Monday Roundup

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Federal News Network discusses the federal employee pay raise angles presented by the House financial service and general appropriations bill which cleared the House Appropriations Committee last Friday. Federal News Network indicates that the bill leaves the door open for the Senate to also accept the President’s proposed 2023 4.6% pay raise for federal employees and the military.

From the Dobbs case front, Govexec.com reports

President Joe Biden announced two actions immediately after the ruling: one directing the Department of Health and Human Services to safeguard access to contraception and medication abortion, and another protecting travel for medical appointments.

To those ends,

  • Govexec tells us that OPM today confirmed that its policy allowing federal employees to apply sick time to travel out of state remains in effect after the high court struck down Roe v. Wade, and
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that a meeting was held today between Affordable Care Act regulators, including the HHS and Labor Department Secretaries, and health plan executives to emphasize the importance of full compliance with the ACA’s contraceptive coverage with no cost-sharing mandate when delivered in-network. The ACA regulators also issued a letter to health plans making the same point.

The FEHBlog ran across this NPR Shots article which explains that the Plan B or morning-after pill is considered a contraceptive and not an abortion drug. The Wall Street Journal informs us

Some of the nation’s biggest retailers are rationing over-the-counter emergency contraceptive pills as demand spikes following the Supreme Court ruling overturning a constitutional right to abortion.CVS Health Corp.,  Walmart Inc., and Rite Aid Corp. were limiting purchases of the pills, which were in short supply or out of stock Monday morning on major retailer websites. CVS and Rite Aid were limiting purchases to three. Walmart had some pills available without limits, but only in cases where they wouldn’t ship until next month. Pills available this week were limited to four or six.

From the Omicron and siblings and monkeypox front

  • Govexec reports on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision order rehearing a federal employee vaccine mandate case which upheld the mandate on lack of plaintiffs’ standing to challenge the mandate. The mandate nevertheless has remained on hold while the case winds it way through the appellate court.
  • USA Today reports on when and how to access the monkeypox vaccine.

From the Medicare front, HHS announced

a new model aimed at improving cancer care for Medicare patients and lowering health care costs. CMS’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (Innovation Center) designed the Enhancing Oncology Model (EOM) to test how to improve health care providers’ ability to deliver care centered around patients, consider patients’ unique needs, and deliver cancer care in a way that will generate the best possible patient outcomes. The model will focus on supporting and learning from cancer patients, caregivers, and cancer survivors, while addressing inequities and providing patients with treatments that address their unique needs.

From the reports and studies department —

  • The next issue of Health Affairs offers a bevy of articles on Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes which are available at this link.
  • The Congressional Budget Office has made available examples of the work performed by its Health Analysis Division.
  • HealthDay reports “More than 18 million Americans have now survived cancer, a new report shows. The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. National Cancer Institute collaborated on the report to estimate cancer prevalence and help public health officials better serve survivors.”
  • mHealth Intelligence calls our attention to a telehealth-oriented  Healthcare Experience Report: 2022 released by Zocdoc. The FEHBlog was pleased to read “Mental health continues to hold a place of dominance in telehealth. In May of 2020, 2021, and 2022, the percentage of mental health visits that occurred virtually was 74 percent, 85 percent, and 87 percent, respectively.” Hub and spoke telehealth, e.g, Teladoc, brings mental health care in-network thereby lowering benefit costs while improving access to care.

Friday Stats and More

Note — Unfortunately, Thursday’s post did not arrive on the E&S website until 9 am ET today, so it did not go out to subscribers this morning. Lo siento. Here is a link to yesterday’s post.

Onto today’s post —

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s latest weekly chart of new Covid cases:

The CDC’s weekly review of its Covid statistics states “As of June 22, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (97,430) decreased 5.6% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (103,175).”

Here’s the CDC’s weekly chart of new Covid hospital admissions:

The CDC’s weekly review states “The current 7-day daily average for June 15–21, 2022, was 4,375. This is a 1.0% increase from the prior 7-day average (4,329) from June 8–14, 2022.”

Here is the FEHBlog’s latest weekly chart of new Covid deaths:

The CDC’s weekly review states “The current 7-day moving average of new deaths (255) has decreased 10.4% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (285).”

The CDC’s weekly review also reports

As of June 23, 2022, there are 391 (12.1%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 996 (30.9%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 1,830 (56.8%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents an increase (+1.9 percentage points) in the number of high-level counties, a slight increase (+1.6 percentage points) in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding decrease (−3.6 percentage points) in the number of low-level counties. 51 jurisdictions had high- or medium-level counties this week. Rhode Island is the only jurisdiction to have all counties at low Community Level. 

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker. To learn which prevention measures are recommended based on your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID-19 Community Level and COVID-19 Prevention.

The weekly statistics generally are stable and moving in the right direction.

The American Hospital Association adds

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last night endorsed Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 6-17, as its advisory committee recommended, creating an alternative to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents last week.

Before ACA FAQ 50 issued October 4, 2021, the period for covering COVID vaccines with no cost sharing began 15 days after the CDC’s action. The FEHBlog, who is not errorless, thought that FAQ 50 eliminated the 15 day waiting period, but upon further review, FAQ 50 requires immediate no cost sharing coverage of Covid vaccines filing the FDA’s approval, usually an emergency use authorization. The FEHBlog doesn’t think this makes any practical difference because the Covid vaccines aren’t distributed without CDC approval.

From the Capitol Hill, the American Hospital Association provide us with this encouraging news:

The House of Representative today voted 234-193 to pass and send to the President for his signature bipartisan legislation to help reduce gun violence in communities. Approved by the Senate last night, the AHA-supported package includes behavioral health provisions, including funding for school safety resources, school-based supportive services and expanded access to telehealth for mental and behavioral health services. 

From the Supreme Court, the Court decided today that the right to an abortion is a matter controlled by state law, not the U.S. Constitution. The Wall Street Journal sums it up as follows “In upholding a Mississippi law banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the court’s conservative majority said the Roe decision was egregiously wrong in recognizing a constitutional right to abortion.” In response

Reproductive health care, including access to birth control and safe and legal abortion care, is an essential part of your health and well-being. While Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion remains legal in many states, and other reproductive health care services remain protected by law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to providing you with accurate and up-to-date information about access to and coverage of reproductive health care and resources. Our goal is to make sure you have appropriate information and support.

  • Health Payer Intelligence discusses health insurer reaction to the decision. “Payers and healthcare leaders are responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the case which protected abortion rights at the federal level, and while the repercussions remain uncertain many healthcare leaders are voicing their commitment to helping women navigate the impacts.”
  • The Wall Street Journal discusses employer reaction to the decision. “Businesses with health plans covering abortion now are weighing whether and how to pay for employees to travel to a state where the procedure is legal.”

From the OPM front

  • Federal News Network reports on OPM Director Karen Ahuja’s press conference held yesterday, the first anniversary of her swearing in as OPM Director.
  • FedWeek tells us that “OPM has said it is working to improve features for federal employees and annuitants to compare FEHB plans, although it does not project having those improvements in place until late next year—potentially in time for that year’s open season for selecting coverage in 2024.”

From the nicotine front, the Wall Street Journal reports

A federal appeals court on Friday granted Juul Labs Inc. a temporary stay of the Food and Drug Administration’s order for the vaping company to pull its e-cigarettes off the U.S. market.

A panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday afternoon granted Juul’s request to delay the FDA’s ban, according to court documents. The temporary stay gives the court time to hear arguments and wasn’t a ruling on the merits of the case, the judges wrote.

Finally, HR Dive brings us a roundup of happenings at this week’s Society for Human Resource Management conference.

OPM Director Ahuja Celebrates Her First Year

OPM Headquarters a/k/a the Theodore Roosevelt Building

U.S. Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja celebrated her first year in office today. Here are links to an OPM press release and a Govexec account of Director Ahuja’s press conference.

The press release identifies her “major accomplishments with respect to the FEHB Program as

  • Providing health benefits that are responsive to employee needs 
  • All Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) carriers provide telehealth services ensuring access to health providers during the pandemic and on an ongoing basis going forward. In a 2021 survey, 43% of FEHB enrollees report using telehealth benefits and use was greatest among those with mental health or behavioral health concerns. 
  • In accordance with EO 14035, which directed OPM to promote equitable healthcare coverage and services for enrolled LGBTQ+ employees and their covered family members through the FEHB Program, OPM prioritized and strongly encouraged FEHB Carriers to provide gender-affirming care benefits consistent with standards published by recognized medical experts. 

From the Omicron and siblings front

The Wall Street Journal reports

  • Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACIP) backed use of Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine in children ages 6 to 17 years.
  • Children in the age group already have access to Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE. The advisers recommended on Thursday that Moderna’s shot should also be made available to that age range, in a pair of 15-0 votes. 
  • The advisers’ endorsement follows the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the shots last week. It is one of the last steps before the Moderna shot would be more broadly available in doctors’ offices, pharmacies and vaccine clinics.

Other news reports indicate that CDC Director Walensky is expected to endorse this recommendation late Thursday or Friday.

MedPage Today informs us

A fourth dose, or second booster, of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty) protected seniors living in long-term care from the most severe outcomes during the Omicron wave, despite showing a more limited effect against infection, according to prospective data from Israel.

Among over 40,000 residents, effectiveness of a fourth dose (versus a third given at least 4 months prior) was 64% and 67% against hospitalizations for either mild/moderate or severe illness, respectively, and 72% against COVID-19-related deaths, reported Khitam Muhsen, PhD, of Tel Aviv University in Israel.

From the conference front, Fierce Healthcare offers the following articles on this week’s AHIP conference:

  • SDOH — “As the healthcare industry grapples with health inequities and disparities across the country, health insurers are well-positioned to lead the charge, experts said Wednesday.”
  • Biosimilars — “[I]t is important to note that while the competition generated by these new launches can help lower payer costs—depending on pricing and available discounts—biosimilars may not necessarily be the lowest cost option in all therapeutic categories.”
  • Behavioral health — “As the team at Cigna’s Evernorth builds its strategy around behavioral health, it’s focusing on a key throughline: simplicity.”

From the Rx coverage front —

  • The Senate Commerce Committee announced clearing for Senate floor consideration the Committee leadership’s PBM transparency bill (S 4293). The vote in favor of floor consideration was 19-9. Fierce Healthcare offers an article on the Committee’s action.
  • STAT News reports on a bipartisan Senate proposal to control insulin prices by locking in current manufacturer profits. “David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, a patient advocacy group that doesn’t accept funds from the pharmaceutical industry, called the bill “disappointing,” and said it would just shift costs to patients in other ways. ‘It’s pharma’s preferred solution to drug pricing,’ Mitchell said.”
  • STAT News also tells us that “In response to rising prices for medicines, public and private payers increasingly rely on assessments of cost-effectiveness to justify coverage. But a new examination finds that such studies sponsored by drug companies were often biased in favor of setting higher prices for their medicines.” The study was published in the BMJ.
  • The FDA released an “Action Plan for Rare Neurodegenerative Diseases, Including ALS “(also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

In other vaccine news, AHIP informs us that

ACIP additionally voted [today[ to recommend adults aged 65 and older preferentially receive any one of the following higher dose or adjuvanted influenza vaccines: quadrivalent high-dose inactivated influenza vaccine (HD-IIV4), quadrivalent recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4), or quadrivalent adjuvanted inactivated influenza vaccine (aIIV4); however there is no preference between these three vaccines.

The Committee also recommended that pneumococcal vaccine PCV15 may be used as an option to PCV13 for children aged  under 19 years according to currently recommended PCV13 dosing and schedule. ACIP voted that Priorix (GSK) be used, as an option, to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella, in accordance with currently recommended schedules and off-label uses

MedPage Today reports good vaccination news

Overall rates of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among adolescents increased by nearly 20% over a 5-year period, according to survey data.

Among teens ages 13 to 17, overall HPV vaccine coverage increased from 56.1% in 2015 to 75.4% in 2020, and rates for those completing the full vaccine series jumped from 40.3% to 59.3%, respectively, reported Peng-jun Lu, MD, PhD, of the CDC in Atlanta, and colleagues

“CDC’s latest data show that HPV vaccination coverage among adolescents is increasing, which is important to prevent HPV infections that can lead to several cancers in both females and males,” Lu told MedPage Today.

The authors also noted that a doctor’s recommendation was correlated with greater willingness to receive the vaccine. Of those who were advised to get vaccinated, 80.7% received vaccination compared with 51.7% who were given no such advice. These findings mirrored another study, which found that provider recommendations boosted HPV vaccination rates among kids ages 11 to 12.

Well-child visits were also associated with higher rates of vaccination. Among kids ages 11 to 12, 80.3% who had a visit were vaccinated compared with 64.8% who did not have a visit.

From the nicotine front, the New York Times reports

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday ordered Juul to stop selling e-cigarettes on the U.S. market, a profoundly damaging blow to a once-popular company whose brand was blamed for the teenage vaping crisis. The order affects all of Juul’s products on the U.S. market, the overwhelming source of the company’s sales. 

Juul is considering its legal options.

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker, and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid cases from the 27th week of 2021 through the 21st week of 2022:

The Wall Street Journal’s Numbers column observes

Reliable estimates of case counts are particularly relevant with the U.S. in the midst of yet another Covid-19 wave. By official case counts, it is a modest wave, at roughly 110,000 infections a day, according to the CDC. That is smaller than the 165,000 daily cases reported during the Delta wave, or the 250,000 a day during the 2020-21 winter. 

But estimates of the true number of infections, correcting for undercounting, suggest the U.S. might be experiencing the second-largest wave of Covid-19 infections since the pandemic began.

Here’s the CDC’s weekly chart of new Covid hospitalizations.

The Journal’s Numbers column notes

Hospitalization numbers also aren’t a perfect gauge. Someone can break a leg and test positive in the emergency room for a mild case of Covid-19. That case becomes a confirmed coronavirus hospitalization—and a strain on the hospital’s bed counts and personal-protective-equipment supplies—but not necessarily a severe case.

In Massachusetts, hospitals have begun reporting whether Covid-19 is the primary reason someone is in the hospital—and in January about 50% of cases were. It is hard to pinpoint how similar Massachusetts would be to other states, but it offers a further example of how better counting could improve assessment of the pandemic.

Here’s the FEHBlog weekly chart of new Covid deaths again from the 27th week of 2021 through the 21st week of 2022:

The Wall Street Journal reports

Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are hovering near the lowest levels since the pandemic hit, showing how a population with built-up immune protection is less at risk of severe outcomes even as another wave of infections flows through the country.

The nearly 300 deaths reported daily are again more concentrated among older people, underscoring hazards for the more vulnerable while the overall population appears less at risk.

Particularly vulnerable people, such as those who are older and immunocompromised, will likely always have some risk of death from a Covid-19 infection, doctors and public-health experts said. Increasing booster rates and access to treatments, in addition to taking certain precautions, can help lower the threat presented by the virus, they said.

The New York Times adds

 White House officials said on Thursday that they were introducing new models for distributing Paxlovid, the Covid-19 oral medication made by Pfizer, in an effort to get the treatment to more people and keep coronavirus death rates relatively low even as cases increase.

The federal government will start reimbursing a clinic in Providence, R.I., for evaluating patients who test positive and immediately prescribing Paxlovid to those eligible for it — the first of what the White House said would be a series of federally supported sites, with others set to open in New York and Illinois. Federal workers are also being sent to state-run testing sites in Minnesota, transforming them into “test-to-treat” locations, the White House said.

“Fundamentally, what we’re trying to do is get to a point where Covid deaths are largely preventable, and I think we’re pretty close to there,” Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said in an interview Wednesday evening. “Deaths from this disease really should become increasingly rare.”

STAT News offers an interesting look into how scientists assess the level of Covid resistance to Paxlovid.

Resistance is the hobgoblin of antiviral medicine, even with antivirals as effective as Paxlovid. After doctors deployed nearly every new virus-killing infusion or pill in history, strains popped up — either immediately or eventually — with machinery warped in just the right way to evade the threat.

Exactly how much of a problem resistance will be for Paxlovid is complicated. In some patients, the coronavirus will inevitably find ways to evade the pill, as it did prior Covid-19 drugs.

“If there is anything we know about viruses and antiviral drugs is that eventually we will see some sort of resistance,” Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health, said in an email.

What’s less clear, Pavia and other experts say, is whether any resistant variants will spread widely. The coronavirus may have particular difficulty getting around Paxlovid compared to other drugs because patients take it for only five days and because it targets a protein the virus can’t easily change. Any mutation or modification the virus makes may impair its ability to replicate or survive.

Here’s the FEHBlog weekly chart of Covid vaccinations distributed and administered

The CDC’s weekly review of its Covid statistic tells us

People who are up to date on vaccines have much lower risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 compared with people who are unvaccinated. CDC’s COVID Data Tracker shows that in March 2022, adults ages 18 years and older who were unvaccinated were about 5 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than those who were up to date. In the same month, people ages 12 years and older and unvaccinated were 17 timesmore likely to die of COVID-19 than those who were up to date.

COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are effective at protecting people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying—especially people who are boosted. As with other diseases, you are protected best from COVID-19 when you stay up to date with recommended vaccines. Find a vaccine provider near you.

The CDC’s weekly review further explains

As of May 19, 2022, there are 301 (9.35%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 477 (14.81%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 2,442 (75.84%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents a moderate (+5.10 percentage points) increase in the number of high-level counties, a slight (−0.74 percentage points) decrease in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding (−5.84 percentage points) decrease in the number of low-level counties. Five (9.62%) of 52 jurisdictions had no high- or medium-level counties this week.

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker.

In big Medicare news

the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report that recommends cost savings from lower-than-expected Medicare Part B spending be passed along to people with Medicare Part B coverage in the calculation of the 2023 Part B premium. Earlier this year, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra instructed CMS to reassess the 2022 Part B premium amount in response to a price reduction for Aduhelm™, a monoclonal antibody directed against amyloid for use in treating Alzheimer’s disease. Given the information available today, it is expected that the 2023 premium will be lower than 2022. The final determination will be made later this fall.

This CMS decision is quite sensible, in the FEHBlog’s view.

On a related FEHB note, FedSmith discusses the pros and cons of enrolling in Medicare Part B when you are a federal or Postal annuitant with FEHB coverage in retirement as well.

From the telehealth front, mHealth Intelligence reports

CVS Health has launched a new virtual care solution to create a more coordinated healthcare experience for consumers.

Called CVS Health Virtual Primary Care, the digital care platform will provide healthcare consumers with an array of care services, including primary care, on-demand care, chronic condition management, and mental health services. Consumers will also be able to choose their healthcare setting from various retail, community-based, virtual, and at-home care options.

“We’re meeting people where they are on their healthcare journey and providing care that is more convenient and easier to access,” said Creagh Milford, DO, vice president, enterprise virtual care at CVS Health, in the news release.

The new benefit will launch on January 1, 2023.

From the Rx coverage front, Formulary Watch reveals that

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) has released the protocol for its second annual review of insurance company policies to assess fair access to prescription drugs. ICER will evaluate whether 15 large U.S. commercial payers, the two largest state health exchange plans, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have formularies and procedures that provide appropriate access to the prescription drugs reviewed by ICER in 2020. These drugs include those that treat patients with cystic fibrosishemophilia Amigrainesickle cell disease, and ulcerative colitis.

The analysis is expected to be completed in November 2022.

From the studies front, the Centers for Disease Control issued its 2021 Diabetes Report Card this week. Here are the highlights

* After almost 2 decades of continual increases, the incidence of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in the United States decreased from 9.3 per 1,000 adults in 2009 to 5.9 per 1,000 adults in 2019.

* Prevalence of prediabetes among US adults remained steady from 2005–2008 to 2017–2020. However, notification of prediabetes status nearly tripled (from 6.5% to 17.4%).

* American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic Asian people are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White people (14.5%, 12.1%, 11.8%, 9.5%, and 7.4%, respectively).

* During the COVID-19 pandemic, diabetes emerged as an underlying condition that increases the chance of severe illness. Nearly 4 in 10 adults who died from COVID-19 in the United States also had diabetes.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

Lawmakers are facing increased pressure to pass a comprehensive mental health and substance use package but are unlikely to make an initial goal of advancing legislation before the implementation of a three-digit suicide hotline in July.

At least four congressional committees have committed to advancing a swath of bipartisan mental health bills under their jurisdiction, but lawmakers have not yet unlocked the puzzle of how to incorporate a growing laundry list of programs to authorize and establish existing and new programs dedicated to treatment, prevention, education, crisis care, drug interdiction and the workforce.

One of those four committees is the Senate Finance Committee which announced today

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) today released a discussion draft for telehealth policies as a part of the committee’s ongoing work to improve mental health care across the nation, which has included a public call for comments and three hearings to help develop these initiatives. * * *

The discussion draft includes policies that would:

* Remove Medicare’s in-person visit requirement for tele-mental health services.

* Establish benefit transparency for mental health care services delivered via telehealth to inform Americans with Medicare how and when they can access telehealth.

* Preserve access to audio-only mental health coverage in Medicare when necessary and appropriate.

* Direct Medicare and Medicaid to promote and support provider use of telehealth.

* Incentivize states to use their CHIP programs to establish local solutions to serve behavioral health needs in schools, including through telehealth.

From the Omicron and siblings front

Beckers Hospital Review informs us

A highly contagious sublineage of the BA.2 omicron subvariant is now the nation’s dominant strain, according to the CDC’s latest variant proportion estimates

The sublineage, BA.2.12.1, accounted for 57.9 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases in the week ending May 21, CDC data shows. BA.2, which became the nation’s dominant strain in mid-March, now accounts for an estimated 39.1 percent of all cases.

BA.2.12.1 is estimated to have a 25 percent growth advantage over BA.2, which is already more transmissible than the original omicron strain. The newer omicron sublineage has been gaining traction in the U.S. over the last month. In the week ending April 23, BA.2.12.1 accounted for just 24.1 percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases. 

Health officials are also monitoring another omicron subvariant — BA.1.1.529 — which currently accounts for an estimated 2.8 percent of cases.  

“Epidemiologically, it doesn’t appear as if we’re seeing more severe disease in places that are having more cases,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said of the sublineages during an April 26 news conference. “So we are not anticipating more severe disease from some of these subvariants, but we are actively studying it.”

CBS News reports

As many as one in four seniors and one in five adults under 65 experienced “long COVID” or “post-COVID” symptoms after surviving a coronavirus infection, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. 

The study — published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — is the latest to try and quantify how many of the millions of Americans who have now tested positive for the virus are facing long-term issues caused by their infection. 

By comparing electronic health records in a large national database of patients, the study’s authors found 38.2% of COVID-19 survivors “experienced at least one incident condition” — a list that includes heart, lung, kidney and gastrointestinal problems, pain, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, mental health issues, and more —  in the months after their infection. By contrast, just 16% of other people were diagnosed with such conditions.

The Wall Street Journal adds

Vaccination reduces your risk of developing long Covid, but not by much on average, new research suggests. 

Veterans Affairs study out Wednesday found that vaccinated people with breakthrough Covid-19 infections had a 15% reduction in experiencing persistent or new symptoms and health conditions up to six months after infection compared with those who were unvaccinated and got Covid. 

Most of the vaccinated people had received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, while 8% received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The study didn’t look at people who had received boosters.

Bloomberg discusses the risks of contracting Covid while pregnant.

Canada’s first dual specialist in infectious diseases and obstetrics/gynecology, Deborah Money, MD comments “For the most part, women in communities even with Covid circulating do well,” she says. “The majority of babies are fine.”

But that’s just part of the story. Their analysis of data from 6,012 people in six Canadian provinces who tested positive for the virus during their pregnancy found a substantial increase in hospitalizations and ICU admissions compared with reproductive-age, non-pregnant females infected with the coronavirus. Their study in the May 2 issue of the JAMA medical journal also found that 11.1% of Covid–affected pregnancies resulted in preterm birth, compared with 6.8% among all unaffected Canadian pregnancies. * * *

Money says it underscores the need for obstetricians to carefully monitor their pregnant patients who become infected with SARS-CoV-2, and for expecting moms to get vaccinated and boosted.

“That’s the biggest thing they can do,” she says. “It really does look like vaccine is preventative for the serious outcomes.” 

From the studies front —

  • The Medical Group Management Association informs us “Despite multiple waves of disruption in 2021, medical practices navigated through the “new normal” of COVID-19 to restore a sense of normalcy in productivity and compensation last year.”
  • Milliman released its 2022 Medical Index (MMI). “In 2022, the cost of healthcare for a hypothetical American family of four covered by an average employer sponsored PPO plan is $30,260,” 4.6% above 2021.
  • HR Dive tells us “[a] 2019 IRS notice expanded the list of medications and health services Health Savings Account-eligible health plans may cover prior to meeting a patient’s deductible. Employers that take advantage of the expansion could cover these treatments with little to no increases in patient premiums, according to an Employee Benefits Research Institute report published May 19.”

Commercial insurance members’ satisfaction with their plans stayed flat between 2021 and 2022, according to a new survey from J.D. Power.

Satisfaction was on a steady climb over the past five years, the survey found, but plateaued in the past year amid declines in how well members’ expectations for customer service were met and dissatisfaction with their plan designs and network providers.

Health plans that were perceived by members as responsive enjoyed higher scores than those that were not, J.D. Power found. The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and regional Blues insurers were consistently ranked as the highest scoring in the study’s 22 geographic regions.

From the mental healthcare front, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans notes

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published new guidance on obtaining job protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for workers seeking mental health support. The guidance clarifies that eligible employees are able to take FMLA leave for their own serious health condition or to care for a spouse, child or parent because of their serious health condition, and that a serious health condition can include a mental health condition.

The guidance includes:

* Fact Sheet #28O: Mental Health Conditions and the FMLA, and

* Frequently Asked Questions on the FMLA’s mental health provision

From the federal employee benefits front, benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan writes in Govexec about Federal Employee Group Life Insurance Program options for federal and postal annuitants. What’s more, Fedweek explains how FEHBP fills Medicare coverage gaps for those fine folks.

Midweek Update

From the Omicron and siblings front —

Health Day informs us

COVID-19 might be easing into a new status as a widely circulating and somewhat harsher version of the common cold, experts say — a virus that folks could contract repeatedly, even if they were recently infected.

“[SARS-CoV-2] is destined to join four of its family members and become an endemic coronavirus that will repeatedly infect individuals throughout their lifetimes,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, referring to the four circulating coronaviruses that cause the common cold.

“It will become one of several respiratory viruses that people contend with, and will become increasingly less disruptive and more manageable with medical countermeasures and the population’s risk acclimatization,” he added.

The FEHBlog recently has pointed out unusual disease cases involving childhood hepatitis , monkeypox, a flu spike, etc. STAT News seeks to put these unusual cases in perspective.

These viruses are not different than they were before, but we are. For one thing, because of Covid restrictions, we have far less recently acquired immunity; as a group, more of us are vulnerable right now. And that increase in susceptibility, experts suggest, means we may experience some … wonkiness as we work toward a new post-pandemic equilibrium with the bugs that infect us. * * *

Marion Koopmans, head of the department of viroscience at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said she believes we may be facing a period when it will difficult to know what to expect from the diseases that we thought we understood.

“I do think that’s possible,” Koopmans said.

This phenomenon, the disruption of normal patterns of infections, may be particularly pronounced for diseases where children play an important role in the dissemination of the bugs, she suggested.

Ruh roh.

From the Rx coverage front, Fierce Healthcare reports

Prime Therapeutics cut per member per month drug costs by 26% in one year through its MedDrive program, which leverages biosimilars to help drive down expenses.

The program uses advanced analytics to flag ways that health plans can cut down drug spend, with a particular focus on the potential of biosimilars. Pharmacy benefit managers are betting on biosimilar products to introduce new competition to popular branded products and drive down costs.

Prime, which serves 33 million members across 23 Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, first launched MedDrive in May 2021 and in its first year the program drove savings by focusing on just three biosimilar categories, the PBM said. Cancer drugs led the way for savings.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans adds

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the availability of a final guidance for industry entitled “Importation of Prescription Drugs Final Rule Questions and Answers.” The guidance is intended to help small entities comply with the final rule entitled “Importation of Prescription Drugs.” The final rule was issued to implement a provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) to allow importation of certain prescription drugs from Canada.

In OPM news, OPM announced a group of new staff appointees at the agency today including a new General Counsel and a new Deputy General Counsel.

From the miscellany department —

  • Rebecca G. Baker, Ph.D., the director of the NIH HEAL Initiative, shares insights gained from the Third Annual HEAL Investigators Meeting. HEAL is an NIH branch that focus on creating solutions to the opioid epidemic.
  • EHR Intelligence discusses how a National Patient Identifier could boost population health. It is mystifying that Congress has not released funds for this important initiative.
  • The Medical Group Management Association identifies four ways medical groups can remove barriers to mammography compliance.
  • Health Payer Intelligence outlines 2022 actions today by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Despite rising availability in online transparency tools, consumers remain unsure about costs and avoid care as a result, a new survey has found.

The annual consumer sentiment survey was conducted in January 2022 by Healthsparq, a health tech company, and reached more than 1,000 insured Americans. Transparency tools were defined as those provided by payers such as in-network provider search, cost estimates and information on treatment. 

The majority (70%) of respondents knew that their health plan offered these, up from 49% last year, and most had used them in the past year. They also said this access helps them better understand their coverage and manage costs. Yet nearly half reported avoiding care due to unclear costs, up from a quarter last year. Care avoidance was even more pronounced among those under the age of 34, at 63%. 

Mark Menton, Healthsparq’s general manager, told Fierce Healthcare he suspects that is because the tools exist, but consumers do not know how to access the information.

“I think that’s a hurdle we as an industry need to overcome,” Menton said. “They don’t know where to find this information.” 

Friday Stats and More

Based on the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid cases from the 27th week of 2021 through the 20th week of 2022:

The CDC’s weekly review of its COVID statistics notes

As of May 18, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (101,130) increased by 18.8% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (85,143). A total of 82,820,565 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States as of May 18, 2022.

Here is the CDC’s chart seven-day movings averages of new Covid hospital admissions:

The CDC’s weekly review notes “The current 7-day daily average [of new hospital admissions for Covid] for May 11–17, 2022, was 3,250. This is a 24.2% increase from the prior 7-day average (2,617) from May 4–10, 2022.

Here’s the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of new Covid deaths over the same period as the new weekly cases chart:

The CDC’s weekly review notes:

The current 7-day moving average of new deaths (280) has decreased 1.2% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (284). As of May 18, 2022, a total of 998,512 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the United States.

Here’s the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of Covid vaccinations distributed and administered from the beginning of the Covid vaccination program in December 2020 through the 20th week of 2022.

The CDC’s weekly review notes “As of May 18, 2022, the 7-day average number of administered vaccine doses reported (by date of CDC report) to CDC per day was 388,308, a 0.5% decrease from the previous week.”

To sum it up, the CDC’s weekly review points out,

As of May 19, 2022, there are 301 (9.35%) counties, districts, or territories with a high COVID-19 Community Level, 477 (14.81%) counties with a medium Community Level, and 2,442 (75.84%) counties with a low Community Level. This represents a moderate (+5.10 percentage points) increase in the number of high-level counties, a slight (−0.74 percentage points) decrease in the number of medium-level counties, and a corresponding (−5.84 percentage points) decrease in the number of low-level counties. Five (9.62%) of 52 jurisdictions had no high- or medium-level counties this week.

To check your COVID-19 Community Level, visit COVID Data Tracker.

Federal News Network suggests “Federal employees [and annuitants] can use these next few months between now and open season, which begins Nov. 14, to do something that most feds rarely do — research and planning [for Open Season]. The article suggests how to conduct this research, and the FEHBlog thinks that Federal News Network is on the right track.

Thursday Miscellany

From Capitol Hill, The Hill informs us

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

A growing number of Senate Democrats say they’re ready to take a tough vote on an amendment to keep the Title 42 health order in place at the U.S.-Mexico border if that’s what’s needed to move a stalled COVID-19 relief package. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has held the bill from the floor because Republicans are insisting on voting on a bipartisan amendment to overrule the Biden administration’s decision to lift Title 42, a pandemic order that has stopped thousands of immigrants from entering the country on asylum claims.   * * *

Without giving in to the Republicans’ demand for a vote on the hot-button issue of securing the border, COVID-19 relief could be stalled until after the November election.  

The amendment is expected to fail but it’s a tough vote for vulnerable Senate Democrats. 

More likely, in the FEHBlog’s view, the Majority Leader is waiting until the Title 42 health order is lifted later this month to see what happens.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

The Wall Street Journal informs us

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children ages 5 to 11 receive the newly authorized Covid-19 booster shot from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

Following the recommendation Thursday, many of the nation’s doctors, pharmacies and other vaccination sites are expected to begin offering the extra doses to the 28 million U.S. children in the age group.

The shots are to be given five months after the second dose. The extra dose is one-third the amount that those 12 years old and above receive.

Also Thursday, the CDC said it was strengthening its recommendation that people 12 years and older who are immunocompromised, or who are 50 and older, should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first.

This means that health plans must start covering the booster with no member cost-sharing pursuant to ACA FAQ 50.

The Journal adds

Moderna Inc.’s leader said it is possible the company would be able to start shipping its Covid-19 vaccine for use in young children as soon as early June, pending a decision by U.S. regulators.

“We are ready from a manufacturing standpoint,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said during a virtual appearance Thursday at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.

The FDA/CDC decision is expected next month.

In other virus news, STAT News interviewed a top CDC expert on monkeypox. From the FEHBlog’s standpoint, the key takeaway is that monkeypox is not Covid.

I think we can take away a lot from what we know about monkeypox in Congo Basin and in West Africa. Even if human-to-human transmission is documented, it is generally documented among very close contacts. So family members, people taking care of ill patients. Or health care providers.

In funding news, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today a $1.5 billion funding opportunity under the State Opioid Response

SOR grant program provides formula funding to states and territories for increasing access to FDA-approved medications for the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), and for supporting prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services for OUD and other concurrent substance use disorders (SUD). The SOR program also supports care for stimulant misuse and use disorders, including for cocaine and methamphetamine. The SOR program helps reduce overdose deaths and close the gap in treatment needs across America by giving states and territories flexibility in funding evidence-based practices and supports across different settings to meet local community needs.

From the miscellany department

  • Today “the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released guidance regarding the implementation of EO 13932; Modernizing and Reforming the Assessment and Hiring of Federal Job Candidates.  OPM’s guidance represents a major step towards the federal government’s adoption of skills-based hiring practices and is an important innovation in federal hiring, which has historically relied on education and candidate self-assessments as a proxy for a candidate’s ability to perform in a job. This new approach helps hiring managers recognize and value skills regardless of where they were acquired, whether in a formal degree program, on the job, or on one’s own.”
  • Employee Benefit News identifies the ten most popular mental health and wellness apps.
  • Benefits consultant Tammy Flanagan discusses federal employee life insurance benefits in Govexec.
  • Health Payer Intelligence reports that CMS has updated the Medicare.gov website “to include new features such as highlighting pages that answer popular questions and spotlighting key steps that consumers should take related to Medicare coverage.”

Midweek Update

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front

The Wall Street Journal reports

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

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

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

Bloomberg Prognosis adds

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

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

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

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

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

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

In related viral news, Beckers Hospital Review tells us

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

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

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

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

From the healthcare policy front, AHIP today launched

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

The FEHBlog supports this approach.

From the mental healthcare front, Govexec reports

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

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

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

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

From the telehealth front

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

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

From the miscellany department —

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

Midweek update

Thanks to Alexandr Hovhannisyan for sharing their work on Unsplash.

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports

Third time’s a charm. Or so Democrats hope as they attempt to negotiate a third COVID-19 funding deal after their previous two bipartisan agreements — one for $15.6 billion in domestic and international aid, and a second for $10 billion in only domestic funds — stalled out. 

The House is taking the lead on the latest iteration. But it’s not yet clear whether they’ll hold out for a bipartisan, bicameral agreement or attempt to move a Democrat-led version that would provide more funding, closer to President Joe Biden’s original $22.5 billion request. 

“All the options are on the table,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Wednesday. “But it’s critical to get it done. And the fastest way to get it done is have an agreement on the four corners.” 

From the No Surprises Act front, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has granted the federal government/appellant’s “unopposed motion to stay further proceedings in this court pending ongoing rulemaking proceedings involving provisions of the No Surprises Act, with a status report due every sixty (60) days.” It’s worth noting that the final independent dispute resolution rule has not yet appeared on the OMB’s Office of Regulatory Affairs reginfo.gov site.

From the Omicron and siblings front, Fierce Healthcare tells us

Reported cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations for the disease are on the rise across most of the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently shifting many counties in the Northeast to medium or high levels of community risk. * * *

COVID-19 hospitalizations—which have become the CDC and other public health experts’ preferred metric for decisionmaking—have similarly begun to tick upward over the past month.

After reaching a seven-day average low of 1,426 daily admissions in early April, national admissions have continually increased and exceeded the seven-day average of 2,400 daily hospitalizations late last week. These new admissions represented an 11% increase over the previous week’s seven-day average, according to the agency, but were still nearly 90% below the January peak of more than 21,500 average daily admissions.

From the opioid epidemic front, the Wall Street Journal reports

Drug-overdose deaths in 2021 topped 100,000 for the first time in a calendar year, federal data showed, a record high fueled by the spread of illicit forms of fentanyl throughout the country.

More than 107,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses last year, preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Wednesday showed, roughly a 15% increase from 2020. The proliferation of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl has been compounded by the destabilizing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on users and people in recovery, according to health authorities and treatment providers. 

The U.S. has recorded more than one million overdose deaths since 2000, and more than half of those came in the past seven years. 

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, regarding fentanyl’s impact on the numbers.

From the telehealth front, Healthcare Dive informs us

Telehealth visits for COVID-19 diagnoses fell in February, mirroring the sharp decline in new cases of the virus reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after January’s omicron-driven peak, according to Fair Health’s monthly telehealth claims tracker.

Overall telehealth use also slowed, falling 9.3% in February across the country. Virtual visits were 4.9% of all medical claim lines, down from 5.4% in the prior month.

With declining COVID-19 cases generating fewer telehealth sessions, mental health conditions accounted for a greater share of all diagnoses conducted via virtual platforms, according to the Fair Health data released Monday. Mental health diagnoses rose to about 64% of telehealth claims, up from 60% in January.

The FEHBlog is happy that people are using telehealth for mental healthcare,e which strikes the FEHBlog as a good, productive fit.

From the healthcare business front, Healthcare Dive reports

Advocate Aurora Health and Atrium Health said Wednesday they plan to merge, creating one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems with $27 billion in combined revenues and 67 hospitals across six states.

Board members from both systems unanimously approved the agreement, which is subject to regulatory review. The combined entity will be led by both CEOs for the first 18 months, at which time Advocate’s CEO Jim Skogsbergh will retire, leaving Atrium’s CEO Eugene Woods as sole leader.

Advocate and Atrium will have an equal number of board seats. Atrium’s board chair Edward Brown will first serve as chair until the end of 2023, followed by a two-year term for Advocate’s chair Michele Richardson.

The health systems’ joint press release adds

The new organization will have a combined footprint across Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. It will serve 5.5 million patients, operate more than 1,000 sites of care and 67 hospitals, employ more than 7,600 physicians and nearly 150,000 teammates, and have combined annual revenues of more than $27 billion.

That’s an interesting combination.

Health Payer Intelligence calls attention to

Six technology vendors [who] were highlighted for their abilities to address one of the six main points of friction between payers and providers that leading healthcare organizations strive to address, according to a KLAS report that is part of the KLAS Payer/Provider Initiative.

KLAS launched the Payer/Provider Initiative to identify points of friction between payers and providers and to highlight strong collaboration case studies.

The six payer-provider challenges that leading healthcare organizations tackled were prior authorization, value-based care, payer-provider interoperability, denials, credentialing, and patient billing.

From the OPM front, Federal News Network tells us

Agencies have to choose two out of four new focus areas to help improve their workforce over the next four years.

Deciding which options are most impactful gives agencies flexibility in how they approach new workforce objectives from the Office of Personnel Management.

Although OPM’s federal workforce priorities report, released on May 10, asks agencies to focus on only two of the four focus areas, implementing all four can help agencies resolve bigger workforce issues.

Among four primary priorities and four enabling priorities, OPM hopes agencies can implement proactive approaches to common issues, such as recruitment challenges.

From OPM’s federal workforce priorities report via Federal News Network