Thursday Miscellany and Friday Factoids

Thursday Miscellany and Friday Factoids

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

The FEHBlog failed to hit publish last night, so Thursday Miscellany was not emailed Friday morning. To correct the problem, Friday Factoids will follow Thursday September 21’s post. Lo siento

From Washington, DC,

  • The Hill reports
    • “Faced with the House stalemate over a government stopgap funding bill, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday set up a path for the Senate to move first on a bill to fund the government beyond Sept. 30.  
    • “Schumer filed cloture on a motion to proceed to H.R. 3935, the House-passed bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which could serve as a legislative vehicle to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government through the Senate.   * * *
    • “Senators will spend next week debating and voting on the legislation in hopes of sending it to the House by Wednesday or Thursday of next week.”  
  • Roll Call adds
    • “The [new] plan [from the House of Representatives] is to ready more of the chamber’s 11 remaining full-year appropriations bills for votes, focusing on passing those to establish a firm negotiating position for talks with the bigger-spending Senate.”
  • Yesterday, the Affordable Care Act regulators extended the public comment deadline for the proposed mental health parity rule revisions from October 2 to October 17, 2023.
  • Today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services posted a new announcement on its No Surprises Act website:
    • “Effective September 21, 2023, the Departments have directed certified IDR entities to resume processing all single and bundled disputes already submitted to the IDR portal and assigned to a certified IDR entity.  The ability to initiate new disputes involving air ambulance items or services as well as batched disputes for air ambulance and non-air ambulance items and services is currently unavailable. IDR portal functionalities related to previously initiated batched disputes are also unavailable. Disputing parties should continue to engage in open negotiation according to the required timeframes.”
  • CMS also updated its website with No Surprises Act rules and fact sheets.
  • Also today, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management
    • “released the Federal Workforce Competency Initiative (FWCI) General Competencies and Competency Models for a broad set of occupational series. The FWCI is a governmentwide effort led by OPM that updates a selection of general competencies from OPM’s MOSAIC (Multipurpose Occupational Systems Analysis Inventory—Closed-Ended) studies.  
    • “The FWCI competencies provide a common language for 214 occupational series. OPM has published 80 occupation-specific competency models representing work governmentwide that may be used for selection, evaluation, and training activities. The FWCI is a resource for agencies to leverage in their skills-based hiring practices. 
    • “OPM will continue to support agencies and collect critical data that strengthens our workforce and enables us to deliver services for the American people,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja. “This update to the Federal Workforce Competency Initiative will help agencies hire the talent they need and expand opportunities for positions that do not require certain degrees.” 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission posted its new strategic enforcement plan for 2024 through 2028.

From the public health front,

  • The American Medical Association identifies eight things doctors wish their patients knew about the flu shot.
  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Poor oral hygiene is associated with an increased risk for myriad health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and early death. The state of our teeth and gums, though, may be vital for our well-being beyond the mouth and body.
    • “Emerging evidence suggests that what goes on in our mouth can affect what goes on in our brain — and may even potentially affect our risk for dementia.
    • “People should really be aware that oral health is really important,” said Anita Visser, professor in geriatric dentistry at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.”
  • Per a CVS Health press release,
    • “A recent CVS Health®/Harris Poll survey of Americans 18 years and older found that nearly one in five (18%) U.S. adults say they were plagued with suicidal thoughts in the past year.  
    • “Other key findings from the survey include:
      • “More than a third of younger adults aged 18-34 (36%) say they had moments in the past year where they contemplated suicide.
      • “An overwhelming nine in ten (89%) U.S. adults deem suicide prevention efforts a major priority in our society.
      • “However, less than a third (32%) strongly agree they can recognize the warning signs of someone potentially at risk, and only four in ten (43%) are strongly aware of resources that offer support and information on suicide prevention.
      • “Nearly eight in ten (77%) U.S. adults believe healthcare providers have a crucial role in suicide prevention, and there is an opportunity for providers to have more discussions about suicide with patients.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “The Federal Trade Commission is suing anesthesia provider U.S. Anesthesia Partners and private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe, alleging the two colluded to consolidate anesthesiology practices in Texas, driving up prices to boost their profits.
    • “Welsh Carson created USAP in 2012 before acquiring over a dozen anesthesia providers over the next decade to create a single dominant provider in the state, regulators allege. The PE firm and USAP also made price-setting agreements with independent anesthesiology practices while sidelining a potential competitor by striking a deal to keep them out of USAP’s market, the FTC said.
    • “The complaint filed Thursday in federal district court says the actions have cost Texans “tens of millions of dollars” more each year in anesthesiology services.”
  • MedCity News offers insights on value-based care from an executive at the HealthPartners HMO in Minnesota. “The commercial market has struggled to adopt value-based care, but HealthPartners has had some success, according to Mark Hansberry, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the company. During a conference, he shared five rules for scaling value-based care, including creating trust and providing real-time data.”
  • Beckers Hospital Review tells us,
    • “Nearly 1,900 U.S. physicians have applied to become certified in obesity medicine — a record number — according to data from the American Board of Obesity Medicine. 
    • “In October, 1,889 physicians will take the exam to become certified in the specialty area. That’s up from 1,001 exam candidates in 2020, marking an 88.7 percent jump. Physicians’ growing interest in the certification comes amid booming patient demand for GLP-1 receptor agonist drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy. As of August, 2023, sales for Ozempic in the U.S. topped $3 billion. 
    • “More than 6,700 physicians are certified in obesity medicine, a certification that first became available in 2012. For the upcoming exam in October, 38 percent of exam candidates are internal medicine physicians and 30 percent family medicine. To sit for the exam, physicians must have completed a minimum of 60 continuing medical education credits on the topic of obesity.” 
  • The FEHBlog notes that if you build it, they will come.
  • Fierce Healthcare looks inside Walgreens’ pharmacy and primary care model.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • Novo Nordisk found bacteria in batches of the main ingredient for a diabetes pill that is a cousin to popular diabetes and weight-loss drugs and was made at a North Carolina plant earlier this year, according to a federal inspection report reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
    • “The Food and Drug Administration inspected the Clayton, N.C., plant in July and issued a report saying that Novo Nordisk had failed to investigate the cause thoroughly and that the plant’s microbial controls were deficient.  
    • “The plant makes the drug ingredient semaglutide, which is used in the diabetes pill Rybelsus. Semaglutide is also the main ingredient in Novo Nordisk’s popular injections Ozempic and Wegovy, but the company said the semaglutide for those products isn’t made at the same plant.
    • “The Danish company said the Clayton plant is still running and producing for the market and wouldn’t share details of its interactions with the FDA.
    • “The agency said Thursday that based on Novo’s responses to its inspection findings, the FDA isn’t aware of ongoing compliance issues that raise any concerns about the quality of drugs made at the plant.”

Friday, September 23, 2023 Post

From Washington DC,

  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R Iowa) announced
    • “A bipartisan bill led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to improve access to lifesaving organ donations became law today. The Securing the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network Act will improve the management of the U.S. organ donation system by breaking up the contract for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) and encouraging participation from competent and transparent contractors. U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) are original cosponsors of the legislation.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “The collapse this week of efforts to pass spending bills through the House has ignited a long-shot push to head off a government shutdown, with a bipartisan group of senators floating legislation that provides carrots and sticks to force lawmakers to reach a deal.
    • “The lawmakers’ novel approach would aim to ensure Congress completes its work on all 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government, without the threat of a shutdown that would furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers and leave government contractors unpaid. Major government functions will stop on Oct. 1 at 12:01 a.m. unless Congress acts.
    • “The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. James Lankford (R., Okla.) and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), would set in motion 14-day continuing resolutions, which keep the government funded at the prior year’s levels, while Congress works exclusively on passing appropriations bills.” 
  • Bloomberg points out
    • “The threat of a massive tax is enough to push drugmakers such as Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Novartis AG to comply with the Biden administration’s landmark drug pricing law and negotiate with Medicare.
    • “Companies who manufacture the first 10 drugs selected to negotiate prices with Medicare have until Oct. 1 to officially agree to enter price talks. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, those who refuse to comply with the negotiations must pay a tax starting at 65% of the US sales of a product. The fines would increase by 10% every quarter, with a maximum of 95%.”
  • That’s a lot of leverage.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has “announced it is beginning a rulemaking process to remove medical bills from Americans’ credit reports. The CFPB outlined proposals under consideration that would help families financially recover from medical crises, stop debt collectors from coercing people into paying bills they may not even owe, and ensure that creditors are not relying on data that is often plagued with inaccuracies and mistakes.” In the FEHBlog’s view, this approach is bound to backfire as lenders lose faith in credit reports.

From the public health and medical research front,

  • MedPage Today informs us
    • “Nearly half of U.S. states had an adult obesity prevalence at or above 35% in 2022, according to CDC.
    • “The 22 states that met this mark — a small jump from the 19 states just the year prior — included Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”
  • and
    • The CDC’s advisors on Friday recommended a maternal respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine to protect infants from serious infections.
    • By an 11-1 vote, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that pregnant women receive a single dose of Pfizer’s prefusion F protein (RSVpreF) vaccine (Abrysvo) at 32 to 36 weeks gestation to prevent lower respiratory tract RSV infection in infants.
    • After decades without an option for protecting most infants against the annual respiratory scourge, providers now have two options: the maternal vaccine and the monoclonal antibody nirsevimab (Beyfortus), which the ACIP last month recommended for all infants younger than 8 months born during or entering their first RSV season.
  • STAT News adds, “The recommendation was accepted by CDC Director Mandy Cohen shortly after the conclusion of the panel’s meeting.”
  • Per BioPharma Dive,
    • “A new cancer drug developed by Daiichi Sankyo and AstraZeneca met one of its two main goals in a breast cancer trial, helping patients who had progressed on earlier-line treatments live longer than those receiving chemotherapy without their disease getting worse, the companies said Friday.
    • “The trial tested the drug, known as datopotamab deruxtecan, in HER2-low or -negative patients whose tumors were sensitive to hormone treatments before their cancer returned. AstraZeneca and Daiichi didn’t release detailed data and stated that the trial hadn’t gone on long enough to tell if patients given their treatment lived longer overall, the trial’s other main goal.
    • “The data suggest the companies’ drug could present a threat to Gilead’s similarly acting medicine Trodelvy, which gained approval in a similar setting earlier this year. HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer is the most common form of the disease.”
  • and
    • “A combination of cancer drugs from Seagen and Merck & Co. has shown early success in a large clinical trial, results that help confirm the pairing’s ability to treat a wide range of bladder cancer patients.”
  • The National Institutes of Health announced
    • “A clinical trial has launched to test whether early intensive immune modulation for hospitalized COVID-19 patients with relatively mild illness is beneficial. The placebo-controlled study, part of the global clinical trials consortium known as Strategies and Treatments for Respiratory Infections and Viral Emergencies (STRIVE), will enroll approximately 1,500 people at research sites around the world. It is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in partnership with NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).
    • “Immune modulators—treatments for modifying the immune system to better respond to disease or illness—are lifesaving for certain hospitalized COVID-19 patients. However, the optimal timing for administering the medicines to achieve the best outcomes has not been defined.”
  • The Wall Street Journal poses ten questions about experimental drugs that can be made available to seriously ill patients.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare lets us know,
    • “Catholic healthcare giant CommonSpirit Health has reported a $1.4 billion operating loss (-4.1% operating margin) and a net loss of $259 million for its 2023 fiscal year, which ended June 30, according to financial statements released Thursday.
    • “The nonprofit, which currently operates 145 hospitals across 24 states, had logged a $1.3 billion operating loss (-3.8% operating margin) and a $1.8 billion deficit of revenues over expenses during its prior fiscal year.
    • “This time around, the organization enjoyed patient volumes that “reached pre-pandemic levels in many of the health system’s markets” but was dragged by “private and government reimbursements [that] did not keep pace with increased costs of providing care to patients,” CommonSpirit said in a release accompanying the latest financial filings. The most recent year’s operating performance also included a $160 million adverse impact from a fall 2022 cybersecurity breach that affected numerous locations.”
  • Healthcare Dive tells us,
    • The CMS is poised to crack down further on health insurers in the Medicare Advantage program, according to new comments from a top agency official.

    • MA plans — which now cover more than half of Medicare beneficiaries — have faced rising criticism over care denials and access, along with improper coding practices that inflate the program’s cost.

    • “You will see CMS in the future be a much tougher payer and much tougher regulator to ensure that, for every beneficiary and taxpayer who pay more for it, the value is there, the service is there and beneficiaries have full information for the choices that they’re making,” CMS Deputy Administrator Jon Blum said Thursday at the National Association of ACOs’ fall conference in Washington, D.C.

Weekend update

From Washington, DC,

  • The Senate and the House of Representatives will be in session for Committee business and floor voting this week.
  • The New York Time adds,
    • “Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday that he intended to resurrect a stalled Pentagon spending measure and try to push it to the House floor this week despite pledges by members of the far-right Freedom Caucus to oppose the move unless their sweeping demands on spending were met. * * *
    • “Other House Republican leaders joined Mr. McCarthy in saying that some progress had been made in weekend talks toward resolving their internal differences over their spending strategy, and that they hoped to break the logjam this week.
    • “We are working through this, and I’m optimistic that we will continue to move the appropriations process forward,” Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York and a member of the leadership team, said in a separate interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
  • Govexec tells us,
    • “The Office of Personnel Management on Friday announced that it is proposing new regulations aimed at hamstringing future administrations from reviving a controversial plan to strip tens of thousands of federal workers of their civil service protections, potentially accelerating a long-simmering battle between good government groups and conservative Republican activists. ***
    • “OPM’s newly proposed regulations, which will be published Monday in the Federal Register, seek to at least slow down a future administration from reviving Schedule F. It stipulates that when a federal employee’s job is converted from the competitive service to the excepted service, the employee retains “the status and civil service protections they had already accrued,” unless they voluntarily transfer into an excepted service position.”
    • Here’s a link to the OPM press release.

From the public health front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “Women who live to age 90, 95 or even 100 experience what’s known as “exceptional longevity.” An analysis published last month found one factor linking those long lives: maintaining a stable body weight over decades.
    • “The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A, looked at data about 54,437 women from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study that began in the 1990s. The women studied were born on or before Feb. 19, 1932, and the researchers looked at their weight when they began the program, in Year 3, and in Year 10 of the program, then followed up on their survival status as of Feb. 19, 2022.
    • “They found that the women whose body weight stayed stable over the years had 1.2 and 2 times the odds of surviving to 90 and beyond than those who lost weight.
    • “Women who lost 5 percent or more of their body weight over the first three years studied had 33 percent lower odds of surviving to 90, 35 percent lower odds of surviving to 95 and 38 percent lower odds of surviving to 100 than their counterparts whose weight remained stable.”
  • The new Covid shots and the flu vaccines will be available this week. The New York Times observes, and the FEHBlog agrees,
    • “Some experts believe that spreading out your shots might make sense if you can time them to just before each virus peaks. So while you may get the Covid vaccine this month, as cases rise in parts of the United States, you could consider waiting until later in the fall to get the flu shot. Flu cases typically peak between December and February; you can monitor flu activity in your state through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza surveillance reports for more detailed information. A doctor can also help you decide the best strategy, especially if you have a high risk of severe disease or are immunocompromised.”

From the business front,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports,
    • “Does M&A work? The latest research says it’s a tossup.
    • “Business-school students are often taught that successful mergers and acquisitions are a long shot. One influential Harvard Business Review article, dating from 2011, says a range of studies show roughly 70% to 90% of deals fail to create value for the buyer.
    • And many investors worry that takeovers are more reliably lucrative for investment banks—which LSEG says earned some $13.1 billion in M&A fees in the first half of this year—than for the acquiring companies and their shareholders.
    • But more recent research from academics and consultants puts the success rate closer to even. Companies that do frequent smaller deals, as well as making bigger bets, tend to outperform, advisers say. That is because they hone their ability to identify targets, integrate those businesses and reap the intended financial benefits. 
    • Companies should always weigh up deal making against alternative uses of funds, said Barry Weir, Citigroup’s co-head of European mergers and acquisitions. 
    • “If the risk-adjusted return from M&A is higher than the benefits from returning cash to shareholders or some other lower-risk alternative, then it makes sense,” Weir said. “If it doesn’t meet this hurdle then you shouldn’t be doing M&A.”
  • HR Dive considers the occasions on which employees subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act are entitled to be paid for commuting to the office.

Midweek update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • The Wall Street Journal reports, “House Speaker Kevin McCarthy laid out a map for passing legislation to keep the government funded past Oct. 1, but immediately ran into new roadblocks from spending hawks and fresh grumbling that he should be ousted from his post.” The FEHBlog anticipates that Congress will pass a continuing resolution before the end of the month.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced,
    • “the list of 34 prescription drugs for which Part B beneficiary coinsurances may be lower between October 1 – December 31, 2023. Some people with Medicare who take these drugs may save between $1 and $618 per average dose starting October 1, 2023, depending on their individual coverage.  * * *
    • “CMS has released information about these 34 Part B drugs and biological products in the quarterly Average Sales Price (ASP) public files, available here. A fact sheet is available here.”
  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Healthcare legislation being hashed out on the Hill is taking aim at pharmacy benefit managers, but the policies — while potentially worthwhile — are unlikely to have more than modest effects on the cost of prescription drugs in the U.S., experts say. us,
    • “Eliminating all PBM profits would only reduce total drug-related spending by “several percentage points,” since operating margins for the three biggest PBMs averaged roughly 4% of revenues last year, according to a new report from the Brookings Schaeffer Initiative on Health Policy.
    • “Lowering spending further would require “fundamental market changes” like changing drug patent protections or the way drug prices are regulated, the report says — measures sure to face heavy opposition from pharmaceutical companies.”
  • Per Becker’s Hospital Review,
    • “Cisplatin, a drug used for multiple types of cancer that’s been in a severe shortage for months, is close to returning to 100 percent of pre-shortage supply levels, the White House said Sept. 12. * * *
    • “In June and July, the FDA allowed China-based Qilu Pharmaceutical to temporarily import cisplatin. These lots have already been distributed, according to the FDA. The agency also worked with domestic drugmakers to increase their manufacturing capacity. 
    • “These actions brought the cisplatin supply back to nearly 100 percent of the pre-shortage levels and are greatly alleviating the shortages of carboplatin,” according to a post from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.”
  • The Federal Times writes about the impending premium increases in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.

From the public health and research front,

  • The American Medical Association released a letter supporting the CDC’s “universal recommendation for the 2023-2024 COVID-19, XBB.1.5 containing vaccine.”
  • The National Cancer Institute informs us
    • “Testing for the presence of cancer-causing types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) is now a standard part of screening for cervical cancer, sometimes with simultaneous Pap tests (known as co-testing). But cervical cancer screening is recommended to stop at age 65 in many places and, for a variety of reasons, many older adults stop getting screened for cervical cancer well before that age. 
    • “Results from a population-based study conducted in Denmark, however, suggest that it may be worthwhile for some individuals between ages 65 and 69 to get tested for HPV: those who haven’t had cervical cancer screening for at least 5 years.
    • “In the new study, about 62% of women who were invited to undergo this “catch-up” testing for HPV (intervention group) had a test within the next year. In a comparison group of women not invited for catch-up testing, only about 2% had either a Pap test or an HPV test over the next year.”
  • The Wall Street Journal reports
    • “The first artificial womb to gestate a human baby is fast approaching reality.
    • “Food and Drug Administration regulators will weigh next week how scientists should conduct the first human tests of bag-like wombs, meant to nurture babies born so premature that modern medicine struggles to keep them healthy. * * *
    • “Philadelphia-based Vitara Biomedical has said that it is working on an artificial womb and is close to human clinical trials. A company executive said at a biotech symposium last year that the firm is commercializing the research of one of two U.S. groups known to be testing the technology on lambs. The other U.S. group says it is still a few years off from human trials.”
  • Forbes notes, “The Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta has launched its biomarker-based device that has been authorized by the FDA to aid in the diagnosis of autism in children between 16 and 30 months of age.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • BioPharma Dive tells us,
    • “After pulling off a biomedical triumph with its COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna on Wednesday put out a roadmap for investors that promises billions of dollars from new medicines.
    • “The company aims to launch as many as 15 new products in the next five years, including four by 2025. In 2027, Moderna expects $8 billion to $15 billion in respiratory product sales. And on Wednesday, it forecast another $10 billion to $15 billion in annual sales from new treatments for cancer and rare and latent diseases it hopes to introduce by 2028.”
  • Beckers Payer Issues points out,
    • “Humana, Aetna and Molina are not renewing their contracts with senior companionship company Papa following allegations of abuse against patients or company employees, Bloomberg reported Sept. 11.
    • “In May, Bloomberg Businessweek published a report detailing allegations of abuse against seniors and Papa employees based on 1,200 complaints submitted to the company. The complaints included allegations of sexual abuse and assault, harassment, or unsafe living conditions.
    • “A spokesperson for Papa declined to provide a comment to Bloomberg about specific contracts, but said the company has grown its client base this year and is selling programs for next year.” 

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Washington DC,

  • The Office of Personnel Management issued a Benefit Administration Letter providing guidance about an Enrollee Decision Period for Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program enrollees. The Enrollee Decision Period started today and ends on November 9, 2023.
  • The Food and Drug Administration announced
    • “approving and authorizing for emergency use updated COVID-19 vaccines formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. Today’s actions relate to updated mRNA vaccines for 2023-2024 manufactured by ModernaTX Inc. and Pfizer Inc. Consistent with the totality of the evidence and input from the FDA’s expert advisors, these vaccines have been updated to include a monovalent (single) component that corresponds to the Omicron variant XBB.1.5.”
  • Roll Call adds
    • “Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to discuss on Tuesday recommendations for who should receive the vaccines and when, with CDC Director Mandy Cohen expected to sign off shortly thereafter. 
    • “Drugmakers say they’re ready to begin shipping the shots immediately in accordance with the CDC’s pending guidelines.”
  • STAT News tells us, “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will hold a confirmation hearing next month for Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, President Biden’s nominee to run the National Institutes of Health, he said Friday.”

From the public health front,

  • MedPage Today reports
    • “Anesthesiologists are sharply divided over how to handle the growing number of surgical patients on GLP-1 receptor agonists, given that the drugs can raise the risk of aspiration during surgery.
    • “While the leading U.S. anesthesiology society suggests that patients stop taking injectable versions of the medications for 7 days ahead of surgeryopens in a new tab or window, some anesthesiologists are turning to alternative strategies such as intubating all at-risk patients, even for minor procedures.
    • “Other anesthesiologists are calling for patients to stay off the drugs for weeks, not days, or titrate down to lower doses.
    • “This topic is being heavily discussed in the anesthesia community right now, and it’s very polarizing,” Michael Gulak, MD, a resident anesthesiologist at the University of Toronto, told MedPage Today.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Beckers Hospital Review informs us
    • “Nonprofit hospital expenses continued to grow last year while liquidity fell to pre-pandemic levels, according to Moody’s Investor Services. 
    • “In a Sept. 7 report, Moody’s outlined 2022 fiscal year trends based on data from 218 health systems. The report noted operating margins fell to”unsustainable levels” as median operating cash flow margin was 4.9 percent and median operating margin was -0.3 percent amid labor shortages and inconsistent patient volumes.
    • “While the industry shows signs of stabilizing in 2023, the labor environment will remain challenging,” the report states.”
  • Per Benefits Pro,
    • “Hospitals in the United States faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those challenges have left them floundering in the face of increased costs and workforce shortages. According to the most recent Costs of Caring report from the American Hospital Association, this combination of factors has resulted in a 17.5% increase in overall hospital expenses between 2019 and 2022. “Further exacerbating the situation is the fact that the staggering expense increases have been met with woefully inadequate increases in government reimbursement,” the report states, leading to consistently negative margins and over half of hospitals ending 2022 at a financial loss.
    • “Even so, hospital expenses per inpatient day have been steadily trending upwards for years in the U.S., whether for-profit, non-profit, or state/local government. Research from KFF shows that in 1999, the average adjusted expenses per inpatient day for state/local government hospitals was $1,004. Non-profits were at $1,139, and for-profits were at $999. As of 2021, state/local government stands at $2,742—a 173% increase. Non-profits are at $3,013 (164.5%) and for-profits at $2,296 (129.8%).”
  • MedCity News points out
    • While there are fewer rural residents enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans than micropolitan or metropolitan residents, MA enrollment in rural areas is growing much more rapidly, new research shows.
    • The KFF report, published Thursday [September 7], defines rural areas as having less than 10,000 people, micropolitan areas as having 10,000 to 50,000 people and metropolitan areas as having at least 50,000 people. The findings come when Medicare Advantage growth overall is on the rise, accounting for more than half of eligible Medicare beneficiaries in 2023.
  • Healthcare Dive relates
    • Walmart is considering buying a majority stake in value-based medical chain ChenMed, according to a Bloomberg report published Friday.
    • The retail giant is in discussions with ChenMed regarding a transaction that would value the Miami-based primary care clinic operator at several billion dollars, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar.
    • Terms of the deal aren’t finalized, and talks could fall through or a different buyer could emerge, Bloomberg’s sources said.
    • If a deal is announced, Walmart would become the latest retail operator to bag a primary care operator, following in the footsteps of rivals including CVS, Amazon and Walgreens.
    • ChenMed operates a network of more than 125 clinics for Medicare-eligible seniors in 15 states, according to the company’s website.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington, DC

  • Federal News Network offers its periodic update on the bills pending before Congress of interest to federal employees.
  • American Hospital Association News tells us that today
    • “The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights released a proposed rule intended to update and clarify requirements under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs receiving financial assistance from the department, including health care. According to HHS, the proposed rule would ensure that medical treatment decisions are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities; prohibit the use of value assessment methods that place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities when used to limit access or to deny aids, benefits and services; establish enforceable standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment; and clarify obligations for accessible web and mobile applications and obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to an individual’s needs. The rule will be published in the Sept. 14 Federal Register, with comments accepted for 60 days.”
  • The Federal Times points out
    • “The Office of Personnel Management received a small surge of retirement claims in July and August after applications had been falling steadily for months since January.
    • “The time it took the government to process retirements increased sharply in July to 85 days before falling back down to 74 days in August, according to data kept by OPM.
    • “Overall, the agency is sitting on an inventory of nearly 18,000 cases after it reduced its working caseload to new lows this year. About this time last year, there were 29,000 pending cases.
    • “Still, despite efforts to dispatch focus teams to address backlogs, the agency is failing to hit its target time or inventory goals, leaving retirees to wonder whether their case will be one that ends up sitting in limbo for longer. Ideally, retirement applications are processed in 60 days or fewer.”
  • CMS released its 2022 report on covered entity compliance with the HIPAA electronic transactions.
    • The transaction types experiencing the most violations during the 2020 and 2021 compliance reviews were specific to 835 [the claim transaction], 271 [Health Care Eligibility Response], and 277 [Claim Status Response] transactions. This changed slightly in 2022 as the most common transaction types experiencing violations are now 835, 271, and 834 [EOB] transactions.
    • CMS is sharing updated 2022 violation findings insights to inform and educate the industry, encourage widespread compliance, and assist covered entities with preparing for compliance reviews.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management relates,
    • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released an updated deadline for employers to submit their demographic data. The EEO-1 Component 1 data collection for 2022 will start on Oct. 31, and the deadline for employers to file their EEO-1 reports is Dec. 5.
    • All private employers that have at least 100 employees are required to file the EEO-1 form annually, detailing the racial, ethnic and gender composition of their workforce by specific job categories.
    • Likewise, federal government contractors and first-tier subcontractors with 50 or more employees and at least $50,000 in contracts must file EEO-1 reports. State and local governments and public school systems are exempt.
  • KFF reports
    • “Over the past two years, the federal government has provided about $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan and Bipartisan Safer Communities Acts to launch the number, designed as an alternative to 911 for those experiencing a mental health crisis. After that infusion runs out, it’s up to states to foot the bill for their call centers.
    • “We don’t know what Congress will allocate in the future,” said Danielle Bennett, a spokesperson for the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which oversees 988. “But the hope is that there will be continued strong bipartisan support for funding 988 at the level it needs to be funded at and that states will also create funding mechanisms that make sense for their states.”
    • “Only eight states have enacted legislation to sustain 988 through phone fees, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is tracking state funding for the system. Others have budgeted short-term funding. But many predominantly rural states, where mental health services are in short supply and suicide rates are often higher than in more urban states, have not made long-term plans to provide support.”
  • MedPage reports,
    • When pseudoephedrine moved “behind-the-counter” nearly 20 years ago, it left oral phenylephrine (with brands including Sudafed PE and Suphedrine PE) as the only nasal decongestant available without pharmacy assistance. But there’s one big problem: phenylephrine doesn’t work, the FDA has finally determined.
    • FDA reviewers released the results of their long-running review of the evidence this week as background for a meeting of the Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee to be held on September 11 and 12.
    • The article explains the conundrum this finding creates for the FDA.

From the public health front,

  • MedPage reports that “the global incidence of early-onset cancer has increased by 79% over the past three decades, researchers reported.
    • “In a comment posted on Science Media Centre, Dorothy C. Bennett, MA, PhD, of St. George’s, University of London, cautioned that the increase in new cases of early-onset cancer is based on absolute numbers, rather than age-standardized rates.
    • “The world human population increased by 46% between 1990 and 2019, which explains part of the increase in total case numbers,” she said, adding that the increase in numbers of cancer deaths in this age group (28%) was notably lower than the number of new diagnoses, “which is below the increases in total population and case numbers, indicating a fall in the average cancer death rate in this group.”
  • Per the American Heart Association,
    • Obesity-related cardiovascular disease deaths tripled between 1999 and 2020 in the U.S.
    • Such deaths were higher among Black individuals (highest among Black women) compared with any other racial group, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native people.
    • Black adults who lived in urban communities experienced more obesity-related cardiovascular disease deaths than those living in rural areas, whereas the reverse was true for all other racial groups.
  • McKinsey Health offers a podcast about getting to the bottom of the teen health crisis.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Fierce Healthcare notes, “Employers’ health benefits costs are set to rise 5.4% next year, but this spike isn’t as high as may have been feared given inflationary pressures in the broader economy, according to a new analysis from Mercer.”
  • STAT News interviews “Amazon’s chief medical officers on where the company’s health care bets are headed next.”
  • Healthcare Dive informs us,
    • “Telehealth sessions comprised 5.4% of claim lines in June, the same amount as the prior month, according to Fair Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker.
    • “Mental health conditions continued to top the list of Fair Health’s five most common telehealth diagnoses for June. The median allowed amount billed for a one-hour psychotherapy visit was $103.
    • “But Fair Health’s tracker showed regional variations. Although telehealth use decreased overall by 2.4% in the Midwest, asynchronous telehealth claim lines for mental health conditions more than doubled in the region from 15.9% in May to 36% in June. In asynchronous telehealth, providers collect data or medical images for review, instead of meeting with a patient in real time.” 
  • Per Health Affairs,
    • “Intensive care units (ICUs) are increasingly used for hospital care, yet out-of-pocket spending for ICU hospitalizations remains poorly understood, particularly among the nearly half of the US population with commercial health insurance. Using 2008–19 MarketScan data, we compared 1,441,810 hospitalizations involving ICU services with 13,011,208 hospitalizations that did not involve ICU services.
    • “Average cost sharing, adjusted for patient and admission factors, increased from $1,137 per hospitalization in 2008 to $1,539 in 2019, or a 34 percent increase. This was driven by increasing deductibles, which rose by 163 percent.
    • “Across twenty clinical conditions whose hospitalizations commonly occurred in both ICU and non-ICU settings, ICU admission was associated with $155 higher cost-sharing (13.0 percent higher) relative to cost sharing in non-ICU hospitalizations.
    • “Patients with high-deductible plans faced the highest cost-sharing relative to those with other plan types.
    • “Patients who received out-of-network hospital care encountered higher cost-sharing relative to those admitted to in-network hospitals with in-network clinicians.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington DC,

  • offers an interview with OPM’s Deputy Director Rob Shriver.
  • The American Hospital Association informs us
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will select up to eight states to participate in a new voluntary all-payer model that aims to curb health care cost growth, improve population health, and advance health equity by reducing disparities in health outcomes. CMS plans to detail requirements for the States Advancing All-Payer Health Equity Approaches and Development Model in a funding opportunity notice this fall. Participating states will receive up to $12 million each to implement the model during one of three start dates, with the model concluding in December 2034. CMS expects to begin the pre-implementation period for the first cohort next summer. The model will build on best practices from the Maryland Total Cost of Care model, the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, and the Vermont All-Payer ACO Model.

From Harrisburg, PA,

  • The Pennsylvania Department of State announced,
    • “Starting Sept. 5, 2023, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses from other states who hold multistate licenses through the Nurse Licensure Compact m(NLC) will be able to provide in-person and telehealth services to PA patients. * * * Pennsylvania nurses will be able to apply for a multistate license once the compact has been fully implemented.”
  • Here is a link to’s “Compact Nursing States List 2023,” which now includes forty states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands.
  • This type of licensing flexibility should help with nursing shortages.

From the Affordable Care Act front, Beyond the Basics provides an updated guide to minimum essential coverage.

From the generative AI front, STAT News now provides a tracking service that serves as a guide to health systems and companies driving the adoption of this important new technology.

Speaking of technology,

  • BioPharma Dive reports
    • Beam Therapeutics has begun human testing in the U.S. of a first-of-its-kind gene editing medicine for cancer, the company said Tuesday.
    • “Beam, a pioneering developer of a precise gene editing technique known as base editing, said in a short statement that it’s dosed its first patient in a study of the treatment, called BEAM-201. The trial involves patients with an aggressive form of blood cancer known as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia/T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, or T-ALL/T-LL. It will eventually enroll about 100 participants, according to a federal database.
    • “The study’s start makes BEAM-201 the first base editing therapy to enter clinical testing in the U.S., and marks the first time patients have received a cell therapy made by “multiplex editing,” in which several genes are edited. The edits are designed to eliminate expression of four genes known as CD7, TRAC, PDCD1 and CD52.
    • “Beam claims this approach could lead to a more powerful and durable treatment. In its statement, the company noted BEAM-201’s potential to sidestep a variety of issues associated with cell therapies, like propensity for the modified cells to kill one another, or become weaker as time goes on.
    • “Beam also believes the simultaneous edits could yield a more potent donor-derived, or “off the shelf,” cell therapy. Such allogeneic treatments would be more convenient than the personalized CAR-T therapies on the market, but results to date haven’t proven they’re more powerful at killing cancer cells.”
  • Very Buck Rogers.

From the telehealth front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Approximately one-third of behavioral health patients seeking therapy or medication visits said their clinicians did not offer both telehealth and in-person care, according to a study from nonprofit research organization Rand.
    • “The study, published on Tuesday in Health Affairs, revealed that 45% of behavioral health patients did not believe their clinicians considered their preferences for virtual or in-person care. In addition, 32% of respondents said they did not receive their preferred method of treatment.
    • “Despite the lack of choice offered by providers, many patients undergoing behavioral health therapy preferred in-person visits due to the personal nature of the treatment, the ability to build a rapport with providers, and fears around data security and privacy, the report found.”
  • Such reports explain why hub and spoke telemental services are not a solution for mental health parity.

From the human resources front,

  • The Society for Human Resource Management advises,
    • Even though [last week’s] proposed overtime rule is likely to be challenged in court after it is finalized, employers should start examining how it will affect their workplaces, legal experts say.
    • “I don’t think businesses should act now and make concrete changes,” said Jeff Ruzal, an attorney with Epstein Becker Green in New York City. “A preliminary injunction is likely” after the rule is finalized, he said, but employers “should study and audit the workplace” and prepare for the rule to possibly take effect. They should analyze who is exempt and nonexempt and plan for complying “without jeopardizing the business or payroll.” 

Happy Labor Day!

Way back in the day, OPM routinely would announce the next year’s FEHB premiums around Labor Day. The announcement was known as OPM’s Labor Day press release. Currently, the announcement is made in the last week of September.

Tammy Flanagan writes in Govexec about federal employee benefit issues confronting couples who both work for Uncle Sam, specifically

  • “Should we carry two self only plans under the Federal Employees Health Benefits program or one self plus one plan if we don’t need to cover children?
  • “Do we need to provide survivor annuities for each other?”

Check it out.

The Senate returns from its August State work break tomorrow for a shortened week of Committee business and floor voting. The House of Representatives returns to the Nation’s Capital next Tuesday.

From the public health front,

  • The Washington Post reports
    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday [September 1] issued a national alert warning health-care professionals to watch out for infections of Vibrio vulnificus, a rare flesh-eating bacteria that has killed at least 13 people on the Eastern Seaboard this year.
    • “Although infections from the bacteria have been mostly reported in the Gulf Coast, infections in the eastern United States rose eightfold from 1988 to 2018, the CDC said. In the same period, the northern geographic range of infections has increased by 30 miles every year. This year’s infections came during a period of above-average coastal sea surface temperatures, the agency said.
    • “Up to 200 people in the United States every year report Vibrio vulnificus infections to the CDC. A fifth of the cases are fatal, sometimes within one or two days of the onset of illness, according to the agency.”
  • The Wall Street Journal tells us
    • “A two-decade decline in [prostate cancer] death rates has stalled. Some doctors worry deaths could rise in coming years.
    • “We’re finding them with disease not contained in the prostate but also in the bones, in the lymph nodes,” said Dr. James Porter, a urological surgeon in Seattle. “That’s a recent phenomenon.” 
    • “The pendulum swing hits at a fundamental problem in screening for all cancers: Testing too many people leads to more invasive procedures some patients don’t need. Testing too few misses opportunities to catch cases while there is a better chance treatment will work.
    • “Groups including the American Cancer Society are reviewing their own guidance for prostate-cancer screening. Many doctors want to better target the test, limiting screening for some men while encouraging high-risk groups including Black men or those with a strong family history to get testing earlier. 
    • “PSA recommendations have been ping-ponging back and forth, and what’s been lost in that is the high-risk people,” said Dr. Heather Cheng, director of the Prostate Cancer Genetics Clinic at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle. She is helping to review the American Cancer Society’s prostate-cancer screening guidelines. 
    • “Cheng and other doctors working to better calibrate screening said the risks of overdiagnosis have declined. More doctors now monitor low-risk tumors for growth before rushing a man into surgery or radiation. Better imaging tools have reduced biopsies.”
  • In other words, the problem is not necessarily the screening test; rather the problem may be the reaction of the medical community to screening results.  
  • NPR Shots informs us,
    • “The idea of food as medicine dates back to the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates, and a new study adds to the evidence that a diet full of fruits and vegetables can help improve heart health. The research comes amid an epidemic of  diet-related disease, which competes with smoking as a leading cause of death.
    • “Researchers evaluated the impact of “produce prescriptions,” which provide free fruits and vegetables to people with diet related diseases including diabetes, obesity and hypertension. The study included nearly 4,000 people in 12 states who struggle to afford healthy food. They received vouchers, averaging $63 a month, for up to 10 months, which could be redeemed for produce at retail stores or farmers markets, depending on the location. 
    • “Health care providers tracked changes in weight, blood pressure and blood sugar among the participants. “We were excited to see improvements,” says study author Kurt Hager, an instructor at UMass Chan Medical School.
    • “Among adults with hypertension, we saw that systolic blood pressure decreased by 8 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure decreased by about 5 mm Hg, which could have a meaningful impact on health outcomes,” Hager says.
    • “Among people with uncontrolled diabetes, their A1C levels, which is a 2-3 month average of their blood sugar, also declined significantly, by about .6 percent. “The reductions we saw in blood sugar were roughly half of that of commonly prescribed medications, which is really encouraging for just a simple change in diet,” Hager says.” 
  • Fortune Well explains how to deal with the uncertainty that serves as the root of anxiety.
    • “Uncertainty is life’s promise to us all. For more than twenty years, I have watched people rise from unspeakable pain to venture again into a future that withholds all certainty. I work with people who have endured shocking traumas and, predictably, our early conversations are filled with interrogative pleas for a certain safety: “How can I be absolutely sure nothing like this will ever happen again?” they ask me.
    • “The answer is: they cannot.
    • “After many years, the thing that still takes my breath away is the grace and courage of people who accept this truth and say: I rise again not because I know for sure, but because I hope anyway.”
  • The New York Times offers a reminder about how to use at home COVID tests effectively. Bear in mind that Paxlovid should be taken within five day after showing Covid symptoms.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Washington DC,

  • The Washington Post reports
    • “The White House on Thursday urged Congress to adopt a short-term measure to fund the federal government, a move meant to buy time for lawmakers to craft a broader spending deal and avert a shutdown at the end of September.
    • “The Biden administration coupled its call to action with a new request that Congress address funding for a series of cash-starved programs — including, for example, an additional $1.4 billion to prevent a potential disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families.”
  • HHS Secretary Xavier Berrara reflected on the Administration’s efforts to end the opioid public health emergency on this International Overdose Awareness Day.
  • In related news, the New York Times informs us
    • “Narcan, the first opioid overdose reversal medication approved for over-the-counter purchase, is being shipped to drugstore and grocery chains nationwide, its manufacturer said Wednesday. Big-box outlets like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Rite Aid said they expected Narcan to be available online and on many store shelves early next week.
    • “Public health experts have long called for greater accessibility to the drug, which they describe as a critical weapon against rising overdose rates. There were more than 100,000 opioid overdose fatalities in each of the last two years in the United States.
    • “Narcan is already a staple for emergency personnel and street outreach teams. Now scientists and health officials are hoping Narcan will eventually become commonplace in public libraries, subways, dorms, corner delis and street vending machines.
    • “They also predict it may become a fixture in medicine cabinets, as more people realize that illicit party drugs like cocaine and counterfeit Xanax pills may be tainted with deadly fentanyl, an opioid.”
  • Govexec relates
    • “President Biden on Thursday formalized his plan to provide civilian federal employees with an average 5.2% pay increase, their largest in four decades, in a letter to congressional leaders.
    • “In March, Biden first announced his pay raise plan as part of his fiscal 2024 budget proposal, recommending the largest pay increase for civilian federal workers since the Carter administration. Thursday’s announcement confirms that, if implemented, federal employees will see an across-the-board increase in basic pay of 4.7% and an average 0.5% boost to locality pay.
    • “In his letter, Biden said the pay raise is critical to his administration’s goal of ensuring that the federal government is a model employer and able to attract qualified candidates to join the workforce.”
  • The U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced issuing
    • the final regulations to implement the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act of 2019 (Fair Chance Act), which prohibits federal agencies and federal contractors from requesting an applicant’s criminal history information before the agency makes a conditional offer of employment to the applicant. The final regulations also provide applicants with a complaint process and hold accountable federal employees who are in violation of the Fair Chance Act. 
    • “If you have the qualifications, skills, and willingness to serve the American public, you deserve a fair chance to compete for employment within the federal government,” said Kiran Ahuja, OPM Director. “America is a nation of second chances, and every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.” 

From the Medicare front,

  • MedPage Today reports on CMS efforts to recruit specialty practices in Medicare value-based purchasing programs.
  • Milliman issued a white paper titled “Part D redesign under the Inflation Reduction Act / Potential financial ramifications for Part D plans and pharmaceutical manufacturers.” Check it out.
  • CMS recently announced
    • “a new voluntary nationwide model – the Guiding an Improved Dementia Experience (GUIDE) Model – a model test that aims to support people living with dementia and their unpaid caregivers. CMS is accepting letters of interest for the GUIDE Model through September 15, 2023, and will release a GUIDE Request for Applications (RFA) for the model in Fall 2023. The model will launch on July 1, 2024, and run for eight years. * * *
    • “Participants in the GUIDE Model will establish dementia care programs (DCPs) that provide ongoing, longitudinal care and support to people living with dementia through an interdisciplinary team. GUIDE participants will be Medicare Part B enrolled providers/suppliers, excluding durable medical equipment (DME) and laboratory suppliers, who are eligible to bill for Medicare Physician Fee Schedule services and agree to meet the care delivery requirements of the model.”

From the public health and medical research fronts

  • We have four articles from STAT News
    • Miscarriage treatment news. “A [Woodbury,] Minnesota clinic tries to rewrite medicine’s approach to miscarriage.” Bravo.
    • CAR-T Therapy News — “Saar Gill and Carl June, cell therapy researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to make a single treatment that could tackle virtually all blood cancers. It was an audacious goal. * * *
    • “On Thursday, though, Gill, June and a graduate student, Nils Wellhausen, published a solution in Science Translational MedicineIt’s a complicated dance involving a new form of genome editing and multiple cellular infusions, and still years away from clinical trials. But outside experts say that if academics or companies can figure out manufacturing and logistics, it could open new avenues to tackling cancers that have so far remained out of reach.
    • “It’s very clever and really a tour de force,” said Marcela Maus, director of the cellular immunotherapy program at Mass General Hospital.”
    • Depression treatment news — “A single dose of psilocybin may have enduring benefits for people with major depressive disorder, according to a randomized clinical trial published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.”
    • AD Treatment News — Drug firms are studying whether drugs like Leqembi can halt Alzheimer’s Disease before symptoms appears.
  • From the U.S. healthcare business front,
    • Per Fierce Healthcare,
      • “GoodRx has launched a new feature to allow healthcare professionals to see the cost of a patient’s prescription with their insurance.
      • “The real-time benefit check (RTBC) feature was developed in collaboration with AssistRx, a specialty therapy initiation and patient solutions provider. The RTBC surfaces a patient’s coverage and benefits at the point of care with the goal of increasing price transparency and access to drugs. It also includes whether a prior authorization is required.
      • “AssistRx built its advanced access and patient support solutions to be interoperable, Edward Hensley, the company’s co-founder and chief commercial officer, said in a press release.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington, DC —

  • Roll Call reports,
    • “House Republicans are planning to take up a short-term stopgap funding measure next month to avoid a partial government shutdown, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told members of his conference during a Monday night call, sources familiar with the conversation said. 
    • “The continuing resolution is expected to extend current funding until early December, giving lawmakers a few extra months past the Sept. 30 deadline to complete fiscal 2024 appropriations. McCarthy said Monday that he did not want to have a continuing resolution run up to the Christmas recess, sources said. 
    • “The speaker’s announcement, which came as little surprise, served as an acknowledgment that the clock had run out for completing appropriations on time for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.”
  • Govexec says,
    • “Although President Biden and congressional appropriators appear to be in accord on the White House’s plan to grant federal employees their largest annual raise in more than two decades in 2024, there is still work to be done to make it a reality.
    • “Biden first proposed an average 5.2% pay increase for civilian federal workers and members of the military next year when he unveiled his fiscal 2024 budget plan. That figure marks the highest annual pay increase federal employees have seen since President Carter authorized a 9.1% raise in 1980.
    • “And although the administration and Senate Democrats have been butting heads with GOP appropriators in the House on a variety of funding issues in recent months, neither the House nor the Senate have included language in their respective spending packages to overrule the pay raise plan.”
  • The article explains the legal steps that the President must take this year to implement his pay raise plan.
  • Federal News Network informs us,
    • “In another effort to try to usher young talent into the federal workforce, the Office of Personnel Management is proposing changes to decade-old parameters for the Pathways Program.
    • “The new proposed regulations from OPM, in part, look to expand eligibility for the recent graduates’ Pathways Program, to include individuals who may not have a college degree, but who have completed different “technical education programs.” By counting experience in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Job Corps and the Registered Apprenticeship Program, OPM said it hopes to make the program overall more inclusive, and help agencies attract a broader, more diverse pool of early-career applicants.”
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us,
    • “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently published new changes to further advance health equity and increase participation under the ACO REACH model.
    • “National Association of ACOs President and CEO Clif Gaus said the changes will “satisfy many concerns and stabilize future participation.” * * *
    • “Currently, there are 132 participants under ACO REACH, a value-based care model that began in January and replaced the Direct Contracting Model. The new model pushes providers to form accountable care organizations, or ACOs, for fee-for-service Medicare enrollees, and allows for providers to take on more financial risk. Participants are required to implement a health equity plan identifying disparities in care.”
  • A STAT News explains,
    • “The Inflation Reduction Act passed and signed into law a year ago attempts to deal with high drug prices paid by the U.S. government, allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of some medicines after they have been on the market for years. (Industry would say it’s not negotiation but price-fixing.) But while the IRA is desperately needed — branded medicines cost 2.4 times more in the U.S. than in other developed countries, according to the RAND Corporation — there are ways in which it makes the situation worse.
    • “Here is the problem. The process of testing new experimental medicines takes a long time, sometimes a decade or more, and it is much longer for some objectives, such as preventing heart attacks, than others, like slightly extending the lives of terminal cancer patients.
    • “If one got to design a drug-pricing system from a blank slate, allowing drug prices to spike and then be cut after a few years would look less than ideal. It would be far better to set a lower price at the outset and not raise it but to allow a company to sell a drug for longer so the manufacturer has an incentive to fully study the benefits and risks of its medicines. * * *
    • “There are alternative models of how the drug pricing system can work. Take vaccines, for instance. They are not made nearly as expensive as, say, cancer drugs. But, in most cases, drug companies can trust that the market for them will be long and stable.
    • “This brings us back to the cancer drug shortage. All of the medicines in shortage are treatments that are generic, made into commodities by Hatch-Waxman. This problem could be changed if, say, hospitals were in a position to pay more to manufacturers who were seen as having a more stable supply.
    • “All of it is a reminder that the health care system in the U.S. is a Rube Goldberg machine created by past decisions that were made as much out of expediency as sober planning. The IRA, in particular, is another one of these decisions, pushed through a partisan Congress after the pharmaceutical lobby spent decades avoiding real change. It’s not surprising that a bill that has to be ushered in along partisan lines is not fully thought out or that many of the details are left to bureaucrats.
    • “At some point, we might want to actually design something sensible. Until then, we’d be better served by being more conscious of the mess we’re in.”

From the public health front —

  • Medscape points out,
    • “The newest version of the COVID-19 vaccine will be available by the end of September, according to the CDC. 
    • “The updated vaccine still needs final sign-offs from the FDA and the CDC.
    • “We anticipate that they are going to be available for most folks by the third or fourth week of September,” Director Mandy Cohen, MD, MPH, said on a podcast last week hosted by former White House COVID adviser Andy Slavitt. “We are likely to see this as a recommendation as an annual COVID shot, just as we have an annual flu shot. I think that will give folks more clarity on whether they should get one or not.”
    • “For people who are considering now whether they should get the currently available COVID vaccine or wait until the new one comes out, Cohen said that depends on a person’s individual risk. People who are 65 or older or who have multiple health conditions should go ahead and get the currently available shot if it’s been more than 6 to 8 months since their last dose. For all other people, it’s OK to wait for the new version.”
  • AHA News adds,
    • “Receiving a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine or booster during pregnancy can benefit pregnant people and their newborn infants, according to findings from a federally funded study published in Vaccine. The study looked at 167 pregnant people who received a primary or booster vaccine, which generated antibodies that crossed to the cord blood and likely conferred some protection in their newborns. Participants who received a booster dose had substantially more antibodies in their own blood and in their cord blood, suggesting that boosting increased their newborns’ immune defenses against COVID-19.
  • STAT News reports
    • “Every year, doctors get better tools to fight cancer. Engineered cancer-killing cells, immunotherapies, targeted drugs, and more are helping clinicians cure more patients. Increasingly, though, oncologists are trying to use less radiation, long one of the main pillars of cancer therapy. In some cases, they are even keeping certain patients with low-risk tumors off radiation entirely.
    • “We are in an era of radiation omission or de-escalation,” said Corey Speers, vice chair of radiation oncology at the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Case Western Reserve University. “Radiation is perhaps one of the most precise and most effective cancer therapies we have, so it will always play an important role in cancer management, but there are situations now on an individual patient basis where radiation may not be needed.”
  • MedPage Today notes that “Incident dementia was tied to exposure to fine particulate matter, especially air pollution from wildfires and agriculture, an observational study of 28,000 adults over age 50 suggested.”

From the judicial front,

  • A unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled today that ERISA and Medicare Part D preempt certain provisions of an Oklahoma PBM reform law that purport to apply to contracts between PBMs and ERISA and Part D plans. The opinion is helpful to the FEHB Program because the “relates to” clause in the ERISA state law preemption clause, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1144, is read. analogously or “in pari materia” with the “relates to” clause in the FEHB Act’s state law preemption clause, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 8902(m)(1). Hopefully, this new precedent will pick up steam for ERISA and FEHB preemption of state laws, which do help control premiums.

From the Rx coverage front,

  • Healthcare Dive relates
    • “Amazon on Tuesday added more than 15 new manufacturer-sponsored coupons for insulin brands and diabetes care products to its online pharmacy.
    • “The additions bring Amazon’s manufacturer coupons that are automatically applied during check-out for eligible customers to 36.
    • “The new coupons include some of the most commonly prescribed products from drugmakers including Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Sanofi, including insulin vials, pens and continuous glucose monitors, according to a blog post on Amazon’s website.
  • BioPharma Dive calls attention to
    • “Radiopharmaceuticals for cancer: Making radiation precise
    • “More than a dozen startups are developing drugs that deliver a dose of radiation directly to tumors. Here’s where they stand, and why their progress is worth watching.”

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans informs us,
    • “U.S. corporate employers project a median healthcare cost increase of 7% for 2024, according to International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey results. The 7% increase is on pace with cost trends projected last year in a similar survey conducted by the International Foundation.
    • “Plan sponsors shared their thoughts on the primary reasons contributing to a rise in medical plan costs for 2024. The top four responses are:
      • 22%—Utilization due to chronic health conditions (up from last year)
      • 19%—Catastrophic claims (same percentage as last year)
      • 16%—Specialty/costly prescription drugs/cell and gene therapy (new in the top four this year)
      • 14%—Medical provider costs (up from last year).
      • The effects of the pandemic appear to be waning as only 4% of responding employers indicated that the primary reason for cost increases is utilization due to delayed preventive/elective care during the pandemic (down from 12% last year).”
    • These factors will be largely offset by Medicare savings for those FEHB plans that are offering Medicare Part D plans for 2024, in the FEHBlog’s view.
  • Health Payer Intelligence explains,
    • “How Payers Are Reducing Prior Authorizations, Limiting Care Disruptions
    • “To limit patient care disruptions, payers have reduced prior authorization requirements for genetic testing, cataract surgeries, and physical therapy.”
  • and reports
    • “Payers prefer to utilize claims and administration platforms from vendors that are efficient, manage multiple business lines, and can meet their complex needs, according to a KLAS report.
    • “The Payer Claims & Administration Platforms 2023 report includes KLAS Decision Insights data and KLAS performance data, which reflects information about vendors and feedback from healthcare organizations.
    • “Among 28 payer organizations, 14 considered using HealthEdge’s claims and administration solutions. The vendor received an overall performance score of 76.5 on a 100-point scale. Twelve organizations considered using Cognizant, which received a score of 74.7.”
  • Healthcare Dive relates
    • “More than three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 1% of primary care clinicians surveyed by the Larry A. Green Center and the Primary Care Collaborative believe their practice has fully recovered from its impacts, and 61% characterize U.S. primary care as “crumbling.”
    • “Nearly 80% of respondents felt the current workforce is undersized to meet patient needs, and just 19% of clinicians report their practices are fully staffed.
    • “The results are emblematic of a “larger national crisis,” and policymakers must act to reinforce primary care, said Rebecca Etz, co-director of the Larry A. Green Center, in a statement. “ … It is not a matter of if, but when there will be another pandemic … If we don’t act soon, primary care won’t be there when it happens.”

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Washington DC —

  • FedScoop reports
    • “Amid scrutiny of the retirement services division within the Office of Personnel Management, congressional inquiries to the agency have grown drastically, according to a February letter sent by Retirement Services Associate Director Margaret Pearson.
    • “According to the missive, which was sent in response to questions from House lawmakers, OPM’s Congressional, Legislative, and Intergovernmental Affairs branch received more than 9,000 congressional inquiries in 2022, compared with more than 3,000 in 2020. In other words, the number of inquiries from Congress to the agency has approximately tripled in three years.”
  • Fedsmith adds
    • “The latest data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) show that the backlog of outstanding retirement claims now stands at 17,047, 4.1% higher than at the end of June. The number of incoming claims was much higher in July than in June, 7,261 versus 4,854, respectively, a difference of 50%. Although OPM still processed nearly the same number of claims in July (6,584) as in June (6,609), this served to drive the backlog higher.
    • “Another contributing factor was that the monthly average processing time was higher in July than in June. It took OPM 85 days on average in July to process retirement applications versus 74 days in June. July was the second-highest monthly average processing time so far in 2023, second only to January (93 days).”
  • The Labor Department’s Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security, Lisa Gomez, blogs about the ACA regulator’s proposed amendments to the federal mental health and substance use disorder rule. Why must all of the pressure to improve mental health care be placed on health plans?
  • Federal News Network says,
    • “The Postal Service is falling short of its goal to turn around its financial losses this year, but is pointing to an ongoing shakeup of its nationwide delivery network as a critical part of its plan to break even by the end of the decade.
    • “Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said Tuesday that “more aggressive cost reductions to operations” are needed to keep USPS’ long-term financial goals within reach — and that USPS reshaping its nationwide delivery network is key to those savings.
    • “This undertaking is massive and long overdue, and time is of the essence if we wish to enjoy the benefits of this cherished institution for years to come,” DeJoy told the USPS Board of Governors.
    • “USPS reported a $1.7 billion net loss for the third quarter of fiscal 2023, and is expected to see a net loss for the entire fiscal year.”

From the public health and Rx coverage fronts–

  • STAT News informs us
    • “The momentum around weight loss drugs is about to get even bigger in the wake of Novo Nordisk’s announcement that its semaglutide drug Wegovy cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20% in its large SELECT trial.
    • “The full results of the study, funded by Novo, will be presented at the American Heart Association meeting in November. Doctors and researchers say they expect the findings to have a big impact on how clinicians approach the treatment of both obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as increase the likelihood that prescriptions for obesity drugs will be covered by insurance.
    • “But experts who spoke with STAT also cautioned that the long-term safety and efficacy of Wegovy and other weight loss drugs remain unknown. The SELECT study has yet to be peer-reviewed, and not enough information is yet available to make independent assessments of the results.”
  • The Wall Street Journal adds,
    • “The surging demand for GLP-1s has prompted analysts to raise their forecasts for the global obesity market, with Morgan Stanley recently revising its estimate to $77 billion in annual sales by 2030, up from $54 billion.
    • “For now, doctors are prescribing more of Mounjaro and Wegovy than the companies can make, with a lack of manufacturing capacity frequently leading to shortages. Eli Lilly on Tuesday reported $980 million in Mounjaro sales in the second quarter, trouncing analyst estimates of $740 million on FactSet. The Mounjaro beat allowed the company to raise its annual guidance as well. Mounjaro is approved for diabetes and is expected to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for obesity treatment this year, though doctors are already prescribing it off-label.”
  • The Wall Street Journal also lets us know,
    • “Women are closing a gender gap, but it isn’t a good one: They’re catching up to men when it comes to problem drinking.
    • “Women’s drinking, on the rise for the past two decades, jumped during the pandemic as women reported more stress. Although men still drink more alcohol than women and have higher alcohol-related mortality rates, doctors and public health experts say women are narrowing that divide.
    • “Alcohol-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths are increasing faster for women than for men. And studies suggest that women are more susceptible to alcohol-related liver inflammation, heart disease and certain cancers.”
  • Independence Blue Cross announced,
    • ” Independence Blue Cross (Independence) and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance (the Alliance) announced the launch of 45+ Reasons, a campaign to get more than 5,000 Black Philadelphians ages 45-75 screened for colorectal cancer to reduce the significantly higher incidence and mortality rates of Black Americans. The campaign supports the Cycles of Impact initiative launched by Independence and the Alliance in 2022.
    • T”he campaign is a flagship program of Philadelphia’s Accelerate Health Equitya city-wide initiative to produce tangible improvement in health inequities, and ultimately achieve measurable, positive changes in health outcomes in Philadelphia. Colorectal cancer screening and treatment is a priority area for Accelerate Health Equity.”
  • The All of Us Program released its August 2023 newsletter.
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us,
    • “There has been a 2% rise in maternity care deserts since 2020—meaning 1,119 additional counties, a new analysis suggests.
    • “The latest 2022 report on maternity care deserts, put together by nonprofit March of Dimes (PDF), relied mostly on 2019-20 data for its analysis.
    • “It classified more than a third of all U.S. counties as maternity care deserts in the report. These were defined as counties with no hospitals or birth centers offering obstetric care and no obstetric providers. 
    • “Nationwide, 5% of counties have less maternity access than two years ago while 3% shifted to higher access. Florida had the most women impacted by improvements to maternity care access, while Ohio had the most women impacted by overall reductions in access to care.” 

From the U.S. healthcare business front —

  • BioPharma Dive relates
    • “Eli Lilly became the most valuable healthcare company in the U.S. after a stock price surge Tuesday morning propelled the Indianapolis drugmaker’s market value above $500 billion for the first time in its 147-year history.
    • “Shares jumped 15% on second-quarter earnings that showed the company’s revenue rose by 28%, driven by fast sales of its diabetes medicine Mounjaro. The drug has attracted intense interest for its potential as an obesity treatment, a use for which it’s expected to earn Food and Drug Administration approval later this year.”
  • STAT News reports that Sage Therapeutics finds itself under financial pressure due to the FDA’s decision to approve its new drug for postpartum depression but not other types of depression.
    • “Sage’s chief business officer, Chris Benecchi, declined to name a price or a price range for Zurzuvae, saying that the company is working together with its partner Biogen to “determine adjustments for thinking on price given the PPD label.” Sage expects the drug to be available in the fourth quarter following its scheduling by the Drug Enforcement Administration because of the drug’s low potential for misuse.
    • “Sage hosted the pre-market call without Biogen, raising analysts’ eyebrows as the two companies signed a commercialization deal in 2020 valued at over $1.5 billion, predicated on the hope that zuranolone would become a blockbuster drug for major depression. Despite many questions about what exactly would be needed for the drug to get FDA approval for major depression and whether Biogen would continue its partnership with Sage, Greene declined to give any insight into how committed Sage and Biogen are to pursuing the MDD indication, or whether Biogen was going to vacate the partnership.”
  • Healthcare Dive offers five takeaways from the health insurers’ second-quarter earnings.
    • “Major health insurers saw their shares dip coming into the second quarter, as investors prepared themselves for skyrocketing medical costs due to seniors returning for outpatient care.
    • “But health insurers generally outperformed market expectations in the quarter, helped by cost control measures.”
  • Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association’s President takes these health insurers to task in U.S. News and World Report for imposing cost control measures.