlier this month.”
  • Roll Call further informs us,
    • “Congressional leaders and key committee heads are poised to meet with the president at the White House Wednesday to discuss the national security supplemental package that has remained stalled over the lack of agreement on border and immigration policy measures.
    • “White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed President Joe Biden’s plans to host the meeting during a Tuesday briefing. 
    • “Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are expected to attend the meeting.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds,
    • “Top U.S. lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan tax agreement that would revive expired breaks for businesses and increase the child tax credit for low-income families, and they are aiming to push the $78 billion in tax breaks through Congress in the next few weeks. 
    • “The deal comes from Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Jason Smith (R., Mo.), ideological opponents who found common ground after months of talks. They have a tough task ahead, given skepticism about aspects of the deal in both parties and a tight deadline before tax season starts.”
  • Roll Call notes,
    • “The conservative-controlled Supreme Court could upend how courts handle challenges to the decisions administrative agencies make, in a pair of cases set for oral arguments Wednesday that could change the standards for how Congress writes laws and the federal government implements them.
    • “The challengers to a fishery inspection rule asked the justices to overturn the Chevron doctrine, a nearly 40-year-old legal framework based on a Supreme Court decision that established that judges should defer to the agencies’ interpretations of a law when that law is ambiguous.
    • “Parts of the conservative legal movement have targeted the doctrine for years, casting it as emblematic of the broader power of administrative agencies, and Wednesday’s oral arguments could preview its demise.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “President Biden has promised to require fair prices from drugmakers that use federally funded research — and now, in a major recent move, said he’ll trigger government “march-in” on patents for drugs that run afoul of that goal.
    • “It’s a simple principle. You shouldn’t pay the highest price in the world for drugs that your tax dollars have already helped create,” Biden said last month as he touted the move at the National Institutes of Health.
    • “But the new NIH director, locked in the center of this debate, isn’t taking any big steps yet.
    • “Our relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, with the industry overall, is really, really critical,” Director Monica Bertagnolli told STAT in an interview. “It’s very difficult, if you can imagine, to implement something broadly that is as effective as we want it to be.”
  • KFF Health News reports that a new federal program to save rural hospitals is experiencing growing pains.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced the appointment of three new members, “Sei Lee, M.D., M.A.S.; Tonette Krousel-Wood, M.D., M.S.P.H.; and Sarah Wiehe, M.D., M.P.H. They are appointed to serve 4-year terms beginning in January 2024.”
  • The National Academies of Science announced,
    • “A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says 15 health care services related to intimate partner violence — including reproductive health care, screening for STIs and HIV, forensic medical exams, and mental health care — should be classified by the Health Resources and Services Administration and all U.S. health care systems as essential healthcare services. The report recommends prioritizing access to these healthcare services during public health emergencies, such as a pandemic or natural disasters, using a phased approach.”  
  • Per Forbes,
    • “The FDA approved the use of Casgevy, a therapy that uses CRISPR gene-editing to treat the serious blood disorder transfusion-dependent beta-thalassemia, marking the second major U.S. regulatory approval for the emerging gene-editing technology. The FDA’s approval comes just one month after the regulator approved the use of Casgevy in treating sickle cell disease.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Health Day points out,
    • “Despite overall progress against cancer in the United States, Black Americans are still more prone to die of the disease than whites
    • “Data from 2000 to 2020 showed the racial gap in cancer deaths had diminished but was still significant.
    • “Disparities in deaths from breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer in men were especially troubling.”
  • Healthcare IT News explains why “Virtual group therapy enables Geisinger to treat more patients and maintain care continuity. With waits for individual psychotherapy as long as several months and several thousand outstanding orders, the mostly rural health system needed a solution. Combining group therapy and telemedicine [with help from American Well] was the answer.”
  • STAT News reports,
    • “Last fall, the World Health Organization and some national drug regulators urged influenza vaccine manufacturers to drop the component known as B/Yamagata from flu vaccines as quickly as possible, citing the fact that this lineage of flu B viruses appears to have been snuffed out during the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • “It might seem like that request would be as simple as deciding to leave blueberries out of a mixed-fruit smoothie. It turns out it is not.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Healthcare Dive discusses trends shaping the health insurance business in 2024.
  • Via Fierce Healthcare, Morgan Health offers three items employers should focus on to manage GLP-1 drug costs.
  • Bloomberg informs us about lawsuits that air ambulance companies have brought against health insurers who allegedly refused to pay No Surprises Act arbitration awards. The insurers have asked the federal district court in Houston to dismiss the cases for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and improper venue.
  • Beckers Hospital Review lets us know,
    • “The Mayo Clinic Diet, a weight loss program developed by the Rochester, Minn.-based health system, is launching a weight loss telemedicine service.
    • “The Mayo Clinic Diet Medical Weight Loss Rx program will offer direct access to weight loss medications, or GLP-1s, via video visits with Amwell Medical Group clinicians, according to a Jan. 16 news release shared with Becker’s.
    • “The program, which is available in beta form to qualifying members, will also provide lab testing to confirm medication suitability, clinical monitoring, insurance support, meal plan options, and coaching and education tools.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues tells us,
    • “Though some contract negotiations with providers came “down to the wire” last year, UnitedHealthcare executives said the payer did not see more contract splits than usual in 2023. 
    • “Brian Thompson, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, told investors on a Jan. 12 call the insurer did not see more contract disruptions than in previous years in 2023.” 

 

Midweek Update

From Washington DC,

  • The Washington Examiner points out that four special elections for the House of Representatives will be held in 2024 before the national election on November 5, 2024. Three of the seats are being vacated by Republicans, and one by a Democrat. Due to the Republican’s already slim margin in the House, every vote does count.
  • The American Hospital News reports that the No Surprises Act regulators plan to the public comment deadline for the Federal Independent Dispute Resolution Operations proposed rule, which is currently set for next Tuesday, January 2, 2024. The FEHBlog found the referenced regulator’s notice of this decision on the CMS No Surprises Act website. The official notice, however, has not been posted in the Federal Register yet.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • Bloomberg reports,
    • Cytokinetics Inc. said its experimental drug helped patients with a genetic heart ailment in a closely watched trial.
    • “The drug improved exercise capacity and oxygen uptake in patients with the heart condition, compared with those getting a placebo, Cytokinetics said Wednesday in a statement. * * *
    • Aficamten is a once-daily pill for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, a genetic disease in which abnormally thick heart muscle interferes with pumping. As many as 1 in 500 people have it, though many go undiagnosed, according to the American Heart Association, and it’s regarded as the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people and competitive athletes. * * *
    • “Cytokinetics plans to submit the drug for clearance in the second half of 2024, Chief Executive Officer Robert Blum said on a conference call.”
  • Medscape tells us,
    • Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, like semaglutideliraglutide, and the newly US Food and Drug Administration–approved tirzepatide, not only are gaining popularity among the public for weight loss but also are the focus of considerable attention from gastroenterology researchers.
    • “The robust interest in GLP-1 agonists was on full display here at the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) 2023 Annual Scientific Meeting [held in mid-December], with investigators sharing results on which agent is most effective for weight loss, how they compare to bariatric surgery for weight loss or prevention of metabolic dysfunction–associated steatotic liver disease, and their potential role to prevent regain after weight-loss surgery.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • STAT News presents three issues to “watch in pharma in 2024.”
    • Obesity
    • Paying for gene and cell curative therapies, and
    • Drug pricing
  • The journalist raises an interesting point on the second topic.
    • “One possibility may be so-called value-based or outcomes-based agreements, in which coverage and reimbursement are linked to the extent to which a drug is actually effective. Simply put, the manufacturer and the payer take on a level of risk. If the drug does not do as well as expected, the manufacturer reimburses the payer for a portion or all the costs.
    • “This approach is not new. Over the past few years, more drug companies and payers have explored such deals, although they do not always work. Disputes can emerge over the way data is collected and evidence of effectiveness is captured, disagreements over incentive mechanisms and financial terms, and the availability of useful outcome measures.
    • “Another issue is the Medicaid Best Price requirement. This refers to the stipulation that a pharmaceutical company must offer its best price to Medicaid and other U.S. government health programs. But this can pose a dilemma for a drugmaker if its value-based agreement lowers the price to a payer and, therefore, must be lowered to Medicaid and others, diminishing its revenue.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Govexec informs us,
    • “President Biden on Thursday issued an executive order implementing his plan to provide civilian federal workers with an average 5.2% pay raise next month.
    • “As first proposed in his fiscal 2024 budget plan last March, the increase amounts to a 4.7% across-the-board boost to basic pay, alongside an average 0.5% increase in locality pay. As authorized in the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which Biden is expected to sign this week, military service personnel also will see an average 5.2% pay raise next year.
    • “An average 5.2% pay increase marks the largest authorized for federal workers since the Carter administration adopted a 9.1% average raise in 1980, as well as a 0.6% increase over last year’s raise, which itself marked a 20-year high.”
  • STAT News reports
    • “Lawmakers are facing down a Jan. 19 deadline to renew a variety of expiring health care programs, so they just tucked away an extra $1.8 billion in a Medicare reserve fund in the NDAA, a Senate aide confirmed. They achieved the savings by extending the Medicare sequester’s end date, and then used some of the funds to pay for World Trade Center Health Program policies to support 9/11 survivors and first responders.
    • “The additional savings went to the Medicare piggy bank, formally known as the Medicare Improvement Fund, referred to in wonky circles as the MIF. Lawmakers will be able to pull from the MIF early next year as they weigh how to fund community health centers and stave off pay cuts to safety-net hospitals. It’s not a fortune, but it’s also nothing to sneeze at, given hospitals are panicked about the prospect of a payment policy passing that would save the federal government $3.7 billion over the next decade. It also gives them some wiggle room if they need to do another short-term extension of the programs.”
  • The American Hospital Association News relates,
    • “The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury Dec. 15 reopened the federal independent dispute resolution portal to process all dispute types. Given the significant backlog resulting from the suspension of operations, the agencies today further extended the deadlines to March 14, 2024, for any IDR deadlines that fell in the suspension timeframe of Aug. 3 through Dec. 14, 2023, or currently have an initiation deadline between Dec. 15, 2023, and March 13, 2024. CMS announced extensions for additional dispute processes, including additional response time for requests for information, extension requests for offer submissions, and additional time to select a certified IDR entity for disputes.”
  • A bipartisan group of Senators sent a letter to the ACA regulators telling them
    • “We are writing in support of the recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that vacated the 2021 Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters (NBPP) Final Rule provision that permitted the use of copay accumulator adjustment programs (AAPs) and remanded to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to interpret the definition of “cost-sharing.” * * *
    • We are disappointed in HHS’s decision to file a notice of appeal of the decision and HHS’s articulated intention to not take any enforcement action against health insurance issuers or health plans that fail to count copay assistance toward the patient’s maximum annual limitation on cost-sharing. Instead of appealing the court’s ruling, we urge you to adopt policies from the 2020 NBPP that strike the right balance of preserving a plan’s ability to control costs while also putting the patient first.”
  • The 2020 NBPP permitted copay accumulators as long as State law did not object. “To date, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have banned or limited the use of copay accumulators.
  • Bloomberg reports,
    • “Some of the largest US hospital chains and most prestigious academic medical centers have violated federal rules by not posting the prices they charge for care, according to records obtained by Bloomberg News.
    • “For-profit HCA Healthcare Inc., the nation’s largest hospital system, and big nonprofit operators including Ascension and Trinity Health have been cited for failing to make prices fully available to the public, enforcement letters Bloomberg obtained through a public records request show. So have marquee facilities such as New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, Emory University Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
    • “The records reveal the challenges US regulators face as they try to force long-hidden prices into the open to address decades of rising medical expenses. Since 2021, hospitals have been required to be more transparent about what they charge. However, government data show that among 1,750 hospitals regulators evaluated as of early December, about 1,300 facilities — nearly 20% of the hospitals in the US — have been warned they violated rules. 
    • “Most corrected errors after they were pointed out, and officials charged with enforcing the rules say they’ve seen more hospitals complying. Regulators are also working to make the price data more useful.”
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a final research plan for prostate cancer screening. Its most recent March 2018 recommendation fell below the A or B level grades required for no-cost coverage when provided in-network. The next stage will be a proposed 2024 recommendation.
    • “The Task Force keeps recommendations as current as possible by routinely updating existing recommendations and developing new recommendations. A multistep process is followed for each recommendation. The Task Force uses gold standard methods to review the evidence and is transparent at each step of the recommendation development process.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • HR Dive relates,
    • “Physical health in the U.S. has worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift that could have detrimental effects on employers, according to Gallup survey results released Dec. 14. 
    • “Both obesity and diabetes are on the rise, Gallup found. The percentage of U.S. adults Gallup determined to have diabetes is 38.4%, up 6 percentage points from 2019 and a hair behind the record high 39.9% recorded last year. The number of respondents who said they have diabetes hit a new high of 13.6%, an increase of 1.1 points since 2019, per Gallup. 
    • “These health effects have practical implications for the U.S. economy. After controlling for factors such as age, income and education, workers with poor physical health — and poor wellbeing generally — suffer greatly enhanced levels of unplanned absenteeism and healthcare utilization (and associated costs) than do their counterparts,” Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, said.”
  • Per Medscape,
    • “A new frontier of brain-based therapies — from GLP-1 agonist drugs thought to act on reward and appetite centers to deep brain stimulation aimed at resetting neural circuits — has kindled hope among [obese] patients like Smith and the doctors who treat them. The treatments, and theories behind them, are not without controversy. They’re expensive, have side effects, and, critics contend, pull focus from diet and exercise. 
    • “But most agree that in the battle against obesity, one crucial organ has been overlooked.
    • “Obesity, in almost all circumstances, is most likely a disorder of the brain,” said Casey Halpern, MD, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “What these individuals need is not simply more willpower, but the therapeutic equivalent of an electrician that can make right these connections inside their brain.”
  • The Wall Street Journal similarly reports,
    • “What if the best way to treat your chronic back pain is by retraining your brain?
    • “That’s the premise of a novel approach to chronic pain. Many people feel pain even after a physical injury has healed or when doctors can’t find a physical cause. The approach, called “pain reprocessing therapy,” tries to train the brain not to send false pain signals. Some early results are promising.
    • “In a study published last year in JAMA Psychiatry, 66% of a group of people who did the therapy for a month were pain-free or nearly pain-free up to a year later.
    • “The treatment is still largely in the research stages and typically not covered by insurance, but is being performed in a growing number of centers, including the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, which plans to start two clinical trials of the technique next year.” 
  • The American Hospital Association News reports,
    • “A CDC study released Dec. 21 found low COVID-19 and flu vaccination coverage for most adults, and low RSV vaccination coverage for adults aged 60 and older. Antiviral treatments are also being underused, and COVID-19 rebound can happen whether patients receive any, the study said. Among other findings, the report said that most nursing home residents have not received an updated COVID-19 vaccine or RSV vaccine for residents aged 60 and older using shared clinical decision-making.”
  • Unfortunately, Patient Engagement HIT points out,
    • “Few Providers Use [ICD-10] Z-Codes to Document Social Determinants of Health.
    • “Use of Z-codes to document social determinants of health is low, and there are differences in which patients get a Z-code documented, two unrelated studies showed.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “The labor outlook is stabilizing for U.S. nonprofit hospitals as employment increases and healthcare job openings decline, according toa new report from Fitch Ratings
    • “Hospital and ambulatory healthcare services payrolls have risen for 22 and 34 consecutive months respectively, according to the credit ratings agency. Wage growth has remained “relatively flat” at 4%. 
    • “Though the statistics indicate the hot labor market is cooling, Fitch said recruitment is still“hyper-competitive.” Health systems may need to offer higher salaries and better benefits to attract talent and dissuade skilled labor from seeking early retirement, the report said.” 
  • BioPharma Dive notes
    • “As ALS research booms, one treatment center finds itself in the spotlight.
    • “Mass General’s Healey Center is at the forefront of ALS research and care.
    • “Still, the complexities of the disease and of drug development have brought hard-felt losses.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Two of southern California’s largest pediatric providers are planning to come together in 2024.
    • “The parent companies of Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) and Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego announced Wednesday an agreement to merge under the new banner of Rady Children’s Health.
    • “The arrangement, which is subject to regulatory review, stands to help the organizations improve patient outcomes, increase access to care, accelerate treatment research and bolster their clinical and nonclinical workforces, the children’s hospitals said in their joint reveal.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • Roll Call provides this wrap up.
    • “With no prospect for a border security deal in sight, the Senate was preparing to leave town for the holidays and punt an emergency war funding package into the new year.
    • “Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., acknowledged Tuesday that reaching a bipartisan deal on policies to stem the flow of migrants at the southern border would not come together in time for a vote this week. 
    • “While we’ve made important progress over the past week on border security, everyone understands that we have more work to do and it’s going to take more time,” Schumer said on the floor.”
  • The Census Bureau reports, “Births in 2023 once again began to outpace deaths in over half of U.S. states as mortality declined, inching closer to pre-pandemic levels, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimates released today.”
  • The Food and Drug Administration tells us,
    • “Today, the FDA approved the first test that uses DNA in assessing whether certain individuals may have an elevated risk of developing opioid use disorder. As part of a clinical evaluation, the AutoGenomics Inc. AvertD test is intended to be used prior to first exposure to oral opioid pain medications in patients being considered for a 4-30 day prescription for the treatment of acute pain, such as in patients scheduled to undergo a planned surgical procedure. The AvertD test, a prescription-use only genetic laboratory test for patients 18 years and older, is to be used only with patients who consent to the test and have no prior use of oral opioid analgesics.
    • “Today, the FDA refreshed the Know Your Treatment Options for COVID-19 Consumer Update and reminded consumers that they have several treatment options to prevent hospitalization and other serious complications of COVID-19. The FDA has approved drug treatments for COVID-19 and has authorized others for emergency use. In addition, more therapies are being tested in clinical trials to evaluate whether they are safe and effective in treating COVID-19.” 
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has issued its 2023 National Healthcare Quality and Disparities report.
  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans tells us,
    • “The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Notice 2024-01 providing the percentage increase for calculating the qualifying payment amounts (QPAs) for items and services furnished in 2024 under sections 9816 and 9817 of the Internal Revenue Code. These provisions, added by the No Surprises Act, provide protections against surprise medical bills in certain circumstances. The QPA calculation is required in the case of a plan or issuer that does not have sufficient information to calculate the median of the contracted rates for the same or similar item or service provided in a geographic region. 
    • “For such an item or service furnished in a subsequent year (before the first sufficient information year for the item or service with respect to such plan or coverage or before the first year for which an eligible database has sufficient information to calculate a rate under 29 CFR 2590.716-6(c)(3)(i), and 45 CFR 149.140(c)(3)(i) in the immediately preceding year), the plan or issuer must calculate the QPA by increasing the QPA amount determined for the item or service for the year immediately preceding the subsequent year, by the percentage increase in the U.S. city average consumer price index (CPI-U) over the preceding year.
    • “The percentage increase in the CPI-U for items and services provided in 2024 over the preceding year is the average CPI-U for 2023 over the average CPI-U for 2022. Pursuant to this calculation, the percentage increase from 2023 to 2024 is 1.0543149339. Plans and issuers may round any resulting QPAs to the nearest dollar.”
  • The American Hospital Association News informs us,
    • “The Department of Labor Dec. 19 [proposed to] rescind a 2018 final rule which modified the definition of “employer” under federal law such that more individuals, including sole proprietors, were eligible to participate in association health plans based on geography or industry. That provision was previously vacated by a federal judge in 2019 and was appealed by the Trump Administration. In 2021, a stay was requested by the Biden Administration while it worked on a proposed rule to rescind the 2018 final rule.” 
  • The New York Times offers an overview of the approaches the Congress is considering to ease prescription drug shortages.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • JAMA provides the following key points from a recent study,
    • Question  What is the impact of dietary sodium intake on blood pressure in middle-aged to elderly individuals?
    • Findings  In this prospectively allocated diet order crossover study of 213 individuals, 1 week of a low-sodium diet resulted in an average 8–mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure vs a high-sodium diet, with few adverse events. The low-sodium diet lowered systolic blood pressure in nearly 75% of individuals compared with the high-sodium diet.
    • Meaning  In this trial, the blood pressure–lowering effect of dietary sodium reduction was comparable with a commonly used first-line antihypertensive medication.”
  • Newly installed NIH Director Monica Bertagnolli offers her first Director’s blog on the topic of “Turning Discoveries to Health for All.”
  • Axios reports, “The new highly effective class of anti-obesity drugs has often been talked about as an alternative to bariatric surgery — but medications like Wegovy are increasingly being paired with the procedure.”
    • “Between 20% and 35% of patients who receive the most commonly performed bariatric surgery gain back most of the weight or fail to hit a certain target for body mass index.
    • “Combining one of the GLP-1s with bariatric surgery or endoscopic bariatric therapy, which is a less invasive procedure, “provided significant weight loss” when compared with those procedures alone, according to a systemic review of 11 studies that was published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society this month.
    • “The drugs will revolutionize for sure the landscape of bariatric treatment,” Enrique Elli, a bariatric surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, told Axios. “As a surgeon, I welcome these drugs because I think that will make bariatric surgery even more effective.”
  • The Wall Street Journal points out, “Hemp Gummies Are Sending Hundreds of Kids to Hospitals. Surge of THC products, vapes has states struggling to regulate the booming market.”
    • “The market has boomed in recent years, especially since 2021. Estimates of its size vary, but research firm Whitney Economics approximates the hemp-derived cannabinoids market at $28 billion—about the same size as craft beer and legal marijuana. About 10% of that figure represents products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, which isn’t intoxicating. ***
    • “The FDA has warned that the intoxicating products are dangerous to children but has said it needs Congress to pass a new law that would allow it to regulate cannabis products generally.
    • “This is a serious public health issue, and a solution is urgently needed,” said Patrick Cournoyer, who helps lead the committee studying cannabis for the FDA.
    • “Federal lawmakers have asked cannabis experts and companies to weigh in on possible legislation. Many of those invested in the debate hope Congress will address the issue in the Farm Bill next year.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Federal antitrust agencies on Monday finalized stricter guidelines for mergers and acquisitions that could make it more difficult for healthcare deals to close.
    • “The guidelines lay out a framework that the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission use when reviewing proposed deals and that the courts can reference in overseeing challenges. However, the guidelines are not legally binding themselves.
    • “The final merger guidelines are not meaningfully different from draft guidelines the DOJ and FTC released in July, according to antitrust experts.”
  • KFF has posted a report captioned “Recent Trends in Medicaid Outpatient Prescription Drug Utilization and Spending.”
    • Key findings include:
      • Even though Medicaid enrollment reached historic levels during the continuous enrollment period, Medicaid prescription drug utilization remained below FY 2017 levels through FY 2022.
      • Net spending (spending after rebates) on Medicaid prescription drugs is estimated to have grown in recent years, increasing from $29.8 billion in FY 2017 to $43.8 billion in FY 2022, a 47% increase.
      • Despite lower utilization, Medicaid spending on prescription drugs has increased, and both states and the federal government continue to take action to combat rising costs.
    • These findings are noteworthy because, typically, Medicaid receives the lowest available prices for prescription drugs.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The New York Times reports,
    • “The prospects for passing legislation to speed military aid to Ukraine this year are fading, as Republicans balk at striking a quick deal on immigration policy changes they have demanded in exchange for allowing the bill to move forward.
    • “After a weekend of intensive bipartisan border talks yielded progress but no breakthrough, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, acknowledged on Monday that negotiators were still far from completing a deal.
    • “It’s going to take some more time to get it done,” he said on the Senate floor on Monday afternoon, laying out plans for the week that made no mention of any votes on the aid package for Ukraine.”
  • Govexec tells us that “The Senate on Monday voted 50-11 to confirm former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley as commissioner of the Social Security Administration, ending a drought of more than two years in which the embattled agency lacked a permanent leader at the helm.”
  • Fierce Healthcare informs us,
    • “The Biden administration on Monday released amended fees related to independent dispute resolution under the No Surprises Act.
    • “In the amended final rule, CMS said it will instead set an administrative fee of $115 for disputes that are subject to the rule. A separate rule, which is up for comment until Jan. 2, adjusts the fees for disputes initiated after Jan. 1, 2025. * * *
    • “In addition, CMS outlined ranges for certified IDR entity fees, which the arbiters charge for determinations. Under the rule, the agency finalized a range of between $200 and $840 for a single determination and between $268 and $1,173 for batch rulings.
    • “These fees are also set annually, and IDRs can request to update them once each year, which the feds must approve.”
    • The rule takes effect on January 20, 2023.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • STAT News points out,
    • “As more data emerges that obesity drugs like Wegovy can reduce complications from heart and kidney problems as well, scientists have been wondering whether these benefits are driven by weight loss alone or also by other mechanisms.
    • “A new study suggests that one possible contributor is the drugs’ ability to reduce inflammation independent of weight loss.
    • “In mice experiments, scientists found that the treatments, known as GLP-1-based drugs, acted through the brain to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This was over a short period of time before the mice lost weight, according to the study, published Monday in Cell Metabolism.
    • “Though the researchers only studied mice, and didn’t look at how much the reduced inflammation translates to actual health benefits, they detailed a previously unknown mechanism of GLP-1 drugs that may help explain their effects on organs throughout the body.
    • “This is a new model for the anti-inflammatory actions of GLP-1” drugs, said Daniel Drucker, senior author of the study and a senior scientist at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.”
  • JAMA Pediatrics provides good news:
    • Question  Is maternal influenza vaccination during pregnancy associated with a reduction in influenza-associated hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits in infants younger than 6 months?
    • Findings  In this case-control study of 3764 infants younger than 6 months, maternal vaccination was associated with a reduction in influenza-associated hospitalizations and ED visits in infants. Vaccine effectiveness was highest among hospitalized infants, those younger than 3 months, and those born to mothers vaccinated in the third trimester.
    • Meaning  The findings in this study indicate that maternal influenza vaccination during pregnancy provided important protection for the infant in the first few months of life before infants are eligible for vaccination.”
  • The American Medical Association shares what doctors wish their patients knew about social drivers of health.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Bloomberg reports
    • “We’re seeing wide price variation even in the same hospitals on the same day based upon the negotiated prices by the differing health insurance carriers or health plans,” said Cynthia Fisher, founder and chairman of the philanthropic group Patient Rights Advocate, , which provides free price data for nearly all of the more than 6,000 hospitals in the US. “For the employers, this is eye-opening.”
    • “Patient Rights Advocate on Dec. 11 introduced a hospital pricing search tool for the public. The organization pointed to prices for an injection of cancer drug Rituximab at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago that ranged from $899.33 for the Cigna Basic/Premier medical plan for Rush employees administered through Allegiance Benefit Plan Management Inc. by the Cigna Group, to $9,260.13 for the Cigna One Health HMO.
    • “If they’re able to offer it at a tenth of the price, why should one employer pay 10 times more?” Fisher said.
    • “Cigna didn’t respond to a request for comment, and a spokesman for Rush said the hospital wasn’t “in a position to speak to something that specific so rapidly.”
    • “Being able to easily compare prices will protect health plans from billing errors and fraud by hospitals and insurers, Fisher said. “The employers and unions that design health plans will be able to benefit from being well-informed about their choices and decisions to seek the best quality of care at the lowest possible prices,” she said.
  • Beckers Hospital Review identifies the thirteen out of twenty most popular prescription drugs that are in shortage and the 25 largest health systems by number of physicians.
  • Healthcare IT News calls attention to the fact that “Now that telemedicine is mainstream, artificial intelligence is helping healthcare providers with imperatives such as patient triage. Early results are promising.”
  • According to Reuters,
    • “High cost, logistical issues and the prospect of potential treatment advances are holding back adoption of the first gene therapies for hemophilia, experts said this week during the American Society of Hematology’s (ASH) annual meeting.
    • “Experimental options discussed at the San Diego meeting included personalized treatments and next-generation gene therapies, many still in the earliest stages of testing.”
  • Benefits Pro lets us know about a “Cigna report [that] outlines the benefits, challenges of value-based care. The Cigna paper suggests that physicians, patients, and health plans tend to recognize the good aspects of VBC, but that change has been slow nonetheless in the private sector.”
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Kroger is piloting value-based primary care clinics as it joins a growing list of retailers looking to cash in on the booming sector of senior-focused medical care.
    • “The grocery chain has teamed up with Better Health Group, a provider network, to shift some of its in-store clinics, called The Little Clinic, into primary care centers for seniors, in addition to offering regular services.
    • “Better Health Group is rolling out the value-based model at eight of Kroger’s Altanta-area stores.
    • “The clinics today provide a full range of services from your acute, convenient care to primary care-like functions. About 60% of patients that we see in the clinic don’t have an assigned or designated primary care provider. So, there’s a huge opportunity just in general to serve patients and provide longitudinal care,” said Jim Kirby, chief commercial officer for Kroger Health, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare.”

Friday Factoids

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The American Hospital Association News tells us,
    • “The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury Dec. 15 reopened the federal independent dispute resolution portal to process all dispute types, including previously initiated batched disputes, new batched disputes, and new single disputes involving air ambulance services. The departments also have extended the applicable deadlines to initiate new batched disputes and new single disputes involving air ambulance services, resubmit disputes determined by certified IDR entities to be improperly batched, and select or reselect a certified IDR entity. For details, see the [lengthy] announcement
  • In Department of Health and Human Services news,
  • and
    • “A paper published today in JAMA Network Open addresses the use of healthcare algorithms and provides the healthcare community with guiding principles to avoid repeating errors that have tainted the use of algorithms in other sectors. * * *
    • “The paper, Guiding Principles to Address the Impact of Algorithm Bias on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care, may be found in JAMA Network Open is available here. The journal also links to an accompanying podcast interview of panel co-chairs Marshall Chin, MD, MPH, and Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, PhD, MBA. The final EPC report, Impact of Healthcare Algorithms on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and Healthcare, can be found here.”

In Food and Drug Administration news,

  • From Bio-Pharma Dive,
    • “The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday broadened use of a drug Merck & Co. acquired in a $1 billion buyout four years ago, clearing Welireg for use in people whose kidney tumors have progressed following treatment with two other types of medicines. 
    • “Approval was based on a trial that compared Welireg to an older therapy called everolimus. Merck’s drug reduced the risk of cancer progression or death by 25% compared with everolimus and shrank or eliminated tumors in 22% of people who received it. Welireg hasn’t yet proven it can help kidney cancer patients live longer, however. 
    • “Merck inherited Welireg when it bought biotechnology company Peloton Therapeutics. Since then, the drug’s been cleared for use in a rare condition called von Hippel-Lindau disease and now kidney cancer. Merck is studying its potential in other settings as well.”
  • From MedTech Dive,
    • “Glaukos Corporation received Food and Drug Administration approval for a drug-releasing implant that is designed to reduce intraocular pressure in patients with ocular hypertension or open-angle glaucoma. The implant was approved for single administration per eye.
    • “The device continuously delivers a formulation of travoprost, an established treatment for high pressure in the eye, to provide patients with an alternative to eye drops and remove the risk that noncompliance with the treatment regimen will affect outcomes.
    • “Glaukos failed to secure approval for repeat dosing but plans to work with the FDA to change the label. The wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) is $13,950 per dose, or implant, well above analysts’ expectations. William Blair analysts estimated the price would fall in a range of from $3,000 to $4,000 per implant, while BTIG analysts said they modeled a price of $5,000.”
  • and
    • “Medtronic has gained the first approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a pulsed field ablation (PFA) system to treat atrial fibrillation (AFib), pulling ahead of other medtech companies in the race to bring the technology to the U.S. market.
    • “The treatment approach has garnered attention as a safer alternative to radiofrequency and cryoablation techniques for addressing the abnormal heart rhythm, and Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson are pursuing the market.
    • “Medtronic, in announcing the FDA’s approval for its PulseSelect PFA system, said the device has demonstrated a 0.7% safety event rate and clinical success rates of 80% in both paroxysmal and persistent AFib patients.”

From the public health and medical research front,

  • The New York Times offers readers’ perspectives on its article about the high and climbing number of pedestrian deaths occurring at night. “Readers share concerns like headlight glare, streetlight design and the aging of American motorists.”
  • HealthDay informs us,
    • “Diabetes drugs, including Ozempic, do not appear to increase the risk of birth defects
    • “Babies born of moms using drugs to control their type 2 diabetes had no greater risk of birth defects than those whose moms used insulin.
    • “Diabetes medications have grown in popularity over the past decade, particularly those in Ozempic’s class.”
  • The Director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases posted his Winter 2023 report.
  • Per Medscape,
    • “Living in food deserts and food swamps — areas with no access to healthy food, and areas with a plethora of unhealthy food options — may raise the risk of dying from postmenopausal breast cancer, a novel ecological study has found. 
    • “Food deserts and food swamps are both bad, but it’s worse in food swamps,” Malcolm Bevel, PhD, MSPH, with Augusta University in Georgia, told Medscape Medical News
    • “He presented his research here at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) 2023.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • KFF unveiled its updated
    • Health Spending Explorer, an interactive tool that allows users to explore trends in health spending by federal and local governments, insurers, nursing care, hospital, and other service providers, and consumers.
    • “The tool captures just-released 2022 data from the federal government, when national health expenditures totaled nearly $4.5 trillion. Overall spending rose 4.1% in 2022, with almost all categories of health spending experiencing growth. This rise was muted by lower federal public health spending related to the pandemic. Meanwhile, consumers’ out-of-pocket costs rose 6.6%, a large but less dramatic increase than in 2021.”
  • The Health Care Cost Institute reports,
    • “Healthcare spending continues to grow, and prices are the primary driver. Without addressing high and growing prices, efforts to make care more affordable will not be successful. One way to understand what is going on with prices in employer-sponsored insurance (ESI) is to compare negotiated rates paid in that market to Medicare payments for the same services. New analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute finds that, in 2021, ESI payments for outpatient services were, on average, 287 percent higher than Medicare payments.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review identifies the 25 largest health systems in the U.S. by number of beds, and provides the reasons for fourteen hospital closures.
  • Using the American Medical Association’s health insurance market concentration report, Beckers Payer Issues identifies the cities with the most competitive Medicare Advantage markets.
  • Reuters reports,
    • “Bluebird bio (BLUE.O) said on Thursday a large insurer had agreed to cover its newly approved sickle cell disease gene therapy, easing some investor worries about resistance from other payers over the high price of the treatment.
    • “Bluebird’s treatment, Lyfgenia, was approved along with another gene therapy Casgevy from partners Vertex Pharmaceuticals (VRTX.O) and CRISPR Therapeutics (CRSP.BN).
    • “Bluebird’s price of $3.1 million is nearly $1 million higher than its rival, despite Lyfgenia having a serious safety warning about blood cancer risk. That had raised concerns over whether it would get enough coverage from insurers versus its rival.”
  • and
    • “Drugmaker Novo Nordisk paid U.S. medical professionals at least $25.8 million over a decade in fees and expenses related to its weight-loss drugs, a Reuters analysis found. It concentrated that money on an elite group of obesity specialists who advocate giving its powerful and expensive drugs to tens of millions of Americans.”
  • The Employee Benefit Research Institute factors health savings accounts into the retirement funding picture for Americans.
  • Per Fierce Healthcare,
    • “Two months ago, Elevance Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana hit the pause button on a potential $2.5 billion merger in the midst of regulatory scrutiny.
    • “The insurers brought the deal back to life this week, though, with BCBSLA filing an updated application on Thursday seeking to reorganize as a for-profit, which would allow it to be purchased by Elevance Health. Per the New Orleans Times-Picayune, many of the plan’s initial proposals remain, but BCBSLA has made changes to the planned nonprofit foundation that will roll out should it be finalized.
    • “The newspaper reported that the Accelerate Louisiana Initiative will receive 91% of the proceeds from the merger.
    • “In a joint statement to Fierce Healthcare, the companies said that the new “filing reflects the input and vision of our communities to ensure that we deliver on these commitments.”
  • and
    • “While its merger with Humana may have fallen through for now, Cigna is attracting plenty of interest for the rumored sale of its Medicare Advantage business, Bloomberg reported.
    • Sources close to the matter told the outlet that Health Care Service Corp. and Elevance Health are “competing” to scoop up the MA segment. Cigna is expecting that the final bids will be submitted next week, according to the report.
    • “Cigna’s Medicare Advantage unit could sell for more than $3 billion, according to Bloomberg. The article noted that talks with HCSC and Elevance Health may not ultimately lead to a sale.
    • “That Cigna was shopping for a potential buyer for its MA business was first reported in early November by Reuters. That report mentioned that Cigna could ultimately elect to hang on to the MA unit if it didn’t find an appealing deal.
  • The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review listed their top ten stories of 2023.