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What We’re Reading: New CMS Proposals; WHO's Aspartame Warning; Reasonable COVID-19 Vaccine Prices


CMS releases its 2024 Physician Fee Schedule, including a conversion factor cut, and proposes behavioral health efforts; a World Health Organization (WHO) agency says that aspartame may cause cancer, but another one maintains that it remains generally safe; HHS calls for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers to ensure reasonable pricing for their upcoming fall shots.

CMS Releases New Fee Schedule, Proposals

CMS is proposing a cut of almost 3.4% to the “conversion factor” within the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2024, and physician groups are upset with the news, according to Medpage Today. This cut would increase the gap between physician practice expenses and Medicare reimbursement rates, Anders Gilberg, MGA, senior vice president for government affairs at the Medical Group Management Association, told Medpage Today. Meanwhile, CMS’ commitment to value-based care and accountable care organization (ACO) participation was praised in a statement from the National Association of ACOs. Additionally, CMS also revealed a series of important behavioral health proposals that would permit marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors, including substance use disorder counselors, to enroll in Medicare and bill for services, reported Behavioral Health Business.

Aspartame May Cause Cancer, but Agencies Disagree

A World Health Organization (WHO) agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, announced Thursday that aspartame, an artificial sweetener commonly used in diet drinks and low-sugar foods, might cause cancer, according to The New York Times. Another WHO committee maintained its evaluation of a safe level of aspartame and deduced that a person weighing 150 pounds could avoid cancer risk and still drink about 12 cans of diet soda daily; the FDA also issued a statement reiterating its stance that aspartame is safe. This is the first time the WHO has publicly expressed a position on the effects of aspartame, which has been widely used in food and drink for decades.

HHS Calls for Reasonable COVID-19 Vaccine Prices

COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers should price their updated fall shots at a realistic amount that would reflect the benefits given through government investments, said HHS on Thursday, reported Reuters. The US government will also introduce a $1 billion “Bridge Access Program” this fall to assist those without insurance and the underinsured to continue receiving vaccines and treatments for free. The appeal from HHS to the vaccine developers comes during a time when the United States is shifting from government purchases in the early pandemic years to a commercial marketplace for COVID-19 products. Based on FDA advice, manufacturers are targeting the XBB.1.5 subvariant for this fall.

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