Health rule on benefits sent to WH

The White House has begun a final review of two major rules drafted to implement President Obama’s healthcare law. 

Both of the rules, written by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), are considered significant, meaning they each carry an annual economic impact exceeding $100 million. 

The first would, among other provisions, create new standards for defining “essential health benefits” to be provided under the landmark law.

“This rule ensures that consumers can shop on the basis of issues that are important to them such as price, network physicians, and quality, and be confident that the plan they choose does not include unexpected coverage gaps, like hidden benefit exclusions,” according to a description of the rule on the White House’s regulatory website. 

The rule, to take effect next January, also proposes a timeline for qualified health plans to be accredited in the health insurance exchanges that are being set up around the country. 

The other rule moved to the White House for review involves parameters of programs designed to protect health insurers from financial losses. Those losses, administration officials contend, would likely be passed along to patients. 

“The purpose of these programs is to protect health insurance issuers from the negative effects of adverse selection and to protect consumers from increases in premiums due to uncertainty for issuers,” a description of that rule states. 

This rule, too, would take effect in January of next year. Neither rule carries a specified price tag. HHS argues that healthcare benefits for millions of Americans would be delayed if they were not finalized on time.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT. Three Obama administration departments will meet on March 5 to discuss ways to combat human trafficking in contracting. 

The effort comes as part of an effort by the president and Congress to prevent the federal government from contributing to the practice.

Congress passed the End Human Trafficking in Government Contracting Act as an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill, and the president followed that up with an executive order of his own. While there is conflict between the two branches of government on how the reforms should take place, each plan aims to strengthen oversight of government contractors by requiring them to provide more information about foreign employees. 

The March 5 meeting, held by the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will include a public forum to discuss how to impose the safeguards. Anyone who wishes to attend or make a presentation must register by Feb. 25.

FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. A task force at t he Food and Drug Administration is looking for public comment on how to tackle the rise in drug shortages.

The FDA keeps track of pharmaceutical product shortages that occur due to “quality problems, delays and discontinuations,” though companies are not required to report specifics.

In just more than five years, the amount of drugs considered to be in short supply by the FDA more than tripled, going from 70 to 250, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. 

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital led a recent study revealing that drug shortages in medications used to treat certain types of cancer caused hospitals to certain drugs substitute for others, resulting in an increase of relapses. 

The FDA’s Drug Shortages Task Force is seeking public comment, due on March 13, on how best to address the problem.