Weekend update / Miscellany

Interesting NFL games were played this weekend. I was in South Carolina when Arizona beat the Carolina Panthers to much local consternation. It would be astonishing if the Cardinals reached the Superbowl. Having watched the Eagles lose to the Redskins on December 21, I was surprised that the Eagles have reached the NFC championship game. Next week’s Steelers – Ravens game will be fun to watch. But onto the business at hand.

There were several FEHBP developments this past week.

The OPM Inspector General’s office posted on the web its semi-annual report to Congress for the period ending September 30, 2008.

OPM released the results of its 2009 Federal Human Capital Survey:

Satisfaction with health insurance and the flexible spending account programs show improvement since 2004. Employee satisfaction with health insurance (Q.65) continues to increase, up 6 percentage points since 2004. While satisfaction with flexible spending accounts (Q.68) was up 5 percentage points since 2004.

The Office of Management and Budget released an FY 2008 report on performance of the federal government. According to that report, Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP) overall enrollee satisfaction was 78% vs. health care industry standard of 60% (percent).

OMB also released agency performance and accountability scorecards. OPM received a green light on both its progress in eliminating improper payments and its health care quality and transparency initiative. According to OPM’s Improper Payments Improvement Act report for FY 2008, the improper payment rate for the FEHB Program as reported by OMB is 0.2%. In contrast, Medicare’s rate is 3.6%.

Events also transpired outside the FEHBP world. AHIC Successor, Inc. renamed itself the National eHealth Collaborative (is that really more catchy?). The collaborative also refreshed its website. Government Health IT News reports that

With a new administration coming to Washington, D.C., and a massive federal stimulus plan under consideration, some policy experts believe the environment for overhauling the country’s health care system is favorable. The Health Information and Management Systems Society has called on the new administration to spend a minimum of $25 billion on the adoption of electronic medical records by nongovernmental hospitals.

“Twenty-five billion [dollars] moving into this area could be a game-changer,” said John Loonsk, director of interoperability and standards at the Office of the National Coordinator of Health IT, at the board meeting.

Some critics have suggested that allocation of those funds should be deferred until interoperability standards are in place. But Loonsk, remarking on recent progress made in that area, told the board that a lack of technical standards is “no longer the major obstacle to advancing interoperability.”

He nonetheless conceded that implementing those standards “is very challenging.”

Business Insurance reported on another stimulus development. Congress is planning to provide a government contribution of the 50-60% of the COBRA continuation coverage premiums for workers who lose their jobs (perhaps subject to other eligibility criteria such as an earnings ceiling). The FEHBP analog is COBRA continuation coverage is TCC. The article does not explain whether the expected subsidy would be extend to TCC.

Finally, last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that the agency has

notified more than 3,000 of the nation’s hospitals that they will receive the full payment update for calendar year (CY) 2009 as part of the new Hospital Outpatient Quality Data Reporting Program.

The successful hospitals represent 99.3 percent of all hospitals that participated in the program that began in 2008 as an effort to strengthen the tie between the quality of care furnished to people with Medicare in hospital outpatient departments and the payments hospitals receive for those services.