Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mid-week update

Joe Davidson of the Washington Post reported on the beginning of a quiet Federal Benefits Open Season (so described because the average premium increase is so low for 2012) Mr. Davidson reported from a health fair sponsored by the FEHBlog's Congressman Chris Van Hollen. He observed that "People from health insurance companies, many with logo-laden swag, were available to answer questions about their products." That's a cheap shot. These health fairs have been around for decades and attendees expect a little "swag." What's wrong with that?  It's fun.  It's important to note the "swag" is not purchased with government funds.

OPM holds its last Open Season webinar tomorrow at 1:30 pm ET. Tomorrow's webinar is on the topic of the FEHBP and Medicare. The previous webinars are available on YouTube. (Seriously.) The FEHBlog listened to Tuesday's webinar about how to select the right health plan. OPM recommended three sources of information for comparing FEHB plans -- OPM, Plan Smart Choice  (a tool which has improved over the years), and Consumers Checkbook.

The Administration made announcements today about reductions in improper payment rates in many high error programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.. You won't hear the FEHBP's name called here because the FEHBP has a low improper payment rate that will be disclosed soon in OPM's FY 2011 financial statements. Carriers do a good job of managing their plans.

Business Insurance reports that according to a Mercer survey, the average cost of employer sponsored health insurance has cracked $10,000 in the U.S. That's not good news particularly as we creep ever closer to the Affordable Care Act's tax on health insurance premiums that takes effect in 2014 and its tax on high premium plans that takes effect in 2018. Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in a five and 1/2 hour long argument early next year that will consider the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the constitutionality of the law's provisions expanding Medicaid and imposing significant new costs on States. The Court also will consider two related issues -- whether the appeal is premature because the relevant provisions do not take effect until 2014 (a decision reached by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit) and whether these two challenged features of the law are severable from the rest of the law which would allow the law to remain in effect except for features that the Court finds unconstitutional. C-SPAN has asked the Supreme Court for permission to televise the argument according to the WSJ's Law Blog. The Supreme Court has a web page on this important case here.

The Washington Post reports that OPM has been named one of the top ten places to work in the federal government. Kudos to OPM.

Finally, in a truth is stranger than fiction piece, Medscape reports that the American Medical Association's Board of Governors wants the federal government to stop implementing the International Classification of Diseases 10 (ICD 10) code set because implementation will cost doctors too much money. (Oddly enough, the Chairman of the AMA's Board of Trustees is Dr. Wah as in wah! wah!)
The International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision, contains approximately 68,000 codes, and its implementation is slated for October 2013. ICD-10 will replace ICD-9, which has just 14,000 codes.
The Department of Health and Human Services two years ago finalized a HIPAA rule requiring health plans to implement a new set of electronic billing transaction standards known as the ANSI X5010 by January 1, 2012, and implement the ICD-10 by October 1, 2013. Doctors and hospitals who want to bill health plans electronically must use the same transaction standards and code sets.

The ICD blew up in order to improve public health reporting which is not the purpose of electronic billing. The current ICD 9 works fine. However, while the FEHBlog shares the AMA's sentiments, this train left the station two years ago and health plans have spent millions implementing the new requirements. The AMA's only hope is Congress. We'll see., but I would not bet the ranch on the AMA succeeding with this one.

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