Midweek update

Hey, there’s more going on than the OPM Director news. The Wall Street Journal reports this afternoon that

An international group of researchers reported they have edited the genes of a viable human embryo to correct a disease-causing defect, renewing concern that public discussion about the ethics of gene editing is lagging behind advances in the lab.

Using the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9, the researchers said they overcame key issues in previous experiments to successfully correct a mutation that can cause a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. The condition, which is estimated to affect 1 in 500 people, is best known as a common cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

The collaboration, led by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Korea’s Institute for Basic Science, used embryos created from sperm donated by an adult male with a family history of HCM and healthy egg donors. The embryos were created for research and not implanted in a woman, according to the researchers, who reported their findings Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Holy smokes.

The actuarial consulting firm Willis Towers Watson released its 22nd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey. According to the press release,

Employers expect health care costs to increase by 5.5% in 2018, up from a 4.6% increase in 2017, according to the 22nd annual Best Practices in Health Care Employer Survey by Willis Towers Watson. In the face of these continued cost pressures, including employee affordability, employers plan to step up cost management strategies over the next three years, including evaluation of emerging health care delivery solutions and improved patient navigation and health engagement.

The survey also showed that despite uncertainty about the future of health care legislation, employer confidence in offering employee health care benefits has reached its highest level since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Ninety-two percent of employers said they are “very confident” their organization will continue to sponsor health benefits in five years. 

We will soon see how the FEHBP lines up with these projections.

Finally, CMS today announced a final Medicare Part A pricing rule that takes effect at the beginning of the federal fiscal year on October 1, 2017.

Due to the combination of payment rate increases and other policies and payment adjustments, particularly in changes in uncompensated care payments, acute care hospitals will see a total increase in Medicare spending on inpatient hospital payments of $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2018. Based in part on the changes included in the final rule, overall payments to long-term care hospitals will decrease by $110 million in fiscal year 2018.

Medicare pricing impacts FEHB plans because a large cadre of FEHB enrollees have primary Medicare Part A coverage.

CMS also projected Medicare Part D premiums for 2018. “the average basic premium for a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in 2018 is projected to decline to an estimated $33.50 per month. This represents a decrease of approximately $1.20 below the actual average premium of $34.70 in 2017.”