Winter is here

Happy winter solstice. Congress is going home for the holidays because as the FEHBlog predicted our national legislative body just passed a bill continuing federal government funding through January 19. The Hill reports that

The funding bill also includes a short-term extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), some spending “anomalies” for defense, a waiver for the pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budgetary rules so the GOP tax bill doesn’t trigger Medicare cuts and an extension of a controversial surveillance program.

The FEHBlog expects that Congress will pass an omnibus appropriations bill for the current federal fiscal year before January 19.

The Wall Street Journal observed yesterday that the recent deals between healthcare companies, e.g., CVS / Aetna, United Health/ DaVita Humana / Kindred, reflect a continuing push in care away from the inpatient to the outpatient setting.  Meanwhile, as we have seen hospital chains have been merging and  “rapidly expanding outside their facilities, investing in outpatient surgery centers, occupational-health clinics, and urgent-care centers.” Health plans have been nudging members away from hospitals for years, and as the article explains, the nudging has been working. “Michael F. Neidorff, chief executive of Centene Corp., a major Medicaid managed-care company [, adds that] ‘ Using data analysis and other tools, his company aims to “prospectively identify disease states before they become an issue.’” That’s a relatively new development.

Healthcare Dive reports on a recent study that found while 80% of consumers are unfamiliar with telehealth / virtual visit services, those who do try it out like it and plan to continue using it. That’s encouraging.  Telehealth services will be widely available in the FEHBP for 2018.

Since 2010, OPM has required FEHB carriers to offer generous assistance to members who want to quit tobacco use. Medical Marketing and Media reports that the Food and Drug Administration will unveil a new public service message campaign called Every Try Counts that encourages adults who have failed one or more quit attempts to keep trying. FEHB plans don’t place limits on quit attempts.

CMS announced improvements to its Hospital Compare website today.

Hospital Compare ( reports information on quality measures for over 4,000 hospitals nationwide, including Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Centers and military hospitals. The website provides information for patients and caregivers on how well hospitals deliver care and encourages hospitals to improve the quality of care they provide. Users can compare performance across many common conditions. 

For this update, CMS will respond to stakeholder concerns by updating several existing measures and the Overall Star Rating. The Overall Star Rating has been revised to use an enhanced methodology to assign ratings to hospitals, based on Technical Expert Panel recommendations and public input “We continue to refine the Star Ratings and look forward to an ongoing dialogue with hospitals and patients and their families on how we can provide beneficiaries useful information,” [CMS Administrator Seema] Verma said.

Finally, USA Today reports that the National Center for Health Statistics reported this week that life expectancy for newborns in the U.S. has dropped slightly for the second year in a row due to the fact that thousands of younger adults have been dying prematurely due to drug abuse.  No bueno.