Midweek update

On the bright side, OPM has taken advantage of a recent IRS ruling. In Benefit Administration Letter 20-803

This BAL is issued pursuant to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notice 2020-29. As the Plan Administrator of FedFlex, OPM is permitting FSAFEDS Program participants to make certain mid-year changes for a limited period. OPM is not authorizing a new opportunity to enroll or make changes in enrollments under the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program or Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP).
Under this BAL, participants who made an election to a DCFSA in the plan year ending December 31, 2019, can now use any 2019 funds remaining in their DCFSA account until December 31, 2020. The extended claim period is automatic for qualified participants.
Pursuant to BAL IRS Notice 2020-33, BAL 20-803 also allows an increase in the carryover amounts for HCFSA and LEX HCFSA from $500 to $550, beginning with funds remaining at the end of 2020 and carried over into 2021.Finally, OPM is extending the operational flexibilities discussed in BAL 20-201 past June 30, 2020, as necessary, depending on an agency’s operating status.

The FEHBlog heartily agrees with OPM’s decision not to create a special Open Season for FEHBP or FEDVIP because federal employees whose eligible family members have lost their employer sponsored coverage due to the COVID-19 emergency have the right under OPM’s regulations to switch their existing coverage to self plus one or self and family as necessary when a family member loses their employer sponsored coverage.

On the not so bright side, the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs issued a final rule today that would subject FEHB network health care providers to federal contractor affirmative action requirements. It’s worth noting that these providers generally are subject to federal and state non-discrimination laws. The OFFCP affirmative action provisions call for time and employee consuming projects. Since the inception of the FEHB Acquisition Regulation in 1986, healthcare providers have been exempt from these requirements. Now OFFCP has overridden OPM’s approach which has allowed FEHB networks to blossom. So much for deregulation. Hopefully OFCCP eventually will come to it senses as suggested on page 25 of the final rule.

On the COVID-19 vaccine front, Fierce Pharma reports

With the eyes of the world turned on the global COVID-19 vaccine race, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech posted early positive data from one of their four candidates. With this first win—and other data yet to come—the partners are prepping for a late-stage test that could begin as early as this month.

In a phase 1/2 trial, all participants who received 10 micrograms (mcg) or 30 mcg of the mRNA vaccine candidate generated antibodies that were 1.8 times and 2.8 times higher, respectively, than the average of a group of patients who had confirmed prior infections.

Importantly, this was a small, early-stage test with just 45 participants, and the vaccine has not yet proven it can prevent COVID-19. To win a full regulatory approval, the partners will have to run a large efficacy study in thousands of participants to demonstrate whether the vaccine prevents disease.

Hope springs eternal.

Healthcare IT News reports that “CMS [had create[d a] new Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics In addition to reducing the hours and costs clinicians and providers incur for CMS-mandated compliance, the office will also focus on how health data can be harnessed for more efficient healthcare and improved patient experience.” Bravo.

On the COVID-19 emergency relief front, according to the Wall Street Journal the House today joined the Senate in passing by unanimous consent legislation (S. 4116) extending the Paycheck Protection Program loan application period through Aug. 8. The PPP loan deadline expired last Tuesday. The President is expect to sign the bill into law.

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