The FEHBlog still has his fingers crossed for an early end to the partial government shutdown. Federal News Radio offers more details on the continuation of FEHBP coverage during the shutdown. The Washington Post reports that the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill tomorrow that will provide backpay to furloughed federal employees. 

Earlier this year, OPM proposed to Congress that it be allowed to create premium differentials designed to encourage wellness, e.g., higher premiums for smokers. This is a common practice in the private section, which the Affordable Care Act has endorsed. Business Insurance reports a growing trend among employers to use the stick (typically together) with the carrot as a wellness incentive.

 Twenty-two percent of U.S. employers polled in Towers Watson’s 2013/2014 “Staying@Work Report” said they have already incorporated penalties into their wellness incentive structures, while 36% say they are planning to do so by the end of next year.
By 2016, 61% of employers said they plan to penalize employees who do not participate in wellness programs.

AHIP is offering helpful information about the importance of health literacy developed by an Aetna subsidiary iTriage. This information certainly is worth sharing with health plan members.

The Hartford Courant reports that “Cigna Corp. on Thursday added Consumer Reports’ ratings of hospitals to the insurer’s website [for its insureds called myCigna], making it one of four analytics [including Leapfrog, other industry sources, and Cigna’s own research] that people can browse before having a surgery or other procedure.”  The FEHBlog finds it interesting that Cigna does not offer CMS’s Hospital Compare ratings.

Finally, Healthday reports that doctors continue to prescribe antibiotics unnecessarily.

 Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, and yet they are prescribed at a rate of 60 percent for sore throats and 73 percent for bronchitis, conditions that are typically caused by viruses, the scientists said.

“For sore throat, antibiotics should be prescribed about 10 percent of the time,” said study author Dr. Jeffrey Linder, a researcher in the division of general medicine and primary care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages the proper use of antibiotics, their use for sore throats has only dropped from about 70 percent of doctor visits in 1990 to 60 percent of visits now, he said.
“The story for bronchitis is even more bleak,” [study author D. Jeffrey] Linder said. “The antibiotic prescribing rate was 73 percent and the right prescribing rate for bronchitis, according to guidelines, is zero,” he said. “That hasn’t changed at all over the last 30 years.”
Linder thinks these rates remain high because, on the one hand, patients demand antibiotics from their doctors and, on the other hand, doctors don’t want to miss a more serious condition such as pneumonia or strep throat.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to write a prescription than to have a five-minute conversation about why antibiotics aren’t necessary.

Which brings us back to the importance health literacy. Have a good weekend.