Weekend Update

Congress returns to committee work and floor action this coming week for an expected two more weeks of the its lame duck session.

Top House and Senate appropriators on Tuesday [November 24] clinched a deal on a bipartisan set of funding levels, paving the way for a $1.4 trillion spending package to avert a government shutdown next month. The agreement on the funding allocations, confirmed by a House Democratic aide, establishes overall totals for 12 appropriations measures that will be rolled into one massive omnibus bill that would boost federal budgets for the rest of the fiscal year. Negotiators plan to keep the numbers — known as 302(b)s — under wraps until a bipartisan, bicameral omnibus is finalized, the aide said.

This means that Congress remains on track to pass an FY 2021 omnibus spending bill before the current continuing resolution funding the federal government expires on December 12.

Negotiations on another Covid-19 relief bill are at an impasse. Some measures may get attached to a spending package that must pass by Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown. Another weekly boost to unemployment benefits would most likely be part of the mix, according to unemployment and policy experts.  The subsidy would probably fall between $250 and $600 a week and be retroactive to early September, they said.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that “President Trump’s decision to defer payroll taxes until the end of the year is leaving challenges for lawmakers to manage after he leaves office in January, and they haven’t figured out what—if anything—to do. * * * [P]ayroll processor Paychex Inc. said take-up has been very low. The one big exception—which could create pressure for Congress to act—is the federal workforce, including many members of the military. Mr. Trump required executive-branch employees to participate. Lawmakers, particularly those from the Washington [D.C.] area, support legislation to let employees decide whether their taxes can be deferred. As the weeks tick by toward the year’s end, that becomes less feasible.

Late Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services released the proposed ACA Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2022. Of note, to community rated FEHB plan carriers HHS proposes to make the following changes to the medical loss ratio (“MLR”) calculation:

We propose to amend the MLR regulation to establish the definition of prescription drug rebates and other price concessions that issuers must deduct from incurred claims for medical loss ratio (MLR) reporting and rebate calculation purposes beginning with the 2022 MLR reporting year (MLR reports filed in 2023). We additionally propose to explicitly allow issuers the option to prepay a portion or all of the estimated MLR rebate for a given MLR reporting year in advance of the deadlines set forth in §§ 158.240(e) and 158.241(a)(2) and the filing of the MLR Annual Reporting Form. We also propose to establish a safe harbor allowing such issuers, under certain conditions, to defer the payment of any remaining rebates owed after prepayment until the following MLR reporting year beginning with the 2020 MLR reporting year (MLR reports filed in 2021). In addition, we propose to allow issuers to provide MLR rebates in the form of a premium credit prior to the date that the rules currently provide and beginning with the 2020 MLR reporting year (MLR reports filed in 2021). Lastly, we propose to clarify MLR reporting and rebate requirements for issuers that choose to offer temporary premium credits during a public health emergency declared by the Secretary of HHSfor future benefit years, beginning with the 2021 MLR reporting year (MLR reports filed in 2022). 

Of note to all FEHB plan carriers, HHS proposes to make the following changes to the out of pocket (“OOP”) cost sharing ceilings for in-network care:

The proposed 2022 maximum annual limitation on cost sharing is $9,100 for self-only coverage and $18,200 for other than self-only coverage. This represents an approximately 6.4 percent increase above the 2021 parameters of $8,550 for self-only coverage and $17,100 for other than self-only coverage. Similar to the proposal for the premium adjustment percentage index, for the 2023 benefit year and beyond, we propose to release the maximum annual limitation on cost sharing in guidance by January of the year preceding the applicable benefit year. 

For more details on the Notice check out Katie Keith’s columns on the Health Affairs Blog.

The Biden Administration’s HHS will finalize the Notice next year. HHS has a good deal of statutory discretion over the MLR calculation but very little discretion over (“OOP”) cost sharing ceiling calculations in the FEHBlog’s opinion.

The FEHBlog has learned that a two step process exists for approval a COVID-19 vaccine for individual and group health plan coverage.

  • First, as discussed in the FEHBlog, the FDA must give emergency use authorization to the vaccine. The relevant FDA advisory committee is meeting December 10 to consider the Pfizer – BioNTech vaccine. The Committee’s recommendation goes to the FDA Commissioner for final approval.
  • Once FDA approval has been given, the CDC’s relevant advisory committee the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) must add its approval.
  • Fifteen days after ACIP approval is given, individual and group health plans, including FEHB plans will become obligated to cover the administration of the approved vaccine in and out of network without member cost sharing. That effective date will be in late December at the earliest. 
  • An emergency use authorization can only trigger plan health plan coverage of a vaccine during a related public health emergency. The current COVID-19 public health emergency period expires on January 20, 2021, unless as expected HHS extends that period for another 90 days before then,