Weekend update

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The House of Representatives will be in session for Committee business and floor voting, while the Senate will be on a State work week this week. The Senate press gallery informs us, “In today’s (5/18/23) wrap-up, Schumer reiterated that as discussions concerning the debt ceiling continue over the next week, Senators should be able to return to the Senate within a 24-hour period.”

The Wall Street Journal reports

“President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to meet Monday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to reach a deal to avoid a default on U.S. sovereign debt after negotiations to raise the federal borrowing limit reached an impasse.

“Talks between White House and House Republican negotiators largely ground to a halt this weekend, with both sides blaming the other for a failure to bridge their differences over spending levels. But Biden and McCarthy instructed their negotiating teams to resume their discussions, starting with a 6 p.m. meeting on Sunday. * * *

“There’s no agreement. We’re still apart,” McCarthy, a California Republican, told reporters at the Capitol, though he said the call with Biden was productive.” * * *

“Leaders in Washington are rushing to come up with a deal to lift the country’s borrowing limit. If they are unable to do so, the country might be unable to pay all of its bills as soon as June 1, according to an assessment by the U.S. Treasury Department.  

“Appearing Sunday on NBC, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the “odds of reaching June 15th, while being able to pay all of our bills, is quite low.”

“Economists say that failure to lift the debt ceiling, and a subsequent default, would tip the economy into a recession. Moody’s Analytics predicts that a default would cost more than seven million jobs and cause the unemployment rate to move above 8%. The ratings company also predicts that the stock market would lose a fifth of its value.”


From the plan design front, the Wall Street Journal reports

“The Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday announced the largest-ever increase to the amount Americans can set aside in health-savings accounts each year.

“For 2024, the maximum HSA contribution will be $8,300 for a family and $4,150 for an individual. That is up from $7,750 for a family and $3,850 for an individual for 2023.

“Participants age 55 and older can contribute an extra $1,000, which means an older married couple could sock away $10,300 a year, up from $9,750 this year. In the last ten years leading up to retirement, a couple could accumulate more than $100,000 in these accounts. * * *

While workers can tap 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts for medical costs, health savings accounts offer more tax savings than both traditional or Roth retirement accounts. There is no tax going in, tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals if used for eligible healthcare expenses.”

The FEHBlog came to love the high-deductible health plan/health savings account arrangement. The Wall Street Journal endorses the FEHBlog’s viewpoint. The FEHBlog was cut off from the arrangement when he became Medicare primary in late 2019. Because the FEHBlog’s law firm has less than 20 employees, the FEHBlog found it necessary to drop his employer-sponsored coverage in favor of Medicare. Medicare coverage has been fine, but the FEHBlog misses contributing to his HSA. Younger employees should give the HDHP / HSA arrangement a close look.

The Wall Street Journal adds

“Remember one important caveat, however: If you’re sure to spend over the deductible, other plans may be more appropriate for you, such as the PPO plan that will cost you an additional $800. (You forgo the ability to save, but you also face a lower out-of-pocket maximum.) For instance, if you know with reasonable certainty that you need access to a more-expensive provider for a one-time procedure, then you should pick a plan that gives you this access, such as a PPO plan, and switch back to an HMO plan with an HDHP-and-HSA option during next year’s open-enrollment period.

“If you do end up choosing an HDHP, please remember: Do not cut back on care haphazardly, as many people do. Following a doctor’s recommendations is much more important than saving a bit of money.”

While the FEHBlog is not yet retired, he is intrigued by the Fortune Well article on cognitive decline following retirement. The article offers four ways to avoid this otherwise “universal trend.”

  1. Keep or get connected.
  2. Keep active.
  3. Keep stress to a minimum
  4. Keep working, regardless of pay.

Next stop, Walmart greeter??

From the U.S. healthcare business front, Healthcare Dive tells us

“Physician staffing firm Envision Healthcare has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing its $7.7 billion in debt obligations, declining patient volumes, “flawed” implementation of the No Surprises Act and exclusionary health insurers as reasons for its financial decline in a restructuring announcement on Monday.

“The bankruptcy wipes out private equity firm KKR’s investment in Envision. In 2018, the PE firm shelled out over $5 billion in 2018 to take Envision private in a deal valued at $9.9 billion, including debt. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that an Envision bankruptcy filing would be one of the steepest losses in KKR’s history.”

From the miscellany department, NPR Shots offers articles evaluating experimental cancer treatments and looking into a new NIH study:

There’s plenty of one-size-fits-all nutrition advice. But there’s mounting evidence that people respond differently to food, given differences in biology, lifestyle and gut microbiome.

“The National Institutes of Health wants to learn more about these individual responses through a Nutrition for Precision Health study, and this week researchers began enrolling participants to take part in the study at 14 sites across the U.S.

“It’s part of the All of Us research initiative that aims to use data from a million participants to understand how differences in our biology, lifestyle and environment can affect our health.

Holly Nicastro of the NIH Office of Nutrition Research says the goal of the precision nutrition study is to help develop tailored approaches for people. “We’ll use machine learning and artificial intelligence to develop algorithms that can predict how individuals will respond to a given food or dietary pattern,” Nicastro says.

“The study will take into account a person’s genetics, gut microbes, and other lifestyle, environmental and social factors “to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health,” Nicastro says.”