Weekly Policy Updates
Friday, January 15, 2021
TOP LINKS FOR THE WEEK:
FEHB, OPM & Federal Employees
Why Trump’s Effort to Transform the Federal Government (Mostly) Failed: This article outlines how the Trump Administration’s efforts to dissolve OPM and split its functions between GSA and the White House went awry. A lack of transparency with Congress, no buy-in from career staff, and concerns that the move would politicize government HR functions ultimately led to its demise.
Why Biden Should Expand OPM’s Role: In this opinion piece, the case is made for OPM to take the lead in defining and measuring human capital metrics as a means to addressing critical workforce problems faced by the Federal government.
Why it matters: Historically, OPM hasn’t received a lot of public scrutiny beyond retirement backlogs and data breaches. The articles above highlight not only the recent attention on the agency but also the stark differences in the approach taken by the Trump Administration and what is expected from the incoming Biden Administration. These political shifts can have a serious impact on the morale of OPM employees and bring increased attention to the agency’s operations, including the administration of the FEHB Program.
Why it matters: The vaccination of the over 9 million federal employees will be a massive undertaking—one that will likely require coordination between federal agencies and the FEHB carriers that covered their employees. FEHB carriers should be considering this effort in their planning. The three agencies mentioned above account about 1.2 million FEHB contract holders or more than 50% of the total FEHB employee population. While the agencies are prioritizing specific populations, the initial wave of vaccinations will be quite large.
Bernie Sanders On His Big Plans as Budget Chair: Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is set to be the new chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee under the slim Democratic majority next Congress. Sanders, an “unabashed” progressive, will oversee budget and spending work as well as utilize the budget tool reconciliation to bypass the Senate filibuster and pass the Democratic agenda. In addition to addressing COVID and the economy, Sanders will seek progress in health care, infrastructure, and more.
Even With Senate Control, Democrats Will Need Buy In From GOP On Key Health Priorities: Although Democrats are poised to control both the House and the Senate, giving them control over the health care agenda, the 50-50 majority in the Senate means Democrats must still collaborate with Republicans to pass many of their health priorities. Incoming Senate HELP Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) has indicated her committee will focus on the problems that prevent all Americans from receiving equitable, affordable treatment in health care including racial disparities in care.
Why it matters: As incoming chair of the budget committee, Sanders will be playing a central role in reconciliation—the main avenue for Democrats to achieve their goals in the Senate. This new role elevates Sander’s stance on health policy including the public option, drug pricing, and COVID-19 relief, in a new way. However, the narrow margin in the Senate means that Democrats will need to work across the aisle and some of their more progressive ideas may be stemmed by this reality.
Schumer Pledges to Confirm Biden’s Cabinet, Press for More Covid Relief Amid Impeachment: Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) pledged to move quickly on confirming President Biden’s cabinet and coronavirus relief despite the impending impeachment trial in the chamber. Current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said the Senate will reconvene January 19th at the earliest for the hearing, only one day prior to the January 20th Presidential Inauguration.
‘Reject Sedition’: House Impeaches Trump in Historic Second Rebuke: On Wednesday, The House impeached President Donald Trump for the second time, citing his incitement of the violent insurrection against the Capitol on Jan 6th. The 232-197 vote included 10 Republicans who joined Democrats to support the single charge. Now, the process moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated a trial won’t begin for Trump until he is out of office.
Why it matters: With the Senate now tipped toward Democrats, we expect to see Schumer working lockstep with the Biden administration to staff leadership roles in agencies as quickly as possible, including the role of OPM Director, and to push forward Democratic legislative priorities. Some of these efforts may be stemmed by the impeachment trial, a process that will likely take great effort.
Teladoc Projects 2020 Revenue Doubling to $1.1B: Telehealth provider Teledoc is projecting $1.1 billion in revenue for 2020 and recently updated their full-year visit volume to 10.6 million, up from 4.1 million visits in 2019. The company’s CEO predicts sustainable long-term growth.
Why it matters: We are monitoring performance of telehealth companies, who have seen a major surge in usage during the COVID-19 pandemic, to understand if these shifts in healthcare delivery will stick around after the pandemic. If they do, this could be a significant change to healthcare delivery and insurers will need to nimbly respond.
Pandemic Propels Health Systems to Mull Insurer Acquisitions, Partnerships: At the JP Morgan annual healthcare conference, COVID-19 is the focus. And many attendees are highlighting that the pandemic has led to new interest in mergers and partnerships between health care providers and insurers.
Why it matters: The healthcare landscape is shifting. More and more mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships are emerging. It is crucial for insurers to understand these trends and stay apace.
AHIP Blasts Pharmaceutical Industry as Drug Prices Increase: In a recently released statement, AHIP criticizes pharmaceutical companies for 2021 pricing increases and urges the incoming Biden Administration to prioritize efforts to keep these costs in check.
Why it matters: AHIP is arguably the most powerful association of health insurers in our country. Keeping an eye on their priorities for the next Administration gives us a peak into where healthcare policy conversations might be focused over the next four years.
Why it matters: We are tracking COVID-19 related news including shifts in the healthcare industry, spread of the virus and related deaths, impacts to healthcare providers, and roll out of vaccines and treatments. COVID-19 is, without a doubt, the most pressing health-related issue in our country. How we address and ultimately control the pandemic will have far-reaching effects for payors and healthcare delivery.
J&J Sees Decision on Vaccine Clearance Coming by March: Approval for J&J’s single dose vaccine may not materialize until March, several weeks after it was previously anticipated. Any such delays will cause ripple effects in the next Administration’s efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feeling Left Out: Private Practice Doctors, Patients Wonder When it’s Their Turn for Vaccine: Private physicians report challenges not only to receiving vaccinations for their patients, but to receiving the vaccine themselves. Because states have flexibility in how they roll out access to the vaccine, private physicians have seen varied access from state-to-state.