Midweek Update

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

From Washington, DC,

  • From a Senate press release,
    • Today, Senator Rick Scott and Senator Tom Carper announced the bipartisan FEHB Protection Act to stop fraud within the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program, the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country which covers eight million federal employees, retirees and family members. The FEHB Protection Act will codify Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommendations to require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to verify eligibility before adding family members, additionally, the bill requires an audit and removal of those ineligible for the program to ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely and program benefits are protected for truly eligible individuals. This legislation follows a study conducted by the GAO at Senator Scott’s request, which revealed that OPM’s mismanagement of the FEHB program allowed ineligible individuals to obtain employer-sponsored health coverage at the hefty price tag of approximately $1 billion in taxpayer dollars every year.
    • The FEHBlog doubts the accuracy of GAO’s projection because half of the FEHB enrollment is self only and FEHB family sizes are notoriously small. In any case, this approach will not solve the problem because OPM reports enrollment actions and premiums separately even though using the HIPAA 820 electronic enrollment roster transaction would allow carriers to confirm receipt of premium for each enrollee systematically.
  • From the American Hospital Association News,
    • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services March 27 finalized a rule proposed in 2022 to standardize Medicaid and CHIP enrollment and renewal processes and make it easier for eligible children and adults to stay covered. According to CMS, the final rule eliminates CHIP waiting periods, annual and lifetime coverage limits and the practice of locking children out of coverage if a family is unable to pay premiums; improves the transfer of children from Medicaid to CHIP when a family’s income rises; gives individuals at least 15 days to provide additional information when applying for the first time and 30 days to return documentation when renewing coverage; prohibits conducting renewals more often than every 12 months; and prohibits in-person interviews for older adults and those with disabilities. The rule takes effect 60 days after publication in the April 2 Federal Register.
  • and
    • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services March 27 released the fiscal year 2025 proposed rule for inpatient rehabilitation facilities, which would update IRF payments by an estimated 2.8% overall (or $280 million) in FY 2025. This includes a 3.2% market basket update, which is reduced by a 0.4% productivity adjustment. IRF payments would be further decreased by an estimated $25 million due to the proposed update for outlier payments.
  • and
    • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this week released a guide to health plan resources for health care providers impacted by the Change Healthcare cyberattack, including health plan contact information, noting in an accompanying letter that many providers continue to face significant disruptions as a result of the cyberattack or difficulty getting information from health plans about prospective payments and other flexibilities. The letter also encourages providers to review HHS’ voluntary cybersecurity performance goals.
  • It is worth adding that the United Healthcare Group updated its Change Healthcare Cyberattack response page today.

From the public health front,

  • The Washington Post reports,
    • “On Monday, government leaders in Puerto Rico declared a dengue epidemic after a spike in cases of the mosquito-borne disease hit the island.
    • “From the start of the year through March 10, there were 549 cases, including 341 hospitalizations and 29 severe cases, according to the most recent data provide by the Puerto Rico Department of Health. Cases are concentrated in cities including San Juan, Bayamon, Guaynabo and Carolina.
    • “Between 2010 and 2020, more than 30,000 dengue cases were reported from four U.S. territories, with Puerto Rico reporting the most. In 2012, Puerto Rico reported 199 deaths, which was the last time the commonwealth declared a dengue epidemic.”
  • The Wall Street Journal ponders,
    • “How closely should you be tracking your blood-sugar levels? * * *
    • “Soon, people without diabetes will be able to buy a monitor without needing to cajole a doctor into prescribing them one. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the over-the-counter sale of a continuous glucose monitor, also known as a CGM. The devices allow people to continuously monitor their blood sugar levels.
    • “People who obsess over their health data or have an unhealthy relationship with food should avoid CGMs, most doctors say. Users might misinterpret normal glucose fluctuations as unhealthy, causing anxiety and prompting them to restrict certain foods. It isn’t clear that healthy patients would benefit from using a CGM over the long term.
    • “However, people at higher risk of developing diabetes, and those who are interested in working with their doctors to make lifestyle changes, might find it helpful. The technology could spot early signs of insulin resistance, possibly helping otherwise healthy people avoid Type 2 diabetes, some doctors say. 
    • “If we identify these patients sooner, we can suggest lifestyle modifications as well as maybe the initiation of weight-loss medications,” says Dr. Brenda Dorcely, an endocrinologist at NYU Langone Health.” 

Tidbits from the OPM FEHB carrier conference

  • The FEHBlog attended OPM’s virtual FEHB carrier conference today. Here are some tidbits.

From the U.S. healthcare business front,

  • Per Healthcare Dive,
    • “Beleaguered health system Steward Health Care has agreed to sell its physician network, Stewardship Health, to healthcare behemoth UnitedHealth Group for an undisclosed sum, according to documents filed with Massachusetts regulators on Tuesday.
    • “Under the deal, UnitedHealth’s care delivery subsidiary Optum Care would acquire Steward’s nine-state footprint of primary care providers and clinicians. It will also acquire all of Stewardship’s stock. 
    • “The Health Policy Commission, an independent Massachusetts agency tasked with monitoring state healthcare spending, will have 30 days to assess the potential impact of a Optum-Steward deal on healthcare costs, quality and access, HPC director David Seltz said in a statement. Already, some legislators and health M&A experts are urging a close review of the transaction, citing antitrust concerns.”
  • Per MedTech Dive,
    • “Johnson & Johnson is in talks to acquire Shockwave Medical, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
    • “A deal could come in the next few weeks. However, the report noted that talks could fall through, or another company could pick up Shockwave. J&J and Shockwave both told MedTech Dive they do not comment on market rumors or speculation.
    • “Shockwave makes medical devices that break up calcium deposits in coronary arteries using sound pressure waves, a technique called intravascular lithotripsy (IVL).”
  • Beckers Payer Issues offers an interview with Aetna’s chief medical officer about managed care lessons from Medicaid to Medicare.