Weekend update

Congress remains in session this week. Here is a link to the Week in Congress’s account of last week’s activities on Capitol Hill.  In the coming week, the House of Representatives is expected to elect Paul Ryan (R Wisc) as its new Speaker.  Bloomberg reports that the House is expected to take up the issue of raising the federal debt ceiling this coming week.

The Federal Benefits Open Season starts two weeks from tomorrow on November 9.  Tammy Flanagan writes about the new self plus one enrollment type here. Ms. Flannagan notes that

The big surprise for many people is that there isn’t much difference in the premium between self-and-family and the new self-plus-one enrollment because of the number of older retirees who will be the prime candidates for the new option. You can find the complete list of 2016 premiums on the OPM website [or the FEHBlog]. Even more surprising is that in some cases, it is less expensive to continue enrollment in Self and Family.  

In the FEHBlog’s view the fact that there isn’t much difference between the premiums of the two enrollment types is due to the fact that the average family size in the FEHBP is roughly 2.3 to 2.4 members. Some plans have somewhat larger family sizes and others have smaller. That’s the nature of averages.  A larger family size would tend to produce a larger difference in premiums.  The Government contribution for self plus one is less than the Government contribution for self and family. This fact that can cause the self plus family premium to be less than the self plus one.  Just remember that a federal employee or annuitant with one eligible family member can elect self plus family. Federal employees and annnuitants are not obligated to elect self plus one.

The FEHBlog mentioned last Friday that he had learned that the FDA has a large backlog of generic drug maunfacturing license applications. A Wall Street Journal editorial on Saturday noted that “FDA approval to manufacture any given generic takes 50 months on average and the backlog for permission has climbed in recent years to about 4,000 applications.”  The FDA is on top of new drug applications because the prescription drug manufacturers support the FDA’s cost of that regulatory process.

The FDA’s delay in generic drug licenses permits entrepreneurs to purchase the manufacturing rights to single source generic drugs and then ramp up the price without fear of competition. This Wall Street Journal editorial and this San Diego Union Tribune article discuss how in San Diego compounding pharmacy “Imprimis Pharmaceuticals, plans to compete against other manufacturers who sell generic drugs far above their cost ” The Union Tribune article explains that

The formulation is not FDA-approved, and can legally only be sold through a doctor’s prescription to a specific individual. The specific ingredients are FDA-approved, Baum said, and its compounding operations are FDA-inspected.

The Washington Post provides an interview with the CEO of 23andme a company that sells DNA testing services directly to consumers.  “After the FDA slapped the company with a warning letter in 2013, it stopped marketing its health tests and began working with regulators to come up with a product that would meet its rigorous standards for consumer testing, validation and analysis.” The company released its new product last week. It costs 100% more than the original product ($199 vs. $99).

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