Weekend update / Miscellany

  • Press reports indicate that tomorrow President Obama will announce that he is nominating Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Of course, this nomination is subject to Senate approval. This news reminds me that in January there were several press reports that the President intended to nominate National Zoo director John Berry to serve as the OPM Director. I haven’t read any more about the OPM’s Director’s position since the President named Kathie Ann Whipple to serve as acting Director.
  • The Dallas News includes an interview with Darren Rogers, the President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. The interview focuses on the tension between physicians and health plans. This is a good exchange —

    I look at this as we’re all in this together and we’ve all got to get along. I think everybody’s heart is in the right place. I don’t think that physicians or hospitals are trying to put me out of business, and I’m certainly not trying to put them out of business. Without them, I have no business. I’m not saying conflict doesn’t exist, because there’s a natural tension. Health plans are an intermediary between the people who are paying for service – which are really the employers – and providers, who want to maximize their incomes. But where would providers be without the commercial health insurance companies? We all pay more than the government programs do. If we’re not there anymore, then they get to live on what Medicare and Medicaid pay them. And certainly there are bad actors. We do have situations where we know that physicians and other providers are harming people, and they get investigated. And there are probably things that health plans do that aggravate them. But you can’t have a free rein on the system or no one would be able to afford anything.

  • The New York Times reports today on the efforts of Aetna and United Healthcare to prepare for the next round of health care reform efforts.
  • The Labor Department has created a useful website on the COBRA continuation coverage subsidy created by the stimulus law. As explained on that site,

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)[the official name of the stimulus act] provides for a 65% reduction in COBRA premiums for certain assistance eligible individuals for up to 9 months. An assistance eligible individual is a COBRA “qualified beneficiary” who meets all of the following requirements:Has a qualifying event for COBRA coverage that is the employee’s involuntary termination during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009.Those who are eligible for other group health coverage (such as a spouse’s plan) or Medicare are not eligible for the premium reduction. Other limitations may also apply. There is no premium reduction for periods of coverage that began prior to February 17, 2009.

    OPM is in the process of implementing these changes to the FEHBP’s analogous temporary continuation of coverage program.

  • The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association has published its annual report on state health care initiatives.
  • HHS issued a projection of 2009 health care costs. The report discusses the impact of the current recession on health care spending.