Happy Thanksgiving

The FEHBlog wishes everyone a very happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. 

Federal News Radio reports that OPM is experiencing a busy Federal Benefits Open Season due to the availability of the new self plus one enrollment type. “Typically within the first two weeks of Open Season, the volume of changes processed is between 90,000 to 130,000. This year, OPM officials said, from the start of Open Season on Nov. 9 through Nov. 20, more than 270,000 enrollment transactions have been processed.” OPM has estimated that 1 million enrollees are in a position to select the self plus one enrollment type (roughly 50% of the current self plus family enrollees).  The article also explains how enrollees can switch to self plus one if they miss this Open Season opportunity which ends on December 14.

Here’s OPM’s advice on how to make enrollment changes this Open Season:

Annuitants with access to a computer should visit https://retireefehb.opm.gov/Annuitant/ Due to the high number of calls to Open Season Express, OPM strongly encourages use of the on-line enrollment system. Annuitants who do not have access to a computer can call Open Season Express at 1-800-332-9798. The Open Season Express phone line is a dedicated line for FEHB Open Season actions only. 

Employees should visit OPM’s Open Season website www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/open-season/ for information. Open Season Express is not for employees. They will be directed to contact their agency for assistance.

In an interesting development, a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives has asked the White House for a meeting on creating a path to repealing the excise tax on high cost employer sponsored coverage.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have reported on the state of ICD-10 coding implementation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs according to this EHR Intelligence article.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services held a pharmeutical forum. MedScape reports on the conference here. The article opens as follows:

The increasing number of patients using specialty drugs has helped to drive a 12% increase in the nation’s overall pharmaceutical spending so far in 2015, according to an analysis presented at a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) conference Friday [November 20].

The Wall Street Journal reports today on a study finding that surprising price increases are also affecting dermatologist drugs — whether or not they are specialty drugs.

Retail prices of 19 brand-name prescription drugs for dermatologic conditions ranging from acne to cancer increased fivefold on average between 2009 and 2015, according to a study that adds new fuel to the burgeoning debate over the cost of medicines.

The Medscape article concludes with the following official observations from the HHS Forum:

Both [HHS Secretary Sylvia] Burwell and [CMS Acting Administrator Andy] Slavitt said that the government was trying to balance the need for new therapies — and companies’ ability to innovate and compete — with patients’ access to affordable products. Slavitt said that the feds wanted more transparency on how prices were set, and would seek more effectiveness data, also. “We must increase the transparency of the information available about drug pricing and value,” he said. And the government is also looking at creating incentives for drug makers to prove value — such as rewards for keeping patients out of hospitals, he said. “How do we think in terms of episodes of effective treatment, rather than just the cost of a pill?” said Slavitt.

Fair question.