Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weekend Update / Miscellany

  • The U.S. declared swine flu to be a public health emergency today according to this Reuters report. This is a preparatory action, not a red alert. Health plans may want to share with their members the Centers for Disease Control's common sense tips on how to avoid the flu. OPM's pandemic influenza web page is here.
  • On April 23, the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee of the House Education and Labor held a hearing on ways to reduce the cost of health insurance. The American Benefits Council and the National Association of Health Underwriters testified at the hearing. The NAHU testimony observed that "In many ways, a connector [or health insurance exchange] operates like the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, in which many private insurance plans compete to provide coverage for federal workers. But, unlike the FEHBP, a connector does not achieve the marketing and other advantages of a homogenous group." (In fact, FEHBP enrollment is not that homogeneous.) The NAHU testimony goes on the make recommendations on how to structure a connector. A Harvard professor David Himmelstein trashed the Massachusetts connector and urged the establishment of a single payer plan.
  • The House Ways and Means Committee's health subcommittee held a hearing about health insurance market reform on April 22. The subcommittee's chairman Rep. Pete Stark (D Calif) is a major single payer proponent. The subcommittee will hold a hearing about employer sponsored coverage on April 29.
  • Press reports, such as the Politico report, indicate the House and Senate Conference Committee on the budget resolution is poised to make the budget reconciliation process option applicable to health care reform. The President is pushing for this option. Under this option, a measure can be pushed through with limited Senate debate but the measure must sunset after 10 years. The 2001 Bush tax cuts were enacted under the reconciliation process which is the reason that the cuts expire after 2010.

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