Mid-week update

OPM announced yesterday that this year’s Federal Benefits Open Season will run from Monday, November 10, 2014 through Monday, December 8, 2014.

Speaking of Open Season, the Employee Benefits Research Institute reports that while folks enrolled in traditional PPO plans are more satisfied with their coverage compared with folks enrolled consumer driven plans, the satisfaction gap is narrowing.

“As in previous years of the survey, in 2013 individuals in a CDHP or an HDHP were found to be less likely than those in a traditional plan both to recommend their health plan to friends or co-workers, and to stay with their current health plan if they had the opportunity to switch plans,” said Paul Fronstin, director of EBRI’s Health Research and Education Program. “However, the percentage of HDHP and CDHP enrollees reporting that they would be extremely or very likely to recommend their plan to friends or coworkers has been trending upward, while it has been flat among individuals with traditional coverage.”

The FEHBlog has been following the growth of medical clinics in pharmacies and retail stores. The Orange County Register reports that utilization of such urgent care centers is booming nationwide.

In a health care system beset by a shortage of primary care physicians, urgent care clinics are rapidly gaining a reputation as the place to go for quick and easy doctor visits. And even for people who have primary care doctors, the clinics offer evening and weekend services that are often more convenient than the typical doctor’s office hours.
Urgent care centers often appeal to people because of their informal, neighborhood feel.
“It’s a more friendly environment than the ER. It’s less intimidating. It’s not like going to the hospital,” says Dr. David Kim, medical director at MemorialCare’s Los Altos clinic.
The number of urgent care centers nationwide has grown 25 percent in the past four years to about 10,000, says Franz Ritucci, president of the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine in Orlando, Fla. 

As further evidence of the boom, Forbes reports that Walmart is dipping its toes in this market. It recently opened six clinics, and it’s offering coverage to its employee health plan participants for a $4 co-payment.

The FEHBlog has been tracking the government’s investment in electronic medical records at hospitals and doctors offices. Health Data Management reports, sadly, that

Despite more than $24 billion in incentive payments to hospitals and eligible professionals who “meaningfully use” electronic health records and another $2 billion spent on interoperability standards and EHR certification, there is very little electronic information sharing among providers.  That is the conclusion of a new health policy brief from the journal Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation authored by Janet Marchibroda, director of the Health Innovation Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

All the more power to the Blue Cross organizations which are supporting the development of the necessary backbone or interchange for these systems. 
The Towers Watson consulting firm is reporting that U.S. employers and their health plan carriers are poised to vastly expand coverage of telemedicine consultations. Towers Watson predicts that this trend could save billions of dollars. OPM encouraged FEHB plans to offer telemedicine services in the latest call letter for benefit and rate proposals. 
Finally, Thompson Information Services reports that according to a former employee, HHS’s Office for Civil Rights which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules expects perfection in response when it investigates a HIPAA security breach. Such perfection, as the article indicates, requires advance work, e.g., policies and procedures, training. Given the multi-million dollar penalties that OCR can impose, the stake are high.