Weekly Policy Updates
Friday September 4, 2020
TOP LINKS FOR WEEK ENDING 9.4.2020
FEHB & OPM
Coronavirus Won’t Delay Open Season: The Federal Benefits Open Season will occur on schedule this year from November 9- December 14. Federal agencies will face new challenges to prepare their employees for Open Season, given that most employees are working from home.
BENEFEDS Request for Information: OPM appears to be poised to release an RFP for BENEFEDS administration and has released an RFI to obtain information from vendors with experience in enrollment and premium administration services. The BENEFEDS portal administers enrollment and premium payments for FEDVIP, FLTCIP, and FSAFEDS. The agency indicates an interest in hearing from small businesses.
COVID-19 Vaccine Could Come in Late October; White House Says No Pressure On: US public health officials and Pfizer have said that a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as late October, just before the presidential election. The White House has indicated that they are not pressuring the FDA to hurry the approval process.
Apple, Google Take Front Seat on Apps in New COVID-19 Exposure Notifications Tech: Apple and Google announced earlier this week that their COVID-19 exposure notification tool will not require public health groups to maintain a custom application. The move will likely garner criticism over privacy concerns. Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, DC are all set to deploy the system, which will allow Apple and Google to use basic data points to create an exposure notification system tailored to each public health agency.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Releases Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine for Public Comment: Public comments on the framework opened on September 1 and will remain open for just 4 days. The framework focuses on providing access to communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Says it Won’t Join Global Effort to Find COVID-19 Vaccine: The US has announced that it will not work with an international cooperative effort to develop and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 150 nations are working together to create the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX), an effort that would allow countries to take advantage of a variety of potential vaccines to ensure quick coverage to any deemed effective.
AstraZeneca Starts 30K-Subject US Phase 3 COVID-19 Vaccine Trial: AstraZeneca has begun phase 3 clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and ill enroll 30,000 adults at sites around the globe, including the US. Previous trials were conducted abroad.
COVID + Influenza: This is a Good Year to Get a Flu Shot, Experts Advise: With many Americans staying away from doctor’s offices because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many worry that not enough will get the flu vaccine this season. Given current constraints on hospital systems, keeping the flu at a minimum this year will we important.
How Foundational Moments in Medicaid’s History Reinforced Rather Than Eliminated Racial Health Disparities: Health Affairs reviews historical moments in the history of Medicaid to shed light on how key facets of the current program have reinforced racial disparities. The authors provide insight into policies that states and the federal government could implement to move toward health equity.
Congress Makes Progress on End-of-year Spending Bill as COVID-19 Relief Talks Languish. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have agreed to use a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September. The spending bill, which would probably fund the government through mid-December 2020, will be independent of congressional COVID-19 relief, which has stalled due to disagreements between Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are trying to gather support for a smaller package aimed at COVID-19, likely to include funding for weekly federal unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program, education, and the U.S. Postal Service. Democrats have already rejected the plan as insufficient.
Kenosha Shooting Renews Congressional Police Reform Efforts. A bipartisan group of members of Congress led by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass is working to revive police reform efforts after Wisconsin police shot a 29-year-old Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back late last month. Although the killing of George Floyd in May led House Democrats and the Senate GOP to push separate police reform bills, negotiations between the groups collapsed in late June amid partisan recriminations. The bipartisan group doesn’t yet have a specific plan on how to eventually introduce legislation, but several participants said they hope to have something that could win support from both parties before the end of the year.
Democrats Push for Tobacco-Free Colleges During COVID-19. On Thursday, Democrats urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue new guidance to encourage colleges and universities to go tobacco-free in the fall during the coronavirus pandemic. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) wrote a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield urging him to revamp his agency’s guidelines for institutions of higher learning. The lawmakers specifically cited a study showing that young people between the ages of 13 and 24 who vape are five times as likely as nonvapers to contract COVID-19. Those who both smoke combustible cigarettes and vape are seven times as likely to be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Aetna Unveils Plan Nudging Members to CVS Clinics, Pharmacies: CVS-owned Aetna rolled out the Aetna Connected plan design that would steer patients toward CVS (its parent company) locations. Member are provided appointments at CVS’ MinuteClinics and HealthHUBs for no copay. The plan is launching in the Kansas City insurance market.
California Moves Forward with Plan to Manufacture Its Own Generic Drugs: The California state legislature approved a measure that would direct the state’s health agency to partner with drug companies to make or distribute a broad range of generic or biosimilar drugs, including insulin. The Governor has until September 30 to sign or veto the measure.