Friday, December 09, 2011

Friday Highlights

The Federal Benefits Open Season ends on Monday December 12 and the continuing resolution funding the federal government expires next Friday December 16. Yesterday, a House-Senate conference committee started meeting on a final omnibus appropriations bill for the current federal government fiscal year. According to the Hill blog, the goal is to release a bill on Monday.

These negotiations are separate from the competing bills to extend the Social Security payroll tax reduction for another year. The House leadership proposed their bill today which also would extend the Medicare Part B reimbursement patch for two years with a 1% payment sweetener. See Modern Healthcare for more details. However, the bill has provisions that adversely impact federal employees as reports.  The bill was not well received by the House minority or the Senate majority according to a Hill report. Time will tell.

Business Insurance reports that the government has announced that it will not accept Early Retiree Insurance Program claims incurred after the end of this year because the $5 billion appropriated for the Program in nearly tapped out.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a new policy concerning public access to the gigantic Medicare claims database. The Wall Street Journal which has been pushing the government to open up the database reports that
Under the new rules, the agency is allowing a new category of organizations to obtain the data: community groups comprising doctors, health insurers, businesses, consumers and government that work to improve health care at the local level.
These groups, which the agency estimates number about 25 nationwide, will be able to use the data to publish studies, such as report cards on certain procedures, hospitals or doctors. Although they will have to notify the subjects of their reports 60 days in advance, doctors won't be able to block publication. Patient information will remain confidential.
The new rules make no mention of allowing news organizations to gain access to the data. The media might conceivably be allowed to partner with the local health-care monitoring groups that obtain the data to produce investigations, but that idea wasn't specifically addressed by the department.
Also the FEHBlog ran across a website for a community pharmacists group that opposes the Express Scripts - Medco merger -- Preserve Community Pharmacy Access Now! -- which has its own blog!

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