Weekend update / Miscellany

  • On Thursday, the FEHBlog discussed a New York Times report on a same sex partner coverage dispute between the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and OPM. I was surprised to find the story on the front page of Friday’s paper. Also on Friday, Govexec.com published its own story captioned “Efforts to grant feds domestic partner benefits gain momentum.” I can’t argue with that considering the President’s expressed desire to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and his nomination of a domestic partner coverage advocate, John Berry, to be OPM Director. I just took a look at the nominations page on whitehouse.gov and it appears that Mr. Berry’s nomination has not been formally delivered to the Senate yet.
  • Also last week, the FEHBlog discussed Rep. Waxman’s introduction of a bill to create a regulatory pathway for biogeneric or biosimilar drugs. I suspected that his bill would be opposed by the biotech industry and my suspicion was confirmed by a Wall Street Journal report captioned “Firms Prepare for a Fight over Generic Drugs”

    The trade group Biotechnology Industry Organization quickly denounced the bill, saying it would undermine innovation. “This bill seeks to cut prices but instead cuts corners,” said the organization’s head, former Pennsylvania Rep. James Greenwood, in a statement. He said the bill “jeopardizes the continued development of new breakthrough therapies and potential cures for debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s.” Biotech companies say they’re not opposed to creating a path for generics, but they say it should require extensive clinical trials showing the copies are safe and effective. Biologics are among the most expensive medicines and are particularly used in cancer treatment. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated a generics bill could bring savings of $9.2 billion over 10 years in reduced payments by Medicare and other government agencies. Congressional jockeying over the legislation is likely. Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) is planning to introduce a companion Senate bill to the Waxman House bill. Rep. Waxman is expected to face a challenge from Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), who introduced a bill in 2007 that was more favorable to brand-name biotech companies. Their bill called for 12 years of exclusivity.

  • On February 24 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a proposed rule implementing Title II of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”). Title II applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Title I applies to health plans. I understand from a presentation by a panel of government experts that the law will impact wellness programs sponsored by employers and health plans. Comments are due on May 5, 2009, and title II of GINA takes effect on November 21,2009. Here’s a link to a report on the proposed rule by Human Resources Executive online.
  • Finally last week, AHIP teamed up with Gallup and Healthways to publish a report measuring the quality of life in the various states and congressional districts. According to AHIP’s press release.

    Some highlights of the new reports include:

  • Utah, Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado and Minnesota top the state rankings, and
  • California’s 14th Congressional District, located between San Francisco and San Jose, is highest among congressional districts.