Tuesday Tidbits

Tuesday Tidbits

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management today announced the companies that were awarded FEDVIP contracts for a seven year term beginning January 1, 2021. OPM added two new dental carriers — UnitedHealthCare (nationwide) and and HealthPartners (regional) for a total of twelve dental carriers. OPM added one new vision carrier — MetLife (all vision plans are nationwide) — for a total of five vision carriers beginning next year.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced an initiative to “transform rural health.” Healthcare Dive explains

CMS’s new payment model for rural hospitals and accountable care organizations that will use upfront and capitated payments. Participating facilities will be able to waive cost-sharing for Medicare Part B services, provide transportation for beneficiaries and expand telehealth services, among other flexibilities.

The Community Health Access and Rural Transformation model has two tracks, one of which is focused on ACOs. In the other track, $75 million will be provided to lead organizations in 15 rural communities, which will be announced early next year with a planned start of the model next summer.

The lead organizations, which can be state Medicaid agencies, local health departments or academic medical centers, among others, will receive $2 million after being accepted and another $3 million in upfront funding as the model progresses.

Fierce Healthcare discusses Teladoc’s acquisition of Livongo which was announced Wednesday August 5. “The combination of two of the largest publicly-traded virtual care companies announced Wednesday will create a health technology giant just as the demand for virtual care soars.” However,

Both companies’ stock dropped Wednesday after news of the deal broke. Teladoc’s stock was down 15% and Livongo’s stock also fell by 14%. As of Thursday, both companies’ stock was still trading lower.

Analysts say the total deal price of $158.99 per share represents a 10% premium over Livongo stock’s record closing price of $144.53 as of Aug. 5, leading to the market pushback on the high valuation.

The Drug Channels blog offers its useful annual update “on pricing at five of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers—Eli Lilly, Janssen, Merck, Novartis, and Sanofi.” Drug Channels finds that

Average discounts from [prescription drug manufacturer] list prices have been deepening.Merck’s average discount rate went from -41% in 2016 to -44% in 2019, while Lilly’s rate went from -50% to -57%. We estimate that in 2019, the total value of gross-to-net reductions for brand-name drugs was $175 billion. That figure has doubled over the past six years.

In other encouraging news, STAT News tells us about an experimental drug to treat coronaviruses like COVID-19.

A research team at the University of California, San Francisco, has synthesized a molecule that they say is among the most potent anti-coronavirus compounds tested in a lab to date. Called nanobodies because they are about a quarter of the size of antibodies found in people and most other animals, these molecules can nestle into the nooks and crannies of proteins to block viruses from attaching to and infecting cells.
The lab-made one created by the UCSF team is so stable it can be converted into a dry powder and aerosolized, meaning it would be much easier to administer than Covid-19 treatments being developed using human monoclonal antibodies. While the work is still very preliminary, the goal is to deliver the synthetic nanobody via simple inhaled sprays to the nose or lungs, allowing it to potentially be self-administered and used prophylactically against Covid-19 — if it’s shown safe and effective in both animal tests and clinical trials.

Let’s go. This my friends is the difference between 1918 and 2020. We must have faith in medical research.

Finally the FEHBlog’s favorite podcast EconTalk provided a timely insight into Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in this week’s episode. Journalist and author Ben Cohen talked about his book, The Hot Hand, with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. The Hot Hand concerns streaks. and Shakespeare wrote three of his most popular plays, including Romeo and Juliet, from 1605-1606 when London was suffering from the plague. What’s more,

The reason why Romeo doesn’t know that Juliet has taken this potion and that she is simply sleeping and not actually dead is because this whole harebrained scheme had not been explained to him because he never gets the [explantory] letter [that a messenger was tasked to bring him].

So, if you think about it, it’s really a bonkers plot line. The flyer says, ‘I will–Juliet, take this sleeping potion, it will knock you out. Your family will think you’re dead. When they think you’re dead, Romeo is going to come back and he’s going to sweep you away and take you and live happily ever after.’

Now, this is the stuff that like you wouldn’t even see on a reality show or some terrible soap opera now. And yet, it’s our most famous love story.

And so, why does it fall apart? She takes the sleeping potion, right? She gets knocked out. Her family thinks she’s dead. Romeo comes back and sees her in the open crypt. All of the crazy stuff [Romeo and then Juliet committing suicide] actually turns out–where the whole scheme falls apart–is simply on getting a letter to Romeo. And it falls apart because the plague is sweeping through and the messenger gets stuck in quarantine.

So, all of this is the plague.

Now that’s a 1605 twist that rings true nearly 400 years later.

Thursday Miscellany

The Wall Street Journal reports that

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that if they don’t reach a deal by Friday with Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), they saw little point in continuing the daily negotiating sessions they have been conducting for nearly two weeks.

The quartet was expected to meet again early Thursday evening.

Democrats said Thursday that the slow pace of progress in the talks stems from a central clash over how much assistance the federal government should provide.

The President has stated that he plans to issue executive orders providing COVID-19 emergency relief if a compromise is reached.

Today the President signed an executive order directing administrative action to “reduce our dependence on foreign manufacturers for Essential Medicines, Medical Countermeasures, and Critical Inputs to ensure sufficient and reliable long-term domestic production of these products, to minimize potential shortages, and to mobilize our Nation’s Public Health Industrial Base to respond to these threats.” That seems sensible. Here’s a link to a Wall Street Journal article on the executive order. The Journal explains that “The order seeks to reverse the practice in recent decades of moving drug manufacturing outside of the U.S. That shift is partly because of more favorable tax rates, cheaper labor and friendlier environmental regulations, industry officials say.”

On the miscellany front —

  • The Federal Times reports that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is poised to publish an interim final rule implementing the new paid parental leave program for federal employees. The program takes effect on October 1, 2020, and the interim final rule will be published in the Federal Register on August 10, 2020.

The act enables federal employees to substitute 12 weeks of paid leave for the same amount of time of unpaid leave authorized under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993.

But not all of the circumstances covered by unpaid leave apply to the new paid leave provisions.

Federal employees covered by the act may only take paid parental leave after the birth or placement of a child and may only do so within a 12-month window of that birth or placement.

  • Health Payer Intelligence reports on a Blue Cross study discussing payer strategies to improve sagging colorectal cancer screening rates in our country. OPM scores FEHB plans on the NCQA’s HEDIS measure for this preventive care measure. The article explains

“A major barrier to preventative screening is attitudinal – stemming from misperceptions surrounding discomfort, lack of risk awareness, and general fear of negative results,” [BCBSA Vice President Reed] Melton said. “Payers can start by working to change those perceptions and provide accurate, accessible resources to better inform the public.”

Payers can act on the information that this report unveiled by making colorectal cancer information—including screening information and other data—available to members online. This is a strategy that many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are already implementing.

  • Last week the FEHBlog called attention to successful COVID-19 vaccine tests performed on monkeys. One group of monkeys was given the experimental vaccine and the other group wasn’t. However, both groups were exposed to COVID-19 which increases the reliability of the testing. A friend of the FEHBlog shared a link to the 1 Day Sooner site. 1 Day Sooner proposes that human volunteers engage in the same type of testing which are known as challenge trials. ” Human challenge trials deliberately expose participants to infection, in order to study diseases and test vaccines or treatments. They have been used for influenza, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever, and cholera. Researchers are exploring whether human challenge trials could speed up the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, saving thousands or even millions of lives.” Who knew? Certainly gutsy. In any event, the FEHBlog shares a monkey’s picture today in gratitude to their efforts to protect fellow primates.

Tuesday Tidbits

Following up on last Friday’s and Sunday’s posts on the President’s executive orders on drug pricing, here for greater perspective is a link to a Fierce Healthcare article offering the positions of the health insurance and PBM industry trade associations’ positions on the orders. Essential Hospitals lets us know that the text of the fourth international pricing index executive order has not yet been made public.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “Eastman Kodak Co. has won a $765 million government loan under the Defense Production Act, the first of its kind. The purpose: to help expedite domestic production of drugs that can treat a variety of medical conditions and loosen the U.S. reliance on foreign sources. * * * Kodak’s loan has terms similar to a commercial loan and must be repaid over 25 years, [Kodak CEO Jim] Continenza said. He said Kodak will produce “starter materials” and “active pharmaceutical ingredients” used to produce generic medicines. “We have a long, long history in chemical and advanced materials—well over 100 years,” Mr. Continenza said. He added that Kodak’s existing infrastructure allows the company “to get up and running quickly.”

On the COVID-19 front —

  • Federal News Network informs us that

About 4,000 federal employees have filed workers’ compensation claims with the Labor Department due to COVID-19. 60 people have filed death claims. Labor projects COVID-19 claims among federal employees may reach 6,000 in the coming weeks. The department’s inspector general says the division that handles federal employee claims is anticipating a strain in resources due to demand and social distancing mandates. It has alternative staffing plans if COVID-19 compensation claims continue to surge. Labor says it’s accepted over 1,600 federal employees claims so far. Over 2,300 are unadjudicated.

  • The Society for Human Resource Management brings us up to date on the Senate majority’s new $1 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the HEALS Act.
  • The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services released “an early snapshot of the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on the Medicare population. The data shows that older Americans and those with chronic health conditions are at the highest risk for COVID-19 and confirms long-understood disparities in health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority groups and among low-income populations.” A large cadre of the Medicare population of course is also enrolled in the FEHBP so this data is worth a gander.
  • The National Institutes of Health announced the successful results of a double blind study of the Moderna / NIAID COVID-19 vaccine on non-human primates / rhesus macaques. As noted yesterday that vaccine entered phase 3 human trials this week.

In other news —

  • Becker’s Hospital Review identifies the highest ranking hospital in each State as found in U.S. News and World Report.
  • NPR discusses two new studies suggesting that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced by taking flu and pneumonia vaccines.
  • HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) which enforces the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules announced that “Lifespan Health System Affiliated Covered Entity, a non-profit health system based in Rhode Island, has agreed to pay $1,040,000 to the OCR and to implement a corrective action plan to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules related to the theft of an unencrypted laptop [thereby evidently allowing access to protected health information on over 20,000 patients in 2017].

Tuesday Tidbits

My heavens it’s raining hard here in Bethesda Maryland.

Last week the House Appropriations Committee cleared the FY 2021 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill by a vote of 30-22. This is the bill that funds the OPM and the FEHBP. FedWeek calls attention to the fact that the Committee’s report on the bill makes the following FEHBP recommendation:

The Committee recognizes the importance of medical foods, as defined in the Orphan Drug Act (21 U.S.C. 360ee(b)(3)), which often serve as firstline therapies to treat a number of conditions. The Committee is concerned about the lack of coverage of medical foods in FEHBP insurance plans. The Committee encourages OPM to encourage FEHBP plans to explore options for including coverage of medical foods within their plans.

Here’s a link to a Food and Drug Administration set of frequently asked questions about medical foods.

The House Appropriations Committee announced today the Financial Services Appropriations bill is one of seven such bills to be packaged as a minibus (H.R. 7617) and submitted to the House of Representatives for a vote next week.

Last week, the FEHBlog noted a Centers for Disease Control report noting an uptick in drug overdose death last year. Today the American Medical Association released a 2020 progress report from its opioid task force. Fierce Healthcare explains that report finds “a nearly 40% decline in opioid prescriptions in the last five years, but overdose deaths have continued to increase thanks to spiraling use of illicit drugs such as synthetic fentanyl.” Moreover, “[i]n the report, the AMA pressed for changes to remove barriers, such as prior authorization, to addicts gaining access to medical treatments.”

On the Affordable Care Act front —

  • Georgetown Law Professor Katie Keith provides a lengthy and informative update on ACA related litigation if this is your cup of tea. The FEHBlog cannot remember another federal statute that has lead to so much litigation over the validity of government actions thereunder.
  • The Internal Revenue Service released Rev. Proc. 2020-36. To comply with the ACA’s employer mandate, a large employer must offer its employees at least one coverage option that has at least 60% actuarial value and has an employee contribution that does not exceed a certain percentage of salary / wages. Every year the IRS announces the new percentage and the applicable percentage is 9.83% for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.

Finally, FedSmith offers guidance to federal employees who are starting to consider civil service retirement. Of note, “you have to be enrolled in FEHB and FEGLI for at least five years before retiring to be eligible to continue these programs after you retire. Having access to FEHB in retirement can save you thousands and thousands of dollars and should not be taken lightly.” How true that is.

Friday Stats and More

For the third week in a row, new COVID-19 cases have topped 300,000 (nearly 1 million in total) while the number of new deaths remains relatively low and stable (12,000 in sum over the past three weeks) according to the CDC’s cases in the U.S. website which the FEHBlog tracks.

Axios echos the FEHBlog’s sentiment that the medical profession to its credit has learned how to treat COVID-19. That is what you would expect in 2020. Hopefully the government is doing a good job providing healthcare resources to hot spot areas in order to facilitate treatment. In that regard, HHS announced today that “it will begin distributing $10 billion in a second round of high impact COVID-19 area funding to hospitals starting next week.”

In our FEHBP world —

  • Federal News Network reports that OPM has issued new proposed rules to address enrollment problems that arose during the long government shutdown in the winter of 2018-19. Hopefully we won’t encounter another one of those unfortunate events again, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Several of the new flexibilities are already law thanks to a law that Congress passed in 2019.
  • OPM also released today a revised SF 2809 FEHB enrollment form. The form is a handy reference for FEHB enrollment rules. It’s not used as often as it was pre-internet and smart phones.

Finally, the Trump Administration enjoyed two victories in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today. As Healthcare Dive reports

  • The Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision upholding the Administration’s short term duration health plan rule. The FEHBlog sees no harm in giving consumers greater choice of health care coverage after Congress zeroed out the individual mandate.
  • The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and thereby upheld the Administration’s Medicare “site neutrality” rule that “reduced some payments to off-campus hospital outpatient departments to make them consistent with other outpatient payments.” The court reasoned that

“Reducing the payment rate for a particular OPPS service readily qualifies, in common parlance, as a ‘method for controlling unnecessary increases in the volume’ of that service,” according to the opinion. “The lower the reimbursement rate for a service, the less the incentive to provide it, all else being equal. Reducing the reimbursement rate thus is naturally suited to addressing unnecessary increases in the overall volume of a service provided by hospitals.”

Makes perfect sense to the FEHBlog.

Thursday Miscellany

The Supreme Court wrapped up its October 2019 term today. Because it relates to the Affordable Care Act, the FEHBlog calls attention to the ever reliable and prodigious Katie Keith’s Health Affair’s blog post about yesterday’s Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania decision. As Ms. Keith explains, this decision “was the third time in six years that the Supreme Court has ruled on the scope of the contraceptive mandate. This post recounts the history of the litigation, summarizes the decision, and discusses the impact of the ruling.” This decision has no impact on the FEHBP coverage of contraceptives. Enjoy your time off, Justices.

Also on the ACA front, Fierce Healthcare reports that

The Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges could add more than 1 million new members because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The analysis released Thursday by Avalere attributes the spike to special enrollment due to massive job losses caused by COVID-19. The boost in customers could cause more insurers to return to a market they have left after financial losses over the past few years.

“With unemployment rates at or near 10% in almost all states, many consumers have been separated from their previous employer-sponsored plans,” the analysis said. “The economics of Medicaid eligibility in many states and the recent boost to unemployment assistance indicate that many are turning to the exchanges for coverage.”

On the COVID-19 vaccine development front,

At Fortune Brainstorm Health this week, there was lots of talk about the 200-plus efforts to find a COVID vaccine, and the extraordinary collaboration among companies and governments to get vaccines tested, manufactured and distributed—far faster than ever before. “We are taking what normally takes five to seven years, and doing it in five to seven months,” said Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky. But Gorsky—whose company is one of the leaders in the vaccine race—also issued a strong warning to the group not to think of a vaccine as a silver bullet.

However, an effective vaccine certainly would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Must everyone feel the need to dampen expectations?

  • In the same vein, Fierce Pharma discusses an internal CDC debate over what would be an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

One of public health’s greatest accomplishments was eradicating smallpox back in 1979. To eradicate SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 illness, we’ll need a vaccine that’s 70% effective—and 70% of the population will need to receive it, an FDA vaccine official said Wednesday.

That’s a higher bar than the FDA set last week. To pass muster at the agency, a COVID-19 vaccine will need to be at least 50% more effective than placebo, according to new FDA guidelines.

  • It’s worth noting that the smallpox eradication effort began in the 1790s and that pharma is on course for more than one vaccine concoction for COVID-19 which should lead to broader efficacy, right?

On the OPM front,

  • Federal News Network informs us OPM will be proposing to anoint greater Des Moine, IA as the latest metropolitan area in which federal employees will receive locality pay. Congrats Hawkeyes. “OPM will also propose an expansion of the existing Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, locality pay area to include Imperial County, California.” The changes if (when?) finalized would be effective January 1, 2021, and
  • Fedweek reports on a recent OPM Inspector General report on OPM’s federal employee retirement services. The Inspector General compliments OPM for its process improvements.

Midweek Update

A House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee approved by voice vote today the bill funding financial services and general government for the 2021 fiscal year. That bill encompasses OPM and the FEHBP. Yesterday’s FEHBlog post discussed the relevant substance of the bill considered today. The bill now moves onto full appropriations committee consideration.

Fierce Healthcare reports that “Healthcare leaders and health IT groups are calling on Congress to repeal a section of the law that prevents the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from working with the private sector to develop a nationwide patient identification strategy.” The advocates are pointing to the COVID-19 emergency as another reason for taking this sensible action. ” Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing efforts are hampered without accurate demographic information that correctly identifies the right patient.”

Also, on the COVID-19 front, the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) announced today that “The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH, has established a new clinical trials network that aims to enroll thousands of volunteers in large-scale clinical trials testing a variety of investigational vaccines and monoclonal antibodies intended to protect people from COVID-19.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that

Drugmaker Emergent Biosolutions Inc. plans to work with Mount Sinai Health System in New York City to test whether a drug derived from the blood plasma of recovered Covid-19 patients can prevent infections in doctors, nurses and military forces. The proposed study, which the partners announced Wednesday, would add to efforts evaluating the coronavirus-fighting potential of experimental drugs made from plasma donated by recovered patients. If the drug proves to work safely, it could help protect health-care workers and other people working in essential jobs who are at high risk of infection until a vaccine is ready and perhaps even after.

On the general U.S. healthcare front Healthcare Dive reports that

Walgreens on Wednesday announced plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics across the country over the next five years in partnership with medical services provider VillageMD, and “hundreds more” after that. As part of the agreement, Walgreens will invest $1 billion in equity and convertible debt in Chicago-based VillageMD over the next three years, including a $250 million equity investment Wednesday. VillageMD will use 80% of the funds to pay for opening the clinics, called Village Medical at Walgreens, and integrate digitally with Walgreens.

and that

Walmart will now sell health insurance policies directly to its customers, a spokesperson told Healthcare Dive, confirming speculation sparked by job postings from the retailer for Medicare sales managers and insurance agents, first reported by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Analysts with SVB Leerlink said the move underscores the attractiveness of this market and the likelihood of increased competition over time, while Walmart’s reach across U.S. consumers — including seniors — has the potential to drive up volume for Medicare plans.

What’s more, Health Payer Intelligence discusses why some health plans seek out seriously ill members to wit “By developing a greater understanding of seriously ill populations, payers and policymakers can more accurately target their population health management strategies.”

And a Forbes columnist criticizes government telehealth parity mandates. The column provides an interesting perspective on the telehealth craze. As the FEHBlog’s late grandmother frequently advised “moderation in all things.”

Last but not least, FedWeek explores the OPM Federal Employees Benefits Survey to understand why some federal employees don’t enroll in our beloved FEHBP.

the survey found that of those not enrolled [roughly 19% of the surveyed population], 90 percent are obtaining health care through some other program, most commonly through a spouse’s employment and most commonly through the military TRICARE program. “Less than one percent of respondents said that they are not enrolled in FEHB and do not have health insurance because they do not think there is a need,” OPM said.

Thursday Stats and More

As tomorrow is the federal holiday celebrating the Fourth of July, the FEHBlog will report COVID-19 stats today. It’s not pretty. The stats are based on the CDC’s COVID-19 Cases in the U.S. website.

Week endingTotal CasesTotal Deaths

May 21

297,581

8,956
June 4148,2107,561
June 18161,2894,865
June 25199,2525,270
July 2304,4966,215

The first row was the high point in new cases and new deaths over the past six weeks. The new cases are back at the mid-May level but deaths are still below mid-May (but above mid-June). The FEHBlog firmly believes that this new surge in cases will be more manageable than the first surge because doctors know how to manage the disease and treatments are available.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R Iowa), who is Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced his Updated Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2020. It’s worth noting that the Senator’s Committee approved the 2019 version of this bill last summer by a 19-9 vote. Sen. Grassley then worked with Sen. Ron Wyden (D. Ore.) to make the bill more bipartisan in nature. However, the bill has no Democrat Senator co-sponsors because after all this is an election year. There may wind being action on this bill in the lame duck session following the November election.

The Society for Human Resource Management offers three checklists to help employers avoid LGBTQ discrimination in their benefit programs following the recent Supreme Court decision including sexual orientation and gender identity within the scope of prohibited sex discrimination. Check it out.

The Department of Health and Human Services has posted its current list of sub regulatory guidance. The website explains that

On October 9, 2019, the President issued Executive Order (EO) 13891 entitled Promoting the Rule of Law through Improved Agency Guidance Documents (84 FR 552350). The EO requires HHS to establish a single, searchable, indexed database that contains links to all of HHS’s guidance documents currently in effect. Guidance documents come in a variety of formats, including interpretive memoranda, policy statements, manuals, bulletins, advisories, and more. Please note, the contents of this database do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. These documents are intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or HHS policies.

The FEHBlog looks forward to reviewing OPM’s companion site.

Speaking of OPM, Federal News Radio reports

Existing health and retirement benefits are a significant incentive for employees to take or keep a job in the federal government, according to the latest survey results from the Office of Personnel Management.

About 70% of those who took OPM’s 2019 benefits survey said the ability to receive insurance through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program influenced their decision to a “great or moderate” extent to take a job in government, while 80% said the program influenced their decision to keep their jobs.

Hey what’s not to like? Great benefits and if you have FEHBP coverage for the five years preceding your civil service retirement you carry FEHBP coverage into retirement with the full government contribution. Well deserved benefits.

Friday Stats and More

The CDC’s COVID-19 cases in the U.S. website, which the FEHBlog tracks, added age demographic information this week. The basic infection mortality rate stabilized then dropped slightly then stabilized again over the past two weeks. That has to be good news. The CDC’s weekly COVIDview supports the FEHBlog’s layman analysis.

MedPage Today offers an interesting story about the downswing of the illness from the perspective of New York City clinicians who have been on the front line.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services finalized today a subset of proposed Medicare Advantage and Part D changes that the agency proposed earlier this year. CMS is releasing the final rule in two installments so that Medicare Advantage and Part D plans are not overwhelmed. That’s considerate.

OPM released additional COVID-19 guidance for federal agencies today. The guidance concerns the Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s paid leave program for employees affected by COVID-19.

Thursday Miscellany

The House of Representatives passed COVID-19 relief bill no. 3.5 (H.R. 266) by a vote of 388-5 this afternoon. The bill restores funding for the Small Business Administration’s relief programs and provides $100 billion in funding for healthcare providers.

OPM issued a new COVID-19 letter to FEHBP carriers today. The FEHBlog was pleased to see that OPM is allowing FEHB high deductible plans with health savings accounts to cover telehealth before the “high deductible” as permitted by the CARES Act (COVID-19 relief bill no. 3).

OPM also announced today that “the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) will conduct a nationwide special solicitation to support charities serving and affected by COVID-19. This special solicitation will run through June 30.” Good call. Here’s the link to the campaign.

Also over the past two days, OPM has issued FAQs on resuming normal workforce operations at federal facilities and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s (COVID-19 relief bill no. 2) paid sick leave program. Meanwhile the U.S. Department of Labor is up to nearly 90 FAQs on that program which also applies to private sector employers with under 500 employees.

Our firm is closely monitoring the impacts of COVID-19. Effective 6/08/20, Ermer & Suter has reopened its physical offices for business, however for the continued safety of our staff, in-office capacity will not exceed 40%. We remain fully operational and are readily available from both our office and telework locations.