Tuesday Tidbits

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.