Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tuesday Tidbits

The House did join the Senate today in passing a continuing resolution funding the federal government until November 18, 2011, according to the Federal Times. That article notes that

It is doubtful that Congress will pass all 12 annual appropriations bills before the CR expires Nov. 18, said Thad Juszczak, a former federal budget officer now at consulting firm Grant Thornton. Bills covering the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs department could win congressional approval by Nov. 18, Juszczak said, but he is more pessimistic about prospects for the others.
Another complication is that a House-Senate supercommittee is supposed to turn in its plan for up to $1.5 trillion in long-term deficit reduction by Nov. 23.
Govexec.com reports on an intiative to switch the annual federal budget process to a two year cycle. "In the Senate, Republican Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire have introduced legislation that would move Congress to a two-year budget cycle. Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., is sponsoring a similar bill in the House."

The Federal Times also reports on new perks that certain FEHB plans will offer their enrollees in 2012.

Business Insurance reports on the Kaiser Family Foundation, Aon Hewitt, and Consumer Reports studies on rising health care costs. What's the expert upshot?

“It means prices for health care are up,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, a Washington-based consortium of the nation's largest employers. “Doctors and hospitals have been raising their prices steadily.”
“Prescription drug trends have moderated over recent years because of the shift to generics and some blockbuster drugs coming off patent,” said Gary Stanford, a Dallas-based principal and actuary at Aon Hewitt, and one of the survey's authors. “Those things are helping control that piece of the cost equation. But on the hospital and physician side, we're still seeing significant price increases.”  Mr. Stanford attributed hospital and doctor price increases to impending reductions in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, an effort to balance the federal budget. “We see some evidence of price increases in anticipation of what may be coming down the road,” he said.
CMS has proposed regulatory changes to Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D for 2013.  The proposed changes include
Fight Fraud and Streamline Claims Filing: Require Part D sponsors submitting prescription drug event (PDE) records to include prescribers’ National Provider Identifiers (NPIs).   Also, the proposed rule would require pharmacy benefit managers under Part D to report additional financial information to increase transparency.  These changes would improve data collection and tracking, help better identify the prescriber of Part D medications, and assist our law enforcement partners in the conduct of investigations when there is suspected fraud associated with a prescription drug claim.
 The AMA News reports on the recently proposed HHS rule that would require clinical laboratories to provide test results to patients. The article notes that Quest Labs have a policy of providing test results to patients when state law permits. (This rule would override state laws if implemented.) The article explains that

Quest first sends test results to physicians. Only after 48 hours are they sent to patients. The company does not send patients test results that are related to HIV, genetics or show a pathological diagnosis of cancer.
The company's approach to sharing test results with patients may not be reflected in the new federal regulations. As written, the proposal does not specify a waiting period before sending test results to patients and does not declare that any kinds of tests or particular findings should go through a physician.

The FEHBlog thinks that the Quest approach is sensible.

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