Skip to Main Content

You’re reading the web edition of Health Care Inc., STAT’s weekly newsletter following the flow of money through the health care system. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

The latest with the Kaiser Permanente strike

Kaiser Permanente health care workers who went on strike last week notified Kaiser yesterday of future strike plans, my colleague Brittany Trang reports.


The next possible strike would take place Nov. 1-8, once a contract for 3,000 workers in Seattle expires at the end of October. The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions also said the November deadline would “give Kaiser executives more time to organize themselves around viable proposals.” The next bargaining sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

Last week, Reuters reported that acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was brought in as a mediator for last-ditch negotiations before last week’s three-day work stoppage. But attempts to broker a deal on the eve of the strike failed, and talks broke off Wednesday as the strike got underway.

The union said labor outsourcing has emerged as “a major sticking point” in negotiations, as Kaiser executives “have refused to agree to common sense limitations on subcontracting and outsourcing.” Kaiser did not immediately respond to questions.


Don’t 💤 past your health benefits enrollment

It’s that special time of year when everyone’s HR reps start to kindly tell everyone they will need to pick medical benefits again for 2024. Of course, after a spree of reminder emails, most people will put it off until the day before the deadline, check a couple enrollment boxes, and then forget the entire process until next year.

Well, dear reader, I am here to say that as excruciating as the process might be, don’t ignore it. Especially this year. It might be hiding a pay cut. Just look at what federal employees and their families are about to face.

The Federal Employee Health Benefits program, the self-proclaimed “largest employer-sponsored health benefits program” in the country, released information about 2024 health plans. The average increase to premiums is 5.8%, driven by “increases in cost and utilization to specialty and brand drugs, emergency room care, and outpatient care.”

It’s more drastic than that even seems: Employees and their families are having to pay an additional 7.7% on average for their share of their health coverage, while the federal government is only chipping in 5% more for its share. Just to make this crystal clear: If you are a federal employee, and your pay raise for 2024 is less than the increases to your health insurance, you are taking a pay cut.

This reminds me of what KFF’s Gary Claxton told me last year, when he had concerns for what employees and their families were about to face going into the 2024 benefits season: “We’ll see a bigger premium increase than we’ve seen in a while.” (Another reminder: We’re just a couple weeks away from when KFF releases its annual tome on employer-provided health benefits.)

Who is buying what now

Venture capital firm General Catalyst is looking to buy a hospital system, my colleague Mohana Ravindranath reports from the HLTH conference.

General Catalyst didn’t give many details, but Marc Harrison, the former Intermountain CEO who is leading this effort at General Catalyst, said they “are not interested in simply serving a bunch of rich people in some suburb somewhere.”

Read the rest of Mohana’s story to understand how this spinout, called the (shudders) Health Assurance Transformation Corp., will work.

MedPAC not sold on nursing home staffing rule

The Biden administration is proposing nursing homes have registered nurses on hand around the clock and more nursing assistants, but the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission isn’t endorsing the ideas, my colleague Tara Bannow reports.

The influential group of Medicare experts thinks many facilities, especially those in rural areas that already suffer from low quality of care, wouldn’t be able to comply. Many MedPAC commissioners also weren’t sure it’d help the industry’s high staff turnover rates.

But the high Medicare profit margins and high turnover rates also means nursing homes could afford to pay staff more. “They’re just taking the money for themselves,” MedPAC commissioner Lawrence Casalino said. Read Tara’s story to learn more.

Industry odds and ends

  • UnitedHealth Group reports third-quarter earnings on Friday.
  • Another Medicare Advantage plan gets saved by the watered-down audit rule: A new report from HHS’ Office of Inspector General said the government overpaid CVS Health’s Aetna MA plans by $25.5 million in 2015 and 2016 due to unsubstantiated coding. But the company only has to repay a little more than $632,000 because extrapolation of coding errors can’t be applied to audits that review years prior to 2018. A CVS Health spokesperson said the company “disagrees with the audit approach” and claimed there are “numerous flaws in OIG’s methodology.”
  • Kentucky Medicaid officials said moving to one pharmacy benefit manager (MedImpact) has saved $283 million since going into effect in 2021, Deborah Yetter of the Kentucky Lantern reports. Those savings fly in the face of CVS Health, which previously warned the switch would cost Kentucky’s Medicaid program more money.
  • The Supreme Court will soon hear oral arguments on an important case over the Chevron doctrine — the idea that federal agencies have leeway to interpret and implement unclear regulations as long as those interpretations are “reasonable.”
  • Dollar General is putting mobile clinics in its stores’ parking lots, although there’s some skepticism patients in rural areas will actually get care there, Sarah Jane Tribble of KFF Health News reports.
  • Private equity continues to take over physician groups. The latest example: Ascend Capital Partners buying a majority stake in Seoul Medical Group, which encompasses 4,800 physicians across seven states and a company that provides back-end services to physician groups.
  • A group of investors created the blank check company Golden Arrow Merger Corp. in 2021 with a goal of taking a private health care company public. Lloyd Dean, the former CEO of the not-for-profit hospital system CommonSpirit Health, sits on Golden Arrow’s board. Well, Golden Arrow finally picked a (very unexpected) target: Bolt Threads, a biomaterials company that mostly makes beauty products.

The Meme Ward

Exciting news! STAT has moved its comment section to our subscriber-only app, STAT+ Connect. Subscribe to STAT+ today to join the conversation or join us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Threads. Let's stay connected!

To submit a correction request, please visit our Contact Us page.