Mid-week Miscellany

  • Tomorrow is President Obama’s health care reform summit. According to Modern Healthcare.com,
    House leaders have pledged at least a half-dozen hearings over the coming weeks to seek out fixes for the nation’s fractured healthcare system, but were less clear on a timetable for a bill. [For instance, the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a health care reform hearing on March 10, and the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a health care reform hearing on March 11.

    Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, said that the House does not have an official deadline, but acknowledged that under President Barack Obama’s goal to sign a bill this year, “I would say you have to get it passed by end of summer or early September.”

    This week, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he would target midsummer for a reform package to emerge from the Senate. Baucus, who has emerged as the point person on health reform, said he had met with many lawmakers to help shape the legislative process, including those on the House side.

  • The Davies public relations firm released the results of a 2009 national survey of hospital executive attitudes towards health insurers. According to the firm’s press release,

    Although health plans are rated poorly in a variety of other surveys – including JD Powers and Harris Poll – the DAVIES survey revealed two outliers in the health insurance community. For the first time, hospitals identified a preferred business partner in Aetna. And for the third straight year, UnitedHealthcare stood out dramatically as a bad actor in its ratings.

  • The DC Examiner reports that five federal annuitants have sued the Department of Health and Human Services in DC federal court to block an HHS rule requiring them to enroll in Medicare Part A if they want to receive Social Security benefits. The lead plaintiff had been happily enrolled in the Mail Handlers Benefit Plan’s high deductible plan with a health savings account (“HSA”). However, you cannot contribute to an HSA if you are enrolled in Medicare. There’s the rub that lead to the lawsuit.
  • Up in the Bay State, according to the AP, a group of federal employees who have same sex spouses have sued OPM in Massachusetts federal court in an effort to force OPM to open FEHBP coverage to their spouses. The AP reports that

    The new lawsuit challenges only the portion of the [Defense of Marriage Act] that prevents the federal government from affording Social Security and other benefits to same-sex couples. President Barack Obama has pledged to work to repeal DOMA and reverse the Department of Defense policy that prevents openly gay people from serving in the military.

  • Joe Davidson of the Washington Post reports this morning on a glitch in President Obama’s budget outline. The budget outline projects $9.5 billion in savings over ten years from reductions in postal employee fringe benefits. The budget fails to consider that in those benefits are collectively bargained between the postal unions and the USPS. In contrast, the federal employee unions do not have collective bargaining rights over wages and fringe benefits. Those must be “negotiated” with Congress. Hence the efforts year in and year out to get Congress to increase the Government contribution toward FEHBP coverage for federal employees and annuitants.