Tuesday Tidbits

The Federal Times features an interview with OPM Acting Director Beth Cobert about the federal workforce. Presumably the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the President’s decision to nominate Ms. Cobert as permanent OPM Director early next year. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced yesterday the creation of “a new online dashboard to provide information on Medicare spending on prescription drugs, for both Part B (drugs administered in doctors’ offices and other outpatient settings) and Part D (drugs patients administer themselves).”  In other drug news, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday about aggressive employer efforts to pave the way for effective use of high priced specialty drugs. For example,

At the University of Minnesota, employees with cancer face a new rule under the health plan. If they are starting on certain expensive drugs, they get just a two-week supply, half the usual amount. Before they can get two more weeks’ worth, a nurse at the university’s pharmacy partner has to confirm they are doing well enough.

The policy, called “split fill,” is designed to avoid paying for drug prescriptions that go half-unused if patients develop side effects and must stop them. It is part of a growing effort to rein in a drug bill the university says rose 8.9% last year, roughly double the rate for other health expenses.

“I don’t want to penalize the patients, but what the drug companies have to realize is they put us in that box” by charging such high prices, said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a pharmacy professor who advises the administration on its benefits for nearly 39,000 employees, retirees and family members. Some of the cancer drugs cost as much as $13,500 a month.

The FEHBlog certainly is not encouraging clients to tear a page out of the University of Minnesota playbook. The article does illustrate the depth of employer concerns.

Also while it’s a downer for the holiday season, Reuters reports on a spike in deaths from opioid and heroin abuse.  “Drug overdoses increased 6.5 percent in 2014 from a year earlier, killing 47,055 people. The highest rates of death from overdose were seen in West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio, the CDC report said.”

Finally, Modern Healthcare and Ihealthbeat report on healthcare industry cybersecurity measures that were included in the recently approved omnibus appropriations measure.

The legislation creates a healthcare industry cybersecurity task force to be established within the law’s first 90 days. The task force will study how other industries combat cyber threats as well as the technical and other challenges that make the healthcare industry vulnerable to attacks.

It also calls for a single pipeline of actionable information on cyber threats that could be accessed in real-time and at no cost. Access to that information is currently cost-prohibitive to small and mid-size healthcare organizations, said Samantha Burch, HIMSS’ senior director of congressional affairs.

That’s welcome news. Jingle bells.