Weekend Update

Congress is in session this week in the run up to the end of the three day weekend drought which runs from President’s Day in mid-February to Memorial Day at the end of May. The Hill’s Floor Action Blog as always provides a look at the week ahead. The Hill also reports that the federal debt ceiling debate will resume in October or November when the Government’s extraordinary measures lost their efficacy. In all likelihood that debate will get wrapped in the federal budget debate that will take place in September after the August recess.

The big excitement of the coming week is the release of the psychiatrist’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition or DSM 5. (The shrinks have dropped their customary use of Roman numerals to identify DSM editions.) The FEHBlog read two interesting stories about the DSM in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (the best newspaper of the week). CBS News summarizes the controversy here. It doesn’t matter that much to health plans which use the ICD-9 for diagnostic coding purposes under HIPAA.

Standard and Poors released its March 2013 health care cost indices last week.

Data released today by S&P Dow Jones Indices for the S&P Healthcare Economic Composite Index indicates that the average per capita cost of healthcare services covered by commercial insurance and Medicare programs increased by 3.02% over the 12-months ending March 2013, decelerating from the +3.11% annual growth rate recorded in February. It posted the lowest rate of growth since January 2005.

Seven of the nine S&P Healthcare Economic Indices showed slower annual growth rates for March 2013 compared to February 2013. Annual growth rates for five of the healthcare indices hit their historic lows in March. As measured by the S&P Healthcare Economic Commercial Index, healthcare costs covered by commercial insurance plans rose by 4.46% in March, down from +4.63% reported for February. The Commercial Index rate hit its historic low in March. Annual growth rates in Medicare costs increased by 0.82%, according to the S&P Healthcare Economic Medicare Index, up from +0.78% recorded last month.

Cost curve up but not as fast as before.  The AP reports a similar outcome in a Fidelity Investments survey of retiree health care costs.

A 65-year-old couple retiring this year would need $220,000 on average to cover medical expenses, an 8 percent decrease from last year’s estimate of $240,000. The study assumes a life expectancy of 85 for women and 82 for men.  The projection assumes that a 65-year-old couple retires this year with Medicare coverage and no additional coverage from former employers.

Federal employees can thank their lucky stars that FEHBP coverage continues into their retirement with the full government contribution as long as they have five years of FEHBP coverage immediately preceding retirement.