Here are two interesting recent moves by employers. There are reports that more businesses have begun conducting audits of workers to ensure that all the dependents listed on a health benefits policy are really dependents. Also, some companies are charging higher premiums to workers whose spouses could have obtained insurance from their own employers, but choose not to.

First, about those audits. It is not a new idea, but it appears that it is getting more attention. Sara Taylor, a benefit expert at Hewitt Associates, tells the Baltimore Sun that audits find that 2 percent to 15 percent of listed dependents are, in fact, not eligible. That anecdotal evidence? Well, there's this parenthetical in the article: "The Tribune Co., which owns the Sun, will launch an audit next year." Talk about news that hits close to the cubicle.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that more and more companies are penalizing workers who double up on coverage. The Times cites a Mercer study that says that 6 percent of businesses charged higher premiums for spouses of employees who could have obtained coverage from their own employers. "On average, the additional premium was $178 a month — or $2,136 a year," the paper reports.

Barry Barnett, a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, tells the Times that "In the old days, if you both worked, spouses would be covered under both plans and you'd get 100 percent coverage.

But in the last two years, we've seen employers looking at whether the spouse has coverage under another plan. If they do, the company will charge more."

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There’s a lot more going on in health care than mergers (Aetna-Humana, Anthem-Cigna) creating huge players. Hundreds of insurers operate in 50 different states. Self-insured employers, ACA public exchanges, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid managed care plans crowd an increasingly complex market.

Major health care players are determined to make health information exchanges (HIEs) work. The push toward value-based payment alone almost guarantees that HIEs will be tweaked, poked, prodded, and overhauled until they deliver on their promise. The goal: straight talk from and among tech systems.

They bring a different mindset. They’re willing to work in teams and focus on the sort of evidence-based medicine that can guide health care’s transformation into a system based on value. One question: How well will this new generation of data-driven MDs deal with patients?

The surge of new MS treatments have been for the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. There’s hope for sufferers of a different form of MS. By homing in on CD20-positive B cells, ocrelizumab is able to knock them out and other aberrant B cells circulating in the bloodstream.

A flood of tests have insurers ramping up prior authorization and utilization review. Information overload is a problem. As doctors struggle to keep up, health plans need to get ahead of the development of the technology in order to successfully manage genetic testing appropriately.

Having the data is one thing. Knowing how to use it is another. Applying its computational power to the data, a company called RowdMap puts providers into high-, medium-, and low-value buckets compared with peers in their markets, using specific benchmarks to show why outliers differ from the norm.
Competition among manufacturers, industry consolidation, and capitalization on me-too drugs are cranking up generic and branded drug prices. This increase has compelled PBMs, health plan sponsors, and retail pharmacies to find novel ways to turn a profit, often at the expense of the consumer.
The development of recombinant DNA and other technologies has added a new dimension to care. These medications have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and many of the other 80 or so autoimmune diseases. But they can be budget busters and have a tricky side effect profile.

Shelley Slade
Vogel, Slade & Goldstein

Hub programs have emerged as a profitable new line of business in the sales and distribution side of the pharmaceutical industry that has got more than its fair share of wheeling and dealing. But they spell trouble if they spark collusion, threaten patients, or waste federal dollars.

More companies are self-insuring—and it’s not just large employers that are striking out on their own. The percentage of employers who fully self-insure increased by 44% in 1999 to 63% in 2015. Self-insurance may give employers more control over benefit packages, and stop-loss protects them against uncapped liability.