Weekly Policy Updates
Friday, September 11, 2020
TOP LINKS FOR THE WEEK
FEHB & OPM
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the nomination of John Gibbs as Director of OPM. Written testimony is available here. According to Federal News Network, much of the nomination hearing focused on his record of inflammatory tweets, rather than his plans for running the agency.
Presidential Transition Notebook: Take Dismantling OPM off the Table: As organizations begin to weigh in on priorities for the next Administration, on commentator suggests that the OPM move to GSA should be scrapped. Instead, the author suggests that clear plans to make the agency operate more efficiently are needed.
OMB Pens “Cease and Desist” Order for Federal Trainings Related to Critical Race Theory and White Privilege: The letter indicates that trainings of this nature are “un-American” and “divisive.” Plans to replace these trainings are forthcoming.
Senate to Vote on “Skinny” COVID-19 Package: The Senate GOP is scheduled to vote on a pared-down COVID-19 relief proposal on Thursday. The package includes additional weekly unemployment benefits, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, and funding for schools and coronavirus testing. It does not include a second round of stimulus checks for Americans or more money for state and local governments. Although top GOP senators predict they’ll be able to win at least 51 Republican votes, the bill won’t get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. GOP senators are using this vote to show that Democrats voted down potential relief before the election, House and Senate Democrats have said that the “skinny” bill is a nonstarter and “headed nowhere.”
Senate Democrats Discuss Agenda for Potential Post-Election Majority: Senate Democrats emboldened by their electoral prospects are quietly haggling over what the agenda for next year should be if they gain control of Congress and the White House in 2021. The top priority of Democrats is to pour federal resources into combating the coronavirus and the economic devastation it has caused. Private discussions are also taking place over whether to eliminate or reform the legislative filibuster, which sets up a 60-vote threshold to pass most major legislation through the Senate. Other issues being discussed include immigration reform, gun control, legislation to address climate change, health care reform.
Democrats Unveil Bill Defining Racism as Public Health Crisis: Last week, Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation that would label racism as a nationwide public health crisis. If passed, the bicameral proposal would establish two new wings within the CDC: The National Center for Anti-Racism and the Law Enforcement Violence Prevention Program within the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. The proposal comes after the American Public Health Association declared systemic racism a public health crisis at the beginning of June — shortly after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. Since then, Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado have done the same along with several municipalities.
Five Ways—Beyond Current Policy—to Truly Integrate Telehealth Into Primary Care Practices: Health Affairs offers 5 strategies for permanently integrating telehealth into the primary care settings. They are: harmonizing reimbursement criteria, creating billing codes or payment models for the additional work required to offer telehealth, providing coverage for at-home monitoring devices, incentivizing the development of and access to telehealth technology, and reviewing and revising telehealth malpractice policies.
Telehealth Claims Dipped Second Month in a Row in June: Year-over-year, telehealth claims were up by 4,132% from June of 2019 to June of 2020; however, there was a 21% decline from May of 2020 to June.
Commonwealth Fund Study Documents Scope of Underinsured - A recently released study by the Commonwealth Fund analyzes the results of a survey of working age Americans regarding the adequacy of their insurance coverage. Main findings include: more than 25 percent of Americans with employer based coverage are underinsured, more than one third of underinsured workers had difficulty paying medical bills compared to one seventh of adequately insured workers, 15 percent of workers report deductibles exceeding 5 percent of income compared to 7 percent in 2010, and more than 25 percent of those underinsured skipped tests, medical treatment, and follow up care.
Report Shows Wide Variations in Medicare vs. Commercial Reimbursement Rates - The Health Care Cost Institute released a report in August that compares Medicare and Commercial reimbursement rates by procedure/visit, region, and facility. Average Commercial rates were 120 percent of Medicare, but varied widely by region (98 percent in Alabama and 188 percent in Wisconsin). From 2014 to 2018, prices accounted for 75 percent of the cost increase after accounting for inflation. HCCI draws from a database that includes more than 210 million claims.
Coronavirus infections Fell by Nearly 13% Last Week: The US is now averaging about 37,000 new cases a day.
How Does AstaZeneca’s Trial Pause Affect Other COVID-19 Vaccines? Analysts Weigh In: AstraZeneca has put COVID-19 vaccine testing on pause after reports that a patient was diagnosed with an inflammation of the spinal cord that can be triggered by infections. Further research is needed to understand if the diagnosis is accurate and if the condition is linked to the vaccine trial; depending on the outcome, the trial will be delayed and possibly terminated. Other companies working to develop vaccines could also be delayed.