Weekend update

We are now about halfway through the lame duck session of Congress and the Federal Benefits Open Season.

On Friday, the FEHBlog noted a report that national health care spending increased 5% in 2015. The report attributed the increase largely to health care provider and pharmaceutical price increases.  He described it as bad news. To elaborate, he means that the report illustrates the fact that the Affordable Care Act is failing at its stated objective of lowering the health care cost curve.

This doesn’t surprise the FEHBlog in the least. As the FEHBlog has noted throughout the law’s history the basic problem is that the law encourages health insurance to be used as a price support by for example mandating coverage of low priced items across the board. There’s has to be more flexibility built into the system.

Of course, that’s not the only problem. The Wall Street Journal reports today that drug manufacturers raise their retail prices in lock step. In other words, drug manufacturers see no reason to take advantage of a pricing advantage.

Even when there is competition, prices can continue to climb. That is because patients tend to stick with a drug that works for them, and health insurers and drug-benefit managers sometimes have contracts for drugs that prevent switching to cheaper options.

The odd aspect of the article is while Viagra was given as an example of lock step pricing, insurers only cover that drug in special circumstance.  The inertia in that case must be created by the prescription requirement. Anyway it’s a screwed up market if manufacturers don’t want to compete based on price.

The Hill reported on Friday that the House of Representatives will consider this week a set of health care related bills. The bills concern medical innovation and mental health reform. There’s a good change that this legislation will be enacted in the lame duck session.

Employee Benefit News draws our attention to a recent Mercer Consulting survey of employer sponsored health plan coverage in the United States. The survey points out the rapidly growing coverage of telehealth services which FEHBP enrollees should notice next year. Be sure to sign up for the service before you need to use it.

Finally, Consumer Reports tells us about hospital efforts to reduce central line infections.

Central-line infections account for roughly 5 percent of all hospital-acquired infections, striking more than 27,000 people in 2015, research shows. And they’re a particularly important subset, says Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., associate director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs at the CDC.
For one, they are deadly—proving fatal in up to a quarter of cases, in part because people with the IVs are often already frail. They’re costly, too, averaging $46,000 to treat, more than other hospital-acquired infections, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And they’re almost entirely preventable.

Consumer Reports alerts us to which hospitals have been successful in their prevention efforts and which hospitals have more work to do.  It’s a survey that the FEHBlog would check if he need to be hospitalized.

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