HHS removes some requirements for opioid treatment prescribing

HHS is waiving certification requirements for physicians to prescribe the drug buprenorphine in an effort to expand access to medical-assisted treatment to stem a stark rise in opioid overdose deaths over the past year.

New practice guidelines released by HHS on Thursday will allow any physician licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency can prescribe buprenorphine to up to 30 patients without having to go through the standard process to become authorized, which requires clinicians to undergo eight hours of training.

Only physicians can qualify for the exemption, and the 30 patient cap will not apply to hospital-based physicians, such as those who work in emergency departments. Physicians will be limited to treating patients located in states in which they are authorized to practice medicine, and it will not include the prescribing of methadone.

HHS said the certifications “represent a significant perceived barrier to prescribing buprenorphine.”

The guideline change leaves out

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U.S. on track for herd immunity by summer

As COVID-19 immunization speeds up across the U.S., vaccine makers hope the country will reach mass immunization by the summer and be the first country of its size to meet that goal.

In a panel at the virtual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Wednesday, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said that if the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines’ distribution continues to go smoothly, 400 million vaccines will have reached 70% of the U.S. population by the end of the second quarter of 2021. While smaller countries like Israel may reach herd immunity earlier, the timeline would still put the U.S. ahead of some of its peers.

“I think Europe will be much later,” Bancel said. “I would not be surprised if it takes Europe through the end of the year to get good immunization across the country.”

The federal government’s central focus is on getting vaccines into people’s arms, according to Dr.

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Operation Warp Speed to bump up McKesson’s stock price

McKesson Corp., which is partnering with the federal government to distribute COVID-19 vaccines by Moderna, as well as ancillary supply kits, expects its earnings per share to reach up to $16.50. Its stock was trading at $183.27 at the market close on Jan. 12. McKesson is not distributing the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

Although the Irving, Tex.-based wholesale drug distributor has worked with the federal government in the past to distribute H1N1 vaccines, Chief Financial Officer Britt Vitalone during a presentation at the Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference said COVID-19 vaccine distribution was more complex and “there are many factors that go into vaccine distribution, you should not expect this to look like the same economics as H1N1.”

And there’s much less certainty around timing and available quantities of the COVID-19 vaccine, CEO Brian Tyler said. But, the company’s distribution of the Moderna vaccine has “gone very well and on schedule,”

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No data supports halving COVID vaccine doses

Moderna’s top doctor on Monday cautioned against giving patients only half doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in an attempt to innoculate more people, saying there isn’t data to prove its efficacy.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tal Zaks said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, which kicked off virtually on Monday, that the company is studying the question but has only preliminary findings to date. Once it has more information, he said the company will discuss the issue with regulators. Moderna’s data showing the vaccine is 94% effective is based on two doses administered four weeks apart.

“On cutting the dose in half, we’re advocating for following the data and the science,” Zaks said. “We do not have data on efficacy for half the dose.”

COVID-19 vaccination efforts have had a sluggish start, as public health officials have said they don’t have the funding or leadership to quickly disseminate the

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Vaccine rollout confirms public health officials’ complaints

Public health officials have sounded the alarm for months, complaining that they do not have enough support or money to get COVID-19 vaccines quickly into arms. Now the slower-than-expected start to the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history is proving them right.

As they work to ramp up the shots, state and local public health departments across the U.S. cite a variety of obstacles, most notably a lack of leadership from the federal government. Many officials worry that they are losing precious time at the height of the pandemic, and the delays could cost lives.

States lament a lack of clarity on how many doses they will receive and when. They say more resources should have been devoted to education campaigns to ease concerns among people leery of getting the shots. And although the federal government recently approved $8.7 billion for the vaccine effort, it will take time to reach

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CommonSpirit’s CHI St. Luke’s settles Blue Cross Blue Shield contract dispute

CommonSpirit’s CHI St. Luke’s on Friday reached a new contract agreement with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, ending a dispute that could have prevented 65,000 patients on those plans from accessing its hospitals.

Houston-based CHI St. Luke’s had pushed BCBSTX for a price increase in the middle of its current contract, which expires at the end of 2021. The health system threatened to take its 16 Texas hospitals out-of-network for Blue Cross and Blue Shield by Dec. 16 if the two companies didn’t reach an agreement.

“As this new agreement goes into effect, our focus remains where it has always been—on patients,” St. Luke’s Health President Douglas Lawson said in a statement. “We’re eager to continue working with those BCBSTX customers who have remained under our care, and to working with those who find themselves in need of hospital-based care in the future.”

The new contract went into

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