Monday Roundup

Photo by Sven Read on Unsplash

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans informs us that

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration along with the Office of Personnel Management, Internal Revenue Service, Department of the Treasury, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, The Departments) issued an information collection related to certain reporting requirements under section 204 of Title II of Division BB of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA) that are applicable to group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage.​

In addition, the Departments and OPM are also seeking input about whether the requirements apply to Federal Employees Health Benefits carriers, including whether or not they are also health insurance issuers.

Here’s the FEHBlog’s input on that last point. Congress extended specific provisions of Division BB of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 to the FEHB Program when it created a new Section 8902(p) of the FEHB Act. Today’s notice concedes that Section 204 was not among those provisions in Section 8902(p). Regulations are intended to implement and interpret statutory law, and in the case of the FEHBP there is no statute to implement here. What’s more carriers already are obligated to report aggregated prescription benefit data to OPM. In other words, the regulatory field is occupied as far as the FEHB Program is concerned. The public comment deadline on this information collection notice is July 23, 2021.

The American Hospital Association gleefully reports

Nearly 100 bipartisan House members led by Reps. Thomas Suozzi, D-N.Y., and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, urge the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury [in a June 17, 2021 letter] to ensure their rulemaking for the No Surprises Act reflects congressional intent for a balanced process to settle payment disputes between health plans and providers. The lawmakers also emphasized the need to provide sufficient time for public comments and evaluation through proposed notice and comment rulemaking. 

The FEHBlog wonders what caused Congress to fire this shot across the regulator’s bow. The statutory deadline for these rules is October 1, 2021, thereby creating an all too brief three month long implementation period for providers, payers, lawyers and arbitrators. This should be interesting.

To show that the FEHBlog is not entirely cranky as he writes this post, CVS Health announced today

Over the last year, Aetna, a CVS Health® company, has been implementing a comprehensive strategy to reduce suicide attempts 20 percent among Aetna members by the year 2025. With the right intervention and support, resources and management of suicidal thoughts, suicide is known to be preventable. In fact, 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a potentially treatable mental health condition.

This month, Aetna is launching its latest initiative — the development of a specialty provider network with a sole focus on suicide prevention in collaboration with Psych Hub, the world’s most comprehensive platform for mental health education. The joint effort will further arm Aetna practitioners with no-cost, evidence-based instruction, tools, and resources to identify and treat those at risk of suicide.

Well done and best of luck.

Also from the COVID-19 front Bloomberg informs us

After more than a year of obsessively tracking Covid-19 case numbers, epidemiologists are starting to shift focus to other measures as the next stage of the pandemic emerges.

With rich countries vaccinating growing proportions of their vulnerable populations, the link between infection numbers and deaths appears to be diminishing. Now, in some places the focus is on learning to live with the virus — and on the data that matter most to avoid fresh lockdowns.

“It’s possible we’ll get to a stage of only monitoring hospitalizations,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, which has built one of the most comprehensive platforms to track the virus and its impact.

The Wall Street Journal provides an overview of the COVID-19 variant called Delta.

The latest data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the Delta variant makes up 9.9% of reported U.S. Covid-19 cases, while Alpha stands at 65.5%. * * *

Scientists are still studying the virus and their early conclusions aren’t definitive. But British scientists, who have probably done the most work on the variant, estimate it is from 40% to as much as 80% more infectious than the so-called Alpha variant, or B.1.1.7, which was first identified in England last year, is now prevalent in the U.S. and is itself more contagious than the version of the virus that emerged in China in 2019.

An analysis of more than 14,000 Delta cases by England’s public-health agency found a double dose of the shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE reduces the risk of hospitalization after infection with Delta by 96%. Two doses of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca reduce the risk by 92%, Public Health England said.

Very few of those hospitalized in the U.K. have been fully vaccinated, with the new cases mostly among younger people who aren’t yet vaccinated. There is no evidence that young adults and children are more at risk proportionately from this variant than other age groups, and the increased transmission mostly reflects the fact that they haven’t been immunized, scientists say.

In other news that caught the FEHBlog’s eye this Monday —

  • The FEHBlog enjoys following the healthcare efforts of business giants like Amazon, Apple, and Walmart. ZdNet reports on Microsoft’s new healthcare strategy.
  • Louisville KY television station WDRB tells us

Brentwood, Tenn.-based LifePoint Health [a large regional health system that owns over 80 hospitals] will acquire Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare LLC, a specialty hospital company, for undisclosed terms, according to a news release Monday. The deal is scheduled to close by the end of the year. The announcement comes weeks after Louisville-based Humana Inc. said it would absorb the remainder of the former Kindred’s home health and hospice business. In the news release, LifePoint said it plans to continue Kindred’s strategy of growing by establishing joint ventures and partnerships with hospitals. * * * LifePoint said it plans to invest $1.5 billion in its business following the deal.

At the time of wrapping up this post on Monday evening, the Senate had not yet taken up Kiran Ahuja’s nomination to be OPM Director. The FEHBlog will keep an eye on this matter. [Tuesday morning supplement — The Senate Press Gallery Calendar informs us that

The Senate on Tuesday morning at 11:45 am will hold two votes:

  1. Confirmation of the Fonzone nomination.
  2. Motion to invoke cloture on Kiran Ahuja to be Director of the Office of Personnel Management.

The Senate will recess following the cloture vote on the Ahuja nomination until 2:15 p.m. 

At 2:30 p.m. vote:

  1. Confirmation of the Ahuja nomination.

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