From the OPM front, Federal News Efforts lays out the OPM issues raised by the House Oversight Accountability Committee, including an FEHB improper payments issue.
The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program came under scrutiny during the committee hearing. Several members pointed to a report from the Government Accountability Office showing that OPM spends about $1 billion annually on ineligible FEHB members.
Without a monitoring mechanism to identify and remove ineligible members from FEHB, GAO said these costs will keep accruing.
“GAO’s report suggests OPM has been aware of this problem for years but has consistently failed to address it effectively. As GAO recounts, OPM acknowledged the possibility of a problem when it issued regulations in 2018 allowing agencies and participating insurers to request proof of eligibility for federal employees’ family members. OPM did not, however, actually require proof of eligibility,” Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said in a Jan. 23 letter to Ahuja.
In response to the concerns, Ahuja said during the hearing that OPM is working on creating a master enrollment index (MEI) — essentially a roster of FEHB subscribers and family members. The creation of an MEI has been in the works in OPM’s FEHB department for at least the last couple of years.
“We have been focused on this issue,” Ahuja said. “It’s a very decentralized health benefits program. We’ve been working with agencies and carriers to be able to ensure that we manage any ineligibility.”
Ahuja said the index will help clear up discrepancies in FEHB enrollment between both agencies and health carriers.
“That’s going to be a way forward,” she said.
With all due respect to the Director, the key problem is that OPM has never provided FEHB carriers with an enrollment roster that ties individuals to premiums paid for (and by) them. Until carriers can reconcile premiums with enrollment, the Master Enrollment Index remains flawed
HIPAA offers a widely used “820” electronic transaction standard for this purpose. In a perfect world, OPM would have rolled out the use of the 820 transactions to allow carriers to clean their enrollment records. It’s not too late, and doing so should be prioritized over the family member issue and centralization.
Family member eligibility is a secondary issue because 48% of FEHB enrollment is self-only, and the FEHB Program family member size averages under three people. The family member eligibility issue can be addressed with surveys based on statistical sampling rather than the entire enrollment of eligible family members.
The private sector uses the HIPAA 820, and randomized family member eligibility audits to keep enrollment records accurate.
From the CMS front, the American Hospital Association tells us that following up on U.S. District Judge Jeremy Kernodle’s February 6, 2023, revisions to the No Surprises Act’s (NSA) independent dispute resolution/arbitration rule:
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services today instructed certified independent dispute resolution entities to resume making payment determinations for disputes involving items or services furnished on or after Oct. 25, 2022. Updated guidance to disputing parties regarding disputes involving items and services furnished on or after Oct. 25, 2022 is posted here. CMS also announced that starting March 17, disputing parties will begin receiving a majority of their payment determination notices from the IDR portal, specifically from firstname.lastname@example.org. Disputing parties are advised to make note of this email address.
The FEHBlog finds it mysterious that this guidance is coming from CMS when Medicare and Medicaid are exempt from the NSA.
In other CMS news
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will make whole health care providers impacted by lowered coinsurance on 27 Medicare Part B prescription drugs. The reduced coinsurance rates, which are required by the Inflation Reduction Act, take effect April 1 and will remain in effect through June 30. CMS in a fact sheet says it will pay impacted health care providers the difference between the full and reduced adjusted beneficiary coinsurance (in addition to their usual payment), after applying the Part B deductible and prior to sequestration, if applicable.
That’s good news because other FEHB and other plans providing secondary coverage would be picking up that cost.
In conference news, Fierce Healthcare discusses policy presentations from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-Lasure at an AHIP conference and health and medtech presentations from the South by Southwest conference in Austin.
Also at the AHIP conference per MedCity News
Improving the mental health workforce shortage is one of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s top priorities right now, said Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at HHS and the administrator of SAMHSA. To tackle this, the organization has several resources and grant programs in place to recruit more providers and support primary care physicians in treating mental health.
Each of these conferences was held this week.
From the public health front, CMS’s biweekly review of its Covid statistics tells us
As we mark three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, cases, deaths, and hospitalizations have all been decreasing steadily. Much of the U.S. population has some form of immunity, either through vaccination or previous infection. In addition, CDC’s 2023 Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule now includes COVID-19 primary vaccine series and links to the latest guidance on booster dose vaccination in all populations.
The Wall Street Journal offers former CDC Director Tom Frieden view on the past three pandemic years.
The CDC’s Fluview continues to report “Seasonal influenza activity remains low nationally.”
The New York Times highlights a recent breakthrough in stroke treatment. The article reports that this breakthrough allowed John Fetterman to be a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Here’s the catch.
There’s a number that floats around in medicine: It takes, on average, 17 years for a new treatment or technique, or some other form of research breakthrough, to filter down into widespread clinical practice. But the actual timeline varies widely from case to case. “What everybody’s trying to do is speed up that process,” says Dr. Sharon Straus, the director of the Knowledge Translation Program at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. (“Knowledge translation” is one of several terms for a young, multidisciplinary field that aims to better understand and improve the medical research-to-practice pipeline.) “Some things do take off more quickly.”
That number of years is sobering. Good luck, Dr. Straus.
In FSAFeds news, the Internal Revenue Service issued FAQs addressing “whether certain costs related to nutrition, wellness, and general health are medical expenses under section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) that may be paid or reimbursed under a health savings account (HSA), health flexible spending arrangement (FSA), Archer medical savings account (Archer MSA), or health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).”