Congress today passed a bill (H.R. 601) that provides for, according to the Wall Street Journal, $15.25 billion in relief for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as well as a three-month extension of the government’s funding and borrowing limit” to December 8, 2017.  

The Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee held two hearings this week on bipartisan ACA reform. Once was with State insurance commissions and the other was with State governors. The Committee has two more hearings scheduled for next week. The Wall Street Journal reports that

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) said he hoped to reach an agreement with Democrats by the end of next week on the insurer payments, which offset subsidies they provide low-income consumers.
At a hearing Thursday, Mr. Alexander suggested he would be willing to authorize the subsidy payments for multiple years, as Democrats are demanding, in exchange for “structural changes” to the ACA, also called Obamacare.
Mr. Alexander, who is crafting the package jointly with Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), aims to win Congress’s final approval before the end of the month, when insurers will sign their ACA contracts for 2018. The urgency was underlined Thursday when two insurers announced they would pare back coverage in Virginia and Maine because of uncertainty surrounding the payments.
At the same time, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), an architect of a competing plan that would repeal large parts of the ACA, said he would formally introduce his own plan on Monday, raising the possibility of a clash between the two Republican-led efforts.

Here’s a link to the Week in Congress’s report on other doings on Capitol Hill.

Health Care Dive tells us that

  • From 2010 to 2016, healthcare markets continued to concentrate, according to new research published in Health Affairs.
  • In 2016, 90% of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) had a high concentration of hospitals.
  • Primary care physician concentration increased the most, in part due to such providers being acquired by larger care delivery systems. “From 2010 to 2016, the share of primary care physicians working in organizations owned by a hospital or health care system increased from 28% to 44% — a dramatic increase of 57% — while the shares in independent solo practices or organizations owned by a medical group decreased,” wrote author Brent Fulton, assistant adjunct professor at Petris Center in the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley. 
Cost curve up as usual thanks to the ACA (in the FEHBlog’s view).
The Government Accountability Office issued a report suggesting IRS adjustments to the ACA’s high cost plan excise tax a/k/a the Cadillac tax.  That tax is scheduled to kick in in 2020 and it’s bound to impact FEHBP self and family coverage. The GAO website on the report displays some interesting demographic statistics about the Blue Cross Federal Employees Plan which was to be a yardstick for Cadillac tax adjustments. 
Let’s wrap up the short work week (and the beginning of the NFL season) with a couple tidbits:
  • Employee Benefit News has an opinion piece suggesting that millennial workers may be interested in using telemedicine for mental health care. 
  • Modern Healthcare reports that the Experian credit bureau (not to be confused with Equifax which just suffered a massive data breach) is interested in advancing a practical patient identifier based on its Universal Identity Manager. Experian said that

whether the Universal Identity Manager catches on depends in part on who the early adopters are. The National Council for Prescription Drug Programs works with Experian, and the implementation pipeline now includes more than 
100 health systems, some payers and pharmacies. “Some of the big pharmacy chains are looking to adopt it,” Johnson said, “and if that happens, and if Epic adopts it, then I think it will accelerate.”