telehealth

News Briefs: Becerra Defends No Surprises Act Regulation | Nov. 24, 2021

HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra is defending No Surprises Act-related regulations from growing criticism by providers and members of Congress, citing an HHS report on the cost and prevalence of surprise bills. Becerra said on Nov. 22 that providers who overcharge for services will simply have to change: “I don’t think when someone is overcharging, that it’s going to hurt the overcharger to now have to [accept] a fair price,” he told Kaiser Health News. “Those who are overcharging either have to tighten their belt and do it better, or they don’t last in the business. It’s not fair to say that we have to let someone gouge us in order for them to be in business.” The HHS report found that “surprise medical bills are relatively common among privately insured patients and can average more than $1,200 for services provided by anesthesiologists, $2,600 for surgical assistants, and $750 for childbirth-related care.” More than 150 members of Congress from both parties, many of them physicians, sent a letter to Becerra earlier this month protesting the latest rulemaking on the No Surprises Act. In addition, Texas’ largest provider organization filed suit to block the latest interim final rule.

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Frustration Grows Over ‘Relentless’ Employer Plan Premium Rise

The premium costs of employer-sponsored health plans increased by 4% this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) annual Employer Health Benefits Survey. KFF analysts and health care purchasers alike say the annual growth rate in health care costs — employer plan premiums for a family have grown by 47% since 2011 and 283% since 1998, according to KFF — causes unsustainable financial strain for both employers and plan members.

KFF also identified several emerging trends in employer coverage driven by cost growth and the COVID-19 pandemic. Deductibles and other forms of member cost sharing have increased in recent years. The share of employees in high-deductible plans declined slightly in 2021, but accounted for roughly a quarter of employer enrollment, a similar figure to recent years. Employer insurance experts have mixed opinions on whether these trends will continue. Meanwhile, in response to the pandemic, firms expanded their telehealth offerings and behavioral health benefits this year.

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Employer Plans in 2021: Premiums, Telemedicine Coverage Rise

The average annual premium for employer-sponsored health insurance increased 4% to $7,739 for single coverage and $22,221 for family coverage, respectively, this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey. In recent years, high-deductible plans with a savings option have been gaining popularity. About 22% of firms offered an HDHP/SO and 28% of covered workers were enrolled in such a plan in 2021, representing slight declines compared with previous years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the use of telemedicine, as 95% of firms with 50 or more workers offered telemedicine coverage in their largest health plan, up from 85% last year. In addition, about 65% of firms with 50 or more workers made changes to enhance their telemedicine benefits after the beginning of the pandemic.

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Medication Abortion Regulations, at a Glance

Medication abortion — which involves using two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol — accounts for 54% of all pregnancy terminations before nine weeks of gestation in the U.S., according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research exercised “enforcement discretion” of the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy requirement that asks prescribers to dispense mifepristone to patients in-person during the pandemic. This allows providers in 32 states and the District of Columbia that do not have laws that ban medication abortion to dispense mifepristone via telehealth. Currently, 18 states and D.C. allow both advance practice clinicians and medical doctors to dispense abortion pills.