Health Care Update

By April 5, 2006Health Care


45 days (now less) Left for Medicare Drug Open Enrollment – seniors have until May 15, 2006 to sign up for the new Medicare drug coverage. Premiums will increase after the end of open enrollment.

All the early signs are encouraging. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan (appearing at the excellent NAHU Capitol Conference meeting last week) noted that enrollment will “blast past” early projections of 28-30 million first year enrollees. McClellan, a noted, if semi-closeted “Trekkie,” clearly has gone where no other CMS or HCFA Administrator has ever gone before….

Now is the time to double-check ornery family members, procrastinating neighbors and casual strangers in elevators. Surely if the New York Times can give Medicare Part D a grudging nod, Washington can help too….

Will You Follow Neil at NAM? As I noted last week, I’m leaving the NAM to join the National Retail Federation as vice president, employee benefits policy counsel. My last day here is this Friday, April 7. I start with the NRF on April 10.

The hunt is on to replace me here at the NAM. Please send any interested resumes to my friend and (still) boss Sandy Boyd ( Not only do I have a vested interest in not leaving my friends in the lurch, it is also very much in my and our interest in ensuring that the NAM continues to have a strong voice on health care policy. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to work for a top-flight trade association like the NAM, now is your chance….

Don’t forget to write me at the NRF next week if you would like to continue to receive the genuine N’emails. Accept no substitutes…. My new email address there will be

Bipartisan Poll Endorses Bipartisan Enzi-Nelson Bill – where were the Ds in the Senate HELP Committee when they could have supported S. 1955, the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act? According to the poll (jointly conducted by R pollster Public Opinion Strategies and D pollster Lake Research Partners), 93% of Republicans, 88% of Independent, and 86% of Democratic voters favor a small business health insurance purchasing plan like the Enzi-Nelson bill. Surely Senators are listening?

Senate floor action is likely later this year – probably before the summer. It’s time now to build upon the bipartisan coalition supporting this legislation and to build a filibuster-proof majority for small business health plans.

Consumer Directed Health Care Conference (CDHCC) San Francisco – as many of you know, I’ve been associated with the CDHCC conference for a number of years. I may be biased, but I think these are some of the best conferences around. I encourage you to come join me in San Francisco May 8-10, 2006.

NAM members can attend at a discount by registering the following code online: NAM30PCT06. Discounted room rates at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco are available until April 16. Further information is available at

Another Study on Mental Health Costs…No Change in Our View – a new study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that that mental health costs did not drastically increase in response to the federal parity requirements for plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). Despite a mini-press boomlet, we were forced to stifle a yawn and say “so what.”

The issue for us has always been employer autonomy over benefit offerings and the additional incremental costs of this mandate as added to all the other mandates lawmakers unwisely impose on this voluntary employee benefit. Rarely is any one mandate overbearing; in combination, they have tended to price workers and employers out of coverage.

A far better approach would facilitate a targeted legislation addressing specific needs – e.g. more flexible approaches to the availability of covered days at the end of the year. The broad-brush parity approach robs employers of the ability to balance benefit offerings to find the most comprehensive yet affordable mix of benefits. We still won’t drink that new age parity Kool-Aid.

Energy and Commerce Works to Reduce Hospital-Based Infections – the dirty little secret in hospitals is that they aren’t very sanitary places to be. The proof comes in the prevalence of hospital-acquired infections and consequent costs to employer sponsored health plans.

We commend the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for their recent (March 29) hearing on possibly linking federal health care payments to lower infection rates and improved reporting. Let’s get the bugs out of health care and hospitals too….

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Anne says:

    I feel (or hope) that those who support the cHealth Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S.1955) do not realize that if this bill goes into effect it will override state mandates that ensure Health Insurance Companies provide coverage for things like Pre-Cancer screenings, diabetes care, etc.

    I think that the bill needs to be changed in such a way that it does not override state laws that are there to protect lives.