Weekend Update

Weekend Update

As we wrap up the last weekend of summer, we can look forward to the House of Representatives and the Senate holding Committee business and floor voting. Yahoo Finance adds

Once again, the threat of a government shutdown looms at the end of the fiscal year, which arrives on September 30. Lawmakers have two weeks to provide funding to keep large swaths of the federal government open and functioning, and the most likely result at this point is a short-term bill called a continuing resolution that funds the government for about 10 weeks, or until mid-December. Lawmakers would then look to pass an omnibus spending package to cover the rest of the 2023 fiscal year.

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Wall Street Journal offers an engaging interview with Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel who “discusses the company’s latest Covid shot and research on using mRNA in seasonal flu vaccines and personalized treatments for cancer.”

From the social determinants of health front, Health Affairs discusses best practices to improve the collection and distribution of race, ethnicity, and language data for use by health care providers and payers. Healthcare payers, in particular, cannot address SDOH issues strategically without having REL data. The FEHBlog’s idea, which he has floated unsuccessfully to date, is to add REL codes to the AMA’s CPT 4 code system, thereby allowing the ready distribution of that data via reliable coders.

Speaking of the distribution of healthcare data, EHR Intelligence reports that “Large Health IT Networks Unveil Plans to Become Qualified Health Information Network (“QHIN”) Under TEFCA.” TEFCA will act as the Electronic Health Records “backbone” to vastly improve health record interoperability, which has long been a national EHR goal.

From the mental healthcare front, last Friday, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the HHS Roadmap for Behavioral Health Integration (Roadmap), which details policy solutions that would help to better integrate mental health and substance use care into the larger health care system and other systems. The Roadmap is based on feedback Secretary Becerra received from patients and providers during more than two dozen stops on his National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health.”

Finally, a government contract expert discusses in Federal News Network why the 1994 federal acquisition reform law (actually the related 1994 and 1996 laws) aiming to simplify the federal procurement process needs a reboot. The FEHBlog heartily agrees.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the omicron and siblings front, Govexec and Federal News Network recount today’s oral argument before the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals over the legality of the Administration’s Covid vaccine mandate on federal employees.

The en banc ruling, expected in the next few weeks, could be the last step after a lengthy court battle that has played out through many fits and starts over the last year. Feds for Medical Freedom has previously said it will take its case to the Supreme Court if the Fifth Circuit rules against it, though the high court may be less inclined to weigh in on the case after it already ruled on two vaccine mandate cases in January. If the mandate is ultimately permitted to stand, individual employees could still wind up in the federal circuit if they take their cases to MSPB and appeal further after an initial decision. The mandate has not been enforced since a U.S. district judge in Texas first enjoined it in January.

In other virus news, the Wall Street Journal offers one of its helpful overview articles titled “What to Know About Polio Symptoms, Vaccines and the Virus’s Spread in New York.”

From the healthcare cost front, HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research called attention to a recent agency report about the characteristic “high spenders”:

• In 2019, the top 1 percent of persons ranked by their healthcare expenditures accounted for about 21 percent of total healthcare expenditures, while the bottom 50 percent accounted for only 3 percent.
• Hypertension and osteoarthritis/other non-traumatic joint disorders were the most commonly treated conditions among the top 5 percent of spenders.
• Persons ages 65 and older and Whites were disproportionately represented in the top spending tiers.
• Inpatient hospital care accounted for about 37 percent of spending for persons in the top 5 percent of spenders.
• Over three-quarters of aggregate expenses for persons in the top 5 percent of spenders were paid for by private insurance or Medicare.

From the SDOH front, MedCity News reports about “Information as a social determinant: Three ways Google is addressing health inequity: Google announced three updates at the Google Health Equity Summit, including a new video series partnership, improved search features and an expanded program with Fitbit.”

In coding news, Healthcare Dive tells us

The American Medical Association said its 2023 Current Procedural Terminology code set, released Friday, contains burden-reducing revisions to the codes and guidelines for providers.

The updates to the data-sharing terminology for medical procedures and services are intended to make coding and documentation easier and more flexible, freeing providers from time-wasting administrative tasks that are clinically irrelevant to providing high-quality care to patients, the AMA said.

The modifications follow the 2021 revisions made to the evaluation and management codes for office visit services. They extend to inpatient and observation care services, consultations, emergency department services, nursing facility services, home and residence services and prolonged services.

HHS regulations implementing HIPAA electronic transaction standards require that the CPT be used to code outpatient services.

Weekend Update

The House of Representatives and the Senate will be engaged in Committee business and floor voting this coming week.

From the Omicron and siblings front —

Bloomberg Prognosis offers an interesting observation from Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago,

“For some viruses, where there is better mucosal immunity in the nose (via past infection or vaccines), people can fight off pathogens and develop an immune response without ever feeling ‘sick.’” In other words, for certain infections, your immune system might get revved up by recognizing a virus, and then swiftly fight it off. 

“However, Covid-19 is not a virus that we have developed lasting mucosal immunity for, either through vaccines or via previous infections,” says Wallace.

This is the whole rationale for the development of the new Covid shots that are inhaled instead of injected, she says. The nose and mouth are where Covid first enters the body, so the vaccine antibodies elicited by those types of vaccines give people a more immediate line of defense. 

The Wall Street Journal provides details on nagging Covid death levels:

Roughly 85% of people who died from Covid-19 through mid-August this summer were 65 or older, a Wall Street Journal analysis of death-certificate data show. The rate is similar to 2020 peaks, before vaccines were available. Deaths trended younger for much of last year.

Covid-19 is on pace to be the third-leading cause of death for the third straight year, said Dr. Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Since 2020, it has trailed only heart disease and cancer, significantly reducing life expectancy. * * *

The health system AdventHealth counted 24 deaths related to Covid-19 at its Orlando, Fla.-area hospitals in August. Age was the biggest factor, although younger patients with compromised immune systems were also at risk, doctors with the health system said. All but one Covid-19 patient who died had serious health problems such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure and obesity.

Unfortunately, the Journal’s article discusses vaccination status but does not factor in the Paxlovid pill or other available treatments, which should be a game changer for older folks with Covid.

From the mental healthcare front — ‘

Yesterday, September 10, was World Suicide Awareness Day. McKinsey and Company reported,

The suicide rate in the United States has risen over the past 20 years to become the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of ten and 34, write partner Erica Hutchins Coe, senior partner Martin Dewhurst, senior partner Tom Latkovic, and co-authors in a recent report from the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI). And by winter of 2021, the weekly rate of ER visits by adolescents who attempted suicide was 39 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels. By taking action to address this urgent public health issue, organizations, educators, healthcare professionals, governments, and society at large could help millions in crisis. This #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, learn about ongoing efforts by MHI and its collaborators to improve crisis care in the United States * * * .

The article provides links to relevant McKinsey publications on this important topic.

The American Medical Association’s “What Doctors Wish Their Patients Knew” column delves into loneliness and health.

From the social determinants of health front, Fierce Healthcare looks into CVS’s Healths efforts to improve health equity.

When the CVS Caremark team geared up to take on health disparities, it quickly realized that any initiative would require a significant basis in data to succeed.

That entailed both gathering more data and building the tools necessary to track and analyze them.  For example, Joel Helle, vice president of physician services at CVS Specialty, told Fierce Healthcare that Caremark has not historically gathered race and ethnicity data, but now asks payers and plans sponsors for that information to more accurately target where disparities are occurring.

“It’s real race and ethnicity data, and we know who those patients are,” he said. “That’s the future, in my mind, of what everybody needs to do.”

In addition, the company built a proprietary tool that combs data from 17 different indexes to identify where disparities exist, he said. That tool, he said, puts “red dots” on the map to highlight risks, and the Caremark team can then use its internal data to further drill down to challenges in specific communities.

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From the omicron and siblings front, AHIP informs us

Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend the use of the bivalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines as a single-dose booster for all individuals ages 12 and older (Pfizer-BioNTech) and 18 and older (Moderna), at least two months following primary series or previous booster dose.  The ACIP recommendation for the bivalent boosters was approved by a vote of 13-1.

The Committee reviewed modeling data showing the vaccine has the potential to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, especially among high-risk groups.  The bivalent boosters are recommended for all those over age 12 who have completed a primary series, at least 2 months after the most recent dose. The modeling data indicates that the vaccine is safe and effective, and that booster strategies will be executed in an equitable manner.  Models also indicate that waiting until more trial data is available (in two to three months) could lead to preventable hospitalizations and deaths.

ACIP members expressed concern that many assumptions had been made with the modeling, and that the vaccine being recommended – which includes protections specific to the BA.4/BA.5 variants – has not been tested in humans.  Mouse models were used for data on this vaccine, in addition to extrapolations from human trials using the BA.1-specific vaccine. CDC pointed out that annual influenza vaccines are modified based on projected variants without direct clinical evidence. ACIP members also expressed concerns that the bivalent booster makes assumptions about future variants, which this booster may not protect against.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for both the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to authorize bivalent formulations of the vaccines for use as a single booster dose at least two months following primary or booster vaccination. The bivalent Moderna vaccine is authorized for use as a single booster dose in individuals 18 years of age and older and the Pfizer bivalent vaccine is authorized for use as a single booster dose in individuals 12 years of age and older.  FDA also released fact sheets on both the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.

With the authorization, FDA has revised the EUAs to remove the use of the monovalent versions of the vaccines for booster administration for the age groups now covered by the bivalent booster products. ACIP also rescinded its recommendations for the monovalent booster vaccines.

Bivalent boosters may be available as early as next week.

The FEHBlog finds it noteworthy that the new bivalent booster replaces the monovalent booster.

STAT News offers FAQs on the new boosters.

STAT News also discusses the Omicron outlook for this autumn.

In a way, some physicians have said, Covid is becoming more like the other respiratory pathogens that most of us shake off but that can occasionally cause severe illness and death among the oldest adults or people who are already sick. So many more people are dying from Covid than from those other viruses, however, because of the massive number of cases that are still occurring overall.

Another trend that has continued into 2022 has been the racial and ethnic disparities associated with Covid. The gaps between different demographic groups’ death rates have shrunk over time, but at the peak of this summer’s wave, for example, death rates by age group among Hispanic adults were notably higher than those among white adults, federal data indicate.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that, unlike with some viruses, SARS-2 did not pose a particularly serious threat to children. That’s not to minimize the hospitalizations and deaths — as well as incidents of long Covid and MIS-C — that the virus did cause in pediatric populations. But overall, kids have faced much lower risks of severe outcomes from Covid than adults.

Still, something worrisome occurred this summer with kids and Covid, as hospitalizations reached their second highest peak of the entire pandemic, surpassing last summer’s Delta wave and only trailing the initial Omicron spike early this year.

The article’s experts encourage vaccinating children to stem this tide.

From the FEHB front, Govexec provides a handy just before and just after federal retirement checklist, and Fedweek helpfully delves into “What Counts and What Doesn’t for Keeping FEHB Coverage in Retirement,” which should be a key consideration for career feds.

From the public health front, the CDC reminds us September is Sepsis Awareness Month

Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection, including COVID-19, can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection and is a life-threatening medical emergency.

September is Sepsis Awareness Month and CDC encourages patients and healthcare professionals to share Get Ahead of Sepsis resources, below, to learn how to protect themselves, their loved ones, and their patients from sepsis:

Patients and families:
* New this year is an updated patient and family brochure.
* Download and share any of CDC’s FREE patient education materials with your friends and loved ones to learn how to prevent infections, be alert to the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and act fast if sepsis is suspected.
* Share updated sepsis graphics on social media to educate friends and loved ones about sepsis.
* Are your children back to school? Talk to your child’s healthcare professional and school nurse about steps you can take to prevent infections that can lead to sepsis. Some steps include taking good care of chronic conditions and getting recommended vaccines.
Healthcare professionals:
New this year are two fact sheets for long-term care nurses and certified nurse assistants.
Download and share CDC’s FREE healthcare professional education materials with your colleagues to educate them about how to recognize signs and symptoms of worsening infection and sepsis, how to get ahead of sepsis, and what to do if they suspect sepsis.
Educate your patients and their families about:
o Preventing infections
o Keeping cuts clean and covered until healed
o Managing chronic conditions
o Recognizing early signs and symptoms of worsening infection and sepsis
o Seeking immediate care if signs and symptoms are present

This Sepsis Awareness Month, spread the word about sepsis—you can help save lives.

To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis or call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

From the miscellany department —

  • Medpage Today offers a special report about a ” New Behavioral Health Database Reveals Gaps in Care — Researchers behind it hope to provide the data needed to remedy the problem.”
  • STAT News reports “Drug treatment of veterans with opioid use disorder increased during the first year of the pandemic, according to a new study, suggesting that the rapid shift from in-person to telehealth visits at VA medical centers enabled patients to get access to care despite Covid-related disruptions.”
  • Fierce Healthcare tells us “Cigna’s Evernorth subsidiary is expanding its diabetes care value program to combine traditional pharmaceutical interventions with devices, tools and resources to help patients better understand and manage their diabetes.”
  • Healthcare Dive informs us that “To staunch the losses of rural hospital closures that endanger access to care for millions, federal regulators are hoping some facilities opt in to a new payment model, but providers say they want more flexibilities and clarity before making the pivot. * * * The new rule ‘maybe gets halfway there,’ Jennifer Findley, vice president of education and special projects at the Kansas Hospital Association, told Healthcare Dive. ‘It’s not as much as we were hoping for but it does give some more flexibility than what you have today.’”
  • Health Payer Intelligence reports “Chronic diseases are common among emergency department patients, particularly among seniors and those ages 45 to 64, according to a National Health Statistics Report. ‘Monitoring ED visits made by adults at highest risk of severe COVID-19-related illness is important for understanding the health burden of COVID-19 and for planning prevention strategies,’ the researchers explained. ‘Ongoing monitoring of the presence of these underlying chronic conditions at ED visits will continue to inform COVID-19 response efforts.’”
  • Also Health Payer Intelligence notes that “Three major social determinants of health factors are particularly predominant barriers to care for America’s seniors: economic instability, loneliness, and food insecurity, according to a study sponsored by Alignment Healthcare. Researchers from Toluna conducted an online survey from July 24 to August 13, 2022, which reached 2,600 seniors ages 65 and older. Most respondents identified as white. Half were in Medicare Advantage and this population was divided primarily between preferred provider organizations and health maintenance organizations.”

Friday Stats and More

Based on the Centers for Disease Control’s Covid Data Tracker and using Thursday as the first day of the week, here is the FEHBlog’s latest weekly chart of new Covid cases for this year.

On the left side of the chart are the peak and downslope of the original Omincron strain, and what a peak it was. On the right side of the chart is the Omicron sibling’s plateau.

The CDC’s weekly review of its Covid statistics adds

As of August 24, 2022, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (90,676) decreased 6.7% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (97,184). * * *

CDC Nowcast projections* for the week ending August 27, 2022, estimate that the combined national proportion of lineages designated as Omicron will continue to be 100% with the predominant Omicron lineage being BA.5, projected at 88.7% (95% PI 87.3-89.8%).

Here’s the CDC’s latest chart of daily trends in new Covid hospitalizations:

The CDC’s weekly review adds “The current 7-day daily average for August 17–23, 2022, was 5,314. This is a 6.6% decrease from the prior 7-day average (5,687) from August 10–16, 2022.” That converts to a very low percentage of new Covid cases.

Here is the FEHBlog latest weekly chart of new Covid deaths for 2022:

Omicron is on the left, and Omicron’s siblings are on the right. The CDC’s weekly review adds “The current 7-day moving average of new deaths (390) has decreased 11.6% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (441).”

Contributing to the current low Covid death rate are the Covid vaccines, and here is the FEHBlog’s weekly chart of Covid vaccinations distributed and administered from the beginning of the Covid vaccination era in the 51st week of 2020 through the 34th week of 2022:

The CDC’s weekly review adds

As of August 24, 2022, 608.9 million vaccine doses have been administered in the United States. Overall, about 262.6 million people, or 79.1% of the total U.S. population, have received at least one dose of vaccine. About 223.9 million people, or 67.4% of the total U.S. population, have been fully vaccinated.

In other Covid news

  • Medscape reports “Long COVID Mimics Other Post-Viral Conditions.” That’s reassuring.
  • Medscape also tells us that a major weak spot on the Omicron variants which could lead to effective treatments.

In Covid-related legal news, STAT News informs us

It’s the stuff that headline writers’ dreams are made of: Moderna is suing Pfizer and BioNTech over their Covid vaccines.

As someone who has written dozens of catchy headlines about patent suits and read hundreds more, let me offer a bit of advice: Take several deep breaths. Most likely, this is less dramatic than it seems.

The reality of patent litigation in the pharmaceutical industry is that it proceeds at a glacial pace. And it rarely results in products being pulled from the market (Moderna isn’t even asking for that!) or for payments or royalties so significant that they dramatically change the profitability of a product. These lawsuits, though, can involve sums large enough that they make a financial difference to investors.

Time will tell.

From the monkeypox front, the New York Times reports

Monkeypox cases are declining in New York City and globally as more people get vaccinated and as they change their sexual behavior in response to the outbreak, health officials said this week.

New York City on Thursday reported that 2,885 monkeypox cases had been identified in the city since the first case in the city was identified in May. In mid-August, about 50 new monkeypox cases were being detected each day, a drop from the 70 or so new daily cases emerging in late July and early August, according to city data. * * *

Monkeypox infections are also declining in parts of California and in Europe, which at one point had 90 percent of the world’s cases. The World Health Organization on Thursday reported that monkeypox cases globally dropped 21 percent last week. But the overall trend masked rising cases in other parts of the world, including Latin America and Africa.

In New York, Dr. Vasan attributed the decline to the city’s efforts to get tens of thousands of people vaccinated; the city has administered 69,311 doses of the vaccine, according to city data.

In Medicare news, Fierce Healthcare tells us

More than 28 million people are in a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan in 2022, with the program accounting for nearly half of all Medicare beneficiaries, a new analysis finds. 

The analysis, released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, also showed how spending on MA, especially on quality bonuses, has surged to take up more than half of all federal Medicare spending. The findings underscore the widespread interest in the insurance industry on the MA marketplace, which has grown more lucrative in recent years. 

Kaiser found that the share of eligible Medicare beneficiaries who chose an MA plan has more than doubled since 2007, growing from 19% that year to 48% in 2022. An earlier projection from the Congressional Budget Office projected that the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries in MA will swell to 61% by 2032.

From the substance use disorder front, Health IT Analytics reports

A new study by Epic Research and the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) shows that only 5 percent of drug overdose patients admitted to the emergency department are tested for fentanyl and synthetic opioids, despite these drugs being the leading cause of death for Americans 18 to 45 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that synthetic opioids are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths, which increased by 31 percent from 2019 to 2020. Opioids were involved in 75 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2020, and 82.3 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids.

That is confounding.

From the coding front, Becker’s Hospital CFO Review points out the top 10 states with the highest coding rates for social determinants of health diagnoses. The FEHBlog suspects that these states have the most reliable coders.

Tuesday Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings front, the Wall Street Journal reports

The Biden administration has completed plans for a fall Covid-19 booster campaign that would launch in September with 175 million updated vaccine doses provided to states, pharmacies and other vaccination sites.

The administration is procuring the doses, which drugmakers are updating to target the newest versions of the virus. The administration has also informed states, pharmacies and other entities they can begin preordering now through the end of August, according to the administration’s fall vaccination planning guide.

Vaccines would be shipped immediately following an expected authorization by federal drug regulators, who still must review and sign off on the shots, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which still must review the data and sign off on administering the shots. 

Administration officials have expressed hope that the boosters would help head off a wave of serious illnesses and deaths in the fall and winter, when cases often increase as more people gather indoors.

Due to the 2021-22 Delta and original Omicron variants, I gave up on expecting herd immunity from Covid. However, MedPage Today points out that those perilous Covid surges combined with vaccinations and treatments like Paxlovid create herd safety from hospitalizations and deaths. We should build up vaccination levels, but the vaccination marketing campaign should be built on a sensible theory like herd safety and not on 2020-like hysteria.

From the No Surprises Act front, Fierce Healthcare offers provider and payer opinions on the final independent dispute resolution rule. Last Spring, CMS dethroned the Qualifying Payment Amount from its commanding position in the baseball arbitration process. That aspect of the final rule is not a change in current practice. The FEHBlog senses that the No Surprises Act is working well.

Today, the Office of Personnel Management posted its first FAQs on the Postal Service Health Benefits Program which will launch in January 2025.

From the medical research front, BioPharma Dive reports

Over the last decade, drugs based on multiple RNA technologies, known as RNA interference and antisense oligonucleotides, have made it to market. Yet, it took a historic pandemic to thrust RNA into the global spotlight. Equipped with new tools, scientists are now exploring how other types can be used to make therapies that last longer and treat, as well as prevent, more diseases.

At least 10 biotechnology startups are developing next-generation RNA drugs. Though years of research lie ahead, these companies have already raised hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists, large pharmaceutical firms and other investment groups.

If their work pans out, it could provide new treatments for cancer, rare diseases, and chronic illnesses that affect organs, the nervous system and the immune system.

The article provides an overview of these RNA drug development efforts.

From the tidbits department —

  • MedPage Today reports that “For higher-risk adults without prior cardiovascular disease (CVD) events, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) continues to broadly recommend statins for primary prevention while differing from other American guidelines in certain key aspects. * * * Despite being consistent with the USPSTF’s 2016 recommendations on the subject, the latest update takes away language about the preferred low-to-moderate dosing of statins in people with no history of CVD. This could be attributed to a lack of data, as a review of the literature showed most statin trials tested a moderate-intensity statin.”
  • Axios reports “Life expectancy in the U.S. fell in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2019 to 2020 and fell nationally by 1.8 years, according to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published Tuesday. The big picture: The decline nationally and in states was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in unintentional injuries, specifically drug overdose deaths.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced that “Poverty, combined with other types of adversity in early childhood, is associated with greater chances of premature death in adulthood, compared to other adverse childhood experiences, according to a study of more than 46,000 people by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.”
  • The NIH Director’s Blog features a fascinating description of the inside of the “amazing” human brain.
  • The HHS Office of Civil Rights reached a settlement with dermatology practice over an alleged HIPAA Privacy Rule violation for improper disposal of protected health information.

Weekend update

Thanks to Aaron Burden for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Congress is on a State / District work break again this week.

The FEHBlog performed his weekly review of the FEHBlog this weekend, and he discovered that last Friday’s post on the new No Surprises Act regulation duplicated the closing paragraph. Lo Siento. The missing paragraph concerned the ACA regulators’ 28-page long ACA FAQ 55 on those new rules.

Several of the FAQs reiterate information from the interim final rules issued in July and October 2021. (Reiteration can a helpful teaching tool.) The FAQs which caught the FEHBlog’s eye were FAQs 5, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15, 17, and 19 (quite important). The last two FAQs 23 and 23 concern the transparency in coverage rule. All of these FAQs are relevant to FEHB plans.

Here’s a link to a Fierce Healthcare article on the new rules.

From the omicron and unusual viruses front —

The Wall Street Journal reports

The U.K. last week became the first country to clear a modified Covid-19 vaccine targeting the Omicron variant, and other countries including Canada and Australia might soon follow.

But in the U.S., modified Covid-19 booster shots are unlikely to be cleared for several more weeks because health authorities decided in late June they wanted modified vaccines to target different Omicron subvariants than those rolling out in other countries.

As a result, the makers of the leading Covid-19 vaccines—Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. with its partner BioNTech SE—got a later start producing the new shots that are planned for the U.S. 

This posed logistical challenges because companies needed to secure different starter material and switch over production lines. Now they are racing to manufacture tens of millions of retooled vaccines that could be used in a fall booster campaign, one that could start in September or October.

The modified vaccines could become available by mid-September, Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said Thursday during an online presentation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

The effort is a new test of the plug-and-play potential of the gene-based, messenger RNA technology used in the shots from Pfizer and Moderna.

Fingers crossed.

On Friday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management distributed this FEHB Carrier Letter about long Covid. Today, MedPage Today offers an expert medical interview about the immune signature of that disease.

NPR Shots and Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley discuss the Biden Administration’s problems in dealing with the monkeypox virus. Ms. Finley notes

Monkeypox, first identified in lab animals in 1958, is a close relative of smallpox, though it is less lethal and contagious. Periodic outbreaks have occurred in Central and West Africa, where the virus is endemic and spreads among wild animals. Humans can catch it through direct contact with the skin lesions of an infected animal or person.

A small U.S. outbreak in 2003 was linked to rodents imported from Ghana by an exotic pet dealer. The virus infected 71 Americans but was quickly contained with the help of the smallpox vaccine. No one died.

The outbreak, coupled with growing concerns about bioterrorism, prompted Washington to seek a safer, more effective vaccine against smallpox and monkeypox. 

The federal government reserved over 1 million frozen doses of the preferred smallpox vaccine stored in Denmark but the manufacturer could not start delivering them until after the Food and Drug Administration finished a review of the Danish facility in late July. That delay resulted in the problem discussed in NPR Shots.

The Wall Street Journal offers articles on “What to Know About Polio Symptoms, Vaccines and the Virus’s Spread in New York” and “Am I Protected Against Polio? Here’s What to Know About the Vaccine.”

From the Rx coverage front, BioPharma Dive reports

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new depression drug from Axsome Therapeutics, one year after putting the treatment in regulatory limbo.

The regulator cleared Axsome’s treatment, an oral drug to be sold as Auvelity, for adults with major depressive disorder. Axsome expects to begin selling the drug in the U.S. in the fourth quarter.

Auvelity consists of bupropion, the active ingredient in GSK’s depression drug Wellbutrin, and dextromethorphan, which is best known for its use as a cough medicine. The dextromethorphan acts on a neurotransmitter, NMDA, that controls mood, while bupropion boosts the amount of dextromethorphan available in the body.

Together, the two components are meant to produce an antidepressant effect faster than standard treatments, which can take weeks or months to show an impact.

STAT News adds

Auvelity * * * is the first pill of its kind approved for major depressive disorder. Spravato, a nasal spray marketed by Johnson & Johnson and approved in 2019, works similarly.

Axsome did not immediately disclose how much Auvelity will cost, saying on a conference call with analysts that it expects to announce a price in the coming weeks. The company will set a price “that ensures broad access for patients and that takes into account the value supported by the innovation Auvelity brings to patients with MDD,” Axsome Executive Vice President Lori Englebert said.

From the U.S. healthcare business front, the Wall Street Journal reports

Amazon.com Inc. is among the bidders for healthcare company Signify Health Inc., joining other heavy hitters vying in an auction for the home-health services provider, according to people familiar with the matter.

Signify is for sale in an auction that could value it at more than $8 billion, the people said. Bids are due around Labor Day, according to people, but it is always possible an eager bidder could strike a deal before then.

CVS Health Corp. is also among the suitors, The Wall Street Journal previously reported, as the drugstore and insurance giant looks to expand in home-health services. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and another corporate buyer are also circling the company, according to the people.

There is no guarantee any of them will reach a deal for Signify, which has been exploring strategic alternatives. The healthcare company has a market value of roughly $5 billion, boosted since the Journal first reported on the possibility of a deal early this month.

From the miscellany front

  • Fortune Well informs us “A global study published this week in The Lancet assessed 34 risk factors for cancer, and found that “modifiable risk factors” accounted for 44.4% of all cancer deaths in 2019—and 42% of disability-adjusted life years (DALYS), defined as the combination of years lost from disability and from premature mortality, according to the World Health Organization.  The highest risk factors globally were largely behavioral, including smoking, followed by alcohol use, then high body-mass-index (BMI). Risk factors varied by region, and for areas with a low socio-demographic index (SDI) alcohol, unsafe sex, and smoking were the most common risk factors attributed to cancer DALYS.”
  • Health Payer Intelligence points out that “Elevance Health, Aetna, and Cigna health plans have launched various social determinants of health initiatives to improve members’ quality of care.”

Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

From the Omicron and siblings’ front —

MedPage Today reports “Second COVID booster shot boosted antibodies in Seniors — but small Israeli study did not determine how quickly response will wane.”

Becker’s Hospital Reviews tells us

At least 18 cases of the newest omicron subvariant BA.2.75 have been confirmed in seven U.S. states as of July 20, early disease surveillance data shows. 

Globally, researchers have identified 201 cases in more than a dozen countries as of July 12, according to data from outbreak.info, a platform that tracks data on coronavirus variants and is supported by the CDC and other national research groups. 

The subvariant has a large number of mutations that may make it more adept than BA.5 — the nation’s current dominant strain — at spreading quickly and evading immune protection. Experts say it’s still unclear whether BA.2.75 will compete against BA.5 or cause more severe illness, according to CNN.

This leads us to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board comments

The President’s [Omicron] infection [disclosed today] demonstrates how hard it is to avoid the new and highly transmissible Covid variants. The White House has gone to great lengths to protect Mr. Biden, but there’s only so much staff can do if the President is going to do his job. 

Despite continuing pleas from the White House and public-health elite, vaccination by now provides little protection against transmission. * * * The evidence is that the vaccines do reduce the chances of getting serious Covid and being hospitalized, though many elderly patients who have been vaccinated are still dying from the virus.

While this quote is an opinion, not a news report, it struck a chord with the FEHBlog. The FEHBlog wishes the President a speedy recovery.

From the unusual viruses front, the Department of Health and Human Services offers a fact sheet on its response to the monkeypox outbreak.

In mergers and acquisitions news, Healthcare Dive informs us

Amazon has agreed to acquire primary care network One Medical for $18 a share, valuing the company at $3.9 billion.

The all-cash deal for San Francisco-based One Medical comes after months of speculation about a potential acquisition, reportedly drawing interest from companies including CVS Health, according to Bloomberg.

Analysts said a potential buyout for One Medical, which has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2007, could come at a significant premium. Amazon’s price of $18 a share represents a premium of 43% over its closing price of $10.18 a share on Wednesday.

STAT News explains why Amazon pursued adding One Medical to its healthcare portfolio.

With One Medical, Amazon is also tapping deeper into the vein of health care’s payment system. One Medical gets paid through two main avenues: commercial health insurers and Medicare. The Medicare side came from Iora, which One Medical bought for $1.4 billion last year.

Commercially insured patients, or those who get coverage through their jobs, are by far the most profitable within health care and overlap with a large chunk of Amazon’s subscription base. Even though One Medical focuses on less expensive primary care, there’s evidence One Medical charges some of the highest rates for those routine office visits and services, and that’s largely assisted by One Medical’s hospital partners.

Hospitals pay fixed sums to One Medical to care for patients, but they also “extend their health insurance contracts” to One Medical, the company said when it went public in 2020. The result: Hospitals that ink deals with One Medical get the most profitable patients in their market referred to them for more intensive services, and One Medical gets to piggyback off the lucrative payments that those dominant hospitals wring out of insurers.

STAT News concludes

Amazon’s success — and how disruptive it might prove to be to telehealth competitors — will depend in part on how well it integrates One Medical into its existing in-person and virtual offerings through Amazon Care. Analysts said that will become clear over the next year.

Whether it does draw patients away from traditional health care providers depends on their partnership with payers and their fees, said Aaron Neinstein, vice president of digital health for UCSF Health. “There’s no question that the One Medical annual fee is out of reach for most people in the U.S. Might Amazon change that or bundle it with Prime? Who knows.”F

Health Leaders Media reports that, notwithstanding the Federal Trade Commission’s nascent efforts,

Hospital and health system mergers and acquisitions in Q2 of 2022 have returned to trendlines that Kaufman Hall has been following since the beginning of the pandemic, the consulting firm said in its recently released M&A quarterly report.

During the second quarter of 2022, there were 13 hospital and health system M&A transactions, on-trend and only one transaction less than the 14 transactions reached in Q2 of 2021 and 2020. However, the total transacted revenue in the second quarter reached a “historic high” of $19.2 billion, more than doubling the $8.5 billion transacted revenue in the same quarter in 2021.

From the reports department and via Axios, the FEHBlog ran across this comprehensive McKinsey and Company report on the future of U.S. healthcare: what’s next for the industry post-Covid. Check it out.

From the Rx coverage front, DrugChannels calls our attention to this Amgen preview of 2022 trends in the biosimilars market. Adam Fein observes

As I predicted two years ago, the biosimilar boom is finally here. Prices are dropping while adoption accelerates. Prices are now declining by 9% to 22% annually. For therapeutic areas with biosimilars launched in the last three years, biosimilars’ market share averages 74%.  See Amgen slides 8 and 9.

Before the boom began, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, argued that we shouldn’t give up on biosimilars and prematurely regulate prices. As we can now see, Dr. Gottlieb was right. #NoTowel

From the SDOH front, Health Payer Intelligence explains

Race and ethnicity data collection is complex, but there are steps that health insurers—and the healthcare industry at large—can take to improve the process, according to a report from Urban Institute funded by Elevance Health (formerly Anthem).

From the miscellany department

  • Fierce Healthcare discusses a recent Fitch report on non-profit hospitals.

Labor, supply and capital cost increases have been rampant across the industry this year thanks to broader inflation pressures and other pandemic factors, the ratings agency wrote.

Reversing the margin trends will likely require nonprofit hospitals to take on a combination of rate hikes in the short term, “relentless” cost-cutting and productivity initiatives for the medium term and “transformational changes to the business model” for the long term, Fitch wrote.

Fortunately for those hospitals, many organizations already have the means to weather the storm as they overhaul their operations.

“The vast majority of our rated credits have strong balance sheets that will offset lower margins for a period of time and allow for operational improvements,” Fitch wrote. “Without more substantial changes to the current business model, or with additional coronavirus surges this fall or winter, this balance sheet cushion could eventually erode.”

Rate negotiations with payers will likely be an upward battle, the group wrote.

  • Healthcare Forefront points out the value of underutilized fentanyl test strips

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a simple, inexpensive, and evidence-based method of averting drug overdose. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug batch—pills, powder, or injectables. This tool might be lifesaving for the teenager experimenting for the first time, the individual in the throes of a severe opioid use disorder, the concert-goer looking for a trip, the person using a preferred substance obtained from a new source, or the individual years into recovery. FTS also support the dignity and well-being of people who use drugs (PWUD), enabling them to make educated decisions about their safety.

And yet after years of press and discussions of the strips’ utility, FTS aren’t as widely available as one would expect them to be. It is time to take a more critical look at the importance of destigmatizing this tool and increasing its distribution and availability, while highlighting the grave risks in not doing so.

  • HealthDay gives us some good news.

U.S. hospitals became much safer places for patients over the past decade, with medical errors and adverse events declining significantly across the nation, federal government data show.

Between 2010 and 2019, patient safety dramatically improved among the four types of conditions for which people are most often hospitalized: heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and major surgical procedures.

“There has been a precipitous, very important drop in the number of these events, which to me validates the idea that these were preventable,” said senior researcher Dr. Harlan Krumholz, director of the Yale New Haven Hospital Center for Outcomes Research and Education in New Haven, Conn. “The status quo wasn’t written in stone. We have been able to actually make hospitals safer for those conditions.”

The new study relied on data gathered by the Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring Program, an effort created in the wake of a landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report that drew national attention to patient safety in hospitals, the study authors said in background notes.

  • Fedweek reviews the steps that federal employees should take to position themselves for retirement.

Tuesday’s Tidbits

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill Fierce Healthcare reports

Senate leadership said they reached a deal with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to give Medicare narrow authority to negotiate lower drug prices and extend key Affordable Care Act subsides for another two years.

“We are excited about doing something on prescription drugs,” Schumer said during a press conference Tuesday. “This is something we have waited for.”

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., had reached a narrow deal to give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower prices on up to 10 drugs in 2026 and up to 20 drugs starting in 2029. The package includes a host of other reforms that include a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket drug costs.

The deal released earlier this month would also repeal a controversial Trump-era rule that stripped Part D rebates of their safe harbor from prosecution under federal anti-kickback laws. 

It now includes a two-year extension of a boost to ACA subsidies that has helped fuel record-breaking enrollment of more than 14 million people.

The Senate majority leader plans to move this legislation via the reconciliation process which means the Senate Parliamentarian must confirm that the bill meets the standards for the reconciliation approach.

STAT News adds that the Senate majority leadership has encountered problems from across the aisle in obtaining passage of the must-pass Food and Drug Administration users fee bill which helps fund the thousands of FDA experts who process drug review requests. Absent the necessary user fee funding, these folks will be furloughed.

From the Omicron and siblings front

AHIP tells us

Today the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) unanimously voted to recommended the use of the Novavax two-dose COVID-19 vaccine as a primary vaccine series for adults 18 years and older.  The two dose series is recommended to be administered by intramuscular injection with 3-8 weeks between doses depending on the patient risk and immunocompetency status.

The Committee reviewed data showing the vaccine is approximately 90.4% effective in preventing mild, moderate or severe COVID-19 and 79% effective in a subset of people aged 65 years or older. Additionally, the vaccine had favorable safety data that showed mild side effects. Committee members noted the hope that Novavax’s traditional protein-based vaccine will help to convince the 10-13% of adults who remain unvaccinated to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Members also expressed concerns about vial size, potential discard waste, and lack of an expiration date on the vial or carton, with clinicians needing to go to NovavaxCovidVaccine.com to get expiration date. The committee clearly stated that the vaccine is not recommended to be used in combination with other COVID-19 vaccines for primary or booster series completion at this time.

The FDA granted the Novavax vaccine an emergency use authorization on July 14. CDC Director Walensky is expected to make an official recommendation statement on Novavax in the coming day.

The Wall Street Journal reports that natural immunity from contracting Covid, typically has lasts 90 days. However, the highly contagious and current king of Covid infections, Omicron BA.5, can bear natural immunity based on an earlier strain of Omicron. Rest assured that your natural immunity can be expected to last 90 days when you contracted Omicron BA.5.

Also from the public health front,

The New York Times reports on the difficulties that New Yorkers infected with monkeypox have encountered when they seek treatment for that disease.

“What many of us learned in medical schools is that monkeypox is a mild, self-limiting illness,” said Dr. Mary Foote, medical director of the office of emergency preparedness and response at the city’s Department of Health, speaking at a Thursday briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “But the reality on the ground is that a lot of people with this infection are really suffering.”

What’s also striking, she said, about this outbreak, is “how many of these patients have had difficulty getting the care they need to treat these symptoms.”

STAT News adds

[E]ven as global health officials race to curb spread of the virus, most experts polled by STAT said they don’t believe it will be possible to contain it.

Not everyone is categorical — or pessimistic.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rosamund Lewis, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on monkeypox, expressed the belief that with a lot of effort, transmission in the population of men who have sex with men can be stopped.

Walensky’s optimism in this case derives from the fact that, to date, the virus appears to be spreading mainly within a defined community — one that has mobilized to get out the word of the risk its members face.

“Within this community there was a lot of high-risk [exposures] before we were able to test enough, educate enough, both on the provider side and the patient side. And there’s a lot of that happening right now,” Walensky said.

Healio notes

In June, HHS began shipping orthopoxvirus tests to five commercial laboratory companies — Aegis Science, Labcorp, Mayo Clinic Laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Sonic Healthcare — to increase monkeypox testing capacity and access. As of Monday, they all have begun testing, the most recent being Sonic Healthcare. * * *

In addition to increased testing, the CDC has issued travel alerts and expanded access to vaccines in response to the outbreak. HHS also ordered an additional 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine to strengthen preparedness. This followed an earlier order made for 2.5 million doses that will begin arriving over the next year and will bring the federal stockpile of vaccine to treat monkeypox to nearly 7 million doses by mid-2023.

Medscape reports

Overdose deaths continued increasing in 2019-2020, especially among Black and American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) individuals, the CDC reported Tuesday.

Overdose deaths in the U.S. increased by about 30% during that period, said Mbabazi Kariisa, PhD, MPH, a health scientist in the CDC’s Division of Overdose Prevention, during a phone briefing with reporters. “We know that health disparities play a key role in overdose death rates among people in certain racial and ethnic minority groups. In just 1 year, overdose death rates increased 44% for Black people and 39% for American Indian and Alaskan Native people.”

STAT News tells us “The deaths were broadly driven by illicit fentanyl, CDC officials said, though deaths attributed to other drug types, including stimulants like methamphetamine, have also been rising in recent years.”

In advocacy news, MedPage Today discusses the American Medical Association President Jack Resneck’s campaign to tie physician burnout to prior authorization and other health insurer hassles. It’s unfortunate that the various health care professional and trade associations can’t work together to reduce healthcare spending while improving quality.

In that regard, Kaiser Health News reports

Fresh off the Federal Trade Commission’s successful challenges to four hospital mergers, the Biden administration’s new majority on the commission is primed to more aggressively combat consolidation in the health care industry than it has in past years.

Although hospital mergers were supposed to improve cost efficiency, experts agree that the creation of huge conglomerates and hospital networks has driven up U.S. medical costs, which are by far the highest in the world. Many enjoy near-monopoly pricing power. * * *

Extensive research has found that prices rise when hospital systems acquire or merge with their competitors or when they buy a significant percentage of physician practices in their market. Highly consolidated markets, such as Northern California (dominated by Sutter Health) and western Pennsylvania (dominated by UPMC) tend to have higher prices.

The FTC has a long history, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, of antitrust enforcement actions to block so-called horizontal mergers between hospitals that could stifle competition in a market.

Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

From Capitol Hill, the Hill provides a useful outline of scheduled Congressional activities for this week.

From the Omicron and siblings front,

Becker’s Hospital Review reports

BA.2.75 is the latest omicron relative catching experts’ attention, with three cases recently identified on the West Coast, Time reported July 11. 

Two cases were detected in California and one in Washington as of July 8, according to data from Helix, which works with the CDC on viral surveillance. 

The subvariant is gaining traction in India and has also been detected in 10 other countries. 

Better start looking over your shoulders Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

The Wall Street Journal informs us

Moderna Inc. said it is developing two potential Covid-19 booster shots targeting different Omicron subvariants, citing differences in market preferences among the U.S. and other countries.

The Cambridge, Mass., company said Monday it has completed requests for regulatory authorization of one of its new booster shots in the European Union, the U.K. and Australia. The company expects to complete regulatory filings elsewhere this week.

In these countries, Moderna is seeking authorization for the use of mRNA-1273.214, a vaccine that targets both the ancestral strain of the coronavirus and the BA.1 subvariant of Omicron. The BA.1 subvariant was predominant earlier in the year but has been largely displaced by other Omicron subvariants in many countries.

In the U.S., however, Moderna will develop a different dual-target booster, mRNA-1273.222, which goes after both the ancestral strain and the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron. These subvariants, which are nearly identical to each other for the purposes of a vaccine, now account for most new cases of Covid-19 in the U.S.

What about BA.2.75?

An announcement from HHS today points to an FDA emergency use authorization of the traditionally developed Novovax in the near future.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with the Department of Defense (DOD), today announced that it has secured 3.2 million doses of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine. The protein-based, adjuvanted vaccine will be made available for free to states, jurisdictions, federal pharmacy partners, and federally qualified health centers if it receives U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), and recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The company is expected to complete all necessary quality testing in the next few weeks, which would support final release of the product.

Medscape tells us

Treatment with oral sabizabulin (Veru Pharmaceuticals) cut the risk for death by more than 55% in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, an interim analysis of a phase 3 placebo-controlled trial found.

Sabizabulin treatment consistently and significantly reduced deaths across patient subgroups “regardless of standard of care treatment received, baseline WHO scores, age, comorbidities, vaccination status, COVID-19 variant, or geography,” study investigator Mitchell Steiner, MD, chairman, president, and CEO of Veru, said in a news release.

The company has submitted an emergency use authorization request to the US Food and Drug Administration to use sabizabulin to treat COVID-19.

The analysis was published online July 6 in NEJM Evidence.

Sabizabulin, originally developed to treat metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, is a novel, investigational, oral microtubule disruptor with dual antiviral and anti-inflammatory activities. Given the drug’s mechanism, researchers at Veru thought that sabizabulin could help treat lung inflammation in patients with COVID-19 as well.

Benefits Pro calls to our attention health plan stop-loss insurer Sun Life’s top 10 high-cost claim conditions report.

Sun Life’s latest report saw a 354% increase in the number of COVID-19 claims from 2020 to 2021 [the Delta variant] —specifically, 107 claims to 486 claims. Total spend also rose from $30.4M to $114.0M, although the average cost for treatment went from $283.7K to $231.2K over the same period, amounting to an 18% decrease. Even so, COVID-19 landed (“somewhat ironically,” the study stated) at number 19 on Sun Life’s top 20 list of high-cost claim conditions over four years. This is significant, as every other condition on the list has amassed four years worth of claims to COVID’s two, underlining the severity of the pandemic.

From the Rx coverage front, Fierce Pharma reports

Two manufacturers of contraceptive pills have been jockeying for FDA clearance to sell their medications over the counter for more than half a decade. Now, against the backdrop of an intense debate over reproductive rights, one of those drugmakers is officially in the running for an approval.

HRA Pharma has applied to the FDA for approval of what could be the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the U.S., the Perrigo-owned company said Monday. The move comes shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has ignited a nationwide clash over reproductive rights.

HRA’s application specifically seeks to convert the prescription approval for the so-called mini pill or non-estrogen pill, dubbed Opill, into an over-the-counter approval.

At the same time, Cadence Health, another maker of birth control pills that’s been in talks with the FDA about converting its med’s approval into an over-the-counter one, said it hopes to move closer to submitting its application in the coming year, The New York Times reports.

FDA approval of OTC contraceptives should have been approved years ago, in the FEHBlog’s opinion.

From the SDOH front, Health Payer Intelligence informs us

The Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) has initiated a center designed to spur new ideas about how to address social determinants of health, according to a press release that HealthPayerIntelligence received by email.

“Longstanding racial inequities cannot improve without meaningfully addressing the social factors underlying them,” Margaret A. Murray, chief executive officer of ACAP, shared in the press release. 

“Safety Net Health Plans have worked in communities across the United States to address factors that shape their members’ health for decades. This new center creates unique opportunities to showcase what works, share that knowledge with others, and support a healthier future for people with low incomes, whose wellbeing has too often been held back by their environment.”


The Wall Street Journal reminds us that the new three-digit 988 suicide hotline launches on Saturday, July 16.

Health officials preparing to broaden the reach of a national mental-health crisis line are working to strengthen an overstretched network of call centers that didn’t connect with about one in six callers in recent years, a Wall Street Journal data review showed. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will transition on July 16 to a three-digit number for calls and texts, 988, from a 10-digit number that has operated since 2005 in coordination with local crisis centers. The line’s operators, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the nonprofit Vibrant Emotional Health, said they expect an increase in calls to the shorter and more memorable 988 number during the next year. Stress, suffering and disruption of routines during the pandemic has worsened many people’s mental health, clinicians have said.

Fingers crossed for this important initiative.