News Briefs

News Briefs: Nearly 4.6M People Have Enrolled in ACA Exchange Plans for 2024

Nearly 4.6 million have enrolled in Affordable Care Act exchange plans for 2024 since open enrollment began on Nov. 1, including 919,900 people who did not have exchange plans this year. The data captures sign-ups through Nov. 18 for people in the 32 states that use HealthCare.gov for enrollment and through Nov. 11 for people in the 17 states and Washington, D.C., that have state-based marketplaces. CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a press release that “we have seen an increase in plan selections and a significant increase in the number of new enrollees year over year.” The open enrollment period runs through Jan. 15, 2024, for states using the HealthCare.gov website, while deadlines for state-based marketplaces vary.

The Biden administration on Nov. 16 released reports outlining steps it is taking to address social determinants of health and emphasizing the need to improve individuals’ social circumstances. The documents include the U.S. Playbook to Address Social Determinants of Health, the Call to Action to Address Health-Related Social Needs and a Medicaid and CHIP Health-Related Social Needs Framework. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a press release that “it is clear that the health of our people does not exist in a vacuum, but it is affected by our access to stable housing, healthy food and clean air to breathe.”

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News Briefs: CDC Makes More RSV Immunizations Available to Infants

The CDC announced on Nov. 16 that it had made available more than 77,000 additional doses of Beyfortus (nirsevimab-alip), a monoclonal antibody intended to protect infants from severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) disease. Since the FDA approved Beyfortus in July, there have been supply issues and insurance coverage limitations for RSV medications. Sanofi, which manufactures Beyfortus alongside AstraZeneca, noted last month that it had seen “an unprecedented” level of demand for the medication and that it was working with the CDC to distribute more doses through the agency’s Vaccines for Children program.

CMS has delayed its plan to cover Medicare patients’ full cost of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) using FDA-approved antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV infection in high-risk patients, according to KFF. CMS had announced the proposal in July and expected to make it official on Oct. 10, but KFF said the delay has occurred while CMS “is still working out details on how to transition coverage for patients already taking the drugs.” The drugs can cost more than $20,000 per year in the U.S.

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News Briefs: Express Scripts Rolls Out ‘Cost-Plus’ Pricing Model

The Cigna Group’s Express Scripts PBM announced on Nov. 14 that it’s launching a new “cost-plus” prescription drug pricing model for its clients. With the Express Scripts ClearNetwork, “clients pay a straight-forward estimated acquisition cost for individual medications, in addition to a small markup for pharmacy dispensing and service costs.” Express Scripts plans on launching the model in early 2024 and applying it toward generic, branded and specialty drugs. The move comes amid rising scrutiny from regulators over PBMs’ standard business practices like spread pricing, which allows PBMs to pocket the difference when pharmacies charge less for filling prescriptions than payers reimburse.

Five health care organizations, including AHIP and the American Medical Association, have launched the Common Health Coalition: Together for Public Health, according to a Nov. 9 press release. The coalition is “focused on translating the hard-won lessons and successes of the COVID-19 pandemic response into actionable strategies that will strengthen the partnership between our health care and public health systems.” The other founding members are the Alliance of Community Health Plans, American Hospital Association and Kaiser Permanente. Dave A. Chokshi, M.D., a physician at Bellevue Hospital and former New York City Commissioner, is chair of the Common Health Coalition.

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News Briefs: KFF Identifies Nearly 4,000 MA Plans are Available in 2024

A KFF report released on Nov. 8 found that 3,959 Medicare Advantage plans are available for individual enrollment next year, the second-largest number of plans since 2010 and a 1% decrease from this year. Meanwhile, the average beneficiary will be able to choose from 43 plans, the same as this year's record high. Eighty-nine percent of MA plans will offer prescription drug coverage in 2024; while 83% will offer telehealth benefits; and at least 97% will offer some dental, vision, fitness or hearing benefits.

A group of 32 Reps. led by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Judy Chu (D-CA) sent a letter on Nov. 3 to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure requesting increased oversight of artificial intelligence tools (AI) used to guide coverage decisions for Medicare Advantage plans. The elected officials wrote that “in recent years, problems posed by prior authorization have been exacerbated by MA plans’ increasing use of AI or algorithmic software managed by firms such as NaviHealth, myNexus, and CareCentrix to assist in their coverage determinations in certain care settings.” They asked CMS to require MA plans to report prior authorization data, compare guidance generated by AI tools with actual coverage decisions and assess whether plans are inappropriately using AI tools.

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News Briefs: California’s Insulin-Making Operation Hits Roadblocks

The state of California is facing delays in its efforts to produce low-cost insulin and is unlikely to meet its 2024 timeline, Bloomberg Law reports. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced in March that the state had formed a partnership with Civica Rx to produce an insulin known as CalRx that would cost no more than $30 per 10ml vial and no more than $55 for a box of five, 3 mL pre-filled pens. However, California Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, M.D., told Bloomberg Law the launch date would extend beyond 2024 due to unanticipated delays.

A group of 48 senators sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Dept. of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Dept. of Labor Acting Secretary Julie A. Su asking for the Biden administration to require all insurers to fully cover over-the-counter (OTC) contraceptives. The politicians want the plans to cover the medications with no copays or out-of-pocket costs and without requiring a prescription. Opill, the first FDA-approved OTC birth control pill, is expected to become available early next year. The senators signing the bill included Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

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News Briefs: About 10M People Have Lost Medicaid Coverage

As of Nov. 1, nearly 10.1 million people had been disenrolled from Medicare during the resumed eligibility redetermination process, according to KFF’s Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker. KFF, which compiles data from CMS and state websites, noted that 35% of people with a completed renewal application were disenrolled from Medicaid, while the remaining 65% had their coverage renewed. The disenrollment rates range from 10% in Illinois to 65% in Texas. During most of the COVID-19 public health emergency, states have been banned from conducting routine eligibility checks on Medicaid beneficiaries, but that process restarted on April 1.

Medica, which offers health insurance coverage in 12 states, has promoted Lisa Erickson to president and CEO, replacing John Naylor, who announced his resignation in July. Erickson joined Medica as chief financial officer in April after spending three and a half years as senior vice president of industry and network relations at Optum, UnitedHealth Group’s health services subsidiary. Medica is based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb.

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News Briefs: Benchmark ACA Premium to Rise 4% in 2024

In 2024, the average monthly premium for a benchmark silver plan on the federal Affordable Care Act exchange will rise by 4% compared to 2023, CMS revealed on Oct. 25. Premiums for a benchmark plan, or the average second-lowest-cost silver tier plan, are used to calculate advance premium tax credits (APTC) that rise in tandem with premium rates. CMS noted that the year-over-year benchmark plan premium increase of 4% between 2023 and 2024 is the same as the increase seen between 2022 and 2023. Also continuing next year will be enhanced subsidies that make ACA exchange plans much more affordable than they were before the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. To that end, the average benchmark plan rate after premium tax credits are applied, for a 40-year-old at 150% of the federal poverty level, will continue to be $0 in 2024 — compared to $55 before ARPA was enacted.

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News Briefs: Amazon to Deliver Prescriptions With Drones

Amazon.com Inc. will deliver prescriptions via drone in College Station, Texas, the e-commerce giant said on Oct. 18. The online retailer said it will fill and deliver prescriptions for Amazon Pharmacy customers via drone in “60 minutes or less,” and that more than 500 medications can be delivered using the service. An Amazon press release claims that “Amazon’s drones have safely delivered hundreds of household items in College Station since December 2022.” Intermountain Health, the Utah-based integrated health system, has delivered prescriptions by drone since 2021 in the Salt Lake City area, the Associated Press reports.

Elevance Health Inc.’s CarelonRx PBM will add two of Boehringer Ingelheim’s Humira (adalimumab) biosimilars to some of its formularies starting Dec. 1, the firm said on Oct. 19. The move will put those drugs “at parity with Humira,” per a press release. The lower-list-price version of adalimumab-adbm will be added to all CarelonRx’s commercial formularies, while Boehringer’s Cyltezo will be added to “select” commercial formularies, the press release added.

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News Briefs: Average Employer Plan Premium Set to Rise 7%

The average annual premium for employer-sponsored health insurance this year increased by 7% for single coverage and family coverage, reaching $8,435 and $23,968, respectively, according to the KFF Employer Health Benefits Survey. The report, released on Oct. 18, noted that workers’ wages increased by 5.2% and inflation rose by 5.8% in 2023. The average annual increase last year was 2% for single coverage and 1% for family coverage. KFF’s survey, now in its 25th year, includes private and non-federal public employers with three or more workers.

Customer satisfaction with health insurance increased to a record-high score, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) Insurance and Health Care Study published on Oct. 17. Humana Inc. had the highest score (82 out of 100), followed by UnitedHealthcare (78) and CVS Health Corp.-owned Aetna (77). ASCI’s report was based on interviews with 12,849 customers between October 2022 and September 2023 on subjects such as the range of plans available, ease of submitting a claim and access to doctors and hospitals. ASCI was founded in 1994 by researchers at the University of Michigan as well as the American Society for Quality in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and CFI Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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News Briefs: Cigna Tucks In a New Telehealth Asset

The Cigna Group’s Evernorth division said on Oct. 10 that it acquired Bright.md, which provides “asynchronous care, triage, and health care navigation services.” The new acquisition’s capabilities will be added to Evernorth’s existing telehealth platform, MDLIVE, starting in 2024, the company said. Once the two telehealth offerings are combined, patients seeking care will be guided through a “digital clinical interview” that is then converted into a comprehensive chart note — rather than going immediately to a real-time clinician interaction. A clinician then will review the patient’s responses and offer a diagnosis, care plan or prescription, or the patient will be connected “to a different modality or setting for care when clinically appropriate.” Evernorth noted that “this asynchronous care experience is not based on artificial intelligence or machine learning, and all care decisions are made by clinicians.” Additionally, MDLIVE will expand its chronic care management to include health coaching.

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