Weekend Update

We are entering the third week of the Federal Benefits Open Season.  The House and Senate have left town for the Thanksgiving holiday. According to the Hill, the House returns on December 2 and the Senate returns on December 9.

Govexec.com reports that the House leadership is preparing a 90 day extension of the current continuing resolution funding the federal government in order to allow the budget negotiations some breathing room. A 90 day extension would take us to April 15, 2014.

Modern Healthcare reports that

With time running out to prevent a major pay cut for doctors, the Senate Finance Committee scheduled an “open executive session” for Dec. 12 to discuss repealing and replacing the Medicare sustainable growth-rate physician payment formula [used to reimburse doctors for services covered under Medicare Part B].
Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders had released a draft proposal of legislation [on October 31, 2013] that contains elements physicians are not thrilled with—such as a 10-year payment freeze and certain quality measures. But if Congress does not act, an SGR-driven 24.4% Medicare pay cut is set to take effect Jan. 1.

According to the report, the American Medical Association’s President Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven “said the freeze ‘doesn’t make sense’ because Medicare payments are currently 20% below the cost of delivering care. ‘It makes you want to throw up your hands and scream,’ Hoven said. But, she said, ‘walking away right now would be a colossal mistake.’

The Govexec article indicates that the House plans to recess for the holidays on December 13 so we can expect another Congressional punt on the SGR (e.g.., defer the cut for another year) hopefully in December. Perhaps replacement will occur next year.  The issue is important to FEHBP carriers because so many FEHBP annuitant enrollees also have Medicare coverage.

We also can expect that another year will pass without Congress enacting a postal reform law. Govexec.com reports that

Legislation to overhaul the Postal Service has hit yet another roadblock, with the agency’s oversight committee [in the Senate] once again delaying its markup of the reform bill [which the Committee chair Sen. Tom Carper (D Del) and its ranking minority member Sen. Tom Coburn )R Okla) introduced on August 2 before the August recess].
The markup — which gives Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members an opportunity to offer and vote on amendments to the bill, and ultimately decide whether to move it to the full Senate — was originally scheduled for Nov. 6, but was delayed indefinitely due to a lack of support from Democrats. Aides said the committee would vote on the bill — the 2013 Postal Reform Act — before Thanksgiving, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., rescheduled a markup for Wednesday [November 20]. But Carper, who introduced the reform measure along with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was forced once again to push back his timetable as he still failed to muster enough backing.
Carper and Coburn will now work on new language, which they will offer in the form of a substitute amendment to the original bill, according to a committee aide. The chairman and ranking member will reschedule a markup after the Senate returns from the Thanksgiving recess.