What Happened, What You Missed: October 16-20, 2023


KFF Survey: Family Premiums in Employer Plans Up 7%

The average annual family premium for employer-sponsored coverage jumped 7% this year to reach nearly $24,000, according to the annual Employer Health Benefits Survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).  The largely inflation-driven increase comes after a few years where family premiums for employer-sponsored plans generally remained stagnant.  While employers saw their share of the premium grow by a similar percentage, most employers are unlikely to shift growing premiums on to employees as the labor market remains tight.  However, 25% of employers reported in the survey that they are likely to increase employees’ premium contributions in the next 2 years.

HELP Committee to Vote on NIH Director Nomination on Oct. 25

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has scheduled an October 25 vote on Dr. Monica Bertagnolli’s nomination to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has been without a permanent director since December 2021.  The committee vote follows an October 18 nomination hearing during which Bertagnolli faced questions about prescription drug prices and gender-affirming care.  While Bertagnolli affirmed a commitment to making drugs more accessible, she declined to take a position on march-in rights that give the federal government the authority to take over a patent for a drugs it helped developed in order to lower drug costs.  Bertagnolli also expressed a commitment to improving the diversity of clinical trials and research staff.

New Study Links Low Serotonin to Long COVID

Lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin could be a contributing factor in the development and persistence of long COVID, according to a new study.  While estimates on the percentage of people affected by long COVID vary wildly, common symptoms include memory problems, fatigue, and headaches.  The study suggests that traces of COVID-19 remain in the gastrointestinal tract, where the majority of serotonin is produced.  The presence of COVID-19 could cause inflammation that depletes serotonin levels, which play an important role in mood and sleep regulation as well as transferring messages between brain cells and the rest of the body.  Researchers conducted the study by analyzing blood and stool samples from various clinical studies and in small animal models.

Insurers Call for Changes to Administration’s Mental Health Parity Rules

Organizations representing commercial health insurers say proposed rulemaking from the Biden administration to improve mental health parity could have unintended consequences that would limit access to care.  Released in September, the proposed rule would require plans to more closely evaluate their provider networks to ensure plan enrollees don’t face burdensome costs for out-of-network services, as well as would require a reevaluation of prior authorization protocols. However, stakeholders like the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) argue that the proposed requirements could increase care that is not clinically recommended and limit a patient’s ability to choose care that best meets their needs.  The insurers’ concerns contrast with positive feedback from provider organizations and mental health advocacy groups.  As alternatives, BCBSA and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are urging the administration to focus on workforce issues and licensure.

ICYMI: Senators Launch Bipartisan Mental Health Caucus

On Tuesday, a group of bipartisan senators launched the Senate Mental Health Caucus, which will focus on collaborating on mental health solutions, holding events to boost awareness of mental health issues, and reducing stigma.  During a press conference and subsequent reception to kick off, Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC) spoke about how his experiences with mania and depression while he was on medication 16 years ago inspired him to work on mental health issues.  Similarly, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) discussed how his children became aware of his depression and his obligation to continue the conversation on mental health struggles.

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