Monday, April 22, 2013

This Week’s Events.  This edition comes on the heels of some horrific events in America and everyone at the National MS Society extends their heartfelt thoughts and prayers for everyone impacted by the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the massive explosion and devastation in West, Texas. 

Rally for Medical Research.  The National MS Society was a sponsor of a very successful rally in Washington earlier this month, calling on Congress to maintain investment in critical medical
research.  Cokie Roberts was the emcee and among the speakers was Congressional MS Caucus Co-Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

Obama Budget.  President Obama delivered his long-awaited budget to Congress last week and it includes many deficit-reduction measures which have certainly stirred things up in Washington.  Here’s an article highlighting its impact on health care, and another talking about impact on the pharmaceutical industry.

Simpson-Bowles 2.0.  Former Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles just released a revised version of their deficit reduction plan. 

Sequestration.  The across the board spending cuts are beginning to have an impact, with more to come.  Here is a summary of impact on federal agencies.  Remember also that sequestration isn’t a one-time event.  Unless Congress acts, each of the next nine years will see the remaining cuts – on tap beginning October 1, 2013 is another $109 billion in automatic cuts.

Fiscal Gap:  $211 Trillion.  This is a term I recently read in this article suggesting that neither the deficit nor the debt are significant when you consider the fiscal ‘gap’ – the amount of financial commitments of the federal government minus the amount of revenue to pay for them in the coming years. 

Reconciliation after all?  In previous Federal Fridays I talked about the House and Senate having passed budget resolutions but that it was more for show than anything (and to get paid) however, unexpectedly, Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan announced their intention to have a conference committee and work to reconcile the very different budget resolutions.  The Administration is supportive of this as well.  Going to conference is what should happen next but recent history has shown a different path.  And while this sounds positive, there’s always more to the story as highlighted in this Washington Post article.

Doc Shortage Confirmed.  The American Academy of Neurology conducted a study to measure how significant the neurologist shortage is and just published the results.  The US could use 11 percent more neurologists to meet current needs. By 2025, that number will grow to 19 percent.  Another article specifically address the impact on MS.

Providers want faster payment system change.  Payment for treatment as a whole, rather than by fee-for-service, is the goal, and many providers want to move more quickly to that model of care/payment. 

Electronic Medical Records.  The Obama Administration is making another push, hoping to help streamline the process.

Cost of Health Care in Your State.  The Wall Street Journal put out a piece with a state by state breakdown of what health care costs.

Human Genome Project at 10.  It has been 10 years since this ambitious project was completed.  Here’s a piece about what it accomplished, and what comes next.

20 Best Small Towns to Visit.  Smithsonian Magazine published a list of their top 20 picks of small towns to visit.  Just another reminder of the richness we have within our borders.

Other ‘livable’ planets ID’d.  NASA has apparently located two planets that appear to be able to sustain life – interesting read!

MS Coalition Partner a finalistAccelerated Cures Project for MS, a member of the MS Coalition, has been named a finalist in the 2013 New England Innovation Awards – Congratulations!  Past winners include Staples, Ben & Jerry’s, Genzyme, Nantucket Nectars, and iRobot.

Health Reform Implementation News:

  •   “I don’t’ get it.” Two-thirds of Americans say they still don’t have enough information about healthcare reform to understand what they need to know or do.  Kaiser’s most recent public opinion poll highlights the need for more public education and outreach.  So, how what?  Keep reading to learn about plans for Consumer Assistance programs in the next section.   

  •   Who Does What? Consumer Assistance Takes Many Forms: There are  many different types of Consumer Assistance programs now being organized to help consumers learn about their health coverage options through the health insurance marketplaces (aka ‘exchanges’) starting in October.   But they are all a little different, so here’s a few basic distinction between Navigators and In-Person Assistance Programs from Enroll America to help keep them straight.  Since the feds issued their long-awaited plans for the navigator grant program for services in the 34 states that will either use the Federally-Facilitated Exchange (FFE) or a Federal Partnership Exchange, navigators and other types of consumer assistance have become a very hot topic. To learn more, check out this excellent video of a panel discussion among a group of experts.

  •   The Good News/Bad News on Out-of-Pocket Costs   We’ve been highlighting the ACA’s annual cap on total out-of-pocket caps as one of the more significant goodies for people with MS included in the Affordable Care Act.  The cap on annual out-of-pocket costs (deductibles and copayments, but not premiums), set to take effect in 2014, are roughly $6250 per year for individual coverage, and $12,500 for family coverage. But now that the regulations addressing them have been finalized, there’s both good news and bad news in the fine print.  We’re glad to know the cap applies to most employer-sponsored insurance plans too, but not so happy that some health plans that now have more than one administrator for different components of coverage, don’t have to comply with the rule until 2015.   The Society was among a number of advocacy groups that met with senior officials from the Department of Labor about it and followed up with a sign-on letter that made headlines in health policy circles last week.

  •   All Eyes on Arkansas:  Now that Arkansas’ legislators have opted for Medicaid Expansion through the “premium assistance” model, other states are wondering if relying on private health insurance policies for Medicaid beneficiaries is the way for them to go too.  (Society staff interested in learning more about Medicaid premium assistance programs should check out the additions to the Medicaid Expansion Resource Guide in Sharepoint.)

  •   Working Families to Benefit from Insurance Subsidies:  In a new Congressional Budget Office study including state-by-state breakdowns, working families will benefit the most from the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies. 

  •   Employer-Based Coverage Trends:  Amid fear and speculation about employers dropping health insurance benefits for their workers, employers in MA and some other states buck the trend. John McDonuogh tells us all about it.   

   Have a great week!

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