Weekend update

Weekend update

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Congress remains out of town until next week following Labor Day. The Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears before the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s COVID-19 subcommittee at 1 pm on Tuesday. You can expect member questions about the Administration’s application of the President’s executive order on employment taxes to the federal workforce which take effect the same day.

Here are a few stories that recently caught the FEHBlog’s eye:

  • Mhealth Intelligence reports that “The crowded, clamorous, stuffy, sniffly waiting room has long been the scourge of healthcare, a sign of both inconvenienced patients and overworked providers. It’s here that patients are asked to announce their presence, fill out forms and check their insurance, while staff sort through the data to match them to the right provider at the right time slot. Prodded by the pandemic, health systems are now using mHealth apps, online portals and telehealth platforms to handle those administrative tasks, so that a patient arriving at the hospital or doctor’s office is seen and treated as quickly as possible.” Hopefully that’s a trend that will continue and grow as it should tamp down contagious diseases.
  • Health Payer Intelligence informs us about a UnitedHealthcare study on employee wellness programs during the COVID-19 emergency. Most notably,

More than three-quarters (77%) of survey respondents who are employed and have access to wellness programs said the initiatives have made a positive impact on their health. Nearly half (48%) said the programs motivated them to pay more attention to their health; 38% said they helped lower stress; 36% said they increased physical activity; and 33% reported improved sleep. According to the survey, wellness programs helped 17% of respondents manage a chronic condition such as diabetes, while 17% said the health initiatives helped detect a disease or medical issue.
As for job performance among those who said the wellness programs made a positive impact on their health, 54% of employees said the initiatives helped reduce stress; 51% said they improved productivity; and 31% said they took fewer sick days. Among employees without access to
wellness programs, 71% of respondents said they would be interested in such initiatives if offered.

  • The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced that “Surgical patients are more likely to experience a postoperative infection if they have low health literacy, which is a limited capacity to understand and act on health information, according to results of a new study presented at the American College of Surgeons 2020 Quality and Safety Conference VIRTUAL.” Health plans should look into filling this literacy gap.
  • The National Law Review reports that

PROGENITY, INC. (“PROGENITY”), a San Diego-based biotechnology company that provides molecular and diagnostic tests agreed to a $49 million settlement for fraudulent billing and kickback practices. The settlement resolves claims that the biotechnology company fraudulently billed federal healthcare programs for prenatal tests and provided kickbacks to physicians to persuade them to order PROGENITY tests for their patients. * * * PROGENITY has agreed to pay $16.4 million to resolve similar fraudulent billing claims related to TRICARE and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program through a separate civil settlement.

Weekend Update

Happy Fathers’ Day.

The House and Senate are holding committee hearings and floor votes this week. On Tuesday the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing on applying lessons learned from the current COVID-19 emergency to prepare for the next pandemic emergency.

Speaking of the current pandemic:

  • The FEHBlog was wondering about whether there has been an uptick in COVID-19 related hospitalizations to accompany the uptick in COVID-19 cases over this month. The FEHBlog was delighted to find this handy CDC website on COVID-19 related hospitalizations which shows that new hospitalizations have continued to trend down this month.
  • On Friday, OPM released guidance on the relationship paid leave / other time off and COVID-19 work by Federal employees. According to the guidance, OPM plans to issue “regulations [that ] will deem the COVID-19 national emergency to be an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave. The regulations [among other things] will provide that employees who would forfeit annual leave in excess of the maximum annual leave allowable carryover because of their essential work during the national emergency will have their excess annual leave deemed to have been scheduled in advance and subject to leave restoration.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has 15 decisions left to issue before its summer break. The Court is expected to issue some of those decisions tomorrow at 10 am. The Court is continuing to hold its Thursday conferences so all of 15 of the decisions may not be ready for issuance.

Georgetown Law Professor Katie Keith provided a welcome Health Affairs blog analysis of a complicated topic — federal regulation of employee wellness programs. The key complicating factor is that there are so many different applicable federal laws in play.