Thursday Miscellany

Thursday Miscellany

In yesterday’s post, the FEHBlog accurately predicted that the Supreme Court would decide today whether to stay the OSHA ETS vaccination screening program and end the partial stay on the CMS healthcare worker vaccination mandate.

This afternoon, the Supreme Court issued its decision reinstating the nationwide stay of the OSHA ETS and its companion decision ending all stays on the CMS mandate. The decisions came down as many, many pundits predicted.

The Secretary of Labor who oversees OSHA commented that

“We urge all employers to require workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly to most effectively fight this deadly virus in the workplace. Employers are responsible for the safety of their workers on the job, and OSHA has comprehensive COVID-19 guidance to help them uphold their obligation. 

“Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these proceedings, OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers, including under the Covid-19 National Emphasis Program and General Duty Clause.”

In the OSHA ETS decision, the Supreme Court expressed the key point of administrative law on which the two cases turned:

Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that Congress has provided.

The Court reasoned that Congress had granted CMS the necessary authority to issue its broad mandate but had not granted OSHA the same level of authority.

The cases now return to the courts of appeal for a decision on the merits — 6th Circuit for the OSHA ETS case and 5th Circuit for the CMS mandate case. In the meantime the Court’s decisions on the stays will remain in place.

Given how the Court handled these stay decisions, we have a pretty good idea where the Supreme Court will land should either of those merits decisions return to the Court.Such a return likely only will happen if either appellate court disagrees with the Court’s administrative law conclusion on the merits.

In that regard, Bloomberg Law reports that

The Justice Department will appeal a Louisiana federal court’s ruling that blocked President Joe Biden‘s order for government-contractor workers to get the Covid-19 vaccine. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will be the third federal appeals court to consider a challenge to the measure. A coalition of three states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Indiana—sought to block the mandate for companies that do business with the federal government. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Drell of the Western District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction in December. 

The federal contractor mandate—which won’t be enforced while litigation proceeds—would apply to roughly a quarter of the U.S. workforce, and affect businesses including Lockheed Martin Corp., Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.‘s Google, and General Motors Co.

Appeals are ongoing in the Eleventh and Sixth circuits, respectively, over a nationwide injunction against the measure from a Georgia federal court and a narrower one from a Kentucky federal judge for a coalition that includes Ohio and Tennessee. A Missouri federal court also blocked the executive order, but that ruling has yet to be appealed.

From the Omicron front, David Leonhardt writing in today’s New York Times cautiously senses that the Omicron surge is cresting in our country following Europe’s and South Africa’s leads. “To be clear, the current emergency is not on the verge of ending. Cases appear to be peaking only in places where Omicron arrived early, mostly in the Northeast. In much of the country, cases are still soaring.”

From the Covid vaccine front, the AP reports that

Distrust, misinformation and delays because of the holidays and bad weather have combined to produce what authorities say are alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages 5 to 11.

As of Tuesday, just over 17% were fully vaccinated, more than two months after shots became available to the age group. While Vermont is at 48%, California is just shy of 19% and Mississippi is at only 5%.

Vaccinations among the elementary school set surged after the shots were introduced in the fall, but the numbers have crept up slowly since then, and omicron’s explosive spread appears to have had little effect.

The low rates are “very disturbing,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s just amazing.”

Parents who hesitate “are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic,” Murphy said.

From the telehealth front, STAT News informs us that

A handful of virtual care companies are inking new types of contracts that reward them for keeping patients’ cost low and penalize them for overspending — a model known as risk-sharing. It’s a departure from the traditional “fee-for-service” billing process, and a move  companies hope could help them get paid for the services they offer in addition to virtual doctors’ appointments, like in-app messaging, medication reminders, and digital health coaching. They’re also betting that embracing risk could endear them to the health plans and employers they depend on for contracts.

Execs from companies like Heartbeat Health and Teladoc say they’re in the very early stages of cementing these contracts. While there’s no clear roadmap for how to structure them, whether they take hold could clarify how virtual care will fit into the brick-and-mortar healthcare system and incentivize those companies to work with traditional providers on prevention, said Jennifer Goldsack, CEO of the Digital Medicine Society. “There is an opportunity to reimagine what health care looks like when it is around the patient,” she told Mohana. Read the full story

From the healthcare cost front, STAT News tells us that

— Medical cost growth trailed that of other industries in 2021, though rising pressure from the omicron variant could fuel future increases in healthcare costs.

— Prices for goods and services skyrocketed at the fastest pace in four decades, rising 7% between December 2020 and December 2021, according to new data released Wednesday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

— By comparison, prices for healthcare services rose roughly 2.5% last year, while the cost of medical care goods rose just 0.4%. However, that slow rate of growth could accelerate as COVID-19 cases persist in 2022 and beyond.

From the miscellany department —

  • The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research’s Acting Director Dr. David Meyers looks back at 2021.
  • Biopharma Dive considers five questions facing gene therapy in 2022.
  • Fierce Healthcare notes that

As the healthcare system faces significant labor challenges, a new report suggests pharmacists are well positioned to fill some of the critical gaps.

The analysis, conducted by Express Scripts and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, found that a majority of pharmacists see their roles transitioning to more direct patient care responsibilities over the next decade.

  • AARP’s Public Policy Institute examines the importance of medication literacy in the medication decision-making of older adults.

While health literacy is widely understood as a quality measure of health care decision making, another related measure calls for increased attention, particularly regarding older adults: medication literacy. Medication literacy is the degree to which individuals can obtain, comprehend, communicate, calculate, and process patient-specific information about their medications to make informed medication and health decisions in order to safely and effectively use their medications, regardless of the mode by which the content by which the content is delivered (i.e., written, oral, or visual).

  • Money offers a comprehensive update on the President’s mandate that health plans cover over the counter COVID tests effective on Saturday January 15.

Midweek update

From the Omicron front, the Washington Post reports that breakthrough Omicron cases are becoming the new normal in the U.S.

Long-anticipated holiday plans fell apart as people — young and old, vaccinated and unvaccinated — tested positive right and left. Those with negative tests worried it was only a matter of time.

They are likely right, according to Robert Frenck, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Research Center at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “You know what? You’re probably going to get covid,” he said, but if you have been vaccinated you are unlikely to become seriously ill.

Oddly, in the FEHBlog’s view, the article does not mention the additional natural immunity gained from a mild case of Omicron.

STAT News raises three “big” questions about the Biden administration’s Covid response in 2022 —

1. Will the government broaden its focus beyond vaccines? STAT News explains that

Even before there were Covid-19 vaccines, there were commonsense tools used to prevent the disease from spreading: Wearing masks, and avoiding indoor gatherings with large numbers of other people.

But two years into the pandemic, the U.S. is still laser-focused on vaccines, and has largely ignored other factors. In particular, federal regulators haven’t done much to incentivize Americans to wear higher-quality face coverings, or to maintain better filtration and cleaner air in indoor spaces.

On the bright side, the FDA approved two new rapid over the counter COVID tests today on an emergency use basis. The more the merrier.

2. Will people who feel sick have better options for tests and treatments? STAT News explains rapid COVID tests are short in supply and pricey and the Biden Administration’s government solutions won’t be implemented for weeks. Similarly we have two exciting COVID pills which won’t be widely available for months.

3. Forget a third vaccine dose — will Americans need a fourth, too? To the FEHBlog that seems like a foregone conclusion.

From our other epidemic front, MedPage Today reports that

The volume of opioids dispensed from retail pharmacies fell by about 21% from 2008-2009 to 2017-2018, but cuts were not uniform, national prescription records showed.

Changes in opioid prescribing varied substantially by county, patient, and prescriber, reported Bradley Stein, MD, PhD, of the RAND Corporation in Pittsburgh, and co-authors in Annals of Internal Medicine. * * *

Per-capita morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) fell by 22.6% in metropolitan counties and by 34.6% in counties with the highest rates of fatal opioid overdoses, the researchers found. In multiple counties, opioid prescribing increased over time. Some states had counties with both increases and substantial decreases, and these counties often were next to each other.

People 18 to 25 years old experienced the sharpest decrease in prescription opioids (66.6%) per capita, followed by those 26 to 35 (57%). Patients 56 to 65 had essentially no change (0.1% decline), while those 66 and older had a 12% drop.

People covered by commercial insurance had a 41.5% decline per capita. Those with Medicaid had a 27.7% reduction, and those with Medicare had a 17.5% drop.

MMEs plummeted by 70.5% among emergency physicians, even though these doctors are likely to prescribe opioids predominantly to people with acute pain, the researchers noted. The top two opioid prescribers, primary care physicians and pain specialists, also saw reductions in MMEs of 40% and 15.4%, respectively. MMEs fell by 49.3% among surgeons and by 59.5% among oncologists.

From the COVID vaccine mandate front, the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals which is hearing a challenge to a nationwide stay of the government contractor mandate (Case No.  21-14269), decided yesterday not to hear the case before the entire court rather than a three judge panel and today to decline the government’s request to accelerate the briefing and argument calendar. Consequently the stay will remain in effect at least through January 2022.

From the Federal Register front, the Department of Health and Human Services finalized its rescission of the Trump Administration’s most favored nation drug pricing rule. Smart move.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Capitol Hill front, the Wall Street Journal reports that

The Senate passed a measure raising the government’s borrowing limit by $2.5 trillion, as Democrats moved to quickly bring the measure to President Biden’s desk and push the next debt-ceiling standoff past the midterm elections.

The Senate voted 50-49 to approve the legislation, sending it to the House, which could pass it as soon as later Tuesday. 

Meritalk informs us that

The Senate on Dec. 14 voted to invoke cloture on the conferenced version of the fiscal year (FY) 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), setting up a final vote on Wednesday for the $768 billion defense spending bill. The cloture motion sailed through the Senate by an 86-13 vote, ending debate on the compromise NDAA bill. 

Roll Call adds that

Senate Democrats on Tuesday softened their optimism that their party’s sweeping safety net and climate spending and tax package will pass before Christmas, citing uncertainty about whether Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is ready to support it and procedural steps that are far from complete. 

“It’s a tough timeline,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of Democratic leadership, said. “So we’re still pushing forward. We have a lot of agreement. But, you know, if this is not done in the next two weeks, we’ll come back in January and get it done.”

The House passed a $2.2 trillion version of the bill last month. Senate Democrats have released updated text for nine of their 12 committees that have jurisdiction over the package. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee that Manchin chairs is among the three committees that have not released text, along with Environment and Public Works and Judiciary. 

And STAT News reports that

Robert Califf escaped largely unscathed from a two-hour hearing Tuesday vetting him to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. He gushed about his love of high-quality data, skillfully navigated questions on hot-button topics like abortion and drug pricing, and even had personal anecdotes about Covid-19 testing and opioid prescribing at the ready. * * *

The smooth hearing is the latest signal that Califf, who already survived a confirmation process for the FDA’s top job in 2016, will be easily approved for the job again. A vote on his confirmation has not been scheduled, but is expected in early 2022.

From the Delta/Omicron front

STAT News tells us that

The Omicron variant is starting to eat into Delta’s dominance in the United States.

The new variant accounted for 2.9% of sequenced Covid-19 cases in the United States in the week ending Dec. 11. The week before, 0% of cases were from Omicron. Delta accounted for essentially all of the other sequenced cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new figures, updated Tuesday, indicate that Omicron started circulating before that week, given how long it can take for infections to be sequenced and reported. They show that Omicron’s advantage over the highly transmissible Delta variant is becoming noticeable in this country. * * *

Experts have said it appears Omicron is taking over faster than Delta did as it became dominant globally earlier this year.

The National Institutes of Health Director’s blog this week offers the latest on the Omicron variant and COVID vaccines.

It’s important to note that scientists around the world are also closely monitoring Omicron’s severity While this variant appears to be highly transmissible, and it is still early for rigorous conclusions, the initial research indicates this variant may actually produce milder illness than Delta, which is currently the dominant strain in the United States.

But there’s still a tremendous amount of research to be done that could change how we view Omicron. This research will take time and patience.

What won’t change, though, is that vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. (And these recent data provide an even-stronger reason to get a booster now if you are eligible.) Wearing a mask, especially in public indoor settings, offers good protection against the spread of all SARS-CoV-2 variants. If you’ve got symptoms or think you may have been exposed, get tested and stay home if you get a positive result. As we await more answers, it’s as important as ever to use all the tools available to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community happy and healthy this holiday season.

The New York Times observes that

As the coronavirus pandemic approaches the end of a second year, the United States stands on the cusp of surpassing 800,000 deaths from the virus, and no group has suffered more than older Americans. All along, older people have been known to be more vulnerable, but the scale of loss is only now coming into full view.

Seventy-five percent of people who have died of the virus in the United States — or about 600,000 of the nearly 800,000 who have perished so far — have been 65 or older. One in 100 older Americans has died from the virus. For people younger than 65, that ratio is closer to 1 in 1,400. * * *

Since vaccines first became available a year ago, older Americans have been vaccinated at a much higher rate than younger age groups and yet the brutal toll on them has persisted. The share of younger people among all virus deaths in the United States increased this year, but, in the last two months, the portion of older people has risen once again, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 1,200 people in the United States are dying from Covid-19 each day, most of them 65 or older.

The FEHBlog certainly hope that more readily available boosters and rapid antigen testing combined with the Pfizer and Merck early onset pills will help stem the death toll. The Wall Street Journal reports tonight that

Preliminary laboratory tests gave encouraging signs that Pfizer Inc.’s PFE 0.62% experimental Covid-19 pill for the newly infected could work against Omicron, the company said. * * * The positive results come as the Food and Drug Administration reviews whether to clear use of Paxlovid in high-risk adults, a decision that could come before the end of the year. * * * Meanwhile, a separate, preliminary analysis provided signs the drug may help people at low risk of severe Covid-19, such as vaccinated individuals who end up becoming sick.

From the tidbits department —

Healthcare mergers and acquisitions surged in 2021, growing 56% in the 12 months through Nov. 15 versus 2020.

There was particularly high growth among physician medical groups, which saw more than 400 deals, as well as managed care and rehabilitation subsectors, according to a new report from PwC. This compares to about 200 to 250 deals per year between 2017 and 2019.

There’s the potential for more consolidation and private equity roll-ups in 2022 and beyond as practices have experienced challenging economics and may face 2022 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) payment cuts.

  • The Leapfrog Group announced its 2021 top hospitals in our country.

This year, 149 hospitals from across the country received the Top Hospital Award. California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were the states with the most Top Hospitals, with ten or more hospitals in each state receiving the designation. The Top Hospitals are recognized in four categories: Top General Hospitals (46 recipients), Top Rural Hospitals (23 recipients), Top Teaching Hospitals (72 recipients), and Top Children’s Hospitals (8 recipients).

Full results of the 2021 Leapfrog Hospital Survey are publicly reported and available for free on Leapfrog’s website, providing patients with a resource to make informed decisions about where to seek treatment.

To see the methodology for Top Hospitals, please visit https://www.leapfroggroup.org/tophospitals.

  • The Centers for Disease Control offers six tips for eating healthy on a budget.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, Roll Call reports that

The House and Senate are moving swiftly toward passing legislation introduced Tuesday that would limit Senate debate on debt limit legislation to 10 hours, creating a loophole in that chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster rules.in his Morning’s column in the New York Times andor a vote Tuesday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to lawmakers, along with a revised fiscal 2022 defense policy bill that would be sent to the Senate separately.

The two legislative vehicles are unrelated bills that previously passed both chambers with amendments; using them to carry the budget and defense measures allows Senate leaders to avoid a time-consuming motion to proceed in that chamber. Instead, only one cloture vote per bill would be needed. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who briefed his caucus at lunch on Tuesday, blessed the arrangement in comments to reporters. He said the new debt limit measure could pass as early as Thursday, after the Senate clears the bill to create an expedited process.

“I’m confident that this particular procedure coupled with the avoidance of Medicare cuts will achieve enough Republican support to clear the 60 vote threshold,” McConnell said.

If Congress accomplishes all of these actions, it may just call it quits at the end of this week which was the original schedule. A delay in Medicare cuts is extremely important to the medical facility and provider professional associations.

On the COVID vaccine mandate front, a federal district judge in Georgia today ordered a nationwide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the federal government contractor mandate per Govexec which adds

The Biden administration’s vaccine rule for private businesses and vaccine mandate for Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers are also temporarily blocked by courts. So far, the vaccine mandate for federal employees has not been stopped.

This PI applies to all FEHB plan contractors and subcontractors.

From the Delta variant front, David Leonhardt who is the FEHBlog’s go-to COVID columnists recommends in his Morning column in the New York Times today

For now, vaccinated people can reasonably continue to behave as they were — but many should feel urgency about getting booster shots. Older people and others who are vulnerable, like people receiving cancer treatment, should continue to be careful and ask people around them to test frequently.

Unvaccinated people remain at substantial risk of serious illness. About 1,000 Americans have been dying each day of Covid in recent weeks, the vast majority of them unvaccinated.

Look up case and deaths counts for your county here.

From the Rx coverage front, Drug Channels released its

annual deep dive into employer-sponsored coverage for prescription drugs. 

For 2021, employers backed away slightly from high-deductible health plans. However, their pharmacy benefit designs increased the use of coinsurance for specialty and fourth-tier drugs. These designs have significantly raised patients’ out-of-pocket obligations and are likely to have reduced adherence. 

Manufacturers’ patient support funds help offset patients’ higher expenses. But employer plans are rapidly adopting copay accumulators, which allow payers and PBMs to absorb these funds. 

From the health benefits trends front, the Society for Human Resource Management informs us that

Three-quarters of health insurers say that managing a health plan’s network of care providers is critical to controlling rising medical costs.

The finding is from consultancy Willis Towers Watson’s 2022 Global Medical Trends Survey, conducted from July through September 2021 among 209 leading insurers globally.

The plan features mostly likely to keep costs under control, insuers said, were:

— Contracting with high-quality, cost-competitive doctors and hospitals for in-network coverage (cited by 75 percent of respondents).

— Requiring preapproval for scheduled inpatient services (67 percent).

— Offering telehealth services (63 percent).

Telehealth or virtual care rose to the third spot from the fifth position last year, “a sign that more insurers see potential savings from remote options for diagnosing and treating patients,” according to the report.

Yesterday was the deadline for submitting public comments on the the second No Surprises Act interim final rule, which concerns the independent dispute resolution process. For a ying and yang take on the comments, here are links to American Hospital Association’s comments and to AHIP’s comments.

Let’s wrap it up with a bunch of HHS tidbits

  • HHS today announced its plan to “propose a national “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation on the Hospital Compare section of the CMS Care Compare website, and also encourages states to provide 12 months postpartum coverage to people with Medicaid and CHIP.”
  • The National Institutes of Health reported that “Researchers identified brain cells that help suppress hunger and regulate food intake” and that “The findings may help lead to better treatments for excessive eating and obesity.”
  • NIH also announced “The winners of the National Institutes of Health’s Decoding Maternal Morbidity Data Challenge were announced today in conjunction with the White House “day of action” on maternal health. Twelve prizes were awarded to seven winners who proposed innovative solutions to identify risk factors in first-time pregnancies. Without a prior pregnancy for comparison, it is difficult to identify risks for adverse pregnancy outcomes. Early detection of these risks can help reduce pregnancy complications and prevent maternal deaths.”
  • The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Researched released

A final report on strategies to improve patient safety and reduce medical errors has been delivered to Congress by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with AHRQ. Required by the Patient Safety Act of 2005, the report was made available for public review and comment and review by the National Academy of Medicine. It outlined several strategies to accelerate progress in improving patient safety, including using analytic approaches in patient safety research, measurement, and practice improvement to monitor risk; implementing evidence-based practices into real-world settings through clinically useful tools and infrastructure; encouraging the development of learning health systems that integrate continuous learning and improvement in day-to-day operations; and encouraging the use of patient safety strategies outlined in the National Action Plan by the National Steering Committee for Patient Safety

Access the final report, “Strategies to Improve Patient Safety: Final Report to Congress Required by the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005” (PDF, 1.16 MB).

  • The Centers for Disease Control “announced today that it has awarded $22 million to nearly 30 organizations around the world to combat antimicrobial resistance (AR) and other healthcare threats through the establishment of two new networks—the Global Action in Healthcare Network (GAIHN) and the Global AR Laboratory and Response Network (Global AR Lab & Response Network).”

Citing mounting evidence of ongoing harm, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy on Tuesday issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges confronting youth, a rare warning and call to action to address what he called an emerging crisis exacerbated by pandemic hardships.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms, according to Murthy’s 53-page advisory. There also appear to be increases in negative emotions or behaviors such as impulsivity and irritability — associated with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

And, in early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time period in early 2019, according to research cited in the advisory.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Delta variant front —

Medscape reports on yesterday’s CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meeting:

“Vaccines remain effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease but might be less effective in preventing infection or milder symptomatic illness,” Sara Oliver, MD, the CDC scientist who presented the information [about the mRNA vaccines], told the committee.

In a new data analysis released by the CDC on Sunday, unvaccinated adults were 17 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated adults. Hospitalization rates were higher for unvaccinated people in all age groups.

Among the fully vaccinated, people who were hospitalized were much older, more likely to be nursing home residents and more likely to have three or more underlying medical conditions. Nearly a third had immunosuppressive conditions.

Healthcare Dive tells us that

The U.S. government will resume distribution of Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody drug combination in a number of states, HHS said Friday, as cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. are driven higher by the spread of the delta variant.The decision comes roughly two months after administration of Lilly’s therapy was halted by U.S. officials due to concerns of reduced efficacy against coronavirus infections stemming from the beta and gamma variants. Those are now much less prevalent compared with delta, which laboratory testing has shown remains susceptible to treatment with the dual-antibody therapy, HHS said.

Fierce Pharma reports that

Last week’s FDA approval of Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine boosted consumer confidence among both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

A Harris Poll survey over the weekend found that 80% of Americans who were aware of the approval now have more confidence in it. Even more encouraging? Almost half (49%) of unvaccinated people who heard about the approval said they will “probably” or “definitely” get vaccinated.

Overall awareness of the Pfizer approval was high—79% of those surveyed by The Harris Poll were aware of the FDA thumbs-up.

From the telehealth front, Kaiser Health News discusses re-emerging state law barriers to telehealth. “’The whole challenge is to ensure maximum access to health while assuring quality,’said Barak Richman, a Duke University law professor, who said laws and policies haven’t been updated to reflect new technological realities partly because state boards want to hang onto their authority.” The article provides an overview of options available to doctors and state boards.

From the miscellany front

  • Beckers Hospital Review unveils six big ideas in health innovation. For example, Jason Joseph. Senior Vice President and Chief Digital and Information Officer at Spectrum Health (Grand Rapids, Mich.). As we innovate, we are forcing hidden barriers into the light via experimentation. We saw so many of these barriers uncovered within health care, such as lack of connectivity, digital competency, and the need for comprehensive managed workflow. We have shined a spotlight on how much of healthcare relies on people and inconsistent manual processes to get through the system. That needs to change, and that also requires changing a leader’s traditional mindset.
  • The Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research is offering a toolkit to help healthcare providers and possible health plans get patients and members engaged with the diagnosis process.

The toolkit contains two strategies, Be The Expert On You and 60 Seconds To Improve Diagnostic Safety. When paired together, these strategies enhance communication and information sharing within the patient-provider encounter to improve diagnostic safety. Each strategy contains practical materials to support adoption of the strategy within office-based practices.

Be The Expert On You is a patient-facing strategy that prepares patients and their families to tell their personal health stories in a clear, concise way. Research suggests that 79 percent of diagnostic errors are related to the patient-clinician encounter and up to 56 percent of these errors are related to miscommunication during the encounter. Environmental scan findings show that inviting patients to share their entire health story, uninterrupted, and in a way that gives clinicians the information they need can reduce diagnostic errors.

60 Seconds To Improve Diagnostic Safety prepares providers to practice deep and reflective listening for one minute at the start of a patient-encounter. Research suggests that patients are interrupted by their providers in the first 11 to 18 seconds of telling their diagnostic story. Diagnostic safety can be improved when a provider allows a patient to tell his or her health story without interruption for one minute, and then asks questions to deepen understanding.

  • Not every innovative idea makes sense to implement though. The President and Democrat leadership in Congress want the Centers for Medicare Services to “negotiate” drug prices for Medicare Part D plans. Regulatory Focus informs us that “A new drug development model released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates a Medicare drug pricing bill like the one proposed by Democrats in the US House of Representatives could result in between 21 and 59 fewer drugs brought to market over the next three decades.”

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash
  • On the COVID-19 front, David Leonhardt in the New York Times provides valuable insights on how to think about COVID-19 cases that have broken through vaccinations. “

Different vaccinated people are going to make different decisions, and that’s OK. I find the risk of breakthrough infections to be small enough that I’m not going to make major changes to my behavior.

I would feel differently if I lived in a community with a lower vaccination rate — or if I lived with somebody who was vulnerable to Covid because of an immunodeficiency. And the current surge in cases has changed my thinking. I will again wear a mask sometimes when in close contact with strangers, even if it has little tangible effect. The main reason to do so, as Dowdy said, is to contribute to a shared sense that we have entered a worrisome new phase of the pandemic.

  • Fierce Healthcare reports that “Dozens of healthcare professional organizations including the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges have released joint or individual statements calling for providers to implement mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies for healthcare personnel.” The Wall Street Journal adds that “A significant uptick in Covid-19 cases across the U.S. is leading to new vaccination mandates for public employees, with the Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday becoming the first federal agency, California the first state, and New York the first major city to announce requirements for their workers. “epartment of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said healthcare personnel who work in or visit Veterans Health Administration facilities or provide direct care to people the VA serves would have eight weeks to get vaccinated. Officials in the state of California and New York City said Monday they would require their workers to either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested at least weekly for the virus. California’s order, which also applies to those who work in healthcare settings, goes into effect in August. The New York City mandate begins after Labor Day.”
  • The Wall Street Journal also reports “The U.S. has purchased 200 million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE at a higher price than previous deals. The U.S. is paying about $24 a dose, according to Pfizer, up from the $19.50 that the government paid in its earlier deals to supply the country. The deal brings the total purchased from the U.S. to 1 billion doses. The companies said they expect to deliver 110 million of the additional doses by the end of the year, with the rest by the end of next April.  While demand has largely stalled in recent weeks, additional demand could open up if the vaccine is cleared for use in younger children. Pfizer is testing the vaccine in children under 12 years old, and has said it hopes to begin having data available before the end of the year.  The new agreement is in addition to the one announced last month for 500 million doses that the U.S. is scheduled to donate to the rest of the world.”
  • In this regard, the Washington Post reports that “Federal regulators have requested that vaccine companies expand their trials to test coronavirus shots in several thousand school-aged children before seeking [emergency use authorization] — a move intended to assess whether a rare inflammation of the heart muscle that has been seen in young adults shortly after vaccination is more common in younger age groups.”
  • STAT News provides its perspective on the current surge. STAT suggests that this surge is accelerating faster than last summer’s surge which is not surprising because the Delta variant is much more contagious that the variant in circulation last summer.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has announced that it ‘will invest more than $1.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan to support testing and mitigation measures in high-risk congregate settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and detect and stem potential outbreaks.’
  • Today, in commemoration of “the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly published guidance on how “long COVID” can be a disability under the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.  The guidance is on the HHS website and on the DOJ website.

Also today, HHS announced phase 2 of the HPV vaccination campaign for young adults.

Currently, only 40% of young adults in the United States have received one or more doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and only 22% have completed the vaccine series.i The HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health’s Office on Women’s Health is launching the second phase of the HPV VAX NOW campaign to address this gap. The initial campaign launched on January 6, 2021 to support healthcare providers who counsel young adults in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas by providing resources to promote effective HPV vaccine recommendations. The second phase of the campaign will target young adults ages 18–26 in the same three states, with the long-term goal of empowering all to complete the HPV vaccine series.

In health equity developments

  • The American Academy of Actuaries has released a paper on health equity from an actuarial perspective that is worth a gander.
  • Patient Engagement HIT discusses how “a new study [in the New England Journal of Medicine] revealing unequal opioid and pain medication prescription access between White and Black patients is calling into question the prevalence of implicit bias in medicine.” The researchers concluded that “We do not know whether or how these differences affect patient outcomes, because both opioid underuse and overuse can cause harm. We do know that skin color should not influence the receipt of pain treatment. “Our overall observations and system-specific reporting should prompt action by providers, health system administrators, and policymakers to explore root causes, consequences, and effective remediation strategies for racially unequal opioid receipt.”
  • In that regard, Kaiser Health News discusses the pros and cons of state and local government monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

When efforts to establish Missouri’s statewide monitoring program stalled, St. Louis County established one in 2017 that 75 local jurisdictions agreed to participate in, covering 85% of the state, according to the county health department. The county now plans to move its program into the state one, which is scheduled to launch in 2023.

Dr. Faisal Khan, director of the county department, said he has no doubt that the St. Louis program has “saved lives across the state.” Opioid prescriptions decreased dramatically once the county established the monitoring program. In 2016, Missouri averaged 80.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 people; in 2019, it was down to 58.3 prescriptions, according to the CDC.

Khan acknowledged that a monitoring program can lead to an increase in overdose deaths in the years immediately following its establishment because people addicted to prescription opioids suddenly can’t obtain them and instead buy street drugs that are more potent and contain impurities.

But he said a monitoring program can also help a physician intervene before someone becomes addicted. Doctors who flag a patient using the monitoring program must then also be able to easily refer them to treatment, Khan and others said.

“We absolutely are not prepared for that in Missouri,” said Winograd, of NoMODeaths. “Substance use treatment providers will frequently tell you that they are at max capacity.”

The FEHBlog would rather see expansion of treatment facilities that loosening standards on opioid prescribing.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

David Leonhardt in the New York Times offered an encouraging article this morning:

When the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll at the start of the year and asked American adults whether they planned to get vaccinated, 23 percent said no.

But a significant portion of that group — about one quarter of it — has since decided to receive a shot. The Kaiser pollsters recently followed up and asked these converts what led them to change their minds. The answers are important, because they offer insight into how the millions of still unvaccinated Americans might be persuaded to get shots, too.

What helps move people from vaccine skeptical to vaccinated? The Kaiser polls point to three main themes.

(The themes apply to both the 23 percent of people who said they would not get a shot, as well as to the 28 percent who described their attitude in January as “wait and see.” About half of the “wait and see” group has since gotten a shot.)

1. Seeing that millions of other Americans have been safely vaccinated. * * *

2. Hearing pro-vaccine messages from doctors, friends and relatives. * * * and

3. Learning that not being vaccinated will prevent people from doing some things.

That’s helpful information for the many vaccine advocates, among us.

Today was a busy day for regulatory action:

  • The Secretary of Health and Human Services renewed for another 90 day period the COVID-19 public health emergency. Earlier this month, the HHS Secretary issued a similar renewal for the Opioid public health emergency which of course predates the COVID-19 emergency. Here’s a link discussing the actions that the federal government can take in response to a public health emergency declaration.
  • The Affordable Care Act regulators issued implementation guidance FAQs part 47 today. As background, “on June 11, 2019, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a recommendation with an “A” rating that clinicians offer [pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)] with “effective antiretroviral therapy to persons who are at high risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) acquisition.” Accordingly, [as required by the ACA, non-grandfathered] plans and issuers must cover PrEP consistent with the USPSTF recommendation without cost sharing [when provided in-network] for plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning on or after one year from the issue date of the recommendation (in this case, plan or policy years beginning on or after June 30, 2020).” The FAQs concern the scope of the requisite no cost sharing coverage for this particular service. Affected plans and issuers are allowed sixty days to implement the guidance.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “proposed Medicare payment rates for hospital outpatient and Ambulatory Surgical Center (ASC) services. The Calendar Year (CY) 2022 Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) and ASC Payment System Proposed Rule is published annually and will have a 60-day comment period, which will end on September 17, 2021.” Here is a link to the fact sheet on the proposal. Consistent with the President’s recent executive order on competition, the CMS rule making “proposes to set a minimum CMP of $300/day that would apply to smaller hospitals with a bed count of 30 or fewer and apply a penalty of $10/bed/day for hospitals with a bed count greater than 30, not to exceed a maximum daily dollar amount of $5,500.  Under this proposed approach, for a full calendar year of noncompliance, the minimum total penalty amount would be $109,500 per hospital, and the maximum total penalty amount would be $2,007,500 per hospital.” That should be attention getting if finalized. Also the rule making proposes to backtrack on Trump Administration CMS rules that would phase out inpatient only Medicare requirements for certain medical procedures. The former administration’s goal was to lower costs, but the current administration finds that the former administration did not follow all of the necessary patient safety procedural requirements when making this change.
  • Govexec reports that today “marks the deadline for agencies to submit their finalized return to office plans to the Office of Management and Budget. These plans, which are not intended to be public, will vary by agency.”

The American Hospital Association informs us that “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will host a national stakeholders call July 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET on the interim final rule, Surprise Billing Part 1, that implements aspects of the No Surprises Act that bans balance billing in certain out-of-network scenarios. The call-in number is 888-455-1397; the participant passcode is 8758359.” Thanks AHA and CMS.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From the COVID-19 front:

  • Beckers Hospital Review reports that

Of the more than 123 million people fully vaccinated as of May 17, just 1,949 breakthrough cases involving hospitalizations or death had been reported to the CDC. 

Three more [CDC] findings:

  • Ninety-three percent of cases involved hospitalizations. Of these, 25 percent involved people who were asymptomatic and hospitalized for reasons not related to COVID-19.
  • Eighteen percent of all reported cases were fatal. Of these deaths, 18 percent involved people who were asymptomatic and died for reasons unrelated to the virus. 
  • In total, 79 percent of all reported cases involved people aged 65 or older.

The new data comes after the CDC changed how it tracks breakthrough COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated Americans. As of early May, the agency only monitors the most severe cases.

  • The New York Times’ Upshot column discusses opinions on how vaccinated parents can do in terms of socializing activities with children under 12 years of age, the minimum age threshold for COVID-19 vaccination,

As vaccinated Americans return to many parts of their prepandemic lives this summer, one group will be left out: children under 12, who cannot yet be vaccinated. So what should families with young children do when everyone else starts socializing again?

We asked experts as part of an informal New York Times survey. The group of 828 who responded included epidemiologists, who study public health, and pediatric infectious disease physicians, who research and treat children sick with diseases like Covid-19.

They noted that this phase was temporary. Pfizer has said vaccines for children ages 2 and up could come as soon as September. Of the survey respondents with young children, 92 percent said they would vaccinate their own children as soon as a shot was approved. (Only five said no; some were undecided.) In the meantime, families with young children may need to retain more precautions, like masking and distancing, than their childless friends do. But they said some minimally risky activities could help counteract the mental health effects of pandemic living.

  • David Leonhardt also in the New York Times believes that vaccination hesitancy is affecting the working class.

Public health experts believe that there are specific strategies that can narrow the vaccination divide [between classes].

One is information. About 25 percent of unvaccinated people remain unsure whether somebody who previously had Covid should still get the vaccine, according to Kaiser. The answer is yes: Almost everybody 12 and older should.

Another promising strategy is making shots even more convenient. Employers can help by hosting on-site vaccinations and giving workers paid time off — including the day after the shot for people who experience side effects. Drugstores and supermarkets can accept walk-ins, as some already do. Government officials can send mobile, walk-in clinics into more communities. (Text your ZIP code to 438829 — or text “VACUNA” for Spanish — and you’ll find your local options.)

“We’ve just got to remove all the barriers,” Brodie said.

Finally, friends and relatives can turn a vaccination into something more than just a shot. “Say, ‘Let’s do this together. Let’s do something, so if you get vaccinated, let’s grab dinner after. Let’s celebrate together,’” Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a New York pediatrician, told CNN.

  • A friend of the FEHBlog called attention to this American Psychology Association “Stress in America survey conducted in late February 2021 found 42% of U.S. adults reported undesired weight gain since the start of the pandemic, with an average gain of 29 pounds.” Whoa Nelly!
  • The FEHBlog’s dogs pointed out this American Hospital Association report that “a new study from researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and others suggests that people infected with COVID-19 have a distinct body odor that specially trained dogs can rapidly detect with up to 94.3% sensitivity and up to 92% specificity. The study found dogs could detect the odor on clothing samples from individuals, including those who were asymptomatic, had low viral loads and two different strains. The study has yet to be peer reviewed and replicated in real-world settings, but shows promise as a way to screen individuals for COVID-19 testing at airports and other public places, the authors said.” Man’s best friend indeed.

In a Monday mishmosh of other healthcare news

  • A Wall Street Journal reporter discusses her own postpartum illness that nearly resulted in another maternal death.

The U.S. has a maternal mortality rate double that of most other high-income countries, including Britain, Canada and Australia, according to the New York City-based Commonwealth Fund, a healthcare research foundation. The CDC says that about two-thirds of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable; factors include lack of access to care, delayed diagnoses and missed warning signs. Black women and those on Medicaid are disproportionately affected.

To help address this, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended in 2018 that women have contact with their providers much sooner than six weeks—within three weeks after birth for low-risk women and sooner for women at higher risk of complications. (The roughly 30% of women who have cesarean sections sometimes already have a follow-up appointment after two weeks.)

The doctors who authored the 2018 recommendations said such a major change is challenging. “It is old habits. This is a huge culture shift,” said Tamika Auguste, chairwoman of Women’s and Infants’ services at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, who co-wrote the recommendations. My midwife said that in her two decades of practice, she has seen most women after about six weeks and found it effective.

Wouldn’t telehealth provide a Goldilocks solution here?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also supports in-home visits by a nurse in the days after birth, which is a standard practice in other high-income countries but isn’t always covered by insurance in the U.S. * * * Even doctors who support adding more care say it’s hard to find the right balance. “We don’t know how much contact or care that we need that would be beneficial,” said Mark Clapp, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

See above telehealth suggestion.

  • UPMC’s Health Plan has a created a virtual concierge for its members using Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home Assistant.
  • The Pew Charitable Trust has released an interesting report on the impact of state No Surprise billing laws on healthcare costs.

Eighteen states have passed surprise billing laws since 2014, most of them in the past three years. Last year, former President Donald Trump signed a federal version that covers self-funded health plans, including those offered by many employers, as opposed to the individual and commercial health plans regulated by states.

The concerns stem from guidelines states have established to help impartial arbitrators resolve disputes between providers and insurance carriers over how much should be paid for surprise, out-of-network bills.

“An upward trend in payments for out-of-network care could push rates higher in in-network contracts,” health policy researchers at Georgetown University wrote in a blog post last month. “These costs, in turn, could push premium costs higher for employers and consumers.”

A healthy lifestyle can lower dementia risk, even among those with a family history of cognitive decline, according to a study presented Thursday during an American Heart Association conference held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking or drinking alcohol to excess and maintaining good sleep habits and a healthy body weight, the researchers said during the Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference.

Adults ages 50 to 73 who embrace at least three of the behaviors can reduce their dementia risk by 30%, the data showed.

Those with a family history of dementia who followed at least three of the behaviors had a 25% to 35% reduced risk for the condition compared to those who followed two or fewer.

  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance issued an illuminating blog post describing the digital changes taking place with its HEDIS healthcare quality measures which play an important role in OPM’s FEHB Plan Performance Assessment system.

Friday Stats and More

Based on the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 Data Tracker website, here is the FEHBlog’s chart of new weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths over the 14th week of 2020 through 18th week of this year (beginning April 2, 2020, and ending May 5, 2021; using Thursday as the first day of the week in order to facilitate this weekly update):

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

The FEHBlog has noticed that the new cases and deaths chart shows a flat line for new weekly deaths  because new cases greatly exceed new deaths. Accordingly here is a chart of new COVID-19 deaths over the period (April 2, 2020, through May 5, 2021):

The Wall Street Journal observes and the charts evidence that

The U.S. may finally have turned a corner in the Covid-19 pandemic, according to epidemiologists and public-health officials.

Newly reported coronavirus cases have declined for three straight weeks, and the seven-day average of Covid-19 PCR tests that returned positive is hovering around 4%, one of its lowest points in the pandemic. Hospitalizations have been declining and reported deaths have fallen every week since late March.

The decrease in nearly every key metric comes as the U.S. meets a benchmark in its vaccination campaign. More than 40% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated, which many public-health experts say is an important thresholdwhere vaccinations gain the upper hand over the virus.

Here is a weekly COVID-19 vaccinations chart over the period December 17, 2020, through May 5, 2021, which also uses Thursday as the first day of the week:

The Centers for Disease Control observes

Following a rapid acceleration in vaccination rates, we are now seeing U.S. vaccination progress slow. This is not surprising considering the prior focus on vaccinating people at increased risk. Also, people eager to be immunized when they became eligible may have already secured their vaccine in line with increased supply. While more than 8 in 10 people 65 years and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, only around 1 in 3 people ages 18-29 have. All age groups currently eligible for the vaccine can benefit from the protection it provides themselves and others, especially as more states are easing prevention measures

Also from the COVID-19 vaccination front:

  • The Society for Human Resources Management provides helpful guidance to employers on how to help achieve herd immunity.
  • The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will vote on Wednesday May 12 on whether to extend Pfizer’s emergency use application for its COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12-15.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that “AstraZeneca PLC could skip asking the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine, according to people familiar with the matter—and instead pursue the more time-intensive application for a full-fledged license to sell the shot.”
  • Law professor Richard Epstein weighs in on the hot topic of “Intellectual Property and the COVID-19 vaccines.”

From the healthcare business front

  • Healthcare Dive reports on Cigna’s 1st quarter 2021 results. The health insurer “beat Wall Street expectations in the quarter, and increased its forecast for the full year, signaling optimism for the remainder of 2021 despite the ongoing uncertainty.”
  • Fierce Healthcare reviews several health insurers’ first quarter 2021 results.

In other news —

  • The FEHBlog understands why according to Becker’s Payer Issues, 95% of insurers “are worried about meeting No Surprises Act requirements by [the January 1, 2022] deadline. Congress created an overcomplicated law. Hopefully the regulators can straighten it out in time.
  • The American Hospital Association questions the Lown Institute report on low value hospital care that the FEHBlog mentioned earlier this week.
  • Health Payer Intelligence brings us up to date on electronic attachments to HIPAA standard claims transactions, the one HIPAA requirement that HHS has not been able to tackle successfully.
  • Strangely, a British website helpfully summarizes the path of Kiran Ahuja to become OPM Director. “At her hearing, Ahuja said: “I believe people are, and should be, at the centre of all policy decisions, and… I would carry forward this guiding principle while working in service to the American public.” It remains to be seen whether the Senate, in a time of division, accepts that Ahuja can be the unifier the US public service needs.” My bet remains on confirmation.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Mel on Unsplash

Today the U.S. Office of Personnel Management released guidance to federal agencies on American Rescue Plan Act “provisions authorizing emergency paid leave (EPL) for covered Federal employees in specified qualifying circumstances through special funds.” The Federal News Network offers information on how federal employees can apply for EPL.

From the COVID-19 front, the Wall Street Journal reports that Astra-Zeneca now expects to file an emergency use application for its COVID-19 vaccine with the Food and Drug Administration in the middle of next month.

“One especially time-consuming task has been compiling British data from almost four months of vaccinations in the U.K., including efficacy, virus-transmission and safety statistics, people close to the process say. That has added to the complexity of AstraZeneca’s submission and is expected to lengthen any FDA review. Other shots that the FDA has authorized had large-scale human trial data but little or none from real-world rollouts outside of controlled studies.”

No good deed, etc.

From the patients safety front, the Leapfrog Group released its Spring 2021 hospital safety grades yesterday. The two hospitals closest in proximity to the FEHBlog’s residence are graded A and B. Beckers Hospital Review helpfully points out the 27 hospitals with straight A scores and F scores. Meanwhile, Healthcare Finance reports that

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Wednesday released the overall hospital quality star ratings that now include new methodology in five measure groups.

CMS rated over 4,500 hospitals from one to five stars, with five representing the highest quality rating.

Of 4,586 hospitals, 13.5%, or 455 hospitals, received five stars; 988 received four stars; 1,018 received three stars; 690 received two stars; and 204 received one star.

For more than a quarter of hospitals, 1,181, no information was available.

This compares to January 2020 data, when of the 5,340 hospitals listed, 396 received five stars; 1,132 received four stars; 1,108 got three stars; 710 received two stars; and 226 got one star. Another 1,761 had no rating information available.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control released a new study setting a “Baseline to Measure Quality of Antibiotic Prescribing in U.S. Hospitals.”

Since 2015, when the prescribing data were collected, CDC has been working diligently with partners like the American Hospital Association and others to implement stewardship efforts and programs in acute care.

CDC will continue building on this progress and important work in the coming years as a part of the newly released Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria National Action Plan. Good luck with that effort.

In healthcare business news:

  • Healthcare Dive informs us that ” Virtual care powerhouse Teladoc reported a wider-than-expected net loss in the first quarter, but beat Wall Street estimates on revenue with a topline of $454 million, up 151% year over year, driven by growth in specialty offerings and multi-product contracts. * * * CEO Jason Gorevic contended he is unworried about mounting competition in the lucrative telehealth space, banking the company’s heft and variety of clinical services will fend off entrenched rivals and new entrants like Amazon.”
  • Fierce Healthcare advises “Do not expect the Biden administration to pull away from price transparency even though the administration wants to pull a requirement for hospitals to post Medicare Advantage rates, experts say. The proposal included in a hospital inpatient payment rule released late Tuesday is more aimed at easing administrative burdens for hospitals still struggling due to the pandemic, several experts said. “The repeal of this requirement more falls into the bucket of easing hospitals’ burden as opposed to the agency’s stance on hospital price transparency,” said Caitlin Sheetz, head of analytics and a director for the consulting firm ADVI, in an interview with Fierce Healthcare.
  • Fierce Healthcare also reports that “Anthem has completed its acquisition of home health benefits manager MyNEXUS, the insurer announced Thursday morning. MyNEXUS offers comprehensive home-based nursing management to health insurers, providing integrated clinical services to some 1.7 million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries in 20 states. The company’s platforms largely automate the visit and authorization, which allows members to access care more quickly, according to the announcement. MyNEXUS will be folded into Anthem’s Diversified business group.”

In benefit design news, Health Payer Intelligence offers a thoughtful article describing key considerations for implementing diabetes management programs.