Sunday, April 05, 2009

Weekend update / Miscellany

  • Last week, the House and Senate approved FY 2010 budget resolutions along party lines. No Republicans voted for the resolutions in either House. According to the Washington Post's report,

    The biggest dispute between the two chambers is whether to use a powerful procedural shortcut that could allow Obama's health, education and energy initiatives to pass the Senate with 51 votes rather than the usual 60, eliminating the need to win over any Republicans.

    The House voted to include the procedure, known as reconciliation, in its budget plan to speed health care and education legislation. But Senate Republicans -- and some Senate Democrats -- argue that the maneuver would make bipartisan cooperation all but impossible on some of the most significant measures to come before the Senate in years.

    An AP story provides background on the reconciliation option.

    According to the AP report, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been circumspect about whether he'd permit the reconciliation process to ram health care legislation through his chamber, not ruling it in or out.

    Republicans are angry about the prospect.

    "It'll be like a declaration of war," said Sen. Michael Enzi of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

    Even some Democrats are wary.

    "I don't think things should be done this way," Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu said of the reconciliation process. "If we're changing the whole system of health care, it needs to be done carefully, with hearings and thorough discussions."

    Such uneasiness was apparent Wednesday, when 26 Senate Democrats joined 41 Republicans to pass a measure forbidding reconciliation from being used to pass legislation controlling carbon emissions.

    AHIP also offered its perspective on the use of the reconciliation process.

  • Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sibelius attended two Senate confirmation hearings this week. According to this Business Insurance report, She expressed her support for including a public plan option in the national health insurance exchange, which has been outlined as part of the health reform initiative. Democratic leadership in the House strongly supports this approach. As explained in this Inside Health Reform article, the health insurance industry is strongly opposed to a public plan option. There is no public plan option in the FEHBP which has operated successfully for almost 50 years. The FEHBP is considered one of the models for the national health insurance exchange. The New York Times reports that the Senate is expected to take up her nomination later this month.

  • Speaking of office changes, AIS Health Business Daily reports that

    CMS announced key staffing changes March 12 for officials overseeing the MA program. Jonathan Blum, formerly vice president at Avalere Health and a Hill staffer, was named acting director of CMS's Center for Drug and Health Plan Choice. Abby L. Block, who had held that position since 2005, has become senior advisor to the CMS administrator.
    Before joining CMS, Ms. Block was in charge of FEHBP policy at OPM for many years.

  • CQ Politics reports that odds are very good that the Senate will join the House in passing Rep. Henry Waxman's bill (HR 1256) to require FDA regulation of tobacco products.

  • Last week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America today issued 10 cross-cutting recommendations for improving the nation’s health." The recommendations include the elimination of smoking and desserts. I will miss desserts.

  • The Houston Chronicle reports that

    According to Hewitt Associates, 80 percent of companies are trying to improve the chronic health condition of their employees this year by taking steps like assigning personal health coaches, setting up on-site clinics for easy medical access and waiving co-pays for essential drugs.

    That’s up from last year when 51 percent of companies launched specific disease management programs, according to the study that surveyed 343 large employers.
  • OPM posted its Benefits Administration Letter 2009-03 concerning FEHBP changes created by the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009.

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