Weekend update

Congress is out of town this week which features the Presidents’ Day holiday tomorrow.

This week also features the huge HIMSS healthcare IT conference which is being held in Orlando. A friend told me many years ago that there are only three U.S. cities with the hotel capacity to host a big conference — Orlando, Chicago, and Las Vegas.  The FEHBlog has never been to the HIMSS conference. Attendance is teetering on the edge of the FEHBlog’s career bucket list.

While the FEHBlog muses, he must admit that he cannot get over the fact the the Internal Revenue Service has let people off the individual mandate tax hook if they just don’t answer the relevant question on the federal income tax return.  The FEHBlog realized that the individual mandate would not be enforced for 2014 because the IRS had delayed large employer and health plan reporting until 2015. But last year large employers and health plans flooded the IRS with data on whether taxpayers had minimum essential coverage. That ongoing effort costs the large employers and health plans millions of dollars that could be better spent. And the IRS did not use the costly information evidently. The Affordable Care Act is one crazy law.

The FEHBlog has been following the Nation’s opioid crisis.  The Pain News Network reports that the American College of Physicians is now discouraging doctors from prescribing opioids for back pain. But this opioid crisis will not go away quietly. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the federal government is urging China to crack down on exports of a dangerous elephant sedative to the U.S.

The drug, carfentanil, has been connected to at least 700 fatalities in states including Ohio, Michigan and Florida, according to data compiled by The Wall Street Journal from county medical examiners and NMS Labs, a private laboratory outside Philadelphia that performs toxicology testing for counties around the U.S.
As of early November, the Drug Enforcement Administration had received notice of 411 drug seizures containing carfentanil from around the U.S. that were analyzed by federal, state and local labs. The agency has confirmed seizures of the drug in at least 10 states, mainly in the Midwest, Appalachia and the South.
U.S. authorities have identified China as a major source for bootleg, laboratory-made versions of opioids including carfentanil that have made their way into the U.S., making China an important partner as law-enforcement authorities try to combat a worsening U.S. drug epidemic.    Carfentanil is particularly worrisome because of its extreme potency: It is up to 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the powerful narcotic blamed for worsening the opioid crisis in recent years. 

Apparently criminal gangs in Mexico are exporting fentanyl to the U.S.  What a tragic mess.  Health plans should and will do what they can (see, for example, OPM’s January 2017 call letter).

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