Weekend update / Miscellany

  • Govexec.com reported on the new OPM Acting Director, Kathie Whipple. Ms. Whipple’s bio is now posted on OPM.gov.
  • Congress is busily working on the economic stimulus package. Both Houses are prepared to provide health care providers with at least $20 billion in funding for health care technology. Of course, the devil is in the details, particularly the new privacy and security requirements under consideration — House/Senate. Karen Ignani, who is President of the health insurance industry’s trade association AHIP, warned in a press release that

    “Investing in health information technology will make the health care system safer, more efficient, and more effective. Patients need the peace of mind of knowing that their personal health information is protected. However, if Congress enacts provisions that inhibit the secure exchange of health information, it will turn back the clock on efforts to coordinate patient care, improve health care quality, promote prevention and wellness, conduct comparative effectiveness research, and streamline health care administration.”

  • One aspect of the House bills that caused me to jump out of my chair is the proposal to drastically increase the COBRA continuation coverage period. Currently, an employee who loses his or her job, is entitled to self-pay continuation coverage for 18 months. If the employee is in the 29 month waiting period for Social Security disability benefit-based Medicare coverage, then she can receive an 11 month extension at 150% of the standard premium as opposed to 102%. The House panels are proposing to allow COBRA coverage to age 65 for any employee who loses his or her job after either after achieving ten years of service with the employer or after reaching age 55 (regardless of tenure with the company). According to this Business Insurance report, business groups have voiced concerns about this proposal because it changes the nature of this temporary coverage program and it would be quite expensive for employers.
  • Another Business Insurance report provides industry reactions to the United Healthcare/Ingenix settlement with the New York Attorney General that will replace the Ingenix usual reasonable and customary databases with an independent database developed by a qualified university designated by the New York AG.
  • AIS Drug Benefits report advises that Rep. Henry Waxman (D Calif), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is very interested in enacting a law that would create a regulatory pathway for follow-on biological drugs — a move that would save health plans and consumers millions of dollars.
  • Finally, Business Insurance reports on a settlement between a group of ERISA governed plans and the attorneys representing the class members in the Vioxx settlement that allows those plans a portion of the class recovery to reimburse the plans for the expenses incurred to treat their participant’s heart ailments attributable to Vioxx use.