Midweek update

OPM extended the FEDVIP open season until midnight tonight due to Benefeds technology issues.”The dental and vision enrollment website, BENEFEDS.com, is currently undergoing repairs due to technical issues, however, the call center (1-877-888-3337) is open until midnight on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, Eastern Time to process FEDVIP changes.”

This is cool. The FEHBlog just ran across the Altarum Institute’s monthly health sector briefs which provide a review of healthcare spending this year. Cost curve up.  The December 2016 brief notes that

National health spending in October 2016 grew at an annual rate of 5.5%, driven up by the hospital component (6.6% growth) and dampened by prescription drugs (3.5% growth). This puts 2016 on pace for 5.6% health spending growth, slightly below the official 5.8% rate just released for calendar year 2015. Health care prices in October 2016 grew 2.2% above the October 2015 level, with prescription drug prices leading the way at 7.0%, a 24 plus year-high. 

A Health Affairs article is aptly titled “National Health Spending: A Return to the ‘Old Normal?”.  To no one’s suprise as Health Affairs tends to be quite pro-ACA, the article first conclusion is that For starters, the CMS researchers make one thing clear: The Affordable Care Act has done little to nothing on health care costs. * *  * Of course, this shouldn’t be viewed as a bug. The ACA’s primary features focused on expanding insurance coverage.” It most certainly is “bug.” The President predicted back in 2010 that the law was enacted that the ACA would lower health insurance premiums materially. The only positive outcome that Administration policymakers can point out is growth in number of insureds. Quelle suprise given the law’s individual mandate to maintain coverage. The FEHBlog represents health plans. He supports providing coverage under a simpler, more flexible, less regulated arrangement which, for example, the FEHBP was before 2010.

Speaking of the ACA, another law firm is reporting that the Internal Revenue Service has begun to audit health insurers and health plan sponsors over the returns supporting their PCORI fee payments. The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute is funded by health plans. The FEHBlog is not aware of any positive outcomes from the millions of dollars in payments to this start-up government institution. The PCORI should be at the top of the ACA repeal list, in the FEHBlog’s view.

Closing arguments were held yesterday in the first phase of the trial concerning the federal government’s lawsuit to block the Anthem – Cigna merger.  You can read the Fierce Heathcare report here. The first phase concerns the government’s allegation that the merger would restrict trade in national health insurance market. The judge’s decision should be made within a few weeks. If she decides in the government’s favor, the merger likely is dead. If the judge decided in the insurers’ favor, the case moves onto the second phase of the trial which concerns competition in local and regional markets.

The trial concerning the federal government’s lawsuit to block the Aetna – Humana merger continues before another judge in same U.S. District Court here in Washington DC. The Chicago Tribune provides the latest on that case.