Weekend update / Miscellany

  • The House and Senate Budget Committees cleared for floor consideration FY 2019 budget blueprints that include the President’s proposed $634 billion downpayment for health care reform but no details. According to the Washington Post,

    A bigger fight is looming, however, over whether to use a powerful procedural maneuver to push Obama’s signature health, education and clean energy initiatives through the Senate without any Republican votes. The House advocates the maneuver, known as reconciliation, in its budget plan, but influential Senate Democrats have joined Republicans in opposing the move and said they will fight to block it when the chambers meet to resolve their differences in a conference committee next month.

    Yahoo News reports that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D Md) predicted that the reform plan will include an insurance mandate. He noted that the insurance industry supports such a mandate. However, Rep. Hoyer also noted that the House leadership supports a government health plan option as part of the mandate. The insurance industry’s support of a mandate is contingent upon a reform plan that does not include a government plan option.On Friday, the Health Reform Dialogue, a broad coalition that includes the AMA, Phrma, AHIP, the Chamber of Commerce, and Families USA, among others, issued a set of constructs for reform that covers a broad range of consensus items, such as preventive health care, but avoids the areas of discord like the mandate and the government plan. It’s useful reading. Politico.com reports that “This report is meant to be progress to date,” according to Dialogue materials. “We’ll keep working with each other inside and outside the political process.”

  • Last year, OPM solicited proposals from insurance carriers to fill the government wide indemnity benefit plan slot in the FEHB Program. That slot has been vacant since about 1990. Last Thursday, OPM announced its decision to withdraw that solicitation.
  • Asparity Decision Solutions which offers federal employees and annuitants the Plansmartchoice tool during the FEHBP Open Season, announced the results of various surveys that it conducted during the most recent Open Season.
  • U.S. News and World Report reported that “A 65-year-old couple retiring in 2009 will need approximately $240,000 to cover medical expenses throughout their retirement, even with Medicare insurance coverage, according to a Fidelity Investments estimate released this week.” This estimate does not include over the counter drugs, most dental care, and long term care. Consequently, it suggests what an FEHB plan would pay to cover such a couple as a secondary carrier to Medicare.
  • AIS Health Business Daily reported last week on the Obama Administration’s push to allow prescription drug imports from outside the U.S. I find this move puzzling because the savings are short term at best, and drug imports can threaten drug safety here.
  • Consumer Reports website is now offering downloadable, two page “reports [in English and Spanish] that compare prescription drugs by category— that is, drugs in the same class that are used to treat a specific condition or illness, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, allergies, coronary-artery disease, heartburn, or depression. They combine an expert review of the scientific evidence with pricing information.” There are currently 21 reports on the site.