Weekend Wrap-Up / Miscellany

  • The federal benefits Open Season officially ends tomorrow December 10. Commentators have offered last minute advice to federal employees and annuitants here and here.
  • There has been little evident forward motion on the federal appropriations and SCHIP reauthorization fronts over the past week. It turns out that Congress did not send its second SCHIP reauthorization bill to the White House last week, and the current continuing resolution (HR 3222) funding the federal government, including the SCHIP and FEHB Programs, expires this Friday, December 14. We’ll just wait and see what the backrooms on Capitol Hill produce.
  • We also are anxiously anticipating the emergence of a consolidated House mental health parity bill and Medicare reimbursement fix bill that would avoid the 10.1% cut in Medicare Part B compensation to physicians scheduled for January 1.
  • Health Affairs features an interesting conversation between HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and Leonard Schaeffer, the retired CEO of Wellpoint. I particularly enjoyed this exchange on healthcare information technology (IT) which can be categorized under the no good deed goes unpunished heading:

    Schaeffer:There’s no magic in IT. The benefits of health IT come from changing workflow and practice patterns based on better information. Leavitt: So, we’ve got to experiment a little. We’ve got to say, “Let’s prove up the business model here.” Everybody is optimistic about health IT, and we’ve seen it work in closed systems. But we’ve never seen it work on a large networked basis. We really do need to demonstrate this. And you’ll see that in the fairly near future. Schaeffer: I’ve got the scars to prove your point. WellPoint received awards for attempting to accelerate health IT adoption, but the truth was, we tried and failed. WellPoint gave away $42 million worth of hardware and software to doctors, many of whom happily took their laptops home to their kids. All we got from that effort was a letter from the California Medical Association accusing us of unfairly imposing a gift tax on recipients of the free IT supplies.

  • Modern Healthcare featured an update on AHIC’s efforts to mandate electronic prescribing in the Medicare program. The article notes that “Wednesday [December 5], U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) held a news conference to ballyhoo a separate piece of legislation, the Medicare Electronic Medication and Safety Protection (E-MEDS) Act of 2007, a bill they’ve sponsored to support e-prescribing. The Senate Judiciary Committee also scheduled hearings Wednesday on the Drug Enforcement Agency policies toward e-prescribing.”
  • WEDI and the North Carolina Healthcare Information and Communications Alliance, Inc. released this week a projected HIPAA standard transactions and code sets regulatory timeline. According to their press release, “[t]he timeline estimates that, based on current assumptions, implementation of the 5010 version of HIPAA transactions will be complete in 2014. This date is important because the ICD-10 clinical coding system cannot be used until 5010 transactions are implemented and can be processed using the ICD-10 codes.”
  • AHIP, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and Health Level 7 signed a memorandum of understanding on maintaining the electronic transaction standard to transfer subscriber information between gaining and losing health plans that they developed for public use.
  • EBRI released a report on the future of employment based health benefits that concludes that the current system is stable.